James Earle Fraser was born November 4, 1876 in Winona, Minnesota, the son of Thomas Alexander Fraser and Caroline E. (West) Fraser. Attending schools in Mitchell, South Dakota, Minneapolis, Minnesota and Chicago, Illinois, Fraser studied art at the Chicago Art Institute under Richard W. Bock, and also studied in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Alexandre Falguere, and the Academies Julian and Colarossi.
At the age of 16, Fraser completed his sculpture entitled, “End of the Trail”, a piece which won him a $1,000 reward from the American Art Association in Paris. The “End of the Trail” is now one of the most well-known pieces of American art. Fraser’s wife, Laura Gardin Fraser, who was also an accomplished artist, thought of the “End of the Trail” as the “result of his boyhood spent on the prairies of South Dakota where he lived on a ranch built by his father, who was in charge of engineering, supervising the building of a railroad to Mitchell, South Dakota. He heard the Pioneers who would stop by the ranch house telling about the Indians being driven across the country to the Pacific; and since the Indians had always been friendly to his family, he felt an early sympathy for the treatment that was accorded to them.”
A jury member of the American Association of art in Paris by the name of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who was the designer of the $10 and $20 eagle and double eagle coins, and considered by many one of the greatest modern sculptors, asked James Earle Fraser to become his assistant. Fraser accompanied him to Windsor, Vermont in 1900 where his helped him in his studio.
In 1902, Fraser exhibited a portrait of Baby Hathaway Brewster, and according to Fraser’s wife “From this time on, he never ceased to have a commission”. He moved to New York City, and established a studio at 3 MacDougal Alley. The portraits he created at this time included; “Sonny” Whitney, a relief of Sonny and Flora Whitney, and Jock Whitney. He made portraits of Sherman and George Pratt Jr., and later of Roland Harriman, E.H. Harriman, Saint-Gaudens, President Theodore Roosevelt, Warren Delano, Elihu Root, John Nance Garner, Dr. William M. Polk, Harvey Firestone, Thomas Edison, Sage Goodwin, John Goodwin, Henrietta and John Deming, Pat Ford, and Eastman Chase.
Between 1906 and 1911 Fraser was an instructor at the Art Students’ League in New York City. Employing three different Indians as models, Fraser designed the Indian Head or Buffalo five cent piece, which was first issued in 1913. He also designed the heroic equestrian groups on the Arlington Memorial Bridge Plaza in Washington, D.C., the famous Navy Cross, and the marble statue of Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia.
On November 27, 1913, Fraser married Laura Gardin. In 1915, Fraser exhibited an 18-foot high plaster version of his statue, “End of the Trail” at the Panama Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco, California. The statue won the Exposition’s Gold Medal and overnight, became a popular subject in pictures, statuettes, and countless themes and forms.
Fraser had hoped “End of the Trail” would be cast in bronze and placed on Presido Point overlooking San Francisco Bay following the Exposition. The coming of World War 1 and the subsequent scarcity of metal made the bronze casting impossible. The statue was then consigned to a scrap heap, to be salvaged later by civic-minded citizens of Tulare County, CA. The statue was placed in Mooney Grove Park, in 1918. A bronze was eventually cast for Waupun, Wisconsin, but in 1968, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum transported the original plaster sculpture to the museum, where it was restored and molds were drawn to make an original bronze casting for Tulare County to replace the model. The statue was restored by Leonard McMurry of Oklahoma City. Cesare Contini of New York City completed the restoration and created the molds for Tulare County’s Cast.
Acclaimed for his many medal and medallion designs, Fraser was the first recipient of the Saltus Medal, the highest award for the art of the medal, from the American Numismatic Society in 1919. Recipient of the 1951 gold medal from the National Institute of the Arts and Letters, Fraser also received the Century Association Medal of Honor and the National Sculptor Society Medal of Honor in 1952. He became president of the latter society between 1925 and 1926, and honorary President between 1952 and 1953.
On October 11, 1953, Fraser died at his home in Westport Connecticut.
End of the Trail
James Earl Fraser (1876-1953)
James Earle Fraser was born in Winona, Minnesota, and raised near the Indian reservation in Dakota Territory. He made his first model of his masterpiece, End of the Trail, when he was only eighteen. The first cast was completed circa 1918.
This cast of the sculpture measures 33 1/8 inches tall (from the base to the top of the spear), and 31 inches long, and 8 1/2 inches wide. It was cast in December 1930, as a presentation piece from the Progressive Party to the First Circuit Court of Appeals judge in the state of New York, the Honorable Judge Learned Hand. It is a unique bronze cast, gilded by Tiffany & Co., and cast by Fraser's foundry, Roman Bronze Works. It is important to note the extensive wax work Fraser included on the small plaque located beneath the horse's feet, which depicts a bull moose, symbol of the Progressive Party. Also evident is the hand chasing completed by Tiffany & Co. over the entire surface (the gilding was removed by a previous owner who preferred a classic bronze patina).
End of the Trail was an immensely popular work that was cast in various formats and became one of the most iconic images of the struggle of Native Americans. The special details added for the presentation of the piece to Judge Hand, as well as the hand chasing done by Tiffany & Co. make this cast an outstanding and unique work.