“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 is pink granite, probably the beautiful coarse pastel stone quarried from North Haven’s sister island, Vinalhaven, off the mid-coast of Maine across from Camden. Of heroic size, it is the partner piece to his own favorite work of art, carved from a gray granite North Haven beach boulder and named “Egyptian Head.” (Smithsonian American Museum of Art in Washington DC).
Head of a Woman was started in North Haven and worked over the years in Allen’s studio in Boston a block from the MFA where, as a part of the famous Boston School of artists, he was Head of the Sculpture Department at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.
Created in a similar style to its partner, the female head is softer in all ways, yet as with Egyptian Head, seen from different sides and in different lights, you might think you were looking at a different piece of sculpture. It is probably his wife Agnes, his muse in her youth. The face is full and delicious in its sensual qualities, yet elegant and sophisticated in its presentation. As with the Egyptian Head, it is strongly and simply modeled. There are no excess forms, only the essentials.
Direct carving was Frederick Warren Allen’s favorite way to create art. He loved the natural qualities of the boulders and stones he would find along the shore of Maine and was always looking for shapes on the beach in front of his cottage on Bartlett’s Harbor that suggested a head, a figure or an animal he could bring out of it. “Carving is never really finished; this is both a blessing and a curse,” he would tell his students. (Elizabeth MacLean-Smith) And so, work continued on Head of a Woman for several years. “Every stroke was risky because the coarse grains of black-green rust and ivory fractured away so easily. Gradual changes were in refinement, not in basic form. The neck became longer by reduction of the jaw mass. The face became more tender, more youthful.”
Head of a woman was purchased for the beautiful gardens of Goodstay, the DuPont Estate in Wilmington, Delaware by Allen’s friend from North Haven, Robert Wheelwright (1884-1965) the Landscape Architect for the Estate. It was placed on a walkway across the way from another piece of sculpture by fellow-artist William Zorach (1887-1966). In that place, “the strength and simplicity of the piece lends an air of timelessness.” (EML-S)
Head of a Woman was purchased by the Delaware Art Museum and now resides in a private collection.