Beal Elephant Fountain, 1915

Masque in high relief, presumed to be bronze

ElephantFountainThe Beal for whom Allen sculpted this charming elephant fountain is not clear, but it was most likely the prominent Boston architect J. Williams Beal (1855-1919) who designed the Castle in the Clouds in NH (1913-1914) and the Mayflower Hotel in Plymouth (1917) around the same time. Beal also designed residences, so this fountain could have been used either in a private home or a public building. Allen also mentions doing a lettered tablet for Beal in 1924. The conflict here is in the dates, as Beal died in 1919. He suffered a stroke in 1912-13, but continued to work, guided in a wheelchair by his sons Horatio and John who took over the firm in 1919 upon his death.

The fountain could have been done for John Williams Beal and the tablet for his son John Woodbridge Beal and his brother Horatio. The professional relationship between artist and architect most likely continued through Beal’s sons, but it seems that there might also have been a personal friendship, the sons being about the same age as Allen.

Beal is mentioned in the history of the Tavern Road Studio, a paper written by Laurel Beetham, Allen’s granddaughter, with information from Agnes Allen and Evelyn diBiccari. In her paper, Beal was named as an architect friend who helped with the Studio renovation in 1922 with Ralph Henry and “Pete” Richmond, Architects with Guy Lowell. Further research in the Allen Diary reveals, “Passed first papers in buying studio December 22, 1921. –Final papers February 1st, 1922. Former owner E.A. Janse, Henry (Ralph) + Pete Richmond, also Hipkiss aid me in remodeling it.” There is no mention of Beal. The fact that Agnes and/or Evelyn named him would indicate that Beal was in Allen’s circle of professional friends.

Looking at the fountain one might notice the prominent bone structure of the elephant’s head. In portrait work, Allen talked about the “unique structure of the skull” and taught that the portrait will not be right unless the skull is correct. The same principles apply to animals that the sculptor applies to portraits. Once the shape of the head is set, the details of the features or “muzzle” can be added. Here, it is clear that the artist had done a comparative study of the skulls of the Indian or Asian elephant with the African elephant and was accurate in portraying the distinguishing features of the Asian species. The Indian elephant has smoother skin, a single lip or finger at the tip of the nose or trunk, tusks only on the male, which grow longer with age, a high hump on the top front of the head with a double lobe or dome, a concave forehead with prominent ridges running across it and down to the eyes, and ears placed lower on the sides that are smaller, rounded, and falling backward in folds when compared to the wing-like ears of the African species. So the elephant on the fountain is clearly a young male Indian or Asian elephant. Refer to the images of both to see how Allen clearly shows the unusual skull of the animal.

The Elephant in high relief looks at the viewer squarely, facing directly forward with its ears outstretched and flopped back onto the stepped cruciform shape of the textured flat background of the fountain. The trunk is curled up under the right side tusk and appears to be the spout for the water. The skin of the trunk, ears and eyes are wrinkled and detailed in contrast to the high forehead and tusks, which are highlighted by the light reflecting from smoother surfaces.

The smoother skin of the head and ears creates a pleasing contrast with the rough stucco-textured background of the fountain, which takes the form of a chakana, or three-stepped Andean Cross. A clear grooved line delineates the shape of the head and ears, embedded in the top half of the composition while the bottom half and central line of details project from the surface. Smooth polished highlights accentuate the tusks and forehead ridges, forming the same trapezoidal shape one above the other. Repeating shapes are also found in the domes of the head and the rounded tops of the ears and in the shapes and the cloth-like folds of the ears. Depth is found in the hollows of the forehead and in the forward projection of trunk and tusks against the recesses of the ears and mouth. Assuming that a stream of water were meant to fall into a pool below, it would be charming to see two streams come from the trunk as if the creature were about to fling it over its head to bathe. The eyes are clear and bright, somehow magically drawing the viewer into the gentle soul of this beautiful animal. There is movement and interest in the expression, with the trunk ready to uncurl, the ears raised alertly and the eyes wide open. It comes forward out of the textured background as if it were coming out of the leafy forest in which it prefers to live. The oblique angles of the trunk and the tusks prevent the whole from becoming repetitive and static. The head is centered on the cross and balanced on the additional step formed by the flattened rectangular base, a stable mount at half the total width of the widest portion across the center. The symmetry of the design would have been at home in the architectural styles of J. W. Beal.

A side note about related architects and architecture.

“Elephant Fountain for Mr. Beal $250
Recorded in Diary on a list of work after the entry dated September 12, 1915
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