Artist Name

birth9/14/1889 in Chicago, ILPicture of Fraser on studio
death8/13/1966 in Norwalk, CT
parentsJohn E. and Alice Tilton Gardin
educationHorace Mann High School
Columbia University
Art Students League (1910-1912)
awards National Arts Club Medal of Honor (1915)
Julia L. Shaw Prize (1919)
Saltus Gold Medal (1924, 1927)
Ager Prize (1929)
Watrous Gold Medal of the National Academy of Design (1931)

Laura Gardin was born on September 14, 1889, the daughter of John E. and Alice Tilton Gardin. She attended the Horace Mann School in New York and by the time she graduated she had already completed two portraits and many small animal sculptures. Her formal sculpture education began at the Art Students League where she won the Saint-Gaudens Medal in her first year, a scholarship in her second year, and the Saint-Gaudens Figure Prize in her last year. She studied under James Earle Fraser whom she married in 1913. The couple purchased a house in Westport, Connecticut and built a studio that would remain the center of their professional lives till the very end.

Her early works were mostly of small size. Babies and animals, particularly horses and dogs, were her favorite subjects. Later she turned to work on a larger scale, and completed the reclining elks in front of the Elks National Veterans Memorial in Chicago as well as two small sculptures residing in the memorial's rotunda.

She designed a large number of medals, including the Lindbergh, George C. Marshall, and Benjamin Franklin Congressional Medals of Honor, the U.S. Army and Navy Chaplains medal, as well as medals for the National Geographic Society, the American Bar Association, the National Sculpture Society and many others. In 1936 Laura Fraser won an invitational competition for a double equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson to be placed in Baltimore, Md. Twelve years were required to complete that work. She also completed a "Pegasus" for Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina, a twenty-foot relief entitled "Oklahoma Run," busts of Gilbert Stuart and Mary Lyon, and three large relief panels depicting American history which were placed in the West Point Library.

Laura Fraser only cooperated with her husband on one project, the Oregon Trail Memorial Half Dollar. She survived James by 13 years to die childless on August 13, 1966. Without heirs, their studio was demolished and many of their plaster models and dies were disposed of or destroyed.

You can click on the medals to see the reverse.

Better Babies1913
LGF-BB.1
Bronze

The obverse bears two nude babies. Above, BETTER BABIES. The reverse bears a field for the name of the recipient and the following legend: BETTER - BABIES - MEDAL / AWARDED BY / THE / WOMAN'S / HOME COMPANION; signed LAURA FRASER / SCULPTOR. The medal is edgemarked © CROWELL PUB. CO. 1913

The medal exists in a 33mm gold and a 51mm bronze variant. The depicted medal is the more common bronze variant. The Medallic Art Company struck it between 1912 and some time in the mid twenties and the total mintage is probably in the hundreds.

Elaine Leotti, in her paper "The American Woman Medalist," comments:

"Fraser's Better Babies Medal done in 1913 for the Woman's Home Companion is her only piece which can truly be called feminine. It is a well balanced medal, nicely executed if a bit on the sentimental side. The babies' bare flesh is soft, almost palpable, their curls and dimpled elbows invite touch, thus appealing to exactly the audience the medal was meant to impress."

Today, the title "Better Babies" almost invariably elicits a wince or a giggle. What was the background for this medal? As the Eugenics Archive of Cold Harbor Spring Laboratory puts it:

At the beginning of the 20th century, citizens concerned about high infant mortality in the United States took up the call of "baby saving." These initiatives relied on standards for normal child development, as well as input from healthcare professionals and public health officials. Better Babies Contests addressed this concern for child welfare and physical development, becoming the first eugenic competitions held at state fairs.

The first "Scientific Baby Contest" to combine these standards was initiated by Mary DeGarmo in 1908 at the Louisiana State Fair. DeGarmo linked the competitions to the social efficiency movement and its call for standardized homes, roads, and schools. Many Progressives believed that such standardization would improve the lives of young children.

With the assistance of Dr. Jacob Bodenheimer, measures of contestants' physical and intellectual development were carefully recorded. Winning contestants often appeared in graduation gowns and were presented with "loving cups" to mark their achievement. By 1913, the Woman's Home Companion magazine co-sponsored the contests, which were simply known as "Better Babies Contests." The magazine presented certificates signed by DeGarmo and Bodenheimer documenting that winners had "a sound mind in a sound body."

Mary T. Watts and Florence Brown Sherbon had organized Better Babies in Iowa in 1911. However, in 1920 they were provided new evaluation forms by Charles Davenport, who was then a member of the American Association for the Study and Prevention of Infant Mortality (AASPIM). Using Davenport's forms, they organized the first "Fitter Families for Future Firesides Competition" at the Kansas State Free Fair. Watts and Sherbon added a hereditarian explanation for human differences to the Better Babies Contests' earlier focus on child development and welfare. Thus completed the transformation of Scientific Baby Contests as a vehicle popularizing eugenic ideas.

The bronze medal measures 51mm in diameter and was struck by the Medallic Art Company of New York.

Sourced from the excellent E-Sylum and the Eugenics Archive.

American Army & Navy Chaplains1920
LGF-ANC
Bronze

The obverse bears a U.S. Army Chaplain, wearing steel helmet, kneeling facing right, assisting wounded soldier in drinking from water bottle. At upper edge, 1917 - 1918; signed at left, LAURA G / FRASER / 1920.

The reverse bears cross over U.S. Navy dreadnought, South Carolina class 1908. Around upper edge, AWARDED TO THE CHAPLAINS OF THE / AMERICAN AR-MY and NAVY; across lower half, THE GENERAL WAR-TIME COMMISSION / OF THE - CHURCHES / FEDERAL COUNCIL OF THE / CHURCHES OF CHRIST IN / AMERICA.

The medal was awarded by the General Committee of Army and Navy Chaplains to the Protestant Chaplains who served with the Army and Navy of the United States during World War I.

The medal measures 70mm in diameter and was struck in bronze by the Gorham Company.

References: Baxter 326, Marqusee 166

Irish Setter Club of America1922
LGF-ISC
Bronze

The obverse bears a champion setter at attention under an Irish harp. Three clover leaves on each side. Around, IRISH SETTER CLUB OF AMERICA; over harp, signed LAURA GARDIN / SCULPTOR.

The reverse bears leash over dedication panel. Around, AFFECTION (*) COVRAGE (*) BEAVTY (*) INTELLIGENCE; in center, TO ENCOVRAGE / BREEDING AND / DEVELOP AND PERFECT / NATVRE'S CONTRIBVTION / TO A NOBLE RACE / AWARDED / TO.

This medal measures 76.3mm (3in) in diameter and was struck in bronze by the Medallic Art Company of New York.

References: Baxter 357, Marqusee 170

Morgan Horse Club Medal1923
LGF-MHC
Bronze

The obverse bears a Morgan horse in profile, facing left. Around, THE MORGAN HORSE CLVB; signed at left next to horse's chest, LAVRA GARDIN / FRASER 1923 / ©

The reverse bears mare with young colt facing right. Above, VERMONT; signed at bottom left, (LGF monogram) / 1923 / ©

The edge is marked MEDALLIC ART CO NY

The Morgan horse is one of the earliest horse breeds developed in the United States. Its foundation sire was named Figure, later Justin Morgan after his best-known owner. Morgans were used as coach horses, harness racing, general riding animals, and as cavalry horses during the Civil War.

This medal measures 75mm in diameter and was struck in bronze by the Medallic Art Company of New York.

References: Baxter 358, Marqusee 173

Morgan Horse Medal1923
LGF-MH
Silver-plated bronze

The uniface medal's obverse bears a Morgan horse in profile, facing left. Around, THE MORGAN HORSE; signed at left next to horse's chest, LAVRA GARDIN / FRASER 1923 / ©

The edge is marked MEDALLIC ART CO NY

This is a later variation of the original Morgan Horse Club medal that was used as an award medal by the American Morgan Horse Association (AMHA). I do not know whether Laura Gardin Fraser herself modified the die for the obverse or whether that was done later by someone else. Any additional information about this medal is welcome.


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.

John Endecott - Massachusetts Bay Tercentenary1930
LGF-JE
Bronze

The obverse bears a large bust of John Endecott, facing right. Above, JOHN ENDECOTT; across, MASSACHU - SETTS BAY / TERCEN - TENARY; below 1588 (flower) 1665. The reverse bears the image of the famous Endecott pear tree. Above, GOVERNOR'S GARDEN; accross, SA - L - EM / 16 - 30 / ORCHARD - FARM / 16 - 32; signed LGF below.

John Endecott was born in 1588 in Chagford, England. He was an English colonial magistrate, soldier and the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. During all of his years in the colony but one, he held some form of civil, judicial, or military high office. He died in Boston on March 15, 1665. The tree on the medal's reverse refers to the Endecott Pear Tree in Danvers, Massachusetts. John Endecott planted the tree in 1633 and it is alive and bears fruit to this day.

Approximately 200 of these large, 100mm diameter bronze medals were struck in 1930 by the Medallic Art Company of New York.

References: Marqusee 171

Hunter - Ruffed Grouse 1930
by Laura Gardin Fraser
SOM-1.1
Red-gold bronze with brown patina
SOM-1.3
Silver

This medal was chosen as the first issue of the prestigious Society of Medalists series. The obverse bears a hunter with rifle at ready, dog at point. To right, STEADY; to left, LGF 1930; at lower left ©. The reverse bears a ruffed grouse in display plumage on fallen log.

For this medal, Laura Gardin Fraser went back to some of her early medallic subjects that she was well known for: small animals. Rather than just creating an animal-themed medal, she put them in the human context of the hunt. It was a smart and popular choice, exactly what the new Society of Medalists needed. She wrote in the brochure that accompanied the medal:

"There are many persons who desire to collect medals but are unable to do so because the medal is used in most instances as a specific award. The scope of subject matter which bears no relation to a particular person or occasion embraces many forms of expression and the sculptor has a large field of choice. In this case, I felt that a sporting subject would be a departure from what one has been accustomed to seeing in medallic art. Therefore, I chose the hunter with his dog because it presented the opportunity of telling a story embodying a human and animal element.

The Medallic Art Company of New York struck a reported 3,235 pieces in bronze. A reported 125 silver medals were struck from the same dies in the 1970s."

References: Marqusee 174

All that being said, this medal in bronze typically trades on eBay between $90 and $130. Silver variants come up very rarely and can fetch several hundred dollars, typically in the $300 to $600 range.

SOM-1.1
Bronze
73mm (2.75in)
Red-gold bronze with brown patina
THE SOCIETY OF MEDALISTS FIRST ISSUE
MEDALLIC ART CO.N.Y.
SOM-1.2
Bronze
73mm (2.75in)
Golden bronze with light tan patina
THE SOCIETY OF MEDALISTS FIRST ISSUE
MEDALLIC ART CO.N.Y. BRONZE
SOM-1.3
Silver
73mm (2.75in)
THE SOCIETY OF MEDALISTS FIRST ISSUE - ONE OF LIMITED ISSUE OF 700
MEDALLIC ART CO.N.Y. - .999+ PURE SILVER
George Washington Bicentennial Plaquette1932
LGF-GW200
Bronze

The plaquette shows George Washington on horseback, facing left; fasces below, to left and right. Above, GEORGE WASHINGTON / 1732 - 1799; between fasces, HE WENT TO WAR / A COLONIAL VIRGINIAN / HE RETURNED A CITIZEN / OF - THE / UNITED - STATES; signed under horse, · LAURA GARDIN FRASER · SCULPTOR ·

The plaquette celebrates George Washington's 200th birthday and appears to be rare.

The plaquette measures 57.5mm x 91.8mm and was struck in bronze by the Medallic Art Company of New York. The reported mintage is 30 pieces in bronze.

References: Baker F904, Hansen 57, MACo 1932-025, Reed 3235, Y-246

Westpoint Sesquicentennial Medal1952
LGF-WP.2
Bronze (small)

The medal's obverse bears a flaming torch of leadership, a sword of valor and a laurel wreath of peace; On circumference, UNITED STATES MILITARY ACADEMY / SESQUICENTENNIAL; across, 1802 / 1952 / ©. The reverse shows a spread eagle below a rising sun standing on a shield, clutching arrows, and an inscribed ribbon with legend DUTY / HONOR / COUNTRY / WEST POINT / MDCCCII / USMA. A battle helmet of military service with the rod of authority are superimposed on the shield. On circumference, WEST POINT / DUTY / HONOR / COUNTRY.

This medal was commissioned for the anniversary celebration and distributed free of charge to schools, libraries, and civic groups for several years thereafter.

Laura Gardin Fraser maintained a long and productive relationship with Westpoint. In addition to this medal she designed West Point's Sylvanus Thayer medal in 1957 and. Finally, just before her death, she completed the American History bronze panels at the new library of the United States Military Academy at West Point. She had started working on them in 1935, "for love of country" as she said. Her patience was rewarded in 1964 when the panels were cast in bronze and installed at West Point.

This medal was struck at the Philadelphia Mint in two diameters: 51mm (2in) and 76mm (3in).

Centennial Medal of the American Numismatic Society 1958
ANS-48
Bronze

This is the 48th issue by the American Numismatic Society.

The obverse bears a kneeling nude inspecting two pieces of a fossil, hammer on the ground. Legend reads THE / AMERICAN NUMIS - MATIC / SO - CIETY / 1858 / 1958. There reverse bears two artisans at anvil, one holding die with tongs, other holding hammer, winged Pegasus above.

Laura Gradin Fraser wrote in the pamphlet that accompanied the medal:

"When nature petrified the first forms of animal and plant life, Nature made the first dies. The obverse of the American Numismatics Society Centennial Medal shows the potential archeologist, who, having broken a stone asunder, discovers a petrified animal form in one half and in the other a perfect impression of it, or the die."

The Pegasus represents the Arts and it lends inspiration to the artisans who are forging a medal using the simplest of tools.

This medal measures 89mm in diameter and was struck by the Medallic Art Company of New York. The reported mintage is 620 pieces in bronze.

  • Reclining Elk

    Reclining Elks (1927)

    Two life size reclining elks flank the steps in front of the Elks National Memorial, where the steps meet the sidewalk.

    This sculpture is located at the Elks National Memorial in Chicago, IL.

    Image used with permission from Elks National Memorial and Headquarters.

  • Centaur and Satyrs

    Earth (1927)

    A centaur is attended by satyrs, symbolic of man's "lusty" nature and his ties to earthbound pleasures.

    This sculpture is located in the rotunda of the Elks National Memorial in Chicago, IL.

    Image used with permission from Elks National Memorial and Headquarters.

  • Pegasus and Apollo

    Air (1927)

    Apollo and Pegasus: Symbolic of Man's Spirit and Aspirations. This small-scale sculpture served as the template for the large granite sculpture "Pegasus" located at the sculpture park at Brookgreen Gardens.

    This sculpture is located in the rotunda of the Elks National Memorial in Chicago, IL.

    Image used with permission from Elks National Memorial and Headquarters.

  • Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on horseback

    Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson (1948)

    J. Henry Ferguson was an admirer of Confederate generals and left a $100,000 bequest to honor two of the most famous ones in sculpture. A contest was held in 1935 and Laura Gardin Fraser emerged as the winner. She would spend twelve years of her life working on this project. Architect John Russell Pope created the base for the large sculpture.

    This sculpture is located on Art Museum Drive in Baltimore, MD.

    Image used with permission from Scott Mingus.

  • Pegasus

    Pegasus (1954)

    Granite sculpture of white, winged horse springing forward from a mass of clouds. The forelegs are bent and the head lifted towards the sky. A rider lies on the steed's back, head angled upwards towards the beckoning heights.

    The massive sculpture resides in the sculpture park at Brookgreen Gardens. The granite blocks from which the group is composed were set up in the gardens after they had been roughed out, and the carving was finished in place.

    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.
Animals in Bronze (1986)
Christopher Payne's book on animal scuplture, featuring a lot Laura Gardin Fraser's work.
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.
American Women Sculptors
Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein's book covering important American female sculptors.
Masters of American Sculpture
Donald Martin Reynolds authoritative work on figurative sculpture from 1893 to today.

Research Archives and Websites

Laura Gardin Fraser Biography
Meadowlark Gallery's biography of Laura Gardin Fraser.
James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser Papers at Syracuse University
Research archive of letters, books, sketches, etc.

Museums