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FRANCES RICH (USA, Washington, Spokane 1910-2007 / act: California & Arizona)

Frances Rich Frances Luther Rich (Washington, 8 January 1910 - Arizona, 14 October 2007) was an American sculptor and actress. She was born the daughter of Elvo Elcourt Deffenbaugh (d. 1941) and noted silent film actress Irene Rich (1891-1988), but after her parents divorced, she was adopted by her stepfather, army officer Charles Henry Rich (major during the First World War and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel during the Second World War). She received her bachelor's degree in English literature from Smith College, Northampton, MA (1931). Soon thereafter she played a role in the following 6 films: Albert Ray's Unholy Love (1932); Albert Ray's The Thirteenth Guest (1932); George Melford's Officer Thirteen (1932); Harry L. Fraser's Diamond Trail (1933); Rowland V. Lee's Zoo in Budapest (1933); and John Ford's Pilgrimage (1933). She also appeared in Samuel Nathaniel Behrman's comedy Brief Moment (1931-1932) at the Belasco Theatre in Broadway, New York.

Rich's introduction to sculptress Malvina Hoffman (1885-1966) by John Ford in New York in 1933 was to change her life for good. Rich followed Hoffman to Paris, and studied stone-carving with her and fresco painting with Ángel Zárraga (1886-1946) between 1933 and 1935. Upon returning to America, she did intensive drawing work under Alexandre Iacovleff (1887-1938) at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, between 1935 and 1936, and established her own studio in Manhattan, New York. Between 1937 and 1940 she was a resident student at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where she met the sculptor Carl Milles (1875-1955), with whom she worked for the next 18 years.

During the Second World War, Frances Rich joined the United States Naval Reserve first as a Lieutenant Junior Grade. She served as Special Assistant to Captain Mildred McAfee Horton (1900-1994), director of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, also known as WAVES. Stationed in naval establishments throughout the United States and abroad, she completed her service to her country reaching the rank of Lieutenant Commander (1942-1946). Immediately following the War, Frances Rich was invited to return to her alma mater, Smith College, as a full professor and was also given the responsibilities of director of public relations (1947-1950).

In 1950 she made modelling and sculpture her exclusive occupation, working in clay and plaster, bronze and brass, marble and stone. Her work consists largely of portrait busts and religious figures, many of which are larger than life. Highlights of her work include the limestone Purdue Bas Reliefs (1938) above the Union Building entrance of Purdue University, Lafayette, IN; the monumental Army & Navy Nurse marble statue (1938) in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA; the plaster statue of Questing Madonna (1954) for Madonna Festival, Santa Barbara, CA; the bronze Christ Crucified (1954) for the Holy Trinity Church, Bremerton, WA; The Laughing Pelican (1958) in front of the Pelican Building at the University of California, Berkeley, CA; the terracotta statue of Katharine Hepburn as Cleopatra (1965) for The American Shakespeare Festival Theater, Stratford, CT; the marble bust of Suffragette, Alice Stone Blackwell (1961) at the Boston Public Library, Boston, MA; the bronze statue of Our Lady of Combermere (1960) for the Madonna House at Combermere, Ontario, Canada; the polychrome oval bas-relief of Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom (1965) for Saint Cecilia Church, Stanwood, WA; the polychrome relief of Madonna and Child (1970) for Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Bremerton, WA; the bronze high-relief of Christ of the Sacred Heart (1972) for Saint Sebastian's Church, Los Angeles, CA; and portrait busts of great personalities that were her friends, such as painter Diego Rivera (1941); Smith President, Herbert Davis (1948); soprano Lotte Lehmann (1952); nurse Margaret Sanger (1957); composer Virgil Thomson (1961); producer Lawrence Langner (1963); and actress Katharine Hepburn (1959, 1960, 1961).

Notably, Rich is famed for her statues of Saint Francis of Assisi, an original free-standing type of remarkable grace. Highlights of this series include The Firestone Saint Francis (1951) for Saint Margaret's Episcopal Church, Palm Desert, CA; the Saint Francis (1952) for The de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA; The Henderson Saint Francis (1954) for Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, CA; The Geyman Saint Francis (1955) for Geyman Home, Montecito, CA; The Milles Saint Francis (1960) commissioned by Carl Milles for Millesgarden, Lidingo, Sweden, and The Mount Hymettus Saint Francis (1970) commissioned by The American College of Greece, Athens, Greece.

Rich travelled to many countries, including Canada, China, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and Turkey. She spent as much of her time as possible studying the art of diverse civilizations and cultures. Her work was exhibited in many parts of the world. She was featured in many publications and presented personal exhibitions in major art institutions, such as the Phoenix Center for the Arts, Phoenix, AZ (1954); Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA (1955); Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA (1955); Laguna Blanca School, Santa Barbara, CA (1955), and Palm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs, CA (1969).

Frances Rich passed away due to a heart failure at home in Payson, Arizona, on 14 October 2007, aged 97. To the end of her life she maintained her interest and vitality in art, artists, and all things artistic.

[Megakles Rogakos 01/2009]


ADAM BERNSTEIN: Frances Rich, 97; Sculpted Alternative to Hollywood [Washington Post, Friday, 26 October 2007, p.B07]

Frances Rich, 97, a one-time Hollywood actress who devoted much of her life to making sculptures of saints and celebrities, died 14 October at her home in Payson, Arizona, after a heart attack. Ms. Rich was the daughter of movie, stage and radio actress Irene Rich and appeared in secondary roles in minor screen dramas of the early 1930s before sculpting became her occupation. One of her best-known works was a 10-foot-high statue made from Tennessee marble to commemorate nurses who died during military service. The statue, unveiled at Arlington National Cemetery in 1938, was dedicated to Army and Navy nurses but has since been considered a memorial to nurses in all service branches. It has sometimes been called the Spirit of Nursing monument, said Arlington Cemetery historian Tom Sherlock. Ms. Rich also made portrait busts of friends such as opera singer Lotte Lehmann, birth control activist Margaret Sanger, painter Diego Rivera and composer Virgil Thomson as well as a 1965 terracotta statue of actress Katharine Hepburn depicted as Cleopatra for the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre and Academy in Stratford, Connecticut. Many of her religious statues showing saints graced churches and museums along the West Coast. She was not a Catholic - nor particularly religious - but developed a specialty in statues of Saint Francis of Assisi. Her Saint Francis statues earned her commissions from as far away as The American College of Greece in Athens. She also designed a bronze statue called The Laughing Pelican (1958) located in front of the Pelican Building (now called Anthony Hall), which housed a student humor publication at the University of California at Berkeley. Irene Frances Luthern Deffenbaugh was born 8 January 1910, in Spokane, Washington, and was adopted by her mother's second husband, Army Maj. Charles Rich. In 1931, she graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and made her Broadway debut in the Samuel Nathaniel Behrman comedy Brief Moment, which starred Louis Calhern as a polo player. She had small roles in films such as Unholy Love, Zoo in Budapest and John Ford's Pilgrimage and co-starred with Rex Bell in the low-budget western The Diamond Trail (1933). Soon afterward, she turned down a studio contract and said she was determined to make a career in fine art. Ms. Rich once told The Washington Post that an early mentor was sculptress Malvina Hoffman, "who liked some little soap models I'd done of the sets between scenes and rehearsals. It was almost immediately decided that I should go to Europe with her, a guide and friend such as few beginning sculptors have ever had." Starting in 1937, Ms. Rich attended the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The school was run under the direction of Swedish-born sculptor Carl Milles, a former student of Auguste Rodin's. At the start of World War II, Ms. Rich extensively studied mathematics and mechanical drawing and made technical illustrations for airplane production. She also became special assistant to Mildred McAfee, the WAVES director. Ms. Rich left the service in 1946, ranked a lieutenant commander, and spent three years as Smith College's public relations director. Afterward, she dedicated herself to sculpture and had several solo art exhibitions, including one in 1969 at the Palm Springs Desert Museum near her longtime studio. She spent many years in Santa Barbara, California , caring for her mother, who died at 96 in 1988. She moved to Arizona in the early 1990s to be near a friend as well as her favorite bronze casting foundry. Survivors include a half-sister.

[Adam Bernstein 26/10/2007]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:
SLEIGHT, FREDERICK W. The Sculpture of Frances Rich 1969 Palm Springs Desert Museum, California
ARMITAGE, MERLE The Sculpture of Frances Rich 1974 Manzanita Press, Ramona, CA
ROGAKOS, MEGAKLES Frances Rich - La Gazelle 2010 The American College of Greece - ACG Art, Athens

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