THE LIFE AND WORK OF AVARD TENNYSON FAIRBANKS,

BFA, MFA, MA, PhD, DFA, hon.

Sculptor Anatomist, and Educator

by Eugene Fairbanks

 



 

Avard Tennyson Fairbanks was born in Provo, Utah on March 2, 1897, the tenth son in a family of eleven. His father, John B. Fairbanks, once a farm boy in a frontier village, had become on of the pioneer artists in Utah. When an opportunity became available, he studied painting in some of the finest schools in Paris, France. He had painted murals in some of the early Latter-Day Saint Temples in Utah. He was appointed an instructor in art at the Brigham Young Academy in Provo, (now Brigham Young University). To supplement his income from teaching, he operated a photographic studio with the help of his oldest son, J. Leo Fairbanks. The mother of this large family had intended to see that her children were well educated, but an unfortunate accident prevented her from seeing her hopes fulfilled. She fell, injuring her back and neck in August, 1897. She had some paralysis and remained bedfast until she died eight months later. She left an infant son and several young children to be reared by their father, assisted by the teenage children in the family.

A few years later, in 1902, an archeological expedition called the father, John B. away and the orphaned family was managed by J.Leo Fairbanks, the oldest brother, age about age twenty, and Annette, the sister, age eighteen. When the father returned two years later, it was one of the happiest moments of young Avard's life.

During a visit by a relative that had moved to Alberta, Canada, he told about great opportunities of homesteading and wheat farming in that Canadian Province. A move was made to a farm in Raymond, Alberta. However, this venture was beset with summer drought and severe winter freezes. The family's finances sank to a low ebb. During one long cold winter night, J.B. Fairbanks had a magnificent dream in which he was again creating great paintings on canvas. Believing this to be an omen, he decided that he had a much greater future in art. That spring, he moved his family back to Salt Lake city where he organized private instructions in Art. He again pursued creative painting. The family also operated a small farm that provided some basic necessities.

Avard first showed interest in sculpture at the age of twelve years. He modeled a clay sculpture of a pet rabbit at the suggestion and counseling of his brother, J. Leo Fairbanks, who by this time was an accomplished artist. He had studied in colleges and in the Paris art schools. This clay rabbit was entered that August in the State Fair and won first prize. However, when the judge, a university professor, learned that it was the work of a young boy, the medal was refused. This thoughtless act caused more than disappointment. It made young Avard very resentful and determined to do even better work. He resolved to become an accomplished artist, so that in time, the professor would recognize him as a sculptor. "I'll show him someday!" He said.

The next year, his father was commissioned to paint copies of some masterpieces in New York City. Avard soon followed. A temporary permit to copy sculpture was reluctantly granted because of his youth. When the curator of the Metropolitan Museum saw how well he was modeling copies of exhibited masterpieces, he apologized for his reticence. A reporter one day observed young Fairbanks' progress. Shortly, a story appeared in the New York Herald, titled, "Young Michaelangelo of this modern day in knickerbockers working at the Metropolitan Museum." This article attracted considerable attention that led to other opportunities. He showed such ability that he was awarded scholarships to study at the Art Students League in New York City under James Earl Fraser. He later modeled animals at the Bronx Zoological Gardens. During these studies he became personally acquainted with several notable sculptors, often receiving counseling and instruction. Among these were Herman A. McNeil, Cyrus E. Dallin, Adolph A. Weimar, Chester Beach, Gutzon Borglum, Solon Borglum, Paul Bartlett, A. Phimister Proctor, and Larado Taft. At the Bronx Zoo he received technical assistance and criticism from Anna Hyatt and Charles R. Knight. Anna Hyatt later married Archer Huntington, a railroad executive, and together they established the Huntington Museum near Los Angeles and the Brookgreen Gardens at Murrels Inlet, South Carolina and contributed generously to other art endeavors. Charles R. Knight is famous for his restoration of prehistoric animals that are displayed in the Natural History Museum in New York City. Young Fairbanks was displayed at the National Academy of design. He also presented his first demonstration lecture, modeling sculpture to a junior high school audience when he was fourteen years of age.

 

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