(click to enlarge photos)
This week a monumental bust of James J. Hill, aka “The Empire Builder”, has been pulled from a new book titled Seattle Public Sculptors. The author, the Nordic Heritage Museum’s museologist and collections manager, Fred F. Poyner IV, has written with clarity and considerable detail about twelve artists who created “Seattle’s first ‘Golden Age’ of public monuments, memorials and statuary.” Many of these works, including Finn Haakon Frolich’s baronial bust of James Hill, date from 1909, the year of the Alaska Yukon and Pacific Exposition, Seattle’s first worlds fair.
Frolich was born in Oslo, Norway, in 1868 “to a family of means.” We may readily imagine him as a fearless – or impetuous – adolescent, for by Poyner’s well-footnoted recounting, the young Finn Haakon took to the sea at the age of nine and kept to it until 1886 when he jumped ship in Brooklyn. After answering a classified ad in a daily pulp, Frolich began his education in sculpting, working for several years in studios, including those of the sculptor Daniel Chester French in New York and Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Paris.
The thirty-year-old artist first visited Seattle in 1898. He failed in his first attempt to found a school of design here, but ten years later he returned to many successes. These included establishing his Beaux-Arts Workshop studio in the old Territorial University Building, which still stood on Denny’s Knoll in downtown Seattle, and taking on students, including those who attended his “live modeling in clay” demonstrations performed for audiences on stage at the Alhambra Theatre.
Frolich’s grandest success’, which occurred in 1908, made him the Director for Sculpture for the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition, held on the new campus of the University of Washington. The responsibilities included many works of art, including the sculpted likeness that James Hill’s friends described as “so faithful a likeness, down to the minutest detail of resemblance and personality, as to be startling.” Six-feet-high, Hill’s statue was caste in bronze in New York, and placed on the twelve-foot-high granite pedestal displayed in the featured photo at the center of the fair’s Klondike Circle. Its ceremonial unveiling was handled by John A. Johnson, the governor of Minnesota, Hill’s home, and it was the Minnesota Club that had gathered the last support needed to pay for it.
In 1953 Frolich’s James J. Hill was moved about a quarter-of-a mile from Northeast Sevens Way to East Stevens Way, where its back faces More Hall (1948), the University’s School of Civil and Environmental engineering. In the interest of function as much as form, More Hall was given large windows by its architect, John Paul Jones. It is from these windows that Frolich’s otherwise hidden bronze plaque of James Hill’s steamer The Minnesota (once the
largest vessel on the Pacific Ocean) can be seen with pleasure and for the few who discover it also some surprise. Attached about hip-high to the rear of the granite pedestal, the plaque is obscured by hefty shrubs. However, at the front of Frolich’s Hill, another of his bas-relief bronzes honoring the “Empire Builder”, a rendering of a “GNRR” steam engine, can be easily seen exiting a tunnel in the Cascades.
Let me add the photo we intended to run with the column – that of Fred Poyner standing at the statue’s original location.
Anything to add, lads? Yes and the usual support from past features and perhaps more, although this bounty will need to wait for tomorrow (Sunday) or Monday, for we are tired early at 4:30 am and hanker to climb the stairs to bed and nighty bears.
For the first feature we will slip in one with another of Frolich’s AYP women.
DEAR READER – We have more to share, which we will return with tomorrow late evening. Now we are going to bed. We may deserve it.
4 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The ‘Empire Builder’s’ Bust”
In Superior, Wisconsin, I believe we have a duplicate bust of JJ Hill. I have heard of a story that the Seattle bust and the Superior bust were to face each other across the mountains to symbolize the vision of the Empire Builder. Do you know anything of such a story. I can supply photos.
Yes, indeed, we’d love to see photos of your duplicate bust – we hadn’t heard the story of the symbolic face-off!
There seem to be two Hill statues in Wisconsin. The one in the field looks like Frolich’s at UW campus
The Seattle sculptor James A. Wehn modeled one of the bronze busts of James Hill after Frolich’s UW design in 1925. This was a commission Wehn received from the Great Northern Employee’s Club, to have it enlarged to 13 feet in size for display in Superior, MI.