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Janet Scudder

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Janet Scudder
American, (1873–1940)
Janet Scudder was an American sculptor known for her garden sculpures and fountains.

Born Netta Deweze Frazee Scudder in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1869 to an impoverished family. She was the fifth of seven children born to Mary Sparks Scudder and William Hollingshead Scudder, a confectioner. Her mother died at the age of thirty-eight, when "Nettie" Scudder was five years old. Four of Scudder's father, blind grandmother, and Hannah Hussey (the family maid, cook, and housekeeper) raised the surviving children. Her father later married a woman whom Scudder disliked.

She was passionate about art, and began her training at the Rose Polytechnic Institute on weekends. In 1887, after completing high school, Scudder went on to the Cincinnati Academy of Art. There she would have her name changed from Netta to Janet.

Scudder interrupted her studies to return to Terre Haute to help with the family's finances after the death of a brother, the failure of her father's business, and his death in 1888. In 1889, she began to teach woodcarving at a local school, Coates College for Women.

Scudder's oldest brother, who was living in Chicago, paid for her return to Cincinnati in 1890 so that she could complete her studies at the academy. In 1891, Scudder moved to Chicago to live with her brother and his family while she attended classes at the Art Institute of Chicago under the direction of John Vanderpoel and Frederick Freer. She also took classes with French-trained sculptor Lorado Taft at the Art Institute during 1893-1894.

After completing her studies, Scudder agreed to stay with her older brother's family in Chicago. She was, briefly, employed at a woodcarving factory, but she was dismissed upon the woodcarvers' union discovering that a woman had joined their ranks. After their setback, Scudder consulted Lorado Taft who hired Scudder for $5 per day as a studio assistant, as one of his "White Rabbits", a remarkable team of women sculptors who created dozen of statues and decorative friezes for buildings in the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.

About this time, she travelled as an artistic companion to a succession of American heirnesses. As much as this financially helped her, she felt suppressed by the solemn statuary produced by her male colleagues and the monotony of living a luxury lifestyle and soon decreed "never to do stupid self-righteous sculpture - even if I had to die in the poorhouse."

In 1894, Scudder went to France in search of Frederick MacMonnies, a sculptor she was determined to meet. Scudder's persistence paid off, and MacMonnies accepted her as his assistant. She would provide finishing details on his sculptures and worked on enlargements for him, until she decided to leave Paris for New York in 1896.

Despite having the recommendation of MacMonnies, Scudder struggled to find steady employment in New York. Most of her work created at this time was for funerary urns, memorial plaques, and portrait medallions.

Returning to Paris in 1898, Scudder picked up where she left off. Her sculptures were starting to recognize some reception, and eight of her portrait medallions were given to the Luxembourg Museum. During her time in Europe she also visited Italy, where she discovered Italian Renaissance sculptures.

Shortly after her trip, Scudder modelled Frog Fountain (1901), her first garden sculpture, which she referred to as the first of her "water babies". After 1900, she focused on joyous representations of children and youthful literary characters, often in the form of fountains.

She returned in New York with an increased determination to make a name for herself as a sculptor. She attempted to connect with Stanford White, whom she had met once through MacMonnies. Months went by before White eventually commissioned Scudder to recast Frog Fountain for his own Long Island estate. He recommended her reguarly to create garden sculptures for his wealthy clients until his death in 1906. She became a well-established sculptor with wealthy clientele, and her popularity continued to grow.

Around 1908-1913 she produced some of her best known work, such as The Tortoise Fountain, The Young Diana, and The Little Lady of the Sea, often during trips to Europe. Throughout the 1910s, Scudder participated in solo and group exhibitions in Europe and America. With the success of her sculptures, she achieved growing popularity and socail status. She joined the Cosmopolitan and Colony Clubs in New York and counted amongst her friends actress Julia Marlowe, and writers Henry Adams and Gertrude Stein. In 1911, John D. Rockefeller commissioned her to create a sculpture, Piping Pan, for one of his estates.

As part of her growing confidence, she also sharpened her pen and tongue during this time, lasing out to dilettante woman artists, gender inequality, and dull art. She was an outspoken member of the art committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

In 1913, Scudder purchased a home in Ville d'Avray, a small town a half-hour outside Paris. When World War I broke out, Scudder lent the Red Cross and the YMCA her house for the duration of the War and, periodically, worked as a war volunteer, dividing her time between New York and France. During the War years, she continued to sculpt and exhibit her works as she kept receiving commissions. Several of her sculptures and fountains were exhibited a the Panama-Pacific Internal Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. In the same year, she received a commission to create the centennial medal for the State of Indiana from the Indiana Historical Commission.

Janet Scudder never forgot her humble Indiana roots. In 1939, she returned to her hometown as a celebrity, and exhibited her paintings and sculptures at the Woman's Department Club, where she was warmly regarded as one of Terre Haute's celebrities. Janet Scudder died of pneumonia eight months after her visit, while on a visit in Rockport, Massachusetts.

She was named as an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1920.

Her work is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, as well as other institutions around the country.

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