The following is taken from Women of Courage, Ten North Country Pioneers in Profile, written and produced by the St. Lawrence County, NY Branch of the American Association of University Women (1989).
St. Lawrence County, New York State has been honored as being the birthplace of two noted sculptors. Most people recognize and call to mind Frederic Remington immediately, but few are aware that a sculptress, equally talented in her own field, was also born and raised in Ogdensburg, NY. Her name was Sally James Farnham.
Sally James was born November 27, 1869, the younger daughter of Edward James and Sarah Wells Perkins. She was christened Sarah Wells James after her mother. She came from a well known local family. Her uncle, Henry R. James, was editor and publisher of the Ogdensburg Journal. Her father, Edward C. James, commanded the 106th Volunteer New York Infantry in the Virginia Campaign of 1862-63 during the Civil War. Upon his return, he became a prominent attorney at law in northern New York.
Sally's childhood was spent in Ogdensburg. She lived with her family at the corner of Crescent and Greene Streets. Later they moved to a palatial structure on Caroline Street. She received her education in the local schools. Her father was quite athletic and encouraged Sally to become interested in horseback riding. She became a skilled rider under his guidance and learned to love and respect horses. She drew much from this in her later professional life.
As a young girl she traveled with her father and visited many art galleries. From this experience she learned to recognize and appreciate the artistic works of the masters. She had no formal training in art, nor did she show any particular interest in it as a young girl. In 1896 she married Paulding Farnham of Great Neck, Long Island and moved to the New York City area where Mr. Farnham was secretary of Tiffany and Company in the city. The couple had two sons, James and John, and a daughter, Julia.
The event that led to the transformation from an urban housewife unto a renowned sculptress happened in 1901 when Sally was hospitalized for a serious illness. Extended bedrest and boredom brought about her interest in this field. When she was convalescing in a New York City hospital, making paper dolls to while-away the time, she was given some modeling clay to play with. She began making figures as she lay in bed. This was the beginning of a hobby that led to a profession which brought her international fame.
She received encouragement in her early trials from Frederic Remington who saw her ability to put life into her subjects. Before leaving the hospital she decided to make sculpting her career and threw all her energy and enthusiasm into perfecting the art.
Sally Farnham was chosen over a long list of many famous sculptors to do a statue of Simon Boliver, the South American liberator. It took four years to complete and when finished, stood 15 feet high and rested on a 16 foot pedestal. The statue showing the liberator astride a spirited horse was unveiled April 19, 1921, in ceremonies with President Warren Harding in attendance. The statute, located in Central Park, was a gift of the government of Bolivia to New York City, and won for Mrs. Farnham the "order of Boliver," a decoration from the nation of Venezuela.
This was only the beginning of her many artistic achievements. She did portraits of President Harding, Herbert Hoover and Theodore Roosevelt. Her bust of Marshal Foch was said to be the famous French marshall's favorite. Her frieze of the discovers General Antonio Jose de Sucre of Columbia and Hippolito Unanue of Peru are in the Pan American Building in Washington, DC. She also completed a portrait of General de Sucre which stands in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
Locally few people know that the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Library Park, Ogdensburg, was one of Mrs. Farnham's early works. It was dedicated August 23, 1905. The base is an 11-foot granite square supporting a 16 foot column on which is mounted an 11-foot tall winged figure carrying a standard in one hand and a wreath in the other. This represents the soldiers and sailors from the Town of Oswegatchie who served in the Civil War. Two similar Soldiers and Sailors monuments stand in the Mount Hope and Holy Sepulchre Cemeteries in Rochester, NY. Her statue of General Chaffee is in the National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.
Her 40 years of artistic creativity ended April 28, 1943 when she died of complications following pneumonia. She is buried in Great Neck, Long Island. Today few people realize when viewing her massive sculptures that her ability came naturally and that she never had any formal artistic training.
You can view one of Sally (James) Farnham's pieces, a New York City Mounted Policeman. The sculpture is made of bronze and stands 11 3/4 " by 11". It was originally commissioned as a presentation piece to distinguished persons, senior city and police officials.
To learn more, visit the Sally James Farnham.org website.
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