Frederick Warren Allen


North Haven Artists

Known as the Bohemians by the summer people on North Haven Island, a wonderful community of artists flourished at Bartlett’s Harbor with a view of the Camden Hills across Penobscot Bay on the midcoast of Maine. The major artists there were Frank Benson, Bela Pratt, Frederick Allen and Beatrice Van Ness although there were many other fine and accomplished men and women who practiced their art there or came to visit and participate in the life of those who did.

Leaping Fish, side view, at North Haven cottage in Maine, made of sculpmetal, an experimental material. Frederick Warren Allen, Sculptor c. 1960.

A beautiful sea creature, here created from the rich imagination of an artist. Its forked tailfin rises high above its head as it dives into the waves. Still swimming elegantly in the air with the narrow flexible body swishing from side to side, its spiny dorsal fin is raised like a sail with a scalloped edge, stabilizing it as it enters the water. The pectoral fins also provide stability, a flat trapezoidal shape of equal size and placement on both sides with the same scallop design repeated from the dorsal fin. The weight of the long graceful body is supported just under the gills on the equally graceful curves of the waves. The fork in the high caudal fin is mimicked by a fork formed between two low waves on the same side at the base of the composition. The whole piece is positioned in a metal collar, off center, and yet it is perfectly balanced. It could spin beautifully if it were free to move on the round base.

Sculpmetal was an experimental material that could be used for sculpting. It was described as a sort of malleable metal that you could work with your hands, then polish to a metallic sheen when it dries.

For Allen, it was an experiment in a new medium and the new modern style of the times, a brilliant look for the shining scales of this silver fish leaping above the waves.

Leaping Fish, front view, a modern design in sculpmetal, shows balance achieved off center on small base. F.W.Allen, Sculptor c. 1960.

It was a stylized version of a fish, not one that is of any known species. It perhaps comes close to the herring or mackerel that he caught in Bartlett’s Harbor and smoked in his hand made brick smokehouse, built against a hill between his house and his North Haven studio. His daughter describes it. “It was small, much like a tall doghouse. He kept fires of alderwood, from up the road toward the mailboxes, smoldering for something like two to three days and nights, producing racks of delicious smoked herring and mackerel.” (from Memories of North Haven, 2012, by Barbara Allen Benton, p. 37)

Anatomically, there is one feature that adds to the design. There are two parallel ridges the whole length of the body, which add visual length to the actual length of the fish. The “lateral line” is an essential sensory organ that runs along the sides of a fish from the head to the base of the tail to detect movement in the water around it. Here Allen shows it almost as a superficial vein. It is actually a fluid filled canal just under the skin, similar to a vein. Parallel to it and lower on the side is another ridge. There is no anatomical equivalent, but the line indicates the typical division of dark back scales from white belly scales, acting as camouflage against predators.

Kate Jennings writes to Agnes Allen from North Haven, “We have many pictures of the beautiful fish at home, so when we get back, I will mail you some. It looks so lovely on a ledge at the cottage and we have enormous pleasure from it. Sincerely yours, Kate Jennings.” Then again from her home on Long Island, NY, “Dear Mrs. Allen, Here are some pictures of the fish which I hope are what you want. He is really beautiful.”

PEGASUS II, c. 1960
Owned by Mrs. B.Brewster Jennings
Sculpmetal Imaginative study
No images or information other than a note by Elizabeth MacLean Smith, Allen’s assistant teacher.
“Pegasus II in sculpmetal is a late experiment with a new material as is the Fish.” (Smith)

A humorous Tree Trunk Figure named “Hurry Back” illustrates the practice of waving goodbye from the dock to summer guests leaving on the North Haven Ferry. F.W.Allen, Sculptor, 1960

What a humorous use of a piece of wood! Here was a figure lying on the ground just waiting for an artist to bring it to life. Up in North Haven, Fred Allen would often walk the beach looking for shapes that suggested a sculpture. And he was mischievous, so with this opportunity to be playful, he put a handkerchief in what he saw as an outstretched hand and painted the words “Hurry Back” on the base. He brought the funny figure to life. The tradition among the summer residents was to bring their overnight guests down to the ferry dock and wave goodbye as they motored out of the Thoroughfare, so one of the Hallowell family saw the humor and bought the Tree Trunk figure for $25 at the Summer Show of the North Haven Art Association.

Trained in the classical style, the figure was what taught artists schooled for a profession in the fine arts most of what they needed to know about sculpture. Allen saw the figure immediately suggested in this tree trunk. He taught his students to “Let the material suggest the treatment” to use all of the stone or piece of wood and let the object itself contribute to the design. (Smith) The Tree Trunk is an example of this. He recognized a bare shoulder and arm extending from a body clothed in bark, bent forward earnestly at the hips and knees. The viewer can almost see the shoulder blade and the elbow. The head is raised toward the hand waving to the departing guests and the face gazes out toward the imagined ferry, the hair or cap distinguished from the face by the bark. There are even fingers on the hand to hold the handkerchief. Opportune coincidences and he took advantage of them all!

“Hurry Back”
Wood Imaginative study
Exhibited in 1960 at North Haven Art Association Summer Show

Fisherman, modeled in North Haven, ME. Exhibited in the Summer Show of the North Haven Art Association. Frederick Warren Allen, sculptor, 1959.

Fishing and lobstering was a major source of income for the islanders of North Haven where Allen and his family had spent all of their summers since 1914. His descendants still enjoy the beautiful costal environment and the views across Penobscott Bay to the Camden Hills from cozy little Bartlett’s Harbor on the Western side of the island. Fred had always loved being out of doors hunting and fishing above all else (wife Agnes). In North Haven he spent hours skeining with the fishermen and taught his children how to mend the nets they used. His daughter Barbara adds details, “He fished for flounders in the harbor, rock perch along the coast, and cod and haddock in deeper water.” His son Frederick G. Allen remembers that he bought and set a gill net and caught so many fish he had to build and use a smoke house, distributing the smoked fish to all the neighbors for several years. (F.G.Allen’s memories) He knew the labors of pulling nets and knew anatomy from his years of academic training and teaching, so the figure of this fisherman is a study of a body at work.

One of the last clay sculptures modeled in North Haven, the Fisherman could be called a sculptural sketch. Because it has a flat back that looks like a stepped stone pedestal, perhaps it was intended as maquette for a monument, but more likely it was a sculpture to go on a mantle or against a wall. It was sculpted for the summer art show of the North Haven Art Association in 1959 according to the note on the back of an old photograph from the family collection.

The clay has been applied with an eye for the composition of the piece with the details left “unfinished.” There has been controversy among art critics about this subject, asserting that details don’t need to be refined to give a sculpture the effect intended by the artist nor to make it a completed work of art. (refer to Thayer Tolles essay on “Refined Picturesqueness” Augustus St. Gaudens and the Concept of “Finish,” 1999, Somogy Editions D’Art, pp 59-64) Tolles summarizes St. Gaudens manifesto on the subject by saying, “Saint-Gaudens argued that the quality of a work of art be judged on its character or effect, rather than on its degree of technical completion. A painting or sculpture should not be elevated by its state of incompletion nor did it have to reach a point of belabored smoothness or detail to be worthy.” The Fisherman’s details might be considered sketchy rather than finished, but that is up to the viewer. The effect of the movement and composition of the piece is powerful.

Fred had constructed a gambrel-roofed building beside their cottage with a skylight that he used for his sculpture work as well as a sleeping loft for his boys and a boathouse for the winter. This photograph was taken in 1959 as he was creating a clay sculpture outside his studio with his wife Agnes and a toddler watching. The sculpture he is modeling looks the Fisherman in its beginning stages as he was applying the clay to an armature. The second image is taken inside the boathouse studio in front of a cloth divider that separates it from the pink granite Head of a Woman that was purchased by the landscape architect and North Haven summer resident Robert Wheelwright for the garden of the DuPont Estate in Delaware.

In the sculpture, the Fisherman is pulling hard with muscled arms extended straight, his hands grasping the nets that fall into his lap as they come up the side of the boat. His strong body is braced against the helm, his powerful wide-shouldered torso twisted from the waist toward the viewer’s right in the direction of his task as he leans backward to counterbalance the weight of his water-soaked burden. His loose pant legs cling to the contracting thighs and tuck into tall wide-cuffed boots that roll down below his knees.

His square-toed feet are planted firmly on either side of coiled lines on the deck and push back away from the side of the boat. His muscles bulge with the effort and his mouth and square jaw are set with firm intention. Dark deep-set eyes under an angular brow with thick eyebrows look out to the water where the nets have been thrown. Around his forehead is a headpiece or a cap with a scarf that hangs down to his lowered right shoulder. The diagonal line formed by his left leg continues up through the torso and head. Other diagonals radiate out from the hands in the lines formed by the folds of the net, the two arms and the lower right leg. Another set of rays is formed by the knobs and spokes of the helm. The shell shape spreading from the hands is mirrored in part by the reverse curve of the ropes. The solid smooth mass on which he steadies himself, bordered like a triangular base by the legs, grounds the piece and gives it a foundation from which to move upward and outward. The spiraling movement is dynamic and the masses balance each other both in weight and line. Textural surface details in the nets and rope and the planes of light on the draped head cloth, fishing pants and boot cuffs make the whole richer, adding interest and color without detracting from the composition as a whole.

The plaster has been tinted a pale terra cotta color and the figure rests securely on an unfinished wooden base slightly larger than the base of the sculpture. It was created in 1959 for the North Haven Art Association summer art show and discovered about 35 years later on a beam in the studio barn of his colleague, the painter Frank Weston Benson, with a broken knob on the helm. It was turned over to Allen’s granddaughter who brought it to Skylight Studios for repair in the expert hands of Robert Shure who had taken over Allen’s studio when it was bought by Northeastern University and moved to Woburn. The Fisherman is now in a private collection.

Plaster cast tinted pale terracotta, base is unfinished wood.
Size: 13.25 x 7.1875 x 16.75 inches on a base 14.5 x 9 x 1.75
Exhibited: 1959 in the Summer Show of the North Haven Art Association
Location: Private collection

Viking, 1960

November 16, 2015

Those were the days when Allen participated in the summer art shows of the North Haven Art Association, acting for several years as its president around his retirement years. It is likely that Viking, in addition to the Tree Trunk and the Fisherman, was a piece he produced for the show. They were all meant [...]

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Dog’s Head, after 1933

October 3, 2015

What a charming little pup! Fred Allen enjoyed animals of all kinds and had a family dog that he loved to tease by putting peanut butter on the roof of her mouth. He had a favorite pooch as a youth, a big white bulldog named Prinnie and missed her terribly after she died. Not a [...]

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Horse’s Head

October 2, 2015

Stone is plentiful along the coast of Maine, perfect for a sculptor who likes to be inspired in his work by nature. In the summers, Frederick Allen sculpted for his own pleasure, using for materials the granite and greenstone of North Haven found on the beach of Bartlett’s Harbor on North Haven Island, his summer [...]

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Head of a Young Girl, c.1939-1957

September 28, 2015

‘Head of a Young Girl’ was kept in profile upon the sill of the stained glass window crafted by Connick, in Allen’s Tavern Road studio. Filtered through the gold and browns, the outside light fell upon the head giving it a quality of mystery. “Like the other stones, he came back to it after a [...]

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Head of a Little Girl, date unknown

September 28, 2015

Made from a granite North Haven beach stone, the whole “pebble” can be clearly seen here with the water-darkened exterior showing from the base of the neck to the top of the head and along the front at the bridge of the nose. A few lines are cut back above the girl’s forehead to indicate [...]

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Face with a Broken Nose, approx after 1933

September 28, 2015

Here is a perfect example of what happens when the sculptor hits a place in the crystalline structure of a stone that fractures a piece off completely and so badly mars the design that there is no choice but to discontinue. Having been discarded, this interesting face found a place to live in the Allen’s [...]

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Head of a Man, modern? primitive?

March 6, 2011

A departure from his typical style, one can only imagine that this primitive style carving was done just for the fun of it. His assistant, Elizabeth MacLean Smith remembers that, “It was only when most of his children had grown up that he had time to spend carving granite boulders for his own pleasure and [...]

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A Mermaid for Frank Benson, after 1933

March 6, 2011

From the waters of Bartlett’s Harbor on North Haven Island in Maine sprang a beautiful mermaid who wanted to be immortalized in stone and live on land. Frederick Warren Allen caught her and granted her wish, placing her in the lovely garden of his friend the painter, Frank W. Benson, where she could still see [...]

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Torso, Greenstone, est.1938

March 4, 2011

Conner – Rosenkranz, premier dealers of 19th and 20th Century American sculpture in New York City and authors of Rediscoveries in American Sculpture, Studio Works, 1893-1939, didn’t discover Frederick Warren Allen until fairly recently when they were presented with the North Haven Greenstone  torso for auction. In a conversation with Allen’s granddaughter, they told her they [...]

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Elephant, gray granite, abt 1938, 3 resin copies abt 1964

March 4, 2011

On a summer day on North Haven Island in Maine, Frederick Warren Allen was rowing the family dinghy in Bartlett’s Harbor in front of their cottage with his son, also named Frederick. As the twosome peered over the side of the boat into the water, father Allen spotted a large granite boulder. “There is an [...]

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Egyptian Head, gray granite, 1938

March 4, 2011

“This is the piece by which I would like to be remembered.” Carved in gray North Haven granite from the island he loved, the mature artist, Frederick Warren Allen had finally found his best expression. S0lid and heavy like the stone, possessing strength at it’s core and emotional power in it’s expression, stripped of excess, [...]

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The Wave, bronze, abt 1914

February 27, 2011

Inspired by Auguste Rodin? Very likely. Frederick Warren Allen was studying and sculpting in Paris in 1914 when Rodin was still alive (1840-1917). He spent many hours drawing in the museum galleries, taking special note of the new modern sculpture being shown there, especially at the Luxembourg Museum where Rodin was on exhibit. Before his [...]

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Carl N. Van Ness, bronze, abt 1920

February 27, 2011

The summer residents on North Haven Island recognized that over in Bartlett’s Harbor there was a bohemian colony of artists. The two groups didn’t socialize much together, the artists being absorbed in their work and isolating themselves to allow their creative juices to flow. Of the artists who lived in the colony or visited there, [...]

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Head of a Woman, pink granite, abt 1959

February 26, 2011

“Got a few minutes? Let’s go look for rocks,” Lewis Haskell, the venerable North Haven Island native and historian remembers Fred Allen saying. They would walk along the shore and he would point to a stone and have Lewis look at it to see if he could see anything in it. Head of a Woman [...]

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Frank Weston Benson, 1923

January 9, 2011

Frank Weston Benson (1862 – 1951) This amazing bas relief of Allen’s colleague Frank W. Benson is only 1.9 cm. That’s 3/4 of an inch! The coin-sized medallion was a gift of the Barbarossa family to the Museum of Fine Arts. F.W.Allen’s skill in creating such definition in such low relief and in such a small [...]

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