You can still buy some pretty horrible unauthorized copies of James Fraser’s work, but few people remember the artist.
End of the Trail, cast 1918, by James Earle Frazer, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We had the smaller version in our house when I was growing up.
1913 Indian Head Nickel, courtesy US Mint (coin), National Numismatic Collection (photograph by Jaclyn Nash)
End of the Trail was intended to be cast in bronze, but wartime shortages prevented that. The original slowly deteriorated until 1968, when it was obtained by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and restored.
“The idea occurred to me,” he later wrote, “of making an Indian which represented his race reaching the end of the trail, at the edge of the Pacific.”
End of the Trail was copied on the cover of The Beach Boys 1971 album Surf's Up.
The sculpture earned a Gold Medal at the fair. Within a few months, thousands of photographic prints had been sold. In 1918, Fraser began producing bronze miniatures of the statue. They caught the troubled spirit of the times. They were everywhere, including in my father’s study when I was growing up.
|You can still buy horrible copies of it, both in bronze and in less permanent forms, like this t-shirt.|
Fraser had great sympathy for the plight of the Native Americans, who were being pushed west or restrained on reservations. His father, Thomas Fraser, was a railroad engineer helping to push the great rail lines across the country. A few months prior to James’ birth, Thomas was among a group sent to recover the remains of the 7th Cavalry Regiment after the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
End of the Trail was meant to illustrate the Native American plight. Instead, it became an early piece of pop-art, copied endlessly not only in bronze but in prints, posters, t-shirts, pins, bags, belt buckles, and bookends. It was featured (badly) on the cover of The Beach Boys 1971 album Surf's Up.
|The same is true of the Indian Head Nickel. This is an insulated Whataburger Coffee Mug.|
Fraser learned to carve by scavenging limestone from a nearby quarry. He attended the Art Institute of Chicago, the École des Beaux Arts and the Académie Julian. He worked as an assistant to America’s foremost sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Starting in 1906, he taught at the Art Students League in New York, eventually becoming its director.