Sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser – Mistress of Heroic Sized Monuments to Famous Commemorate Coins

Happy Birthday to American Sculptor and Designer Laura Gardin Fraser
(Sept 14th, 1889 in Chicago, Ill.)

Born a Sculptor
Born into a family of 3 girls and encouraged to pursue the arts, as a young child Laura showed a persistent interest in the arts, especially clay. Through the guidance of her mother who enjoyed the arts, she continued on this path and would make notable and famous commemorate coins and sculptures for the rest of her life.

Laura recalled, “Mother, whom we affectionately called Neo, was both a talented painter and musician. She taught us girls and encouraged us to study the arts.

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Hands of James Earle Fraser and Laura Gardin Fraser working clay.

After high school Laura started work at the Art Students’ League of New York. It was there that she would meet her future husband, James Earle Fraser, a sculptor, who would also educate her in sculpting. As equals they pursed their talent and throughout their married life they worked together in space, though on separate projects, having a respect for each other’s work.

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The two of them went on to design several famous commemorate coins. In fact one of Laura’s designs was resurrected in 1999 when the United States Mint issued a gold $5 commemorative featuring Laura Gardin Fraser’s original design for the 1932 Washington Quarter.

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Stereograph of Charles A. Lindbergh posing for the Congressional Medal made in his honor, someone (probably Ms. Fraser) holds a blanket as a backdrop, ca. 1928.

Also of interest, over the course of the United States Mint’s two hundred year history, Laura was one only two women artists to design coins for national circulation.

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Laura Gardin Fraser's maquette of the bronze sculpture she created as a grave marker for Fair Play, the sire of Man O' War, ca. 1930.
Laura Gardin Fraser’s maquette of the bronze sculpture she created as a grave marker for Fair Play, the sire of Man O’ War, ca. 1930.

 

She had a unique and remarkable talent for precise details on the smallest of objects such as the coins to statues of heroic-size sculptures such as her most famous work the dual equestrian statues of Generals of the Confederate Army Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

Another major undertaking was the creation of four larger than life sculptured plaques representing the strong traits in the character of President Theodore Roosevelt. The plaques, titled “Foresight,” “Courage,” “Power,” and “Leadership,” were commissioned by the Fine Arts Commission in Washington, D. C., at a cost of $22,000.00.

The works were completed in 1960 and they were shipped to Washington, D. C. where, for some reason not fully apparent to her, they were placed in storage. As it turned out she never did find out why the sculptures weren’t displayed.

Laura Gardin Fraser stands in the doorway of her studio.
Laura Gardin Fraser stands in the doorway of her studio.

Laura Gardin Fraser died on August 13, 1966. The Fraser’s had no children.

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