Bessie Potter Vonnoh, American (1872 - 1955)

Bessie Potter Vonnoh

Bessie Potter Vonnoh (August 17, 1872 – March 8, 1955) was an American sculptor best known for her small bronzes, mostly of domestic scenes, and for her garden fountains.

Bessie Potter was born in St Louis, Missouri, the only child of Ohio natives Alexander and Mary McKenney Potter. Her father died in 1874, in an accident, at age 38.[1]:p. 7 By 1877, she and her mother had joined members of her mother's family in Chicago.
In school she enjoyed clay-modeling class and decided at an early age that she wanted to be a sculptor. In 1886, at age 14, she enrolled in classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. She was able to afford the tuition only because a local sculptor, Lorado Taft, hired her to work as a studio assistant, on Saturdays. From 1890 to 1891 she studied with Taft at the Art Institute, as she completed its sculptor courses.

Vonnoh became one of the so-called "White Rabbits", women artists who assisted Taft on the sculpture program for the Horticultural Building at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She also produced an independent commission, the Personification of Art, for the Illinois State Building of the exposition.
In 1895, she traveled to Europe, and met Auguste Rodin. Her best-known statuette, Young Mother (1896), used fellow "White Rabbit" Mary Proctor, then wife of sculptor Alexander Phimister Proctor, and their infant son as models. In 1898, she received the commission for a bust of General Samuel W. Crawford for the Smith Memorial Arch in Philadelphia.
In 1899 she married impressionist painter Robert Vonnoh, at his home in Rockland Lake, New York, and honeymooned in Paris. At the 1900 Exposition Universelle, she was awarded a Bronze Medal for Young Mother and for another statuette, Dancing Girl.

She exhibited at both the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, and at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St Louis, Missouri, where she was awarded a Gold Medal for a group of ten works.

In March 1903, the New York Times noted that the Vonnohs were two of a dozen painters and sculptors who had gotten together to create a building specifically for their studios, at 27 West Sixty-Seventh Street in Manhattan. In mid-1903, the Vonnohs began summering in Old Lyme, Connecticut, and became long-time members of its art colony.
In December 1912, the New York Times, writing about her works at the New York Academy of Art, called her figurines "lovely", of a "charming style", and said "we must applaud once more her skillful harmonizing of detail in the contemporary costume, her selection of the most distinguished line for emphasis." In 1915, Vonnoh exhibited in the Armory Show. In 1921, she was elected an academician of the National Academy of Design. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1931.

In 1933, her husband died at age 75. In 1937, she completed her best-known large-scale work, the Frances Hodgson Burnett Memorial in Central Park. She produced little after that.

Garden fountain figure, ca 1931.
In 1948, she remarried, to Dr. Edward L. Keyes, Jr., a widower, who died only nine months later. She died in New York City in 1955, at age 82.

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