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Edward Francis McCartan
Art Students League of New York Sculptor
The youngest of eight children, Edward Francis McCartan was born in Albany, New York in 1879. The family had limited means; his Irish immigrant father ran a crockery store while his mother tended the home. His artistic talents were recognized at the early age of five ewhen he began drawing and modeling animals from earthen clay. His mothre encouraged the boy, as she, too had enjoyed drawing as a child. He continued the pursuit of drawing through primary school, with both his mother's and the school principal's encouragement. In high school, he was introduced to Albany sculptor Erastus Dow Palmer, who asked him if "loved art more than anything else," saying, if he did not, he should "give it up."
After two years of high school, he made his way to New York to forge a career in sculpture. He procured an introduction to Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who did not engage him in his studio. He lived with an uncle in Brooklyn and studied at the Pratt Institute for six months with Herbert Adams, taking as many classes as could be fit in a day. He then returned to Albany for five years, where he held man jobs, including a stint as a bank clerk. Upon his return to New York, he studied at the Art Students League, taking classes in drawing with Kenyon Cox and Bryson Burroughs, and sculpture with George Grey Barnard and Hermon Atkins MacNeil. During this time, he became close friends with fellow sculptors John Clements Gregory and Jo Davidson. Upon the death of his fathe, his mother and several siblings moved to New York and Edward became partially responsible for their financial support.
When McCartan left the League, he was engaged as an assistant in the studios of MacNeil and Karl Bitter, and freelanced in others. In 1906, McCartan was awarded a commission for a monument of Benito Juarez in the Mexican city of Monterrey. With the money he made from this work, he travelled to Paris. He remained in Paris from 1907-1909, studying for six months under Jean Antoine Injalbert at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, but also spencing time on his own at the Louvrre, which instilled in him a love for French sculpture of the 18th century. During the Paris years, McCartan exhibited a number of small works in terra-cotta and plaster, (he could not afford to cast them in bronze) at the salons. Later, he would find these works unsatisfactory and destroy them.
In early 20th century Paris, it was hard to ignore the artistic power of Auguste Rodin. McCartan's studio was near the shop where Rodin's sculptures received their patina. The larger works were kept out of doors, allowing daily observation of the master's work.
Although he wished to complete his time in Europe with a trip in Italy, the lack of funds forced his return to the United States in 1910. He was soon again employed by Herbert Adams, assisting in the modeling of the ornament and figures for Adams' McMillan Fountain in 1911. Over the next decade, he made a living primarily as an assistant to others, usually working in architectural ornamentation.
Because of his ongoing need to support his family, he gained comprehensive practical experience.
The early years of the centruy created wealth that fueled the desire for ornamental sculptures; McCartan received commissions for sculpted fountains. He completed a 56 inch high Pan Fountain (also known as Young Pan) in 1913 for the garden of a Westchester County
home. The piece was exhibitee at the National Academy of Design and at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, which created quite a bit of exposure for the artist. The figure was later made in two smaller versions, which were cast by both Roman Bronze Works and Gorham Company Founders.
It was through working with Gorham Galleries that McCartan received a commission from Mr. and Mrs. Harold Pratt to create another garden sculpture for their home in Glen Cove, Lond Island. He titled it Spirit of the Wind; it ws exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1915, and was awarded the Widener Gold Medal.
In 1914, McCartan became the Director of the Sculpture Department of the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design in New York City., where he taught techniques of architectural decoration. This position gave him a degree of financial stability. His friend and colleague, Malvina Hoffman believed that his tenure as an assistant to others was a deterrent to his own professional advancement. In 1915, Hoffman invited McCartan to use a studio at a building she owned on East 36th Street in Manhattan. He stayed there for ten years.
Thoughuot the 1920s and 1930s, McCartan continued to gain commissions for public and private works. He created the Eugene Field Memorial for Lincoln Park, Chicago in 1922. He also was awarded a commission for the New Yersey Telephone Building in Newark, which centers on figures and decoration symbolizing telecommunications. In 1928, he made a monumental clock titled Transportation and Industry, which was mounted sixty feet above the entrance to the New York Central Building at 23 Park Avenue (now the Helmsley Building). Two stone classically heroic figures flank and support the clock. At forty-five feet across this piece was highly visible and generated public awareness for the Commission. In 1930, he created another pediment and decoration, this one for Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania. In 1933, he was given the Gold Medal of Honor by the Allied Artists of America.
Sadly, later in the decade McCartan began to suffer from emphysema. The disease decreased his stamina and his creativity, causing his career to decline and never recover.
He became depressed and indeed was surprised when the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts asked to purchase a bronze cast of one of his works, saying he thought, "no one would ever want it."
In spite of his ill health, McCartan continued his role as an educator and, in 1943, he was appointed head of the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore. He continued to serve as a member of the National Sculpture Society and as vice president of the National Academy of Design and the National Institute of Arts and letters. In 1944, he was honored by election to the fifty-member American Academy of Arts and Letters.
McCartan died of a cerebral hemorrhage in New Rochelle Hospital in 1947. He was penniless at the time of his death; his funeral was paid for by the National Sculpture Society.