By Chuck Gleaves
By my count Mr. King had eleven garden sculptures on his estate, twelve if you include the bronze “Duck Baby” fountain by Edith Parsons in the foyer of the house. We don’t know where they all came from, but we are privilege to some background information about the two pieces Mr. King commissioned with sculptor Anton Vozech. Years ago, a volunteer interviewed the models giving some unique insight into the creative process, but what I thought was most amusing was how intent each model was on distancing themselves from the impression that they modeled in the nude.
The other nine sculptures are apparently unattributed to an artist, although one sculpture is known to us only by one photograph. The rest were all still present in 1953 when Mr. King’s private estate became a public garden. We know that the architect for Kingwood Hall, Clarence Mack, acquired some of the pieces for Mr. King such as the Satyr in front of the trellis at the then swimming pool. We have the receipt. And Mr. Mack probably acquired all or most of the other nine sculptures for Mr. King. Acquiring the accoutrements for houses he designed was typical of his architectural practice.
Garden sculpture was an expected feature in country estates of this period, and Kingwood fit the mold, not only in this respect but in many others. We call the period The Country Place Era which ran roughly from 1895 to the Great Depression. (Kingwood was built in 1926.) The English country home life-style seemed to catch the imagination of America’s super-rich as they used their wealth to create great estates that defined their position in society and offered them “the good life.” The formula for these estates included great houses designed by prominent architects, an agricultural affectation, great gardens and grounds designed by members of the new landscape architecture profession, skilled head gardeners who were often imported from Europe, and garden sculpture.
While this building boom enhanced the fame of established architects, and incubated the emergent profession of landscape architecture, it opened doors not only to sculptors generally but especially to women sculptors who had never-before had such opportunities to compete with their male counterparts. Several women sculptors built their careers around these country place era commissions such as Anna Hyatt Huntington, Janet Scudder, Harriet Frishmuth and Edith Parsons. The Country Place Era was an ephemeral phenomenon, but it created some great works, not the least of which are the works of these four women whose sculptures can be readily found today in museums (and public gardens) across the country.