“He was an American of Americans. He was a patriot whose patriotism was tested by fire. With the possible exception of Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson was the keenest analytical mind that has ever occupied the White House. With the possible exceptions of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, he stands without a peer as a patriot among all our presidents. For excellence of literary style, incisiveness of thought, and clarity of expression, he stands unsurpassed.” The American Canon by Daniel L. Marsh
The portrait bust of Woodrow Wilson for the Rotary Club was “pronounced a remarkable likeness of the late President at the height of his powers.” The Hub (the official publication of the Rotary Club of Boston, MA) 1940 The article shows the bust in bronze, evidenced by the color and shiny surface of the metal. The Boston Evening Transcript, April 24, 1940 noted additionally that it was an original half-life size bronze portrait and would be the only copy to be made, that it is the only one of this size in the East and one of the few existing busts ever made of Wilson.
The Transcript did a story on the sculpture and the sculptor, showing a photo of Allen in a beret and smock, shirt and tie, measuring the bust with calipers. This is most likely the original clay since it is a light color and there is no shine on the surface. The fact that he is using calipers would indicate that he used them in making the reduction. Calipers were used by sculptors to make inverted measurements as well as enlargements and reductions. The photograph shows the bust on a stand of unfinished wooden boards placed higher than the sculptor’s head so that he’s looking up at it in the way he intended it to be seen. In the background is another of the Allen sculptures (Jane Allen) so it is presumed that the photo was taken in his studio. It is possible that this is the plaster copy for the mold made in the lost wax process to make the bronze copy. The Transcript states that there was a plaster original. A casting expert, Jim Montgomery of New England Sculpture Service, said about the casting in reference to this published note,
“It sounds like it MAY have been sand cast using the plaster as the pattern. . . . If time was very short, sand casting would be quicker by a few weeks than lost-wax investment casting.
As far as ‘original plaster’ it is more likely that it was sculpted in clay and a waste mold made and then cast in plaster (what he is calling the original.)
That was the standard way of refining a form. Nowadays, a rubber mold is usually made on the clay and the plaster state is omitted.”
It is interesting to note that the Transcript states that the bust was “made in record time . . . fashioned from United News Service photographs of the government idealist.” And that “The selection of this art object was made because of President Marsh’s admiration of the League of Nation’s champion.” Presenting Marsh with this gift “followed the club’s custom of awarding the retiring president with a memento for his year of service.”
Looking at the bust, one sees the familiar face with neatly combed hair, large eyes, flat-bridged nose and full lips. The style is formal and classical with a narrow yoke showing the collar and tie, the V of the vest and the lapels of the jacket, placing it in 20th Century style. The shoulders cut away to a narrower base, which is integrated into a square block over which the undercut portion of the lapels protrude. It’s a clear, modern and masculine treatment of the bust format.
Wilson was elected to the office of President when Allen was in Paris in 1913 just before the war. The beginning of his career was in a time of Wilson’s progressive legislative policies which was good for business and therefore for art. He was re-elected in 1916 and America declared war in April 1917, just a month before the death of Bela Pratt and the “tragic rift” in the staff of the Museum School. The First Red Scare of 1919-20 continued to affect Allen in a subconscious way through the 1930s when non-American teachers began to infiltrate the very Bostonian school teaching staff. The attitude toward women changed also with Wilson’s endorsement of the Nineteenth Amendment, so women began to be taken more seriously as artists. The War ended under his watch and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for sponsoring the League of Nations, one of only three Presidents to be so honored. Wilson served as President until 1921 establishing a time of peace and prosperity compared to the coming years of economic depression and a second war. The twenties were good years for Fred Allen, so creating a fine portrait of the President who influenced the beginning of his career in a positive way was a fitting tribute.