Artist Name

birth11/4/1876 in Winona, MNPicture of Fraser in studio
death10/11/1953 in Westport, CT
parentsThomas A. and Cora West Fraser
educationArt Institute of Chicago (1890)
École des Beaux Arts, Paris
Académie Julian, Paris
awards

Fraser was born in Winona, Minnesota. His father, Thomas Fraser, was an engineer who worked for railroad companies as they expanded across the American West. The father's work led the family into the Dakota territory where the railroads were pushing westward.

Growing up on the prairie outside Mitchell, South Dakota, James Fraser was exposed to frontier life and the experience of Native Americans, who were being pushed ever further west or confined to Indian reservations. These early memories were expressed in many of his works, from his earlier trials, such as the bust Indian Princess, to his most famous projects, such as End of the Trail and the Indian Head (Buffalo) nickel.

Fraser began carving figures from pieces of limestone scavenged from a stone quarry close to his home near Mitchell, South Dakota in early life. He attended classes at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1890 and studied at the École des Beaux Arts and the Académie Julian in Paris in the late 19th century. Early in his career, Fraser served as an assistant to Richard Bock and Augustus Saint-Gaudens; he formed his own studio in 1902. He also taught at the Art Students League in New York City beginning in 1906, and later became its director. He also met his future wife Laura Gardin at the Art Students League where she studied Sculpture and he was one of her instructors. They were married in 1913 and spent the rest of their lives together, both working as sculptors yet cooperating just once on the Oregon Trail Memorial Half Dollar.

Among Fraser's earliest works were sculptural pieces at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 and, for the San Francisco Exposition of 1915, one of his most famous pieces, End of the Trail. While it was meant to be cast in bronze, material shortages due to World War I prevented this. After the Exposition, the original plaster statue was moved to Mooney's Grove Park in Visalia, CA. Exposed to the elements, it slowly deteriorated until it was obtained by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 1968 and restored. The restored statue is currently on display in the entryway of the Oklahoma City museum, and the original that sat in Visalia, CA, was replaced with a bronze replica. The original bronze replica statue of the End of the Trail Statue is located in Shaler Park, in Waupun, Wisconsin. The statue was purchased by inventor and sculptor, Clarence Addison Shaler, and donated to the City of Waupun on June 23, 1929.

Fraser's work in Washington includes The Authority of Law and The Contemplation of Justice at the U.S. Supreme Court; the south pediment and statues at the National Archives; Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin at the U.S. Treasury; and the Second Division Monument, completed with the firm of architect John Russell Pope. His commissions also include coins and medals, such as the World War I Victory Medal, the Navy Cross, and the Indian Head (Buffalo) nickel. This coin was discontinued after 1938, but has since been reprised in 2001 on a US commemorative coin, and more recently on a gold buffalo one ounce gold bullion coin.

Fraser’s major works include two heroic bronze equestrian statues titled The Arts of Peace, designed for the entrance to the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, behind the Lincoln Memorial. The pair was a companion to sculptor Leo Friedlander's The Arts of War, installed immediately to the south at the east end of Arlington Memorial Bridge. The groups had been designed in the 1930s but were not cast until the 1950s, because of a shortage of metals during World War II.

Fraser was a member of the National Academy of Design, the National Sculpture Society, and the Architectural League of New York. His numerous awards and honors include election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters and gold medal from the Architectural League in 1925. He served on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts in Washington, D.C., from 1920 to 1925.

Muralist Barry Faulkner, a friend of Fraser’s from their days in Paris together described Fraser like this: "His character was like a good piece of Scotch tweed, handsome, durable and warm." Fraser's papers and those of his wife, sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser, are held at the Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse University Library, the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

James Earle Fraser died on October 11, 1953 at Westport, Connecticut



You can click on the medals to see the reverse.

The Edward H. Harriman Memorial Medal1914
JEF-EHH.1
Bronze

The obverse bears bust of Edward H. Harriman facing l. torch to his left. Above, (rosette) EDWARD H HARRIMAN MEMORIAL MEDAL (rosette); across bust, AWARDED - BY THE / AMERICAN - MUSEUM / OF SAFETY - TO; inscribed under bust, ATLANTIC COAST LINE RAILROAD COMPANY / GROUP A RAILROAD; signed at right, JEF monogram

The reverse bears railroad man on tracks near signal, wearing cloak and carrying signal flag and lanterns. At left, FOR THE / UTMOST / PROGRESS; at right, IN SAFETY / AND / ACCIDENT / PREVENTION

Edward Henry ("Ned") Harriman made a career of rebuilding bankrupt railroads. At age 50 he became director of the Union Pacific Railroad. A year later he was chairman of the executive board and another five years later he was president of the company. At the time of his death in 1909 he controlled the Union Pacific, the Southern Pacific, the Saint Joseph and Grand Island, the Illinois Central, the Central of Georgia, the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, and the Wells Fargo Express Company.

With the explosive growth in railroads around the beginning of the 20th century, accidents became an ever larger concern to the industry and to the public. In 1913 Edward Harriman's widow, who had inherited her husband's entire estate, sponsored this medal to encourage the young industry to pay more attention to the safety of its employees.

The American Museum of Safety presented medals in gold, silver, and bronze to railroads in three groups of line-haul carriers and a fourth group of switching and terminal companies for attaining the best employee safety records during the preceding year.

This medal measures 70mm in diameter. Early versions were struck by Tiffany and Co. in bronze, silver, and gold; later versions by the Medallic Art Company. The mintages are not reported.

References: Baxter 233, Freundlich 34, Marqusee 161, Storer 6626

The Williams Medal1918
JEF-TWM
Bronze

The obverse bears line of steel-helmeted doughboys, rifles in hand, with bayonets fixed, about to go over the top. To right, FOR / HUMANITY / 1918.

The reverse bears imaginary portrait of Col. Ephraim Williams, founder of Williams College, on horseback, in the uniform of a Continental Army officer. Around top, E LIBERALITATE E WILLIAMS ARMIGERI 1793; at bottom, THE WILLIAMS MEDAL;

Edge engraved to GOODRICH C. SCHAUFFLER PRIV.

The official description for the medal's reverse is actually a bit incorrect. The medal depicts Williams at Lake George in 1755, so he is in the uniform of a French and Indian War officer, not a Continental officer.

This medal measures 73mm in diameter and was struck in bronze. The college awarded a total of 1726 pieces to Williams men who served in World War I.

References: Baxter 320, Marqusee 165


Oregon Half Dollar1926-1939
by Laura Gardin Fraser, James Earle Fraser
OHD
Silver

The obverse bears a Conestoga wagon drawn by oxen heading into setting sun.

The reverse bears a Native American in headdress in front of a U.S. map.

The controversial history of the Oregon Trail Half Dollar is well-documented and does not have to be repeated here. This half dollar is the only piece of sculpture on which Laura and her husband cooperated. She designed the obverse, he the reverse; she then completed the models for both sides. They cooperated on other projects, for example the Elks National Veterans Memorial, by working on independent pieces of sculpture.

The original, larger pictures can be found at Wikimedia.

Pony Express - New Frontiers 1952
by James Earle Fraser
SOM-45.1
Golden bronze with light tan patina
SOM-45.2
Silver
SOM-45.1
Bronze
73.0mm (2.87in)
Golden bronze with light tan patina
THE SOCIETY OF MEDALISTS 45TH ISSUE 1952-JAMES E. FRASER, SCULPTOR
Golden bronze with tan patina
SOM-45.2
Silver
73.0mm (2.87in)
SPECIAL EDITION - SOCIETY OF MEDALISTS (C) 1993 FINE SILVER - MEDALLIC ART COMPANY
"The Discoverers" Medal1994
JEF-TD.1
Bronze

This medal's obverse bears allegorical figure representing the Spirit of Exploration at the top; in the center are two explorers surrounded by Native Americans, some of whom are carrying a canoe. Signed on base, J E FRASER

The reverse bears multi-line inscription: COMMEMORATING / THE / SEVENTY-FIFTH / ANNIVERSARY / OF THE / CHICAGO COIN CLUB / 1919 - 1994 / ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ / "THE DISCOVERERS" / A SCULPTURE BY / JAMES EARLE FRASER / MICHIGAN AVENUE BRIDGE / CHICAGO, ILLINOIS; in rectangle below, incuse serial number 00011.

The medal is a reduced replica of a famous Chicago sculpture by James Earle Fraser. The monumental sculpture is one of a set of four that decorate the Michigan Avenue Bridge. The chewing gum tycoon William Wrigley, Jr. paid for both "The Discoverers" and "The Pioneers", this design's sibling monument. The sculpture is dedicated to Father Jaques Marquette, Robert Cavalier de LaSalle, and Henri de Tonti, who explored the Great Lakes area in the late 17th century.

This medal was issued to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Chicago Coin Club, historically one of the most active collectors' organizations to issue medals.

The irregularly shaped plaquette measures 67mm x 89mm. It was struck in a mintage of 1 piece in gold, 36 in silver and 165 in bronze. The original subscription price was $2,165 for the piece in gold, $125 for a silver piece, and $20 for the more common bronze variant.

"The Pioneers" Medal1999
JEF-TP.1
Bronze

This medal's obverse bears allegorical figure at the top, pointing onward; below, a purposeful man walking with shouldered musket and a hatchet in one hand; next to him, a woman on horseback, holding a baby; completing the group are two more pioneers, a Native American, and an oxen. Signed on base, J E FRASER

The reverse bears multi-line inscription: COMMEMORATING / THE / EIGHIETH / ANNIVERSARY / OF THE / CHICAGO COIN CLUB / 1919 - 1999 / ✶ ✶ ✶ ✶ / "THE PIONEERS" / A SCULPTURE BY / JAMES EARLE FRASER / MICHIGAN AVENUE BRIDGE / CHICAGO, ILLINOIS; in rectangle below, incuse serial number 00011.

The medal is a reduced replica of a famous Chicago sculpture by James Earle Fraser. The monumental sculpture is one of a set of four that decorate the Michigan Avenue Bridge. The chewing gum tycoon William Wrigley, Jr. paid for both "The Pioneers" and "The Discoverers", this design's sibling monument. The sculpture was completed in 1928, eight years after the bridge.

This medal was issued to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Chicago Coin Club, historically one of the most active collectors' organizations to issue medals.

The irregularly shaped plaquette measures 67mm x 89mm. It was struck in a mintage of 2 pieces in gold, 32 in silver and 105 in bronze. The original subscription price was $2,500 for the piece in gold, $150 for a silver piece, and $35 for the more common bronze variant ($30 if preordered). In addition to the finished medals, 11 process sets that consisted of nine bronze pieces, starting with the blank, unstruck planchet and ending with the finshed medal were sold for $250 each.

This section has yet to be written.

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.
The Sculpture of James Earle Fraser
A. L. Freundlich's book on Fraser, containing somewhat poorly produced images and great biographical material.
American Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art Volume II
A Catalogue of Works By Artists Born Between 1865 and 1885 Edited By Thayer Tolles; Catalogue By Donna J. Hassle (Volume 2).
Dictionary of American Sculptors
Glenn Opitz' book covering many of the sculptors listed on this site.
Masters of American Sculpture
Donald Martin Reynolds authoritative work on figurative sculpture from 1893 to today.

Research Archives and Websites

James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser Papers at Syracuse University
Research archive of letters, books, sketches, etc.

Museums