Friday, February 21, 2014

Julia Bracken Wendt: Sculptor with Feminist Sensibilities


Notable American sculptor, Julia Bracken Wendt, was one of the few female artists ranked equally with their male counterparts during the first two decades of the Twentieth Century. Wendt was born in Apple River, Illinois, the twelfth of thirteen children in an Irish Catholic family. Following the death of her mother when she was only nine years old, she felt adrift within the family, so she ran away from home at age thirteen and was on her own.
By the time she was sixteen years old, she found work as a domestic servant for a woman who recognized her talent and drive, and paid to enroll her in the Chicago Art Institute. She studied with Lorado Taft for six years and by 1887, she became his studio and teaching assistant. Wendt earned an excellent reputation over the course of her career and was referred to as the "foremost woman sculptor of the west...whether men or women."

Julia Bracken Wendt
ca. 1915
8 7/8 x 7 1/4 inches
In 1893, during the Columbian Exposition she was one of several women sculptors nicknamed the "White Rabbits" who helped to produce some of the architectural sculpture that graced the exposition buildings. In addition, she was awarded a commission to produce Illinois Welcoming the Nations for the Fair. The work was later cast in bronze and unveiled at the Illinois State Capitol.

Wendt, who sculpted portraits, fountains, and bas-relief medallions in bronze, was not a modernist in artistic style, but she proclaimed her feminist sensibilities in her contribution to the Panama Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915, and in San Diego in 1916. Wendt proved to be an exceptional artist and was the only woman to win a gold medal for her work.

It was Wendt who originated the idea of placing the sculptured figures that typified the attributes of woman in the Women's building of the exposition, and it was she who carried the project through to the finish. Wendt not only created the figures, she completed the work on her own. She supervised the installation and raised the statues to their pedestals when the workmen were confounded with the process. Wendt demonstrated her executive ability, creativity, and problem-solving skills with thoughtfulness and imagination. Sculpture is a demanding, physical, endeavor that requires much more strength than that of painting on paper or canvas.

After successfully pursuing her career for a number of years, Wendt married painter William Wendt and moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1906, where they became a highly prominent artist couple. Wendt taught at the Otis Art Institute and became a member of the National Sculpture Society.
Julia Bracken Wendt
National Women's Trade Union Seal
Pen and ink drawing on board
Manuscript Division
Gift of the National Women's Trade Union League
In 1911, she began a commission of an eleven-foot high, three-figure allegory group for the rotunda of the Los Angeles County Museum. Wendt chose to represent History, Science, and Art as draped goddesses with uplifted hands holding electrically lit globes.

 NHM Rotunda: Julia Bracken Wendt -- Three Muses (Science, History, and Art)
Julia Bracken Wendt
Three Muses (Science, History, and Art)
ca. 1911
Natural History Museum Rotunda

In 1913, she was commissioned by the government of Canada to create a King Edward Peace Memorial, which was installed at Saskatoon.

Julia Bracken Wendt's Studio
ca. 1915
Photographer unknown

Julia and William had no children. Julia Bracken Wendt passed away in 1942

                                                   Julia and William in their Laguna Beach Studio

Lincoln the Lawyer
Julia Bracken Wendt
Lincoln the Lawyer
ca. 1926
Lincoln Park, Los Angeles, CA

World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893
Annual Exhibition, Palette Club, AIC, 1895
Annual Exhibition of Works by Chicago Artists, AIC, 1899-1910 (9 times)
St Louis/Louisiana Purchase Exposition, 1904
Chicago Municipal League, 1905
Pan-California Expo, San Diego (CA), 1915
California Art Club, 1918
Solo exhibits with husband, AIC, 1909-21
National Sculpture Society, 1929
National Sculpture Society, Los Angeles (CA) Museum
Commission, "Illinois Welcoming the Nations" for Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1892
Commission, Exposition Park, Los Angeles (CA). Commission, Battle Monument, Missionary Ridge (TN)
Sculpture Prize, Chicago, 1898
Municipal Art League Prize, Chicago, 1905
Gold Medal, Pan-California Expo, San Diego (CA), 1915
Harrison Prize, Los Angeles (CA), 1918
Chicago Society of Artists
Chicago Municipal Art League
Society of Western Artists
Los Angeles (CA) Fine Art Association
California Art Club, Los Angeles
Three Arts Club of Los Angeles (CA)
Laguna Beach Art Association
Los Angeles (CA) County Museum of Art       
Waggoner, "The art of J.B. Wendt," Los Angeles Herald Sunday Magazine, March 27, 1910, p.1.
Edenhurst Gallery, Julia Bracken Wendt,, retrieved 2/21/14
Illinois Women Artist Project, Julia Bracken Wendt,, retrieved 2/21/14
American Treasures of the Library of Congress,, retrieved 2/21/14
Yesterday and Tomorrow: California Women Artists, Sylvia Moore, ed. Midmarch Arts Press, New York, 1989.

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