Brenda Putnam
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Brenda Putnam
Brenda Putnam
Brenda Putnam, American sculptor, 1890-1975.jpg
Brenda Putnam with her Bust of Jean.[1]
Born(1890-06-03)June 3, 1890
DiedOctober 18, 1975(1975-10-18) (aged 85)
EducationSchool of the Museum of Fine Arts
Boston, Art Students League of New York
Corcoran Museum Art School
Known forSculpture
MovementArt Deco

Brenda Putnam (June 3, 1890 – October 18, 1975) was a noted American sculptor, teacher and author.


She was the daughter of Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam and his wife Charlotte Elizabeth Munroe. Her older sister Shirley and she were granddaughters of publisher George Palmer Putnam.[2] She attended the National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C., where she first was taught to sculpt.[3] She also trained as a classical pianist, and toured with violinist Edith Rubel and cellist Marie Roemaet as the Edith Rubel Trio.[4][5]

She studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1905-07, under Mary E. Moore, William McGregor Paxton and Bela Pratt; then for three years at the Art Students League of New York under James Earle Fraser.[6] She also studied at the Corcoran Museum Art School in Washington, D.C.[6]

Early works

Brenda Putnam "The Water Baby, 1917

Early in her career, Putnam was noted for her busts of children and for garden and fountain figures.[6] She exhibited an overtly sensual piece at the National Academy of Design in 1915, Charmides [Dialogue], a nude woman and man asleep together, which was described as "Rodin-like."[7] To mark the grave of her close friend, pianist Anne Simon, she created a profound work: the Simon Memorial (1917)—a nude male angel ecstatically rising from the clouds.[8]

Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, is a supremely beautiful spot wherein are erected many striking memorials. Within recent years there has grown to be another place of pilgrimage—the memorial to Mrs. Otto Torney Simon. The triumph of her passing from "life to life" ... is symbolized in the Simon Memorial wrought by Brenda Putnam. Until recently, I had never heard of this winged figure interpreted by one who knows the full significance of the statue. [T]his angel with wide flung hands and upward gaze symbolizes liberation of our faculties and our abilities, the enfranchisement of the soul released by the kindly gift of Death."[9]

She modeled a series of busts of musicians, including Metropolitan Opera conductor Artur Bodanzky,[10] Russian pianist Ossip Gabrilowitsch,[11] British pianist Harold Bauer,[12] and Polish harpsichordist Wanda Landowska. Her bust of Spanish cellist Pablo Casals was highly praised:

When playing, he always closes his eyes, tilts his head a little to the side, and seemingly loses himself in the magic of his music. It is this characteristic pose, with eyes closed, that Brenda Putnam has captured perfectly. This portrait bust, which one can sincerely say is magnificently done, is in the Museum of the Hispanic Society, New York, and a replica is in Spain.[9]

Her Sea Horse Sundial (1922) – a winged cherub joyfully riding a seahorse hobby-horse (while the toy's stick casts its shadow on the sundial) – was widely praised, and received awards from the National Academy of Design, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and elsewhere. She also had a success with her life-size, three-quarter-length, bas relief portrait of William Dean Howells (1926), for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

About 1920, sculptor Anna Hyatt and Putnam rented an apartment and studio at 49 West 12th Street, Manhattan.[13] Hyatt married millionaire Archer Milton Huntington in 1923 – their wedding took place at the studio – and the Huntingtons became great patrons of the arts.[14] In 1931 they founded Brookgreen Gardens, a vast sculpture garden in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.[14]

A more modern aesthetic

Puck (1930-1932, replica 2002), Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.

Putnam grew dissatisfied with conventional academic sculpture.[6] Her desire to pursue "a more modern aesthetic" brought her to Italy in 1927, where she studied under Libero Andreotti, and later under Alexander Archipenko in New York City.[6]

She collaborated with architect Paul Philippe Cret on the Art Deco Puck Fountain (1930-1932), for the west garden of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.[15] Inscribed below her Figure of Puck is the elf's famous line from A Midsummer Night's Dream: "What fooles these mortals be." The marble sculpture, damaged by acid rain and vandalism, was removed in 2001, restored, and placed inside the library. It was used to cast an aluminum replica that was placed atop the fountain in 2002.[16]

She exhibited three works as part of the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California.[17][18] She created bas relief murals for two U.S. post offices under the Works Progress Administration.[19] Her fountain figure, Crest of the Wave (1939), a larger-than-life male nude swimming atop a stylized wave, made its debut at the 1939 New York World's Fair.

Putnam seriously injured her arm in an industrial accident during World War II.[14] She gave up creating large-scale works and concentrated on busts and smaller pieces.[20]

In 1942, she created the 26th issue of the Society of Medalists. She was commissioned to create the Admiral Ernest Joseph King Congressional Gold Medal (1945-46), awarded by a Special Act of Congress, March 22, 1946, for Admiral King's distinguished leadership of U.S. Naval Forces in World War II.[21] She created three bas relief portrait busts (1949-50) for the House of Representatives chamber in the United States Capitol. Her last completed sculpture was the Bust of Susan B. Anthony (1952) for the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.[15]

Putnam had made the stylistic transition from Academic to Art Deco,[15] but she was no fan of post-war Modernism. In 1952 the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced its intention to expand its holdings of contemporary sculpture. On behalf of the conservative National Sculpture Society (of which she was a fellow), Putnam vehemently advocated that The Met purchase realist works.[22]

Awards and honors

Putnam exhibited at the 1911 International Exhibition of Art and History in Rome.[23] She exhibited regularly at the National Academy of Design beginning in 1911, where Sea Horse Sundial won the 1922 Barnett Prize, and Mid-Summer won the 1935 Waltrous Gold Medal.[6] She exhibited at the National Sculpture Society's exhibitions, including 1916,[24] 1923,[25] 1929,[26] and 1940.[27]Water-Lily Baby received an Honorable Mention at the 1917 Art Institute of Chicago annual exhibition.[28] She exhibited regularly at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts between 1910 and 1944, and won the 1923 Widener Gold Medal for Sea Horse Sundial.[29] She won the 1923 Prize for Sculpture from the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors for [add work].[9]Fountain for a Formal Garden [The Pigeon Girl?] won the 1924 Avery Prize from the Architectural League of New York.[30]

She was elected an associate member of the National Academy in 1934, and an academician in 1936.[6] She was elected to the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors in [year], and designed them a 7-sided Art Deco medal in 1941 when they changed their name to the National Association of Women Artists.[9] She was elected to the National Sculpture Society in 1919, served as its secretary, 1933-1936,[9] and later was elected a fellow of the society.[31]

Teacher and author

Putnam had a 30-year career teaching at various institutions and privately.[6] She incorporated that experience into her book, The Sculptor's Way: A Guide to Modelling and Sculpture, first published in 1939.[32] It is still considered a classic on the subject and was in print as recently as 2003.[33] She also was the author of Animal X-Rays: A Skeleton Key to Comparative Anatomy (New York: G.P. Putnams's Sons, 1947).

Among her students were Elfriede Abbe,[34]Laura Gilpin,[35]Ethel Painter Hood,[36] Beatrice Gilman Proske,[14]Lilian Swann Saarinen, Marion Sanford, and Katharine Lane Weems.

Death and legacy

Putnam never married, but maintained long friendships with a number of her students. She retired to Wilton, Connecticut in the early 1950s. She moved to Concord, New Hampshire in 1971, where she died in 1975.[6]

Works by her are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and many other museums. Brookgreen Gardens holds several of her works.[37]

The Brenda Putnam Papers are at Syracuse University. The Smithsonian American Art Museum holds a collection of photographs of her works.

Selected works


Two Kids Sundial (1931), Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.

Cemetery monuments

Busts and statuettes

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1925), Hall of Fame for Great Americans, Bronx, New York.

Medals and coins


  1. ^ Jean, possibly Jean Potter, from SIRIS.
  2. ^ Shirley Putnam and Brenda Putnam, from Library of Congress.
  3. ^ "Brenda's Book," Time Magazine, June 26, 1939.
  4. ^ "Edith Rubel Trio Back from a Successful Southern Trip," Musical Courier: Weekly Review of the World's Music, March 8, 1917, p. 14.
  5. ^ Photograph of Edith Rubel Trio, from Library of Congress.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Brenda Putnam 1890–1975," Archived 2016-08-28 at the Wayback Machine from National Academy Museum.
  7. ^ "The Naked and the Nude," American Art News, December 12, 1915, p. 2.
  8. ^ "Inspiring Sculptured Tribute to the Late Mrs. Anne Simon," Musical America, August 10, 1918, p. 33.
  9. ^ a b c d e "Putnam, Brenda, N.A., Sculptor," Encyclopedia of American Biography, Volume 11 (American Historical Society, 1940), pp. 548-50.
  10. ^ Artur Bodanzky, from SIRIS.
  11. ^ Ossip Gabrilowitsch, from SIRIS.
  12. ^ Harold Bauer, from SIRIS.
  13. ^ Myrna G. Eden, Energy and Individuality in the Art of Anna Huntington, Sculptor and Amy Beach, Composer(Scarecrow Press, 1987), p. 22.[1]
  14. ^ a b c d Beatrice Gilman Proske, The Early Years of the Hispanic Society of America (The J. Paul Getty Trust, 1995), pp. 34, 52. Proske was one of Brenda Putnam's students.
  15. ^ a b c d Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein, American Women Sculptors: A History of Women Working in Three Dimensions (G.K. Hall, 1990), pp. 248-49.
  16. ^ Nicole M. Miller, "The Folger's Happy Mending," The Washington Post, January 10, 2002.
  17. ^ Brenda Putnam, from SR / Olympic Sports.
  18. ^ "Brenda Putnam". Olympedia. Retrieved 2020.
  19. ^ Brenda Putnam, from Smithsonian American Art Museum.
  20. ^ Mantle Fielding & Glen B Opitz, eds., Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, (Poughkeepsie, NY: Apollo Press, 1986), p.
  21. ^ Stephen W. Stathis, Congressional Gold Medals, 1776–2009 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2009), p. 9.[2]
  22. ^ Alan Filreis, Counter-revolution of the Word (University of North Carolina Press, 2012), pp. 225-26.
  23. ^ John W. Leonard, Woman's Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915 (American Commonwealth Company, 1914), p. 666.
  24. ^ Catalogue of an Exhibition of Contemporary American Sculpture, The National Sculpture Society, 1916, p. 68.[3]
  25. ^ Exhibition of American Sculpture Catalogue, 156th Street of Broadway New York, The National Sculpture Society, 1923 p. 201.
  26. ^ Contemporary American Sculpture, The California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, San Francisco, The National Sculpture Society, 1929 p. 262-263.[4]
  27. ^ Exhibition of Sculpture under the Auspices of the National Sculpture Society (1940),[5] from Whitney Museum of American Art.
  28. ^ Thirtieth Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture (Art Institute of Chicago, 1917).
  29. ^ Peter Hastings Falk, ed., The Annual Exhibition Record of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Volume 2 (Sound View Press, 1989), p. 379.
  30. ^ "Architectural Exhibition; Brenda Putnam Wins Avery Prize as Annual Show Opens," The New York Times, February 3, 1924, p. 1.
  31. ^ Historic Members, from National Sculpture Society.
  32. ^ Putnam, Brenda, The Sculptor's Way: A Guide to Modelling and Sculpture. Farrar & Rinehart, Inc. New York, 1939.
  33. ^ A Sculptor's Way, from Good Reads.
  34. ^ Obituary: Elfriede Abbe, The Bennington Banner (Vermont), January 19, 2013.
  35. ^ "Martha Sandweiss (1986). Laura Gilpin, An Enduring Grace. Ft Worth: Amon Carter Museum. pp. 13, 30.
  36. ^ "Ethel Painter Hood (1906-1982)". Retrieved 2017.
  37. ^ Collection Archived 2016-10-12 at the Wayback Machine, from Brookgreen Gardens.
  38. ^ "The Pigeon Girl, Brenda Putnam". Indianapolis Museum of Art on YouTube. Retrieved 2016.
  39. ^ Charmides, from SIRIS.
  40. ^ The Pigeon Girl, from Indianapolis Museum of Art.
  41. ^ Patricia M. O'Donnell & Jonathan Fairbanks, Oldfields, Indianapolis Museum of Art: Estate, Sculpture & Horticultural Study (Report for the Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1996).
  42. ^ Young Faun, from Dallas Museum of Art.
  43. ^ Young Faun, from SIRIS.
  44. ^ Stop Thief by Brenda Putnam
  45. ^ Sea Horse Sundial, from SIRIS.
  46. ^ William Dean Howells, from SIRIS.
  47. ^ Harriet, Isabella, and Katherine Beecher, from SIRIS.
  48. ^ Figure of Puck, from SIRIS.
  49. ^ Sundial, from SIRIS.
  50. ^ Mid-Summer, from SIRIS.
  51. ^ Midsummer, from ArtNet.
  52. ^ Post Office – Caldwell, New Jersey, from The Living New Deal.
  53. ^ Sorting the Mail Archived 2016-08-28 at the Wayback Machine, from Temple University.
  54. ^ St Cloud MN Post Office Relief, from SIRIS.
  55. ^ Communion (sculpture), from SIRIS.
  56. ^ Communion, from SIRIS.
  57. ^ Crest of the Wave, from Getty Images.
  58. ^ Simon Memorial, from SIRIS.
  59. ^ "Porter Monument". Allegheny Cemetery. Retrieved 2015.
  60. ^ Carefree Days, from SIRIS.
  61. ^ Fortitude, Kindliness, Vision, from SIRIS.
  62. ^ Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson as Hamlet, from SIRIS.
  63. ^ Bust of Herbert Putnam, from SIRIS.
  64. ^ Pablo Casals, from SIRIS.
  65. ^ Harriet Beecher Stowe, from SIRIS.
  66. ^ Bust of Amelia Earhart, from SIRIS.
  67. ^ Amelia Earhart and Brenda Putnam, from Purdue University.
  68. ^ Ossip Gabrilowitsch, from SIRIS.
  69. ^ John Mapother, from SIRIS.
  70. ^ Maimonides, from SIRIS.
  71. ^ Solon, from SIRIS.
  72. ^ Tribonian, from SIRIS.
  73. ^ William Adams Delano, from SIRIS.
  74. ^ Susan B. Anthony, from SIRIS.
  75. ^ Susan B. Anthony
  76. ^ Charles P. Daly Medal, from American Geographical Society.
  77. ^ National Association of Women Artists Medal, from Medallic Art Collector.
  78. ^ Amelia Earhart Medal, from Medal Artists.
  79. ^ Flight, from SIRIS.
  80. ^ Flight, from Smithsonian American Art Museum.
  81. ^ Admiral Ernest Joseph King Congressional Gold Medal

External links

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