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LEE OSCAR LAWRIE (GERMAN/AMERICAN, 1877-1963)

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Born in Rixdorf, Germany on October 16th of 1877, Lee Oscar Lawrie came to the United States to live in Chicago at the age of 5. He began working as a sculptor at the early age of 14, studying in the studio of Augustus Saint-Gaudens from 1894 to 1906; he also worked under Arturo Martiny and several other sculptors. He studied formally at Yale University and received his degree in 1910; he was appointed as instructor in the Yale Fine Arts Department, teaching there from 1908 to 1918 and also served as an instructor in sculpture at Harvard University from 1910-12. He would go on to work with some of the most influential architectural sculptors of the 20th century and established himself as a major exponent of Modernism by the late 1920s.  

His first major commission was the Nebraska State Capitol Building (1922-32) in Lincoln, Nebraska under retainer by architect Bertram G. Goodhue. He became well known for his innovations in flying buttress sculpture for decorative architecture and is perhaps most widely recognized for his monumental public commission of Atlas (1937) that stands prominently before New York City's Rockefeller Center.  

He was active in mixing architecture with sculpture, often in collaboration with other sculptors and architects; the sheer breadth of his chosen material is admirable, from bas-relief, free-standing statuary, bronze figural work and wooden frescoes.  He had a comfort level with the Gothic-style that permeates his work, but his imagination was far-reaching, encompassing the Modernist, the Neoclassical, the Romantic and the Biblical in his subject matter.  

He would go on to execute numerous public commissions in the full Modernist taste of decoration, including the Church of Heavenly Rest in New York, the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., the Education Building of Soldiers and Sailors' Memorial Bridge in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the Saint Thomas Church of New York and Westpoint Academy.  He was an associate of the National Academy of Design and he served as President of the National Sculpture Society.

Throughout his career he worked actively with Roman Bronze Works of New York. His bronze commission of Atlas was one of many they executed for him. His models of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were cast by R.B.W. He continued to cast bronze works with them between continually 1908 and 1935.

Literature:

  • A Century of American Sculpture: The Roman Bronze Works Foundry, Lucy D. Rosenfeld, Schiffer, 2002, p. 165-66
  • Bronzes: Sculptors and Founders 1800-1930, Vol. III, Harold Berman, 1977, p. 677, f. 2491
  • E. Benezit Dictionary of Artists, Vol. VIII, Gründ, 2006, p. 574
  • Dictionary of American Sculptors: 18th Century to the Present, Glenn B. Opitz, 1984, p. 234
  • American Art Deco, Alastair Duncan, 1986
  • Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers, 1984, p. 551