A Sculptor’s Testimony in Bronze and Stone: The Sacred Sculpture of Avard T. Fairbanks

In 1972, Eugene F. Fairbanks published a book on the life and work of his father, the sculptor Avard T. Fairbanks. Twelve years later and seven years after his father’s death in 1987, the author revised and published a second edition, completing the narration of the artist’s long and successful career. As the title of this book implies, Avard Fairbanks devoted much of his life to expressing the message of the restored gospel through his art. He chose to do so by sculpting idealized men, women, and children who are handsome and strong as well as steadfast in their devotion to truth. Heroically, they face life and its often inexplicable hardships calmly and gracefully.

The first twelve pages of the book give a brief biography of the artist. The reader learns that Avard was born in Provo, Utah, in 1897 to a family of artists. His father, John B. Fairbanks, was one of the early pioneer artists in the territory. Avard’s older brother, J. Leo, studied art in Paris and was a recognized artist in the Rocky Mountain region. Therefore, it came as no surprise when Avard showed exceptional artistic talent from a very early age. When John B. Fairbanks gained permission to work in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art making copies of masterpieces, young Avard soon followed. A few months later, the boy received a scholarship at the Art Students League, where he studied sculpture under the noted James Earl Fraser. According to the biography, his youthful talent attracted the attention of some of the best sculptors of the day. Motivated by this recognition of the boy’s talent, John B. took Avard to Paris when Avard was about fifteen years old. While the son studied at various art academies, the father painted. Together they increased their knowledge by regular visits to the museums. This ideal experience was cut short by the advent of World War I. There follows an interesting account of their narrow escape from France just ahead of the advancing German army and a description of a harrowing trip home by ship. The unique quality of Avard’s childhood convinced the young man and his family that he was to use his talents to fulfill a special mission for the Church.

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