Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Artists of Lanesville - CHARLES GRAFLY, Sculptor

This excerpt is from A Village at Lane's Cove by Barbara H Erkkila recently reprinted and available through Ten Pound Island Book Company. Barbara was the best chronicler of Lanesville and also authored the book Hammers on Stone-The History of Cape Ann Granite available in bookshops around Rockport and Gloucester, and The Cape Ann Museum giftshop.

Charles Grafly was born in Philadelphia, December 3,1862, son of a shoemaker. His first job at $3.00 a week was cutting stone in the Struthers Stoneyard nearby. As he became more skillful, he advanced until in 1883 he was a journeyman at $3.00 a day. At that point, he decided to become a sculptor, and attended a drawing class at Spring Garden Institute.

Mr. Grafly’s art dated from the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876 to World War I, and included thirty years of teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He was greatly influenced by his painting and drawing instructor, Thomas Eakins, from whom he learned to understand the human figure and received a thorough instruction in anatomy.

The deeply respected Thomas Anshutz later became his teacher and continued the stress on depicting muscles, bones and sinews capable of movement. It was after the death of Mr. Anshutz in 1912 that Mr. Grafly attempted a portrait bust, using a death mask and photographs for reference. Suddenly, he threw them aside, destroyed his work and immediately, with great intensity, began again, this time from memory. He was satisfied with the result. Mr. Grafly studied in Paris under Henri-Michel Chapu and met the sculptor Cyrus Dallin there. A friend of Dallin’s, the Boston artist Joseph Rodefer Decamp, came to Lanesville in 1908 to sit for Mr. Grafly. The sculptor had married Frances Sekeles in 1895. Their daughter, Dorothy, who became a famous art critic in her own right, was born in 1896. The little family then began coming to Lanesville summers to “the farm.” In writing about her father, Dorothy Grafly Drummond said, “He fought for basic symbolism against general acceptance of the sentimental, the superficial and the illustrative. In his figures and in his heads, he dealt with fundamentals of character, structurally sound.” “Mr. Grafly was fine if you could stand the guff,” was the consensus of students, one of whom was Mr. Hancock. The teacher wasn’t one who led his students by the hand or with “pats on the back.” He usually came up to view a student’s work and said, “Very bad. Very bad.” Mr. Hancock, and no doubt Mr. Demetrios and Mr. Manship; were perfectly happy to absorb Mr. Grafly’s teaching, no matter what. Actually, Mr. Demetrios became his lifelong friend and shared his studio.

Mr. Grafly’s first public commission was a full figure of William Penn for the Penn Mutual Insurance Company in 1890; the figure was lost when the building was demolished. His best known work, and one he liked himself, is the imposing General George G. Meade Memorial on the Capitol Mall, Washington, D.C. It took ten years to complete. He had enlarged it in wax at Lanesville, then was so afraid of fire destroying it before it could be bronzed, he could scarcely sleep. Critics called the Meade “a realistic portrait powerfully done.’’

Lorado Taft, himself a sculptor and author of The History of American Sculpture, summed up the subject of Grafly ‘s portraits by saying “Grafly’s heads made all the heads modeled by his colleagues look like decaying vegetables.”

It was the custom of the day to do portraits of one’s fellow artists or students, and Mr. Grafly finished at least fourteen, including one of Hugh Breckenridge and his wife, Edward Redfield, Walter Elmer Schofield, Adam Emory Albright and Edwin Swift Clymer. Mr. Clymer had come to Folly Cove to spend the summer nearby, but is said to have had trouble making friends due to his bluff manner. Mr. Grafly did a first portrait of him with a wad of chewing tobacco in his cheek. Of course, Mr. Clymer promptly stowed it somewhere and sat for another more dignified portrait.

In 1905 the painter George Harding spent the summer in Lane’s Cove and sat for Mr. Grafly, who finished his portrait in six hours and thus won a bet. Another time, a delegation of women arrived at the Grafly home to escort Paul Bartlett, his sculptor friend, to a tea in his honor. They discovered both men on their knees on the grassy lawn pitching pennies. Unabashed, both rose, dusted their knees and greeted the women.

Early on Mr. Grafly had decided portraits were his forte. Among students and famous people who visited him at Woodbury Street were Walter Elmer Schofield, painter of impressionistic landscapes, about 1905; Blanche Stanley who came from East Gloucester in 1905 for her lessons; Dr. Joseph Price, who cared for Mrs. Grafly when he was needed; the entomologist Henry Lorenz Viereck, and William MacGregor Paxton, the painter. Mr. Paxton, in turn, painted a portrait of Dorothy Grafly in 1909. Clyde Bathurst was there that August and the sculptor, Albert Laessle, known for his animal studies, and who became a lifelong friend, sometimes modeling for Mr. Grafly’s compositions.

Three other students who have become known in their own right are Bruce Moore, Katherine Lane Weems of Cambridge (also an author) and Albin Polsk. The great artist Frank Duveneck posed for Mr. Grafly in 1915 at his studio here, and Childe HasSam, best known painter of his generation, came to the studio in 1918. He had also painted “Nymphs of the Sea” at Nicola D’Ascenzo’s new stone “castle” on the ledge at Folly Cove. Finally Mr. Humphrey Twombly, his elderly gardener, consented to pose for a portrait, which resulted in a valuable addition to Mr. Grafly’s collection of works.

When Mr. Grafly’s name is mentioned, many people think at once of his work, “The Pioneer Mother,” now in San Francisco. Done for the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915, it caused a lot of controversy in the art world. Many people objected to the figures because the two children standing in front of the mother figure were not clothed. Mr. Grafly refused to compromise his artistic ideals except for changing the mother’s moccasins to high-buttoned shoes as asked.

Children came to the studio from the Lane School with their teachers to view the monument in progress, then write a composition when they returned to class. No one mentioned the lack of clothing, and all seemed to get the message, Mr. Grafly reported.

Only a year before his death in 1929, the sculptor did a full length figure of James Buchanan for Buchanan Park, Lancaster, Pennsylvania “with a hat and gloves in one hand and a cane in the other.” as described by Pamela Simpson in a dissertation on Charles Grafly. Later, in only ten weeks, he completed a head of Admiral David G. Farragut in bronze.

Mr. Grafly was standing on the sidewalk waiting to cross the street in Philadelphia on April 19, 1929 when a car ran out of control, climbed the curbing and struck him. Two weeks later he died of his injuries. The sculptor had asked Mr. Hancock to take over his teaching duties at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and sculptor George Demetrios to arrange for storage of his work. Mr. D’Ascenzo also had been entrusted with last minute things to do to help. The bulk of his works, plaster studies, sketches and most of his papers, are now at Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, sent there by his daughter as he wished.


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