NEW ENGLAND FOUNDATIONS and EDUCATION
North Attleborough records show a baby boy born May 5, 1888 to Frank West Allen and Esther Miranda Belcher Allen. The 1880’s were a time of growth in both industry and the arts. Attleborough was well positioned to benefit by the location as well as the topography of the town. Growth came so quickly that in 1887, North Attleborough and Attleboro became two separate towns. Frederick Warren Allen was born the next year, a new baby in a new town. Frederick was the fifth of six children born to a jewelry maker and a home maker in what became known as “The Jewelry Capitol of the World.” Frederick was a product of the mill town of Attleboro where he grew up, his Yankee ancestry and the artistry of the town’s thriving industry. To pay his own expenses as a lad, he worked in the shops where he learned engraving and hub-cutting, a bit like cutting cameos, but working in metals instead of shells. His bank account was enough to start him at the Rhode Island School of Design where he studied sculpture with Mannatt and Hazelton while he explored his artistic interests after his graduation from Attleboro High School in 1908. It was during his first year at RISD that he decided on sculpture as his career path. He was given a recommendation from RISD for entry into the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. He was accepted and thrived there, earning scholarships and tuition for his art education as a sculptor. He studied under Bela L. Pratt for 3 1/2 years, who had learned his craft under Augustus Saint-Gaudens, America’s most famous sculptor. Pratt recognized Allen’s talent and mentored him throughout his years there and afterward, securing for him a position as an assistant instructor in modeling at the school and his first major commission, a 23′ granite relief for the new Evans Wing of the Museum of Fine Arts.
THE ART STUDENT IN PARIS
In the summer of 1913 when he had finished his studies at the SMFA, he married young Agnes Horner the day after her graduation as valedictorian from Attleboro High School and they sailed to Paris for their honeymoon. It was considered de rigeur for an American artist to study in this leading cultural center of Europe to gain the credentials necessary to be successful in the United States. So he and his bride spent time absorbing the rich culture, studying and sketching in the Paris art galleries. They found the contemporary sculpture at the Luxembourg especially interesting. Rodin was living in Paris at that time, sculpting and showing his controversial new style at the Luxembourg. In a personal photo taken in his apartment on the Rue d’Assas is an image of Rodin’s Thinker, so he must have made a strong impression. His work in modeling often reflects Rodin’s style. They found two artist friends there, C. Arnold Slade and John Storrs who was studying with Rodin, and in the common practice of using acquaintances for practice, he made a bas relief of Slade, had it cast in bronze and took a death masque of Storr’s mother and later did a relief of Storrs himself . He studied under Paul Landowski (known for his Christ the Redeemer in Brasil) at the Academie Julian until it closed, then transferred to the Academie Colarossi until it too closed, learning from Paul Wayland Bartlett about architectural decoration and Beaux Arts bronze styling, perhaps also his innovative casting and patinating techniques. The Allens visited Bartlett’s studio where he showed them the pediment he was doing for the library in Washington and the figures for a New York building. The newlyweds returned in September to Boston where they found a room on Charles Street and a Studio on Tremont. Frederick Allen took up his duties as an instructor at the Museum School and together they began their life as a married couple, and he as a professional sculptor and educator.
TEACHING AT THE SCHOOL OF THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS
Starting in September, 1913 as an Assistant Instructor of Modeling in the afternoon class under Bela L. Pratt, the 25 year old Frederick learned from watching and listening to the master as he taught. Applying those lessons to his own teaching, he began to develop proficiency in his new endeavor. Associating with other superb artists of the Boston School who taught there, he learned more about how to teach in the traditional way, applying the practiced disciplines of drawing, composition and modeling to his lessons. He absorbed the ideals of the Boston School, representing subjects truthfully and naturally, creating art that was beautiful and uplifting, paying attention to harmony and balance on both the physical and emotional levels. This was the shining era for Boston in American art history. While New York and Philadelphia were considered the artistic centers, for this time during which the Boston School Painters were actively producing their special brand of art, Boston culture was thriving.
As he was teaching classes, he also took private students and worked as a studio assistant for Pratt to supplement his income, building armatures and carrying out his designs in clay. Like an apprentice, he learned his craft from a master artisan, honing his skills and developing his gifts. From Pratt, he also learned to teach and found that he was good at it. He was a student of human nature, so in his work as a teacher he learned how to communicate on a personal level to bring out the best in each of his charges. Teaching, too, is an art. By watching and listening, and then studying the personality and problems of each of his students, he discovered how to inspire them. He was strict, but fun-loving and became known affectionately as “FW.”
When Bela L. Pratt died unexpectedly in 1917 at the young age of fifty, Allen lost not only a great teacher, but also his mentor and friend. Allen was still considered too young and inexperienced to take over the department, so after having taught Pratt’s classes for about five months, Charles Grafly was hired to fill the position, commuting up from Philadelphia twice a week to do “crits” and instructing Allen on what was to be taught. Allen carried out his plans to the letter and taught the classes well. In February of 1918 he was made a full member of the faculty. When a new building was being planned for the school, Allen wrote a letter to the administration requesting that a third room and additional courses be added to attract promising sculptors. When the building was erected, his wishes were granted. He then spent time going to Philadelphia and New York to increase his knowledge of other schools, to expand his exposure to the arts and to look for new trends in sculpture . He felt the trips were of infinite benefit to him and broadening in their influence. In 1929 Charles Grafly died and Frederick Allen took over as head of the department.
As the new Head, he changed the name of the department from Modeling to Sculpture, added courses in casting, armature building, composition, patinaeing, and the relationship of sculpture to architecture. He held weekly contests and used the best results for the year-end exhibition. He used a new method of teaching, emphasizing structure rather than surfaces. Eventually he developed a full four year program with a certificate awarded for successful completion. The innovations may have been the reason that, when the school was reorganized in 1931, he was the only instructor retained.
In addition to teaching classes at the Museum School, he maintained a working studio and supplemented his income with private teaching. His classes and tutoring were popular and pupils were sent to him from many places. Upstairs he kept small individual studios which he rented to students and downstairs he pursued his professional work. His assistants continued to learn from him as he had learned from Bela Pratt and as Pratt had learned from Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The legacy continues and his students have passed down his teaching to the present day.
Frederick Warren Allen remained at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts until he ceased active teaching in 1957. His association there spanned more than fifty years from his student days until his retirement as Emeritus, the title being first the school had ever awarded.
PROFESSIONAL LIFE AND WORK AS A SCULPTOR
Not only was Frederick Allen a great teacher, he was a “true sculptor.” (Elizabeth MacLean Smith) There were no artists in his family and, according to his wife, no sculpture in their home, yet there was within the young Frederick the spark of artistic genius. It was a rare gift. The spark was ignited watching the gravestone carvers work, and learning from the hub-cutters and engravers of the jewelry industry in which his family worked. The spark grew into a small flame when he took an old rusty chisel and tried carving a head from a piece of sandstone from a quarry. Then at age fifteen he experimented with cutting into fieldstone, and “later got a chunk of marble and cut a horses head which thrilled him so he began to have visions of working as a hack sculptor for others.” (Agnes Allen) When he graduated from high school, he presented his first work cast as a gift to the school.
Although he had completed about 13 pieces while he was still a student, mostly commissions for portrait reliefs and busts and a war memorial for Attleboro’s Capron Park, it was the granite relief on the new Evans Wing of Guy Lowell’s Museum of Fine Arts building that first brought him to the attention of Boston’s thriving art community in 1913 and established his reputation as an artist to be respected. The Boston School artists, with whom he taught at the Museum School, were flourishing, even with the introduction of Modern Art at the Armory Show. With pride they established the Guild of Boston Artists in 1914, which remains in existence today in it’s original location on Newbury Street. Allen was one of its founding members. Two of his sculptures were included in the original exhibition (C. Arnold Slade, a portrait relief and Nydia, a bronze bust). Four (Nydia, Cain and His Conscience, Primeval Prayer, and Torso of a Dancing Girl) were part of the traveling exhibition that was shown in several American Cities in 1915 and 1916, earning him more praise in the art reviews for his emotional power and refreshing style. There followed through 1919 a period of productivity in a Beaux-Arts style and frequent exhibits of his work in spite of the first World War during which time he completed about 18 portrait reliefs, 8 portrait busts and 16 small bronze imaginative or ideal studies. He showed 18 pieces at the St. Botolph Club gallery in 1916 and exhibited regularly from 1919 through the 1920s at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. His little torso was lauded throughout the Boston scene from the time it first appeared at the Boston Art Club. In fact, the club did something highly unusual by collecting funds from its members to purchase a bronze copy. When the Metropolitan Museum also purchased it, Daniel Chester French was prompted to commend them for purchasing “so admirable a work.” (Archives of American Art, Boston Sunday Herald, May 4, 1919) He entered a piece of garden sculpture in the Gorham Galleries show in 1916 and was selected as the representative of Boston in a MOMA exhibit of American artists in 1933-34. At various occasions his work was on display at the MFA in Boston and at its associated Boston Society of Sculptors and at the Concord Art Association in the 1920s and 1930s.
The 1920′s brought memorials to commemorate those who served or died in the war, large architectural work and ecclesiastical pieces. In 1924 he completed his largest and most public work of art, commissioned to design and carve in granite the pediment and acroteria for Guy Lowell‘s famous Supreme Courthouse (New York County Court) in Manhattan. This remains his grandest and most ambitious work of art. The pediment, containing thirteen heroic size figures in relief, is 104′ x 16′ and the three statues on the acroteria are abt 13′ tall. This period also produced memorials to famous people and personal memorials to loved ones.
The stock market crash in 1929 and the beginning of World War II in 1939 brought years of poverty for artists, during which time Frederick Allen had to rely on his teaching salary and the few commissions he could obtain to support his family. One of those was the marble bust of Harvard’s beloved Dean which is part of the Fogg Museum‘s Portrait Collection, the bust of Mrs. Arthur Lyman of the Lyman estate in Waltham and Francis Kershaw for their estate in New Hampshire, and a wooden carving of the stained glass artist Charles Connick that was shown at MOMA in 1933. During the 1930s he turned to direct carving from Maine granite, sculpting pieces for his own pleasure. This slow and careful work produced some of his best pieces, among which are the Egyptian Head in the Smithsonian which was on display in the 1939 Worlds Fair, a companion female head for the DuPont Estate in DE, his endearing Elephant, a wonderful green granite torso, a mermaid for Frank Benson’s North Haven summer garden and other small “pebble” sculptures.
The remainder of his sculpting career was spent mostly as a Master teacher at the SMFA, but produced some stellar work such as the George Washington Memorial in Fall River in 1942 and a bust of Woodrow Wilson for the Rotarians in 1940.
He retired in 1957 with the title of Emeritus, the first bestowed by the Museum School, and spent the final four years of his life on his country property near Plymouth in New Hampshire and on his North Haven summer island home. He continued to sculpt for his own pleasure, producing a Pegasus about to take flight, experimenting with a leaping fish in sculptmetal, crafting a small decorative tree trunk for a friend in North Haven, and designing a sculptural sketch of a fisherman, probably meant as an idea for a monument.
In his life he produced a varied and fine body of work, numbering approximately 140 original pieces (not including copies). His work is listed in the collections of six museums and in many private collections. In a time when the fine art of academically trained sculptors and painters of the Boston School is emerging once again, his work will become known and appreciated for its contribution to creating a bridge between the old and the new forms of art in the 20th century.
LIFE AND WORK IN NORTH HAVEN, MAINE
“Father could hardly wait to get up to North Haven. He had Mother get all ready so we could leave as soon as the children were out of school in the spring and stayed as late as Labor Day. His teaching days did not coincide with our school days. The night before leaving he and Mother would be loading the army duffle bags into the car and strapped onto the running boards, while we children, on the sleeping porch would be peeking out with big eyes as they worked in the back yard in the light from the door. To me, at least, it was the most exciting event of the year.” (From the memories of his eldest daughter, Barbara.) The summer life of Frederick Allen and his family actually began before Barbara was born, even before Fred and Agnes were wed.
It started with the American Impressionist painter, Frank W. Benson, who started renting Wooster Farm in 1901 (bought it in 1906) on the Western side of North Haven Island overlooking the beautiful Camden Hills across Penobscot Bay on the mid-coast of Maine. The light was perfect for his famous plein-air paintings. There were several small houses nearby through the woods in the cozy cove called Bartlett’s Harbor that his relatives often rented. (Faith Andrews Bedford) He invited his good friend and fellow teacher at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts for a visit. Bela Lyon Pratt, a master sculptor, was taken by the rugged beauty of the island and in 1903 purchased one of those houses on the protected inlet, whose waters had until only recently sheltered schooners for their nighttime anchorage. In 1911 Pratt invited his student and studio assistant to visit for a week. (belalyonpratt.com) It made an impression. Fred Allen wrote in his diary that in addition to meeting Mr. Benson and other notables on the trip, he was impressed by the “rocky beach and fir trees.” Then in May of 1913, “Looked at magazine of motorboats and hydroplanes in Cooper’s paper store. Felt drawn toward that racing out-of-doors Maine life very strongly.”
When Allen began teaching as Pratt’s assistant at the SMFA, Bela again invited Fred to North Haven, this time with his new wife, Agnes. They lived in his cottage “Almeda’s Regret” for the summer and had a wonderful vacation. The families grew close and Bela encouraged Fred to buy the property next to him on the harbor, offering to help by buying the portion of that land that lay between them. Agnes wrote, “For our first summer in the U.S., after our marriage, (1914), Mr. Pratt invited us to stay in a house he had recently bought on the island of North Haven, which was not yet ready for his family who rented a house near by. To Fred, after his hot summers in jewelry factories it was like paradise. I don’t know how he got the money, as he never discussed such things with me, but we now owned a furnished house all complete with furniture and equipment, so we were able to bring our family there all its growing years during the summers.”
Summers were rather more like camping in a cabin than living at an island resort. There were no niceties like electricity, hot water heaters or indoor plumbing. Days were spent on maintenance and improvements to the property and grounds such as building a croquet court for the colony of artists that grew there, a sturdy pier for the boats, a safe path along the cliff for the evening milk trip, and a brick smokehouse for the quantities of mackerel the ocean provided. They also had fun times, like the neighborhood clambakes, dance parties in the boathouse with home-made root beer, and picnic trips to places like Saddle Island. Time was spent in the sail boats, motorboats and row boats, making trips to Camden for supplies, fishing for dinner which would be rolled in cornmeal and fried in a cast iron skillet, seining with the local fishermen, blueberry-picking on the sister island of Vinalhaven to be baked into pancakes and desserts, and watching the phosphorescence in the nighttime water close to shore, peering quietly over the sides of the boat.
And of course the local artists painted, drew, shaped and crafted, each in their own studios across the island or out in the fresh Maine air. The artists around Bartlett’s Harbor were quite isolated and liked it that way. They avoided contact with the summer residents, not because they were antisocial, but because they needed solitude and quiet to focus their creative energies. The peace of the island, away from the pressures of their professional city lives in this beautiful place allowed them to be inspired and renewed.
Frederick Allen told his assistants, “Only when a sculptor works for his own pleasure can he really be himself.” (E.M.Smith) Carving North Haven granite gave him pleasure and satisfaction. His “Egyptian Head” (Smithsonian) is one of those inspired pieces on which he worked over several years and the one by which he wanted to be remembered. Carving natural stones in this beautiful costal spot in his old clothes renewed him.
“Got a few minutes? Let’s go look for rocks,” he would say to the young islander, Lewis Haskell. (North Haven Historical Society has a book about his adventures.) The now 90-something year old local historian would walk with him along the boulder-strewn beach of Bartlett’s Harbor. He said Mr. Allen would point to a stone and ask if he could see anything in it. One boulder he noticed in the shallow water from a rowboat was distinctive. He could see a familiar shape carved by the waves and pulled it up like pulling a mooring, lifting it between two boats. He added the details and it soon became his endearing Elephant. Other pieces like the female head of pink granite for the DuPont estate garden and his stunning green granite torso took years to complete, and still others like the Mermaid for Frank Benson’s garden were left unfinished. Odd shapes suggested unique interpretations, like his primitive-looking head of a man. Some were “pebble” sculptures like the charming little horse’s head. A few had to be abandoned because of a crystalline fault in the stone.
He liked sculpting in natural outdoor light, but there were foggy or rainy cold days when he moved into his studio, converted for the summer from the winter boathouse. Lewis remembers that he later used a “power chisel” instead of hand tools and had a forge where he did his sharpening. He also worked in clay, building an armature and forming the basic structure, then adding details. His sketch of a fisherman or Viking hauling heavy nets is one such North Haven modeled sculpture.
Summer artists had their studio spaces in various places on the island and a small art colony began to grow with its center in Bartlett’s Harbor. And then a large hole was created. Bela unexpectedly died in 1917. Frank vacationed elsewhere that summer which helped ease the loss of his dear friend. Benson painted on the West coast if the island for over fifty years and his daughter became a painter. Bela Pratt’s family continued on, Pratt’s son Dudley becoming a sculptor himself. Allen’s daughter finished the Museum school’s silversmithing program of study. Beatrice Van Ness, Allen’s age, painted on the far end of the harbor. She and Fred traded, a painting for a portrait bust of her husband Carl. Helen Paulsen who taught rug-hooking and crafting with embroidery and shells lived on the point at the other side of the Pratts. There was a kiln in the Barnacle behind the Pratt house for firing pottery and the clay tiles created by Barbara Stearns. Abbott Cheever rented the Nabby House and did a fine charcoal portrait of Allen. From the summer residents, Mary Orne Bowditch became a sculptor, two of the Bigelow boys were artists as were Jane and Philip Jamieson, and Eliot Eliofsen of Life Magazine who showed watercolors. The landscape architect, Robert Wheelwright taught watercolor painting there and was a regular vistor on the Allen porch. Gardiner Cox contributed his famous portraits and Eliot Beveridge his harbor paintings. And, of course, there were many amateur artists drawing and painting who made a major contribution. Professional artists from outside the island were invited to enjoy some vacation time and share the beauty. Joseph DeCamp ended up buying property on Vinalhaven. Art shows became an annual event and the North Haven Art Association grew out of it in 1937.
The first World War had put a damper on the spirit of freedom of the islanders with submarines in the waters, and the loss of Bela Pratt was sorely felt. The arrival of Modern Art meant that these traditionally-trained artists were slowly becoming less popular, but they survived until the stock market crash when many of the wealthy summer residents had to sell off their properties. Life as it had been known on North Haven started to erode and changed completely with the advent of World War II. The social lines blurred as the children of the elite and those of the common folk of the community began to serve their country side by side as equals. The population dwindled, luxuries were gone and life became very simple again as it had been in the early days. (North Haven Summers) Allen owned his property outright so continued to bring his family as did others in this isolated harbor neighborhood. “As time went on, however, and he was nearing retirement, he felt the need of being more in the stream of events. I told him that to be included he must give something of himself; so, when asked to be president of the Art Association, an active group with many fine artists, he accepted. He was a successful well-liked president and made many friends.” (Agnes Allen)
With the war over, the demand for art very low, and the traditional arts no longer fashionable, North Haven became a place where Allen turned to direct carving for his own pleasure and finished some of his most memorable pieces.
PERSONAL AND FAMILY LIFE
Frederick Warren Allen was a complex man with depth of feeling, wide versatility, and high goals. His favorite saying was taken from Goethe, the full text of which is, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
His loving wife of 44 years knew him best. Fred first saw Agnes Horner on June 4, 1911 when he was 22 years old, and she was but 15, the daughter of a Unitarian minister who had just moved to town. Fred went to church, sat behind Agnes, and immediately decided she was the one for him. Reluctant at first, Agnes warmed to Fred’s attentions and after having tried different approaches he finally won her with his charm and they became engaged October 29, 1911. Allen kept a diary from 1909-1924. The entries chronicle his dogged pursuit of the “the loveliest girl I’ve ever met,” until, against both families’ advice, they were wed on June 29, 1913. She was only 17 and had just turned 25. The local paper read, “Young Sculptor Finds His Ideal and Now Will Wed Her.” The town was all a-buzz!
In describing her husband, Agnes chose two passages from a book by an author she named as Philpotts, “His eyes were bright, his face thin, his mouth hard and strong. He stared (opponents) out of countenance. One might have perceived that this boy of 17 possessed a stronger will than any of his hearers. … Consciousness of power was in the glance of the man: physically he never showed weariness; mentally he was impatient of any attitude described as slovenly or shirking. He looked on the general desire for comfort as weakness.”
Physical Appearance: “Fred gained a height just under six feet, though both his parents were small. He was slight, average weight 145 lbs., though very strong. His hair was dark brown and rather curly but he turned bald quite early and used, when possible to wear hat. He scoffed at the idea of trying to look like an artist but did in his linen smocks and tam.” (Agnes)
Health: He maintained that lean strong physical build his entire life from hard physical work and a good diet. He enjoyed good health with few exceptions. The first of his Secrets to Success written in the back of his diary was a “Careful choice of food.” He told Agnes that as a boy, “he suffered considerably with a back tooth. He went to the dentist and had it out, took it secretly to a chopping block and ground it to powder with maul.” He also had some trouble with a foot. His daughter Barbara remembers, “I do not remember his ever having a “sick day” in his life but he had a miserable corn on his foot and would roar with pain if someone accidentally kicked it. We thought he wore very funny shoes but they must have been a shape that was comfortable for him.” There was a little glaucoma late in life that caused him to hug the side of the road and worry, because his one dread was of becoming blind and dependent on his children. He mentioned once in his diary three months before their marriage having a “bad spell with heart” but didn’t allude to whether it was a health or love problem. His heart was his demise in the end, however. Only four years following his retirement, in the winter of 1961 the milkman found under the Jeep had been working on. He had died of a heart attack. Until then he had seemed in perfect health.
A love of nature and the outdoor life was a constant part of him from the beginning to the end of his 73 years on earth. When he was a boy of four he developed his love for walking in the pine woods enjoying the sky, huge boulders and peaceful waters of the property on which the family attempted farming for a year. When school became a nightmare, he would put “his mind on the hour of dismissal when he would be free to wander in the woods.” “He loved to be out in the wilds, hunting or fishing above all else.” (Agnes) That love was expressed it in the purchase of their home in a pine grove in Concord where Fred and Agnes raised their family. Their favorite picnic spot was on a hillside pasture with a brook that they named “Rocky Rill.” He built a cabin and eventually their retirement home on their hundred-acre mountain country property in New Hampshire with its old evergreens, open meadows and rushing trout brook with a waterfall. He loved working in the woods there, ice-fishing with the neighboring men and exchanging hospitality with the people on the hill. North Haven, Maine was their summer home where he kept busy out of doors on this island of rocky shores and tall fir trees. Life was an adventure! He loved the outdoor, almost pioneering, life of the country. The beauty and adventure fed his soul.
Building projects: He liked to make things, such as little boats he could sail down the river as a boy. When he was older, he made a canoe he could ride in. He built a little hut on the back edge of their yard, just big enough to crawl into with his trophies, squirrels, muskrats, and a blue jay, on the walls. He took delight in hiding away there with his “Diamond Dick” novels and smoking a little old pipe. (Agnes) While working as apprentice and as a sculptor, he put his building ability to use making armatures for large memorial sculptures and sturdy stands to hold heavy stone. On his properties he built a camp, then a lodge with a fieldstone fireplace, then helped with the construction of his retirement home. In Maine he built a sturdy stone and wood pier that still stands with a raft, a boathouse that was also his summer studio and bunkhouse for his boys and a rock and log seawall (Fred G). He filled a swampy area to build a croquet court for the neighborhood families and constructed other game areas and toys for the children, made his own target and arrows for archery (Fred G), cages and exercise equipment for the little wild pets, and a brick smokehouse for preserving the quantities of fish they caught. And of course he made sculpture, a building art in itself.
Physicality: The work of a sculptor is very physical. His family remembers him coming home for dinner exhausted from the day’s work. He would lean on his fist against his aching side muscles and ask his daughter to get the salve he used on cracked knuckles and dry sore hands from working with heavy plaster casts and cases of clay. He often said to his students, “It takes stamina to be a sculptor, and a sustained and vital interest. It’s a hard game.” (Smith) Although of slight build, he had worked on his strength diligently as a youngster and kept himself fit by working in the studio and out of doors, chopping wood, handling stone, clearing land, digging clams in the rocky beach, pounding metal on his forge and doing endless projects.
Athletics: He wasn’t much interested in athletics, but was always the best at the game of horseshoes he played with the men in their summer community. He could swim and hold is own in a game of tennis. He set up lots of games for his children and taught them to play tetherball, quoit tennis, archery, ring toss and croquet . As a boy he played a mean game of marbles. He would start for school with three or four and come back with 75, some “beauties.”
Meticulousness: “He was meticulously clean in personal habits – in no way a coarse or vulgar man, but he would pass on a questionable story if a good one — he liked to keep funny stories in his pocket to have on tap when suitable time for their use.” (Agnes) He directed that their house would be neat inside and out. The family must sit at a table with white linens and learn proper social behavior. He participated in the choice of furnishings and décor in their home and kept their houses maintained. He instructed his children always to pick up scraps found in the yard from the street and to put away tools after work to keep the exterior looking clean. He was meticulous, too, in his work environment, creating a productive space for creativity.
Work ethic: Being from a blue-collar family, he was taught early that to get anywhere in life you had to work diligently. “Resolve to perform what you ought: perform without fail what you resolve,” was one of his listed secrets of success. That a job was hard physical labor was never a reason for not doing it. He was tenacious about finishing anything he undertook, was endlessly patient no matter what he was doing and would stick at a job when others would give up. (Agnes) “Working, working, always working aren’t you, Mr. Allen!” remarked a neighbor passing by one day. Another person called him a “bear” for work. Sometimes to their displeasure, he taught his children the value of hard work by giving them endless projects to do. Better not be caught with your hands in your pockets in this family! But he made work interesting and stimulating, devising contests, setting goals, motivating everyone to work together and enjoy what they were doing. “Hard work brings success,” his students displayed on a sign after the completion of his pediment. They learned the lesson too!
Weakness: If one weakness were to be listed, it would be his nervous temperament. He was always on the lookout for trouble and it kept his nerves on edge. (Agnes) In his teaching job he was always worried about losing his position as so many of his colleagues had, so the stress of the politics was a strain. So too were the politics of working on large memorial sculptures, especially for such a conscientious artist, where limits set by clients and architects had to be satisfied for design, material choice, cost and completion time. (Smith) Driving on trips was always nerve-wracking in the early days of cars. With his concern about getting a flat tire or having motor troubles, he would be so nervous that the children would have to stay very quiet on the trip to Maine each year to keep him from getting angry. Money was a big stressor. He was always worried about not having enough supporting his family through the Depression and two World Wars. Sometimes life seemed black and hopeless. At bill-paying time it was not unusual for him to have an outburst if he saw waste. His children were afraid of his temper. His daughter said he rarely got angry, but when he did he would leave the house until he had calmed down. (Barbara) Agnes said that he would seldom stay away from home after a stormy scene, but there were times when “the depth of his disturbance would seem to warrant his clearing out awhile.” She also mentioned that because of his “high strung nervous temperament” he needed complete rest from social contacts in the summer.
Patience: Despite his nervousness, his assistant said that in teaching, “He had endless patience for a serious student, even one with slight obvious talent.” He was patient in any kind of work, chipping away at a task until it was done. He was generally patient with people, but had no tolerance for insincerity. (Barbara) He would think carefully about how to get a point across and respectfully present his thoughts in committee meetings and in his teaching. “He was endlessly patient chopping wood, cutting a cast away from a mold or chiseling granite to carry out a vision.” (Agnes)
Cars and boats: These were his toys. Starting with model boats, then his handmade canoe and finally the grown-up boats he bought for North Haven, he always loved being on the water and got the family and neighbors involved in the launching each year. There were always rowboats and skiffs. The first big boat was a tubby sloop with an engine for which he paid $90 that first year and sold in five to trade up to a family motorboat. He made that do for many years then bought an exciting Chris Craft speedboat! As exhilarating as it was, it wasn’t good in the rough Maine waters, so it went, replaced by a regulation dinghy with a sail. He maintained all of the boats, was able to repair the engines and designed an oak capstan that he used to haul the boats each year. (son Frederick )
Their first of several cars was a green Essex with roll-down isinglass windows and hand-operated windshield wipers in which they took many pleasant Sunday drives. He took great interest in each one. Packards were his favorite and he had a dark red sports car with a rumble seat. Then there was a big seven-passenger car with two back seats that folded into the front seats. He surprised his daughter once by driving 100 miles to visit in their first “beachwagon,” so stylish. He bought Agnes her own little Model T Ford to taxi the children and later Plymouths for her. The last of the series was his pride and joy, a Ford Thunderbird!
Musicality: Frederick was surprisingly musical and took an interest in promoting music in his family. As a youngster he competed for and won a spot in the Episcopal choir in which he sang for three years until his voice changed. Piano lessons he hated as a child, but found the clarinet. He learned to play and enjoyed duets with Agnes at the piano. He dreamed of having a family orchestra and encouraged each of his children to play an instrument. There was always a piano in their home. For the player piano, he bought rolls of grand classical music to which the children would listen from their beds upstairs at night. He surprised them one year with a record player and records and they spent many evenings by the fire enjoying the music as a family. They had a radio in time and later television sets. He particularly enjoyed listening to the cello, so a cello number was included in his funeral service. Interesting that his friend Bela Pratt played the cello. Perhaps that was a good memory for him.
“Proud and sensitive,” were the first words his wife used to describe his personality “He would not have exhibits of his work she noted.” He was “proud of his own independence, both professionally and otherwise (and) considerate in his expressed opinion of others.” (Smith) He would not cater to influential people to gain favors as some artists would nor advertise himself to get commissions. He would not stoop to bribery either and lost lucrative commissions because of it. Public sculpture was always a political process and often those making the choices were less than knowledgeable about the subject, yet felt themselves in a position to judge art. He would stand up for high values and for what was right and true in art, trying to form public opinion rather than be subjected to criticism by the uninformed. By doing so, he gained the respect of colleagues, professionals, students and patrons. He was proud, not as in having an inflated opinion of himself, but of always doing his best and being willing to stand up for his beliefs and ideals. “Every knock is a boost,” he would say. Adversity often brought out the best in him, spurring him on to better himself. “Fred believes that any big true artist will never sacrifice his work to popular taste. He would starve or die first so that he produces the best work of which he is capable. “ (Agnes)
Independence: From the time he was young, he was determined to be independent and made his life choices accordingly, making his way entirely on his own efforts. A key to that independence was saving. He started working when very young and saving became the habit of a lifetime (Smith) He never wanted to be a burden on his parents, and planned so that he would not be a burden on his children. One of the maxims on the front page of his diary was, “Those who have saved money are able to control circumstances when, otherwise, those circumstances would have controlled them. Money is power!”
Determination: Through his entire life this showed as a characteristic personality trait. When he found he was falling behind in his last year of school because of an undiagnosed learning disability, he took extra courses and worked overtime to finish successfully. He conquered algebra and geometry, which later gave him the ability to excel at making enlargements for architects. He was determined to continue his education beyond high school, the black sheep of his family, and worked to earn his course fees and win scholarships. He was determined to learn and soak up every bit of knowledge and experience he could from every opportunity that presented itself which propelled him forward quickly in his art. Once he had a bet with a dance teacher that he could do the schottische with one demonstration and did. He was determined to win Agnes and won, determined to finish his training ahead of time, marry and go to Paris and did, determined to be head instructor of sculpture at the SMFA and went beyond it to be Dean of Faculty and Emeritus. Two of his maxims show his determination, “A large part of my success in life is due to a willingness to do the things I didn’t like to do, and make myself stick to them until done.”
“That you would do, begin it, there is magic and power in it. Bite off more than you can chew, and chew it! Plan more than you can do and do it! Hitch your chariot to a star, and there you are.”
Sense of fun: His students recall a lively and articulate mentor. He had a good sense of humor and a reputation for being the life of the party at social events. His assistant said, “He was great fun to work for and with, always had twice the energy of any of us far younger.” He took pleasure in repartee, thinking of comical answers to questions that would send his listeners into gales of laughter. Agnes’ aunt once said, “He scintillates!” In a gathering he would radiate animation, eyes bright, often “putting it over” on the other fellow in argument or jest but in such a way no one could take offense. (Agnes) At home the family dog, Ronnie, was a source of fun for him. He occasionally plastered a thin slice of banana on his nose, or a smear of peanut butter inside the roof of his mouth and chortle and guffaw as the dog walked about, his head up trying to reach it with his tongue. Or he would dip the end of a little feather from a pillow in a bit of molasses, hand it to baby Sukie to watch her pick it from one hand to the other, back and forth. “Sometimes I thought he’d split his sides laughing.” (Barbara) In North Haven, “On some foggy nights he gathered the men around our big oak dining table for a game of Pit or of poker. We loved to listen from our beds upstairs to the merriment and Father’s great big laugh. One summer Mother read the Uncle Remus books to the family. I’ll never forget how Father roared with laugher at the pranks of Brer Rabbit.”
Business sense: Often artists are terrible businessmen. Fred Allen was an exception. Since he was a boy he had always worked and managed his own bank account, paid his own dental bills and bought his own clothes. As a teenager, realizing that his ambitions were greater than his family could provide for, he paid for his art education, commuting to school while living at home, working for Harvard Medical School making wax models for the study of disease, applying for scholarships and working diligently to be eligible. He worked after classes for a while as a surveyor and assisted Bela Pratt in his busy studio. He was frugal and saved all he could. He planned ahead to have enough to marry his Agnes and go to Paris to study, and when the opportunity came up to buy land in North Haven the following summer, somehow he had enough money to take advantage of that opportunity. Because he was handy, he didn’t have to hire outside help often for maintenance and building tasks. He found bargain treasures or traded services to furnish their home and his studio. Agnes was helpful, being well schooled in the household arts and very frugal, having never had spending money as the daughter of an ill-paid minister. But it went beyond frugality and self-sufficiency. He was a logical thinker and worked schemes out in his head. He did well in real estate investments. He bought and renovated an old stable for a studio and built rooms upstairs to rent to students. The first home they bought in Brookline had an upstairs apartment they rented to pay all the house expenses. In North Haven he bought another property with three buildings for the taxes, sold two right away and rented the other. He was also a good negotiator, thinking out sound reasoning for plans of action and was able to express those ideas to obtain funding for improvements in the courses he taught. He made some good investments in the stock market during the depression and Agnes thought, “It seemed to me he had a sense for money matters – a shrewdness.” Somehow, on a teacher’s salary and what commissions he earned for his art, he supported a family of five, gave them all good educations, owned a Studio, a home in Concord, a summer home in North Haven and a mountain property in New Hampshire and left his wife well supported when he died. That’s good businessman.
Family: Agnes and Fred Allen had five children: Barbara, Margery, Gordon, Frederick, and Susanna. After spending eight years in their first home, a duplex in Brookline, Massachusetts, the Allen family moved to a spacious traditional white colonial home in Concord in 1925, and remained there for 20 years.
His children remember a strict disciplinarian and sometimes-gruff parent during the school year when the pressures of teaching and providing for his family were high. “He was not given to talking with his children or showing affection but often gave them concise words of wisdom about life and people, and set them high standards of achievement, which had a lasting influence on their lives. He could look very fierce because of his overhanging black eyebrows and aquiline nose, but in reality they had nothing to fear from him.” (Barbara)
Frederick described his father as a man of few words. He taught his children to always be “inconspicuous,” holding modesty as a great virtue. He was a great storyteller and regaled his children with a continuous tale of “Pink-a-la-la,” who lived on Mount Meguntecook. The story began reasonably, but gradually fantastic things began to happen. The children could never tell when their father had crossed the line into fantasy.
He encouraged them to enjoy music and taught them to care for pets and wildlife. He took an interest in each child, discussing with Agnes what was best for each one’s individual development and education.
That he cared deeply about his children showed clearly in his acts when they were in trouble or sick. Margery burned her feet badly at a summer clambake and he carried her home, tended to her burns and told the family a particularly long Pink-a-la-la story to distract them. When Barbara was deathly ill from pneumonia, she learned later that he sat by her bed every night until she improved. When Frederick got into his first big fight at school, he received “many exhortations to bravery from his father.”(Scribble book) One could never doubt his affection who saw his anguish as he helplessly paced the shore while a daughter out sailing fought her way through a squall to her mooring.
“He was essentially a family man. He felt keenly the responsibility of his five children, supplied good homes and education and left his wife well provided for. When his work took him away from the family, he wanted daily letters about everything going on, and returned almost daily letters with instructions about duties to be done, troubles with contractors and committees, the hot weather and desire and plans to get back.” (Agnes) He carefully prepared and rehearsed the family for what to do in the event of a fire and he taught them to never go with a stranger for any reason unless they could give the code word “seven.” One of his dreams was to have all of his children living near him in New Hampshire when he retired. He was extremely proud of his children. His assistant said, “On a dreary or exhausting day, one could always cheer him by asking the latest news of them.”
Whereas in the winter he was absent much of the time and serious when he was, in the summer he was different with his children. He could relax, dress in old clothes and happily devote himself to projects and family. Days were spent enjoying activities in their boats, learning to work together as a team and going on picnics. Evenings were spent in family storytelling, reading together or playing games together. He could be ridiculously boyish and full of fun, remembers Barbara.
Versatility: There was nothing he couldn’t do if he put his mind to it. His brother-in-law wrote of him after his death, ““I was constantly amazed at how many things Fred could do and do well.” He not only made his own modeling stands and armatures, but did all his plaster casting….He had a forge in both his Boston and Maine studios and enjoyed working with the iron for both practical and ornamental purposes. He could repair almost anything out of order sticking at it when others would give up.
Leadership: His ability to lead showed at the Museum School and in the art world, but also in his living situations. He was good at organizing people and getting things done. He gathered a work party of neighbors, faculty and students to clean up the dump across from his studio, motivated the neighbors in their summer colony to work on projects for their mutual benefit and enjoyment, served as President of the North Haven Art Association, organized students and assistants to work on projects both in the Studio and at his New Hampshire camp, and even as a young man instinctively knew what to do to be a leader, to see clearly and calmly what needed to be done, then motivate participants to reach a goal or accomplish a task, even in an emergency. His family had confidence that he knew how to handle difficult situations and trusted him.
Religion and spirituality: Fred was raised in the Unitarian church as was Agnes. He sang for a few years as a boy in an Episcopal choir and his diary mentions his regular attendance at church while getting his education. As a family man, he would occasionally attend church with Agnes or take the children to Sunday school and had each child christened. He had a spiritual experience between high school and art school that brought him a feeling of calm, that everything would be alright. “But he never let religion comfort him; he felt he must succeed by his own efforts alone, thought it weak to rely on the supernatural.” The family remembers a few séances in which he received guidance about his work, but he “would not act on messages against his better judgment.”(Agnes) He often spoke of a future life to his assistants and they said “he truly believed that somewhere else we go on, continue to develop and achieve.” It is said that he didn’t believe in God, but he made beautiful angels! Perhaps that’s a testament.
“A man is a combination of many things” (Smith) Frederick Warren Allen was complex and deep. His wife portrayed him as proud and sensitive, his students and assistants as inspiring and enthusiastic and his children as strict but kind. He needed solitude, but was also the life of the party. He was a deep thinker, but also energetic and physical. He was a gifted artist, yet a humble person. He was a hard-working, self-disciplined sculptor, but also a great teacher and a talented student of human nature. His wife Agnes noted in the front of his diary that the words he wished said of him above all others when he died were “He had good judgment.”
“In 1961, he died with his snow boots on, there among the hills, rocks and trees which meant so much to him. … Here his teachings will go on, through his children and his pupils, and the granite boulders … he carved shall remain witness to a true sculptor.” (Smith)
The biography was compiled by his granddaughter Christina Abbott with assistance from writer Barbara Matson. See Research and Resources for sources. Any contradictions found in this writing compared to published sources are corrections based on information from his own diary or other facts found that conflict with personal memories of those who wrote them, or information based on hearsay or assumption. The most accurate information we can find is presented here.