THE LIFE AND WORK OF AVARD TENNYSON FAIRBANKS,
BFA, MFA, MA, PhD, DFA, hon.
Sculptor Anatomist, and Educator
by Eugene Fairbanks
During 1924 he took a leave of absence to study at Yale University, where he was granted four years of advanced standing and by one more year of study he earned a bachelor of Fine Arts Degree. This gave him more recognition in academic circles. Returning to Oregon as an assistant professor, he continued teaching sculpture. He felt that his studies in Paris had been terminated too soon, and hoped to be able to receive more training. He applied and was awarded a fellowship by the Guggenheim Foundation that enabled him to again study in Europe. This enabled him to go to Italy for further study and to do creative sculpture. By this time there were four boys in the family; the youngest was six months old. Many museums of cities in England, France, and Italy were visited. Florence, Italy was the cradle of the Renaissance, and it was chosen for most of the study. Sculpture in the great galleries and beautiful cathedral were often visited. Here he studied under one of the great contemporary Italian sculptors, Dante Sodini. He also studied at Scuola Firentina de Pittura. He made several pieces of creative sculpture. Among these are La Primavera, a fantasy of Springtime; a statuette honoring Archiconfraternite Della Miseracordia, cast in bronze about a volunteer mercy organization, a lay order dedicated to assist the infirm or injured townspeople, and has served for centuries. The Pioneer Mother memorial for Vancouver, Washington was completed and cast in Bronze at a Florentine foundry. Another significant life size statue was Nursing Mother. It was carved in Cararra marble.
Returning to the United States In 1928, he taught sculpture at the Seattle Institute of Art. He studied art courses at the University of Washington at Seattle where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1929. There he completed one of his finest monuments, a World War I memorial, The Ninety First Division monument erected at Fort Lewis, Washington.
He was appointed to the faculty of the University of Michigan in the newly established Institute of Fine Art as associate professor. In 1929 he moved his family to Ann Arbor, Michigan. There he organized a program of studies in Sculpture. Annual sculpture exhibits coincided with the May Festival of Music. In a few years, the hallways of University Hall were lined with the best works of his students. He was frequently called on through the University Extension Service to give demonstration lectures throughout the state of Michigan.
As a contribution to Industry, he designed an original radiator ornament, the Charging Ram for the Dodge Automobile Company. It was modified each year over many decades. A Winged Mermaid was created for radiator ornament of the Plymouth automobile 1930, symbolic of Floating Power. A Griffin of his design was chosen for the Hudson and Essex automobiles in 1933.
During the decade of the 1930, the Great Depression, commissions were scarce. He turned his attention to studies in anatomy in the Medical School. The subject had always greatly interested him. He was awarded a Master of Arts degree in 1933, and in 1936, a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Anatomy. This led to an increased emphasis of anatomy in his teaching of sculpture. He also learned to render a greater expression to his sculpture, since he had done extensive dissection of facial muscular. In preparation for a doctoral thesis, many modeled reconstructions of the musculature of the head and neck as well as arms legs and torso were made. Plaster casts of these now hang on the anatomy laboratory walls at the University of Michigan Medical School.
During his eighteen years at the University of Michigan, he was able to create many fine monuments. Prominent among these are The Winter Quarters Memorial at the Pioneer Mormon Cemetery at Florence, (now Omaha) Nebraska; a monument erected at Grand Detour, Illinois honoring Leonard Andrus, who with John Deere pioneered the steel moldboard plough. Lincoln the Frontiersman, a Heroic figure of a vigorous rail splitter with a destiny was modeled an cast. It is one of the very impressive artistic portrayals of the Great Emancipator. The heroic bronze statue was erected in the courtyard of the Ewa Plantation School, Ewa, Hawaii, in 1944. A Pioneer Family Monument was erected on the North Dakota State Capitol grounds in Bismarck, North Dakota honoring the early state pioneers.
The North American Flower Show in Detroit Michigan commissioned Fairbanks to create fantasy sculpture annually to grace floral exhibits. Statues included Helle and Phryxus Riding the Golden Fleeced Ram, Boy With the Shell, Flower Girl, Dawn and Morning Glories, Sunshine and Moonbeam, Aquarius, the Water Bearer. Prominent among these were fantasy sculptures receiving additional recognition. Nebula was again exhibited at the New York Worlds Fair in 1939. Rain was selected along with the works of some of the nation's greatest sculptors to be placed in Brookgreen Gardens at Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. Colt Pegasus was placed the centerpiece of a fountain at the Wilson Estate, Meadowbrook Gardens, now the campus of the Oakland State University, Rochester, Michigan.
Many portraits were modeled during this period. Prominent among these were Honorable William L. Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada; Honorable Gerry McGreer, Mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia and a member of the Canadian House of Commons; Dr. G Carl Huber, one of the worlds eminent neuroanatomists, Dean of the Graduate School, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Michigan; a portrait of Mrs. Alexander Grant Ruthven, wife of the president of the University of Michigan; Mrs. Helen Gardiner Phelan and daughter of Toronto, Canada; and Walter P. Chrysler, Chairman of the Chrysler Corporation.
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