Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Sally James Farnham posed in front of a Peacock Screen, circa 1906, for this portrait by her cousin Charles Chapman, a Manz neighbor in the Leonia, New Jersey artists colony. Image courtesy Michael Reed, sallyjamesfarnham.org

Gustav Manz's jewelry log records sale of a Zodiac Band Ring to "Mrs. Farnham" in 1916. Sally James Farnham had recently separated from husband Paulding Farnham, whose neoclassical jewelry and metalwork designs for Tiffany & Co won the firm accolades at many international exhibitions.  Farnham was undoubtedly aware of Manz's jewelry as his workshop supplied Tiffany and other fine jewelers around town. Gustav and Sally were both animalier sculptors, so there was a personal as well as professional acquaintance. 

Ink on parchment sketch for a zodiac ring 
Gustav Manz ledger, circa 1916-1917
Image (c) Gustav Manz LLC

The Zodiac ring echoed the fancy cigarette case Farnham had presented to her husband for his 42nd birthday in November 1901; the couple shared the same birth month (Sally's birthday fell on November 26), and the case incorporated both the Farnham crest carved into a cabochon sapphire centered on one side paired with a beautifully modeled Centaur aiming his bow and arrow on the other—an allusion to Sally's astrological sign and passion for horses. 

Gold, silver, sapphire cigarette case inscribed "Paulding Farnham New York from S.J.F., Nov. 6, 1901. Interior marked Tiffany & Co. Image Sotheby''s

A few years after receiving the cigarette case, Paulding Farnham resigned from Tiffany & Co, and moved out west, where he mounted a second career as a maritime painter and made unlucky investments in mining. Left with three children to support, Sally filed for divorce on grounds of abandonment (granted in 1915), and stepped up her productivity—helped along by good connections (Frederic Remington was a mentor), and public interest in the the novelty of a socially prominent mother of three getting her hands into clay and plaster. As the Gilded Age waned, the Sculptress got busy.

The year 1916 began inauspiciously when the statue she'd proposed for a public garden in Philadelphia, depicting astronomer and inventor David Rittenhouse, was cancelled due to the death of the monument's primary financial backer. Her big break came in August 1916, when she won a $24,000 commission to create a monument to Simon Bolivar. Her scheme for a statue of the liberator of the Spanish colonies dressed in full military regalia, astride a horse lifting its hoof, beat out a field of 20 artists. 

Perhaps the Manz Zodiac ring was a gift to herself in her 46th year.

She's got the horse right here: Farnham stands under Bolivar statue
 in a borrowed studio. The sculpture currently stands sentry near Artists' Gate in Central Park at 59th Street and Avenue of the Americas
Image: Smithsonian Institution, Peter A. Juley & Son Collection

As the Bolivar monument was unveiled, art critic Alexander Woollcott enthused that the work was "the [largest] by a woman which history anywhere records"; more noteworthy was Farnham's lack of experience, in comparison with the other entrants: "The great Bolivar is the work of an unschooled, self-taught artist who never had a lesson in her life and, what is more, it is the work of one who was a grown woman, the mother of two children, before she did her first modeling; indeed before the idea of being a sculptor at all ever entered her much-preoccupied head..." (More on Sally's career at Smithsonian blog.) 

Farnham and Woollcott were chummy with another prominent female artist of the 1920s, Neysa McMein, whose pastel portraits of modern American girls were in demand for magazine covers and advertising campaigns. Perhaps it was Farnham who suggested Gustav's daughter Doris pose for one of McMein's covers for McCall's famous series capturing the diverse "types" of American beauty (a pseudo-ethnographic campaign sparked, no doubt, by the resurgence of eugenics movements following the first world war). McMein cast (or miscast) fair-haired Doris, child of German immigrant parents from the Black Forest region, as "The Scandinavian Beauty."

Neysa McMein finishing a  cover illustration for McCall's magazine. In 1936, McMein designed the first official image of Betty Crocker.
Photo: Grapefruit Moon Gallery 

Doris had entered the family business at age 17 or younger, initially as sales rep for her father then as a diamond broker selling stones to Cartier, young Harry Winston, and Black Starr & Frost. Ggrowing up in Leonia, New Jersey, she'd posed for Sally Farnham's cousin, the artst Charles Shepard Chapman—a Manz neighbor and co-founder of the Leonia School of Illustration. McMein's portrait captures Doris as she must have looked seated on a train bound for Chicago or Hot Springs or Palm Beach, carrying a suitcase of her father's jewelry samples, her own business card, and a snappy sales pitch. Hoping, perhaps, that on the way she'd meet a dashing Centaur of her own.

At 20, Manz's younger daughter, Doris, posed for Neysa McMein's "American Beauty" series. Her portrait appeared on the November 1924 cover


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Our thanks as always to Kay Olson Freeman for insights about Farnham's work and to Michael Reed, director of the Sally James Farnham website, for sharing sketches possibly related to Farnham's submission to the Philadelphia public monument competition.

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