On War Memorials: Allen’s theory and opinions

Biography by Agnes H. Allen
Biography by Elizabeth MacLean Smith
Interview in Boston Herald by M.J.Curl, 1920 entitled “Boston Artists and Sculptors in Intimate Talks XIX.—Frederick W. Allen”

Taken from the biography by Agnes H. Allen

“With the possibility of doing the sculpture on a War Memorial by Maginnis in the Fenway, which later went to another architect with change in politics, Fred spent a good deal of time thinking about it, studying historic uniforms etc. He talked to me about his need to get it all worked out in his mind or on paper before starting the actual work. He explained his thought of the need of two allegorical groups, one Memory, one Peace.

When I read to him from Jordan’s “Human Harvest,” the account of the terrible results of war through history and told him he should get something in his work to comfort and uplift, his observation was that, if the sculpture was perfect and beautiful in itself, it would give the feeling of comfort and uplift without having to tell a story. He went on to explain how a wrong line in the silhouette could jar the harmony of the whole – that it was almost a mechanical matter of composition, lines, contrasts, spaces and balance, all to be considered in the structure of the work in granite. He claimed that it was his sensitiveness to such points that made him sensitive in all ways of life, feeling things acutely – being hard to live with etc.” (Agnes)

Interview from the newspaper by Curl

“Stock figures like the Civil War soldier ordered from a catalogue, lose all meaning almost immediately, while portrait figures in ugly modern garb are bound to remind the beholder of store dummies. Symbolic or heroic figures could represent the ideals for which an honored citizen stood, and be far more inspiring.

Too often the commissioning of public sculpture is done by those who have no knowledge or appreciation of art. A city planning a memorial could well circulate photographs of fine commemorative work, both ancient and modern. An art commission composed of men of integrity and training should be given real authority to promote good sculpture and veto the incompetent. Politicians should leave judgment to such a commission.” (Interview by Curl)

From the biography by Elizabeth MacLean Smith paraphrasing Allen

“To create a successful and significant work the sculptor needs time – perhaps several years to plan and revise. The Lincoln Memorial with all its enduring force and sensitivity, was not created overnight. The parks of this country are, with too few exceptions, becoming a nightmare of politically sponsored ineptitudes. Only the public can change the trend by demanding the finer, more lasting and inspiring works.” (Smith)

“In his memorials he exemplified his belief as to what dedicatory sculpture should be. We quote him from various occasions:

“I hope that after this war the town and cities of this country will not again be loaded with horrors – morbid and gruesome war scenes. How much better to erect some thing inspirational and noble like the Shaw Memorial on Boston Common.”

“Stock figures like the Civil War soldier ordered from a catalogue, lose all meaning almost immediately, while portrait figures in ugly modern garb are bound to remind the beholder of store dummies. Symbolic or heroic figures could represent the ideals for which an honored citizen stood, and be far more inspiring.”

“Too often the commissioning of public sculpture is done by those who have no knowledge or appreciation of art. A city planning a memorial could well circulate photographs of fine commemorative work, both ancient and modern. An art commission composed of men of integrity and training should be given real authority to promote good sculpture and veto the incompetent. Politicians should leave judgment to such a commission.”

“To create a successful and significant work the sculptor needs time – perhaps several years to plan and revise. The Lincoln Memorial with all its enduring force and sensitivity, was not created overnight. The parks of this country are, with too few exceptions, becoming a nightmare of politically sponsored ineptitudes. Only the public can change the trend by demanding the finer, more lasting and inspiring works.”

Mr. Allen’s World War Memorial in Dedham Massachusetts, stands in a park at the corner of East Street and Whiting Avenue. Even though the sculpture faces almost directly South, the modeling is strong enough to seem three dimensional. For the 15 foot figure the actual cutting depth is five inches. After frequent viewings, the concept is challenging; peace is an objective to be sought with fervor.

See also: Roslindale War Memorial

 

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