I. Bronze Animals and Plastic Dolls:
Arthur Putnam and Grace Storey, 1890-1900

Frederick Yates, Arthur Putnam, 1912, charcoal, SDMA collection.

. . . Among the first of the area’s artists drawn into the sphere of Miss Klauber’s life long friends were the talented California sculptor Arthur Putnam and his equally talented wife, Grace Storey. Arthur Putnam, 1873-1930, was consumed by his art. Sculpture sustained him and eventually destroyed him. He isolated himself from humanity and deemed only three San Francisco artists worthy of his friendship, painter Gottardo Piazzonni; sculptor and scholar Bruce Porter; and architect Willis Polk. School bored him and he found in nature all the education he felt he needed. Even his art training was sporadic and brief at best. Despite his simple and, at times, crude and defiant disposition, he attracted a circle of devoted acquaintances and admirers. An unruly and imaginative bad boy of the neighborhood, who created stories of his own family history, he achieved a respectable degree of success in Paris and the eastern United States during his lifetime.

. . An animalier, he was one of a large number of international academy trained sculptors that created vast herds of small bronze animals that roamed the table tops in the Victorian and Post-Victorian homes in America and Europe. 14 Universally the selection of animal life as subject matter represented a reaction against the human figure as the ideal choice by the Classicists of a preceding generation and ushered in the era of Romanticism. Putnam’s eastern contemporaries were creating larger than life equestrian heroes that abound throughout the landscape admonishing viewers to lead noble and virtuous lives. In Paris in 1906, his work had been admired at the Salon where they were favorably compared to those of Antoine Louis Bayre, 1796-1875, the leading animal sculptor of the day, and praised by the titan of modern sculpture, Auguste Rodin, 1840-1917. Putnam’s colleagues initiated an abortive attempt to make him a member of the French Academy. By that time, however, He had quit France and returned to the United States, announcing that henceforth, everything he did was to be Californian.

. . . Alice Klauber first met the Bohemian artist Putnam during the final decade of the nineteenth century. In the summer of 1894, a “handsome young artist” from San Francisco presented himself to Miss Klauber bearing a letter of introduction from a mutual acquaintance, Julie H. Heyneman, 1871-1943, a former student of John Singer Sargent and an instructor at the San Francisco Art Students League.

Julie H. Heyneman, Alice Klauber, 1909, oil, SDMA collection.

. . . Heyneman became the sculptor’s biographer and published the first in-depth book about his life and art in 1932 followed by a second edition published in London under the title, Desert Cactus: the Portrait of a Sculptor, in 1934. One unique feature of the publication was the plates illustrating the sculptor’s work that were from photos by a young up-coming photographer named Ansel Adams. 15 Putnam had returned to San Diego to work on his mother’s lemon ranch near Descanso since his money had run out for further study at the Art Student’s’ League.

. . . Miss Klauber, still a freshman artist herself, was among the first to encourage the young sculptor in his chosen field. In San Diego Alice and Arthur shared their youth, love of nature, devotion to their art, and the written word. During 1894, the two saw a great deal of one another. The enthusiasm for the natural wonders and the out-of-doors including the tarantulas and snakes and most animal life were to provide him with his basic motif for art. Naomi Baker, an early art writer and critic for the local Evening Tribune recalled, that Putnam hung around surgeons and watched operations to gain knowledge of anatomy. He would also crouch beneath the brush in the back country for hours to observe animals. The young sculptor presented Alice with a small pipe bowl, complete with ash and odor of burned tobacco, that he carved out of Manzanita wood and that she had admired. When the Putnam family left the vicinity the artist, also, gave her a plaster cast of Pegasus, the famous flying horse of classical mythology identified with universal aspirations and high hopes, and a roll of brown butcher paper on which he had sketched drawings of cowboys and wild animals found in the Southwest. 16 These gifts are currently in the collection of the local San Diego Museum of Art. During a brief stay in Chicago studying with Edward Kemeys, 1834-1907, a noted animal sculptor in the mid 1890s, the San Diegan, in the big studio of Kemeys with the cold winds blowing, lamented his aloneness in a poem, irrelevantly ignoring rules of punctuation and other fundamental mechanics of grammar, to Miss Klauber:

“the times gone by,
the old, old times,
I roved the hills so wild
In a far off day,
In a sunny clime
no mountains more to see,
my feet no more
the cobbles roll,
I hear no sound of surf
but far off boom
Of the gray dim town
All lost in fog and soot.

The cars roll by
In endless trains.
I hear them rushing on
on far in the night
I hear them go
til they are lost to sight.
no gray gull
clamours round my roost,
no fog rolls in at night
no bell buoy to
ring his low hoarse note,
no owl a hoot to bring
but the low murmur

of distant town
to sooth my ear
to sleep.

no friend have I
in this dark place,
no sun to shine at day
no lark to echo
the morning’s song
no sound of breaking waves.

I’m tired and sore
of old town (lore?)
no face so good to see,
as the faces I left
so far away
in a little town
by the sea.

and so old time
unravels his long rope,
a long long rope it seems,
and weary the day
that coil from the rope
long and just the same.

a monotonous groan
from the creaking wheel
as fate rolls off
the thread.
and distant time, as
by gone by days
mellows the thread
of the passing years
with a romance
of poetry.

Alice listen as
the thread unwinds
and piles up in knotty skeins,
who on earth’s
to unravel the skein
that each day
sees us unwind.”


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