Charles Grafly, 'Pioneer Mother,' 1914-15. Bronze, 15 by 18 1/4 by 4 inches. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Drummond

Charles Grafly (American, 1862-1929)

Pioneer Mother, 1914-15
Bronze, 15 x 8 1/2 x 4 in.
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Drummond

Charles Grafly was among America's most sought-after public sculptors of the early 20th century, a time that saw a surge in the popularity of Civil War memorial monuments and sculptural adornments to building exteriors. A native of Pennsylvania, he was trained in the classical tradition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia (where he studied under Thomas Eakins) and later was schooled at the Académie Julian and Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. From 1892 until his death, he taught at the Pennsylvania Academy. Grafly's most
notable projects included the sculptural program for the U.S. Customs House in New York (1907) and the memorial to the Union Army general George Meade in Washington, D.C. (1927).

In 1971, Grafly's daughter, Dorothy, and her husband, Charles H. Drummond, donated the contents of the artist’s studio, which included paintings, plaster casts, cast bronzes, drawings, and tools, to Wichita State University along with funds to
establish an endowment for collection care. Today, the artist’s personal papers, which the Drummonds also donated at that time, are maintained in Special Collections and University Archives in the Ablah Library. The Ulrich Museum, meanwhile, is responsible for more than six hundred works, including the original plaster casts for many of his sculptures. In 2005, the Ulrich opened the Grafly Garden – featuring six of his sculptures and a stately colonnade, interspersed with foliage – adjacent to the museum and the McKnight Art Center.

The artist made Pioneer Mother as part of his commission to produce a large-scale bronze sculpture for the Palace of Fine Arts at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. The exposition not only celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal but also showcased San Francisco's rapid recovery from the
catastrophic 1906 earthquake and fire. The fairgrounds arose on 635 acres of landfill located in what is now the city's Marina district. The only building not razed after the fair was the Palace of Fine Arts; it was completely rebuilt in the 1960s. In 1999 the organization San Francisco Beautiful recognized Grafly’s sculpture, which had been moved to Golden Gate Park, with its Beautification Award for contributing to the city's aesthetic appeal.

Grafly’s bronze was intended as "an enduring memorial to those brave, loyal, and self-sacrificing women who made the American civilization of the State of California possible." (1) The Pioneer Mother Monument Association awarded him the project after considering nine of the nation’s leading sculptors, Daniel Chester French and Frederick MacMonnies among them. Grafly submitted several designs to the association, which chose one that differs from the Ulrich piece. Even though the proposed version represented here was not selected, Grafly himself liked it enough to cast it in bronze. The woman’s
erect, confident stance recalls the noble graces of Greek antiquity as much as it does courageous frontierswomen. Sculptures embodying the classical Greek muses typically hold a writing tablet, a globe, or a lyre, but this stalwart figure symmetrically
balances two infants aloft. True to a popular early-twentieth-century mode, Grafly employed the artistic language of the Beaux-Arts school to render this mother of the pioneer West.

--Patricia McDonnell, Director of the Ulrich Museum of Art


1. "All Honor to the Pioneer Mothers of California," Overland Monthly 64, no. 1 ( July 1914): 439.

The Ulrich’s collection includes more than six hundred works by Grafly.

 

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