Architect and Artists

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While the Elks National Memorial had one architect, Egerton Swartwout, it would not be the building it is without the contributions of many artists, muralists, and sculptors, including Laura Gardin Fraser, James Earle Fraser, Adolph A Weinman, Edwin Howland Blashfield, Eugene Savage, and Gerome Brush.

Egerton Swartwout (1870-1943)

Chosen in a competition between seven of the United States' most prestigious architecture firms, Swartwout stood out with his heavily classical Beaux-Arts design, his staple architectural style throughout his career. He graduated from Yale University, but had no formal education in architecture. He started with the architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White in New York City, but in 1901 he left to pursue his own firm in partnership with Everts Tracy.

“Egerton Swartwout architect” by velox is licensed by CC BY 2.0

Swartwout is known for many memorials and public buildings, almost all in the American Beaux-Arts style. The Elks Memorial, like many of his other designs like the Missouri State Capitol and Bailey Memorial Fountain, show heavy classical influence. Swartwout has acknowledged his inspiration from Roman and Greek architecture, but a statement he gave about the Elks Memorial shows his specific interest went beyond classical: "I might say it was classic, and more Roman than Greek; I would prefer to say it was modern, and that it was American." This shows Swartwout's interesting mode of thinking about American national heritage. Inspired by the classical masterpieces of Washington DC, he considered classical architecture to be a decidedly American concept, even given its non-American origins. As put in the Chicago Landmark study, "Using classical forms, the architect achieved a design he deemed distinctly American."

Laura Gardin Fraser (1889-1966)

Known for her incredibly accurate sculptures of animals, Fraser designed a pair of life-size elk that are placed outside the entrance of the Elks Memorial. She was married to James Earle Fraser, who she studied under and often collaborated with for the designs of US coins.

James Earle Fraser (1876-1953)

Inside the rotunda are four gilded bronze sculptures that symbolize the main virtues of the Elks, all made by Fraser: Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love, and Fidelity. He studied at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago, as well as at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In 1902, he opened his own studio. Throughout his career, he was responsible for many of the sculptures that adorn Washington DC, such as those outside the Supreme Court Building and National Archives Building. He often adopted the classical style for his sculptures, but he also employed a distinctive style for depicting Americans.

Adolph Alexander Weinman (1870-1952)

Weinman's bronze sculptures Patriotism and Fraternity stand in separate wings of the Elks Memorial, and the frieze that encircles the exterior of the rotunda is also his design. Weinman, who immigrated to New York from Germany as a child, has a long history of American sculpture in the classical style, especially for memorials. His early career was under the employment of many other sculptors, including under Philip Martiny, where he did work for the Columbian Exposition. He was also an assistant of Augustus Saint-Gaudens until Saint-Gaudens went to Europe in 1897.

By 1904, Weinman had his own studio in New York. His many commissions were almost always completed in the classical style, and he also made many sculptures in memorial of American figures, such as Major General Alexander Macomb in Detroit, the Union Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Baltimore, and Alexander Hamilton in Washington, DC. His public commissions, such as exterior sculptural work for the Department of the Post Office Building in DC from 1932-1934 were more stylized and linear, a departure from his traditional classical work.

Edwin Howland Blashfield (1848-1936)

Blashfield, a famous American muralist, created three murals that reside in the Grand Reception Room. In Paris, he studied with Léon Bonnat, a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts. He is the most well-known for painting the dome of Main Reading Room in the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

Eugene Savage (1883-1978)

Savage, also a muralist, created twelve panels of allegorical murals that depict religious and patriotic themes. They surround the second tier colonnade inside the rotunda. He also painted the ceiling mural in the Grand Reception Room. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, later becoming a professor at Yale University.

Gerome Brush (1888-1954)

Brush, a painter, and sculptor, carved the stone panels that lay behind the exterior colonnade. He was taught painting and sculpture by his father, George de Forest Brush, who was classically trained at the École des Beaux-Arts. Gerome Brush was named after his father's teacher in Paris, the French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme.




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