Cabinet of Curiosities

Cabinet of Curiosities: Sculpture

Robert Merrell Gage (1892-1981)
Ludwig van Beethoven
, after 1923

After studying art at Washburn with Frances Davis Whittemore, who encouraged him to become a sculptor, Gage was in 1914 apprenticed to Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mt. Rushmore. He taught art at Washburn from approximately 1915-1917. This sculpture was apparently based on a plaster mask cast from Beethoven’s face by Franz Klein in 1812. According to the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library files, Gage acquired the life mask in New York in 1916. The sculptor moved to California in 1923 and made this sculpture while there. He is best known in Kansas for his Abraham Lincoln and Monument to the Pioneer Women of Kansas, 1937, both on the grounds of the Kansas State Capitol. His portrait of Beethoven was donated to Mabee Library by Hampton Shirer (Washburn BA 1916) and Pauline Haynes Shirer (Washburn attendee in class of 1918).

Mask and Beethoven sculpture

Mask, 1995
Collection of Tony Naylor

In 1993 governors Joan Finney of Kansas and Alexander Beliakov of the Leningrad Region of Russia began an artistic cultural exchange. In 1993 Russian performers came to Topeka and in 1994 a diverse group of artists from Kansas, including Washburn University faculty members, performed in Russia. The exchange continued in 1995 when theater department faculty member Tony Naylor spent a month in Leningrad studying Russian theater and culture. The mask was made by two Russian artists, who designed the set for Twilight of the Golds, produced at WU in 1995.

Robert Merrell Gage (1892-1981)
Frances Davis Whittemore, 1937
Collection of Mulvane Art Museum, Washburn University

Bronze of Frances WhittemoreAccording to a 1937 newspaper article, Whittemore “was the founder of the Washburn College school of fine arts and the friend and helper of aspiring Kansas artists in a time when the people of the west knew little about art and cared still less. [Through her various art activities, she] sent out from Topeka a wave of art interest which soon spread far beyond the boundaries of Kansas. Kansas now has hundreds of talented artists and thousands of art lovers.” Whittemore was also the director of the Mulvane Art Museum from its founding in 1923 to 1929.

Gage depicts Whittemore in Roman dress, in a Roman chair and with a Roman hairdo, thus indicating the reverence educated Americans had for Greek and Roman civilization at this time. This relief was donated to the Mulvane by Gage and the Louvre Art Club of Topeka, which paid for the materials, casting and installation of it.

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