Artist Name

birth3/28/1877 in Philadelphia, PEPicture of Albert Laessle
death9/4/1954 in Miami, FL
educationSpring Garden Institute (1894)
Drexel Institute (1894-1895)
Pennsylvania Academy (1904)
awardsEdmund Stewardson Prize (1902)
Cresson traveling scholarships (1904-1907)
Bronze Medal, Buenos Aires Exposition (1910)
Fellowship Prize, Pennsylvania Academy (1915)
First prize, Americanization through Art Exhibition (1916)
George D. Widener Gold Medal, Pennsylvania Academy (1918)
Honorable mnetion, Art Institute of Chicago (1920)
Gold Medal, Pennsylvania Academy (1923)
Gold Medal, Sesquicentennial Exhibition, Philadelphia (1926)
James E. McCless Prize, Pennsylvania Academy (1928)
Second Prize, Philadelphia Art Alliance (1928)
J. Sanford Saltus Award (1951)

Albert Laessle was born as the younger of two brothers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1877. His parents were immigrants from Germany and he came by his sculptural inclinations honestly: his father was a wheelright and woodcarver and a grandfather had been a stonecutter. Despite the family background in crafts Albert Laessle's parents were not supportive of a career in the arts. After finishing public school in Philadeplhia his parents refused to support him in pursuing further education in art school. Luckily, his older brother Henry continued to encourage and financially support him. This allowed Albert to attend the Spring Garden Institute in 1894. He went on to attend the Drexel Institute (now Drexel University) in Philadelphia and later studied under Thomas Anshutz and Charles Grafly at the Pennsylvania Academy from which he graduated in 1904.

While studying with Grafly, Laessle created a now lost portrait of an East Indian and his famous Turtle and Crab. The latter was sculpted so lifelike that he was accused of having cast rather than modeled it. Rather than fighting the allegation and defending his chance for a gold medal, he remained quiet. His opponents' triumph was short-lived though because he immediately went on to create an equally realistic turtle sculpture out of wax, wax of course being a material that can not be cast. As a result, he immediately went from infamous to famous. Turtle and Lizards (1902-03) is apparently similar and from the same period.

Laessle received the Cresson Traveling Scholarship from the Pennsylvania Academy and spent three years in Paris, working with Michel Beguine. In preparation for his trip, Laessle studied anatomy, life drawing, and still-life painting, and also modeled portrait heads. In 1907, he returned to Philadelphia and worked in Grafly's studio. Laessle had gotten married and when he and his wife Mary needed a place to live, they bought a house and studio in the Philadelphia suburb of Germantown. It was there that the sculptor worked for many years.

Laessle's specialty was small animal sculpture, something Grafly had introduced him to. Among his public commissions were a group of bronze penguins for the Philadelphia Zoo, Brookgreen Gardens and elsewhere, and a group of animals in Johnson Square, Camden, New Jersey. He designed the Pennsylvania Academy's George D. Widener Gold Medal; a fountain for the Philadelphia Zoological Gardens; and a number of sculptures for Victor Talking Machine Company, including the famous listening dog which became the company's logo under the title, His Master's Voice. Laessle designed the award medal for the 1926 Independence Sesqui-Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and subsequently won his own medal in gold. In 1927, he was asked to complete Grafly's The General Galusha Pennypacker Memorial for the city of Philadelphia, a project which occupied Laessle for five years and which proved to be the largest project of his career. His own bust of Grafly (1928) is in the collection of National Institute of Arts and Letters, New York. Laessle exhibited many of his animal sculptures as well as other works at the National Academy beginning in 1908. He was a member of the National Sculpture Society and the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

After the death of his first wife Mary in 1944 he moved to Florida where he spent the last ten years of his life. He got married a second time (to Albertine C. De Bempt) and died in 1954.

Sourced mainly from the Wikipedia, the National Academy, the National Museum of Wildlife Art.

You can click medals to switch between obverse and reverse sides.

George D. Widener Memorial Gold Medal1916

The obverse bears a bust of George Widener, a prominent Philadelphia financier, horse breeder, and director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts who died in 1912 on the Titanic. Around, GEORGE - D - WIDENER - MEMORIAL. The reverse bears a nude figure kneeling beside a sphinx and holding a mallet and chisel, associating the prizewinner's work with thousands of years of sculpture. Around, FOUNDED - BY - THE - PENNSYLVANIA - ACADEMY - OF - THE - FINE - ARTS - FOR - SCULPTURE. Signed ALBERT - LAESSLE.

The George D. Widener Memorial award was established in 1912 by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to honor one of its major benefactors. The award recognizes the "most meritorious work of Sculpture modeled by an American citizen and shown in the Annual Exhibition." Laessle himself won this medal in 1918.

The medal measures 50mm in diameter. It is struck in fine gold for the award's recipient and in bronze for general release.

The image of the golden variant shows the medal awarded to Seymour Lipton in 1968.

Belgium's Appeal1917

This uniface plaque bears a kneeling mother holding child in one arm with other arm in begging gesture. Below, BELGIUM'S APPEAL.

The medal was issued by the Belgian Children's Relief Committee of Philadelphia. It was issued upon the suggestion of Mr. Samuel S. Fleisher, a well-known yarn manufacturer and philanthropist in Philadelphia. One of the medals was presented to each of the fund's contributors.

The plaques were manufactured by Davidson of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Sesqui-Centennial Exposition Award Medal1926

Leassle designed this medal for an exposition on his "home turf" in Philadelphia. The obverse bears an eagle standing guard over nest with two eggs in front of Independence Hall and rising sun. Signature ALBERT LAESSLE. The reverse bears a laurel wreath around central field with rising sun and legend MEDAL OF AWARD. Around, SESQUICENTENNIAL - INTERNATIONAL - EXPOSITION - PHILADELPHIA / 1776 - 1926.

The medal measures 76mm in diameter and was struck by Baily Banks & Biddle Co., Philadelphia.

Laessle himself won his design in gold at this exposition.

References: Marqusee 235

Abundance 1934
Golden bronze with tan patina
Golden bronze with tan patina

This medal was chosen as the 10th issue of the prestigious Society of Medalists series. The medal's obverse bears a strutting turkey cock and the legend AMERICA, with signature ALBERT - / LAESSLE. Turtle shell under signature. The reverse bears an ear of corn framed by separated husks. Around, ABUNDANCE.

Laessle said in the brochure that accompanied the medal:

"Wishing to symbolize the abundance of America, I have chosen for my medal two truly American subjects, the turkey and the corn."

It should be noted that America, like most other developed nations at the time, was still in the grip of the Great Depression when this medal was issued.

This medal measures 73mm in diameter and was produced by the Medallic Art Company of New York. The reported mintage for this issue is 1,021 in bronze, 125 in silver.

References: Marqusee 234

73.0mm (2.87in)
Golden bronze with tan patina
73.0mm (2.87in)
Golden bronze with tan patina
73.0mm (2.87in)
  • Statue of a turtle on a rock

    Turtle and Lizards (1902-03)

    The sculpture depicts a turtle and lizards warming themselves on a rock. An earlier composition, "Turtle and Crab" (plaster, now destroyed), was denied a medal in a 1901 exhibition when Laessle was accused of casting it from life. The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts purchased the wax model of "Turtle and Lizards" in 1903 and cast it in both plaster and bronze. The bronze version was exhibited at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Saint Louis in 1904, where it was well received.

    Image is copyrighted by and courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

  • Statue of a heron eating a fish

    Heron and Fish (1910)

    The sculpture depicts a heron eating a fish. This is another example of Laessle's great talent for modeling small animal themes.

    Image is copyrighted by and courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

  • Statue of a turkey

    Turkey (1911)

    The turkey was important to Laessle. In 1934, he picked up on the turkey again in the 10th issue of the Society of Medalists. He used it as a symbol of abundance and freedom from want. This statue is part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum collection.

    A larger version of this image can be found here.

  • Statue of General Galusha Pennypacker

    General Galusha Pennypacker Memorial (1934)

    Galusha Pennypacker was, and still is to this day, the youngest person to hold brigadier general rank in the U.S. Army. He achieved this rank at age 20 when he was still too young to vote for the president who appointed him.

    Pennypacker had joined the army as a 16 year old. A year later he helped recruit a company of men and was appointed their Captain and continued to rise through the ranks rapidly.

    Laessle assisted Grafly on this sculpture and took over completely after Grafly was killed in a hit and run accident in 1929. This was Laessle's largest public project and occupied him for five years.

    A larger version of this image can be found here.

Contact me if you have links that might merit inclusion on this page.

Books & Articles

American Art Medals, 1909-1995 by David Thomason Alexander
David T. Alexander's book can be purchased at the above link. Highly recommended for anyone interested in SOM. I am deeply indebted to him for all the information I used to document the SOM medals on this site.

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