Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Avard Fairbanks Exhibit


The Peteetneet Museum feels very fortunate to have a small part of the works of Avard Fairbanks.  The pieces we have in our collection are only plaster casts and the original bronze pieces are located at other locations in the United States.  The John Fairbanks family was one of the important familes in the history of early Payson.  John was Avard’s grandfather. 
    Avard Tennyson Fairbanks. Born in Utah in 1897, was a prolific 20th century American sculptor. Three of his sculptures are in the United States Capitol and the state capitols in both Utah and Wyoming, as well as numerous other locations, also have his works. Possibly his most well-known artistic contribution was designing the ram symbol for Dodge.
    The pieces if the Avard T. Fairbanks Collection at Peteetneet includes the large stature of Spencer Penrose. He was the father of the copper industry in Utan. The bronze casting of this piece is at the Broadmore Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
    The buffalo plaster cast was originally presented to Payson High School.  The had originally called themselves the Farmers and then the Beet Diggers.  They became the Buffalos after Mr. Fairbanks presented themwith the model. They changed their mascot to the Payson Lions in 1928 in honor of the local Lion’s Club who was one of their supporters.
In 1929 a rising young sculptor with ties to Payson, Utah arrived at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor to head up the sculpture department. He needed a more reliable car than his 1928 Willys- Knight with its sleeve-valve motor that wouldn't start on cold winter mornings. But it was the Depression and he didn't have any more money than anyone else.
Flying Lady - Plymouth hood ornament
He reasoned he could design a radiator cap ornament in trade for a new automobile. Chrysler Corporation, in nearby Highland Park, was an up-and-coming auto maker, with innovative engineering and designs. Yet its radiator caps, with their little Viking wings, needed improvement. Avard Fairbanks was just the artist to replace themwith sculptural masterpieces.
    At  Chrysler  headquarters,  he  was  told  they  were  about  to  introduce  an  all-new Plymouth, the PA series, featuring Floating Power (which meant shock-absorbing engine mounts). "The Smoothness of an Eight with the Economy of a Four" was the advertising pitch. Could he symbolize that in a radiator cap ornament?  Fairbanks designed a little mermaid (of Norse mythology) coming up out of a swirling wave...then gave her the wings of an eagle. The mermaid was a hit: Floating Power, indeed! In return for his work on the little mermaid, Fairbanks was paid with a handsome, red 1932 Chrysler Royal Eight. Over the years these radiator caps have come to be known as "the Flying Lady." Only the Fairbanks family seems to know who she really is. Take a close look, the next time you see one; take a closer look at the point where her hips emerge from the swirling waves and where her tail disappears topside. Notice the little ridges that represent her fishy scales. She's a mermaid, all right!
    The 1931 Plymouth was a runaway success. It pushed Buick out ofthird place in national sales and thrust Chrysler Corporation into the Big Three of auto makers. Walter P. Chrysler may have thought its success had to do with his engineering features such as hydraulic brakes, free wheeling and Floating Power. But Avard Fairbanks, never averse to taking due credit, always said, "everyone just loved my little mermaid."
    There is a feature of the Little Mermaid on which almost everyone seems compelled to comment. It's not about the feathery pattern on her wings, nor her flowing wavy hair, nor her
graceful emergence out of the waves. It's about her healthy torso! Fairbanks reply spoke strongly in her defense: "She's a mermaid, and that's just how mermaids are!" Dispute that if you can.

    The "Little Mermaid on the waves"--as a symbol of floating power and Plymouth--soon got lost on the marketing people at Plymouth. A line drawing of the design appeared on each page of the sales brochures of the PA models, but the Fairbanks design was used only on the 1931 PA and 1932 PB Plymouths. The 1933 design, which was taller and slimmer, was the work of someone else. By 1934 Plymouth ornaments had become sailing ships. DeSoto got winged ladies of various designs until 1949.
    Avard Fairbanks was influenced by the styles of the era in which he worked, most notably the Art Deco motifs popular during the 1920s and '30s. His work for the Chrysler Corporation was not over, however. As he recalled:
    One evening he got an urgent call from the engineers at Dodge Automobile Company asking him to meet them in ten minutes. They explained that they had 10,000 cars that needed hood ornaments and that they wanted something as attractive as the ornament on a Rolls Royce, but for the cheapest car! He took along my clay and an animal book by my friend William Hornaday and spent the next several days at their headquarters. They brought in food and a couch and he went to work.
    He suggested a mountain lion, a tiger, a jaguar and other animals. Finally he started modeling a mountain sheep. When the engineers read that the ramwas the "master of the trail and not afraid of even the wildest of animals" they became enthusiastic about the symbol. Walter P. Chrysler wasn't as convinced. ButheI explained that anyone seeing a ram, with its big horns, would think "dodge." He looked at Avard, looked at the model, scratched his head and said, "That's what I want - go ahead with it."
    This is the story as it appeared in Southwest Art magazine. The Fairbanks family recalls it slightly differently:

"For two weeks father worked on all sorts of models from mythology creatures to various powerful animals. Finally, he called the designers and Mr. Chrysler in to see three models of a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, a ram. He proposed the charging one. They asked, "why a ram?" Father responded, "It is sure-footed; it's the King of the Trail; it won't be challenged by anything." They nodded their heads. Then father, with a bit ofcorny humor, added, "And if you were on the trail and saw that ram charging down on you, what would you think?-DODGE!" To which Walter Chrysler excitedly replied "THAT'S IT! THE RAM GOES ON THE DODGE!"

    Avard left his models at Dodge headquarters for a fewmonths. When he returned he was surprised to see an assembly plant lot full of new Dodges with rams on their hoods. He immediately sought an audience with K. T. Keller (President of Dodge Division) who explained that in his absence, they had to move ahead so their own designer modified the ram ornament for production. They had tilted the head down a bit more and pulled the horns away from the head, a suggestion Avard had made but thought would be too costly  for production. In fact, it was an expensive item but so beautiful that new Dodge owners were constantly troubled with thefts of their rams. Thousands had to be produced as replacements.
Avard reminded Mr. Keller that copyright laws do apply to sculpture and artistic designs and Mr. Keller very quickly offered to pay himwith another newcar. But with the big redChrysler already at home, he asked instead for a royalty on the design. They finally settled on a check for the full retail price for a top-of-the line Dodge Eight: $1,400. For that amount (rather paltry by today's standards), Dodge got one of the most enduring corporate symbols in American history.
    The Dodge Ramwas not to be the last radiator ornament Fairbanks designed. His work is also found on the 1933 Hudson Essex Terraplane. The hot performance car of 1933 (it won the Pike's Peak Hill Climb and set records on the sands of Daytona Beach), the Terraplane was given an ornament ofthe Griffin, the mythological lion with an eagle head and wings. (Its wing pattern is a close match to Plymouth's winged mermaid.) This time he signed the ornament and took an Essex Eight in payment.
    Many of the sculptures on Temple Square in Salt Lake City are by Fairbanks, including the Three Witnesses Monument.
    The Fairbank’s home was located between 100 North and 200 North on Payson Main Street.  It was dismantled a few years ago and rebuilt at THIS IS THE PLACE STATE PARK in Salt Lake City.

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