THE LIFE AND WORK OF AVARD TENNYSON FAIRBANKS,
BFA, MFA, MA, PhD, DFA, hon.
Sculptor Anatomist, and Educator
by Eugene Fairbanks
In 1965, after retirement from the University of Utah, Dr. Fairbanks was called for two years to the University of North Dakota as a special consultant in Fine Arts and Resident Sculptor. In addition to College lectures, he presented many demonstration lectures throughout that state. He modeled portraits of university donors that significantly benefited the institution. While there, he created an impressive study titled Alma Mater.
During his professional career, Dr. Fairbanks had many honors bestowed on him. He was a fellow of the National Sculpture Society, a member of the Architectural League of New York, a member of the international institute of Arts and Letters, an honorary member of the Society of Oregon Artists. He was a member of Circolo Degli Artisti di Firenzi of Florence, Italy. He was made a member of the Protetore Della Contrada Della Torre da Sienna, Italy. The National Sculpture Society awarded the Herbert Adams Medal for Distinguished Service to American Sculpture.
He was awarded a medal of the Knights of Thermopylae by King Paul of Greece at the ancient battle site where Leonidas and 300 Spartans fought to their death against King Xerxes and the army of 10,000 Persians. From Lincoln College at Lincoln, Illinois he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts for his portrayals of Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee conferred upon Dr. Fairbanks their highest recognition, the Lincoln Diploma of Honor. Another outstanding recognition he received was the Lincoln medal of the Sesquicentennial Commission of the Congress of the United States.
In addition to these many recognitions, there was a constant desire to create additional great masterpieces of art. The great artists of past ages left lasting influences on their cultures. Dr. Fairbanks hoped to create and place many more heroic and important works that reflect the civilization and culture of our times. During the eighth decade of his life, he continued with enthusiasm to create fine sculpture. Since along with creative endeavors he spent much of his life teaching, it was not surprising that he invited grandchildren to his studio that they might also continue the artistic traditions of the family. He also made several trips to Pietrasanta, Italy to the marble carving studios to finish portraits and fantasy sculpture. Sometimes his sons or grandsons would accompany him.
His last colossal portrait, Lincoln the Legislator, was carved in Pietrasanta in Portuguese rose marble. It was placed in the building where House Committee Meetings are held.
The marble carvers expressed admiration for his ability as an artist, his energy, and stamina through long days of work. They encouraged him to order more pieces to be finished. The letters he wrote home expressed a sense of satisfaction tempered with loneliness. He had come to love the Italian people. the countryside of the Cararra Mountains, and the Italian Riviera. Yet during the six week marble carving sessions, in which he worked long hours, he would miss Maude and the family. At an age when other men were enjoying leisure pursuits, Avard Fairbanks continued to create monuments and portraits. When not modeling with clay, he was drawing plans for other statuary. His last plan was for a sacred, biblical subject, John, the Revelator, receiving a vision.
A few days before Christmas, 1986, he was rushed to the hospital with a heart attack. As he was improving he renewed optimism and continued formulating plans for the monument. He even asked a friend to arrange for about one ton of clay. On New Years Day, another attack occurred and his heart did not respond to treatment. He died just two months short of ninety years.
Dr. Fairbanks was survived by ten children, more than fifty grandchildren and more than forty great grand children. A son Justin studied and taught sculpture. Jonathan, a son became a fine portrait and landscape painter, and was a curator at the Boston Museum of Art. Ortho Fairbanks, a nephew, student, and professional sculptor has taught art at the L.D.S. College at Laie, Hawaii, and at Holbrook College in Arizona. Two grand daughters Teressa and Hillary have studied Art and Museum Science at Boston, Massachusetts. A grandson, Daniel Fairbanks, son of Justin, is a plant geneticist and professor on the faculty of Brigham Young University. He studied sculpture under his grandfather and continues a keen interest in Art. He has made some fine portraits and other fine statuary. Many grandchildren have chosen health sciences, but continue to have art as an avocation.
The influence and inspiration of Art by Avard Fairbanks have touched the lives of his many students, a number of whom have chosen to teach Art or have succeeded at professional careers in sculpture.
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