A guest post by Stephen Grant
The final three bas-reliefs along the Folger’s north wall are Richard the Third, Hamlet, and Henry the Fourth, Part 1. The images shown here are from the same two sets of postcards that were discussed in the previous two posts.
On Dec. 19, 1929, owner Henry Folger, sculptor John Gregory, and architects Paul Philippe Cret and Alexander B. Trowbridge signed an agreement1 to produce the marble panels for the north façade of the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Step 1 was to produce 5 models, where the scale would be 1 ½ in. to the foot.2
Step 2 was to be a 1/3- or ½-size working model for each of the 5 panels.
Step 3 was a full-size model of each of the 5 panels.
The sculptor would supervise carving in marble under a separate contract.
The first sketch was to be completed within 6 months and the final models of all 5 panels within 3 years. The cost of crating and shipping to the owner or contractor was not included in the contract. The owner would pay the sculptor $30,000 (or about $459,000 in today’s dollars)3 for designing the marble bas-reliefs, including supervision of the marble carvers at the rate of $500 per panel. The sculptor would maintain insurance against loss or damage. Lastly, the sculptor could copyright the completed work.
Folger received the first drawings on Jan. 5, 1930, and he and Gregory both signed off on the delivery, with Folger’s Standard Oil Company assistant Alexander G. Welsh signing as witness. After Henry Folger died on June 11, 1930, Emily Folger as executrix of his will signed as each stage of the project was completed.
As architect Cret received 6% commission (Folger Archives Box 58a) or $1,800 dollars (about $27,600 in today’s money). The Folger architects approached the Piccirilli Brothers, a marble carving company from New York. They were renowned for having carved the seated Lincoln sculpted by Daniel Chester French for the slain president’s Memorial in 1920. Here is the enthusiastic letter Paul Cret received in April 1930 proposing to carve the nine panels for $1,250 each (Folger Archives Box 58a) or $11,250 for the lot (approximately $172,000 in today’s dollars).
By the time James Baird of James Baird Co. Inc.—notably also general contractor for the Lincoln marble statue—submitted the final bill for the Piccirilli work, the $11,250 had climbed to $17,319.32 (Folger Archives Box 58a) or about $260,000 in today’s dollars. This increase was not due to a cost overrun, but to the decision by Emily Folger to have a marble bust of her late husband made to be placed in an elevated niche in the Exhibition Hall, later called the Great Hall. Very happy with the Gregory panels, she obtained the sculptor’s agreement to sculpt the bust once he had finished the panels at the end of 1932. Mrs. Folger loaned Gregory twelve photos of her husband to use for inspiration for what became an “idealized” portrait of Mr. Folger in middle age. I wish the Folger archives included those photos!
Gregory produced three plaster busts of Mr. Folger with different expressions and tilts of the head, and invited Mrs. Folger to choose. The architects asked whether she also wanted a matching bust of her to be made; she declined the offer. Due to the Folger bust project, Gregory’s contract grew from $24,000 to $54,000, or over $1 million in today’s dollars!
I searched in vain in the Archives of American Art for a portrait of John Gregory working on the Folger panels or bust. The closest I found was an out-of-focus Gregory working on the commission he completed in 1929, ironically on panels for the mausoleum to honor Folger’s arch rival for so many Shakespeare literary treasures, Henry E. Huntington of San Marino, California.
Stephen H. Grant is a retired Foreign Service officer turned writer. He is the author of, among other things, several books about postcards, and Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger. He can be found on the web at https://www.stephenhgrant.com and on Twitter at @shgauthor.
- Gregory’s copy is now held in the John Gregory Papers at the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
- Even before they agreed on Gregory as the sculptor, Trowbridge and Cret thought it would be in everyone’s best interest for the initial contract to be for the first 5 panels for the façade. They would then reassess, to make sure that they were all happy with the work and that it could be done in a timely manner. They were, and Emily Folger signed, as executrix, the contract for the other 4 panels in 1931.
- Monetary values taken from MeasuringWorth.com