THE LIFE AND WORK OF AVARD TENNYSON FAIRBANKS,
BFA, MFA, MA, PhD, DFA, hon.
Sculptor Anatomist, and Educator
by Eugene Fairbanks
Payments on the commissions for copy work were never regular and gradually dwindled. After a year an one-half, it became necessary to return to Salt Lake City, following a period of impoverishment amidst an intellectual wealth. He has said that he knew what is was to be very poor. He also knew what it was to go hungry.
The father, recognizing the son's artistic talent promoted a plan for further studies in Paris. Before leaving New York City, Avard had modeled a half life size bison, titled Charging Buffalo, that was intended for sales. During the next two years he spent mornings in school and afternoons creating sculpture. They tried to obtain sales or commissions on sculpture that might finance the trip. All efforts ended in disappointments until Avard, remembering the story of Antonio Canova, offered to model a lion in butter for a creamery exhibit at the State Fair. This attracted a large crowd and the manager was well pleased with all of the publicity. A change of fortune occurred as several other sales were made assuring finance for the study abroad.
In 1913 Avard went to Paris, accompanied by his father to study at Ecole Nationale Des Beaux Artes under Injalbert. While at Paris he also studied at Ecole de la Grande Chaumiere, at the Academie Colarossi, and at the Ecole Moderne. One of his pieces was exhibited at the Grande Salon and won a first prize. During the summer, the schools close and tourists come to Paris increasing expenses. At the suggestion of Professor Aubrey, they planned to spend the summer at a village Ste. Hypolyte sur le Dobbs, near the Swiss border. They intended to sketch and return to the schools in the Fall.
News of the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand of Austria was startling and followed by ominous rumors and reports. The mobilization of the armies of Europe was begun. Each day a few of the men of the village, called into military service, departed to join their units. Tensions mounted and in about three weeks, they felt it was necessary to return to the United states, but returning to Paris was difficult. Although the trip by train had taken only four hours from Paris, it required over two days to return by a much longer route. Civilian travel was sidetracked and diverted for troop movement to the border along the Rhine River. On arrival the once gay city of Paris was dismal. Shops of German proprietors had been ransacked and damaged by angry mobs. The Taxis were gone. The had been pressed into service for troop movement. Only a few horse drawn hacks were available. Hurried arrangements were made to leave the city. Reservations on a train to Calais were obtained. On the morning of departure, they arose just after midnight and walked across Paris through the quiet, dimly lighted narrow streets to the railroad station, le Garde du Nord. They felt relieved as the train moved toward the coast. Only later did they learn that the German Army was advancing through Belgium. The train was diverted to Bulogne, and the bridges were blown up after the train passed. It was the last train North and West from Paris. They obtained passage across the English Channel to Folkestone. There a considerate travel agent obtained two of the few remaining accommodations on a ship, the Ausonia, leaving Liverpool a few days later. He accepted a check, as payment, on a Salt Lake City bank without question. The ship traveled in convoy because of submarine danger. All portholes were covered. Passengers were advised not to be on deck. The trip was longer but otherwise uneventful. The view of the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor was a welcomed sight indeed. On debarkation, they had only fifteen cents. Credit was obtained by telegraph and it enabled them to proceed home by train. Several months later, they were saddened to learn that the Ausonia had been sunk by a torpedo.
They returned to Salt Lake City where the young sculptor continued his high school education. Academic classes were attended mornings and afternoons were spent in a family studio. During this time he modeled many creative subjects. Five of his pieces were exhibited in the rotunda of the Fine Arts Palace of the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. Soon, his brother and he received a commission to erect four sculptured friezes for the Latter-Day Saints Temple then under construction at Laie in Hawaii. These were modeled four fifths life size and cast in concrete. Other sculpture included a bold relief honoring Hawaiian Motherhood and a heroic statue of Lehi Blessing Joseph. He also created four bas reliefs for the McInerney estate titled Life of the Hawaiian People.
While in Hawaii, he sent for his sweetheart, Maude Fox of Taylorsville, Utah. They were married in Honolulu. The honeymoon was a voyage on the inter-island steamer to Hilo and a visit to the volcanoes, Mona Loa and Kiluea. When the sculpture was complete, they sailed for home, but the spirit of the Islands etched a lasting memory in their hearts.
Returning from the Hawaiian Islands, he entered the University of Utah and enlisted in the Student Army Training Program. Since he already had advanced training in art, he chose other more academic courses. In November 1918, the Armistice was signed and many soldiers began returning home. He conceived an ambitious program of memorializing these men in heroic monuments. He was a delegate to a conference in Boston, considering opportunities to honor the casualties of war. For the State of Idaho, he modeled a heroic figure titled The Idaho Doughboy. It was placed in Moscow and St. Anthony in Idaho.
During a trip to the Pacific Northwest, he met Dean Ellis Lawrence of the University of Oregon School of Architecture. The dean was very impressed with photographs of sculpture and his training and asked if he would be interested in teaching sculpture, even though he had no college degree. Yes, he was very interested. An appointment was made in 1920 to teach at that university in Eugene, Oregon. It was a challenging opportunity. Besides organizing sculpture courses on that campus, he also taught extension courses at Portland, Oregon.
His creative work while in Oregon included The Awakening of Aphrodite, placed in the Washburn Gardens in Eugene. World War I memorials were erected at Jefferson High School in Portland and at Oregon State College at Corvallis. Bronze doors were created and placed at the United States National Bank at Portland. A relief panel titled, The Holy Sacrament was placed at St. Mary's Chapel in Eugene Oregon. A bas relief monument honoring firefighters and David Campbell was erected at Burnside in Portland. A portrait of Ezra Meeker, founder of the Old Oregon Trail Association was modeled. Bronze medallions memorializing the Old Oregon Trail were placed in Baker City and Seaside, Oregon.
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