James Earle Fraser (James Earle Fraser)

James Earle Fraser

Sculptor, Medalist. One of the most prominent American sculptors of the first half of the 20th century, he is best remembered for his work “End of the Trail” and for designing the US Indian Head (or Buffalo) nickel that was issued from 1913 until 1938. His work is also integral to many of Washington DC’s most iconic structures. His father was an engineer who worked for the railroad companies as they expanded across the American West. As a child, he was exposed to frontier life and the experience of Native Americans, who were being pushed ever further west or confined to reservations. He began carving figures from pieces of limestone scavenged from a stone quarry close to his home in early life. In 1890 he attended the Art Institute of Chicago in Illinois and furthered his art studies at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and the Academie Julian in Paris, France. Early in his career, he served as an assistant to sculptors Richard Bock and Augustus Saint-Gaudens before forming his own studio in 1902. In 1906 he taught at the Art Students League in New York City, New York and later became its director. He exhibited his earliest sculptors at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago and, for the San Francisco Exposition of 1915 in California, one of his most famous pieces, “End of the Trail.” After the Exposition, the original plaster “End of the Trail statue was moved to Mooney’s Grove Park in Visalia, California. Exposed to the elements, it slowly deteriorated until it was obtained by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 1968, restored and put on display. In 1911 the Taft administration officials decided to replace Charles E. Barber’s Liberty Head design for the nickel, and commissioned him to do the work. They were impressed by his designs, showing a Native American on the obverse and an American bison on the reverse. The inspiration for the buffalo came from “Black Diamond”, which as an actual buffalo that was displayed at the New York Central Park Zoological Garden. The head on the obverse was also inspired by real Native American people. It was not a portrait of one individual but a combination of about 3 different Native Americans that produced a “type” image rather than a portrait. The Native Americans that he used were Chief Iron Tail of the Sioux Tribe, Big Tree of the Kiowa and Two Moons of the Cheyenne. The designs were approved in 1912, but were delayed several months because of objections from the Hobbs Manufacturing Company, which made mechanisms to detect slugs in nickel-operated machines. The company was not satisfied by changes made in the coin by Fraser, and in February 1913 Treasury Secretary Franklin MacVeagh decided to go ahead and issue the coins. Despite attempts by the US Mint to adjust the design, the coins proved to strike indistinctly and to be subject to wear, as the dates were easily worn away in circulation. His work in Washington DC includes “The Authority of Law” and “The Contemplation of Justice” at the US Supreme Court building, the south pediment and statues at the National Archives, the statues “Alexander Hamilton” (1923) and “Albert Gallatin” (1947) at the US Treasury, “The Arts of Peace” (1950) for the entrance to the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, behind the Lincoln Memorial, and the “2nd Division Memorial” (1936), completed with the firm of architect John Russell Pope. His commissions also include and medals, such as the World War I Victory Medal and the Navy Cross. He was a member of the National Academy of Design, the National Sculpture Society, and the Architectural League of New York. His awards and honors include election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters and gold medal from the Architectural League in 1925. He served on the US Commission of Fine Arts in Washington DC from 1920 to 1925. He created numerous public monuments, including the “Benjamin Franklin” sculpture at the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1906-1911), the “John Ericsson National Memorial” (1926) at East Potomac Park, Washington DC, the “Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, and William Clark Memorial” (1926) at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City, Missouri, the “Thomas A. Edison” sculpture (1949) at Greenfield Village, in Dearborn, Michigan, the “Harvey S Firestone Memorial” (1950) in Akron, Ohio, and the “General George S. Patton, Jr.” statue (1950) at the US Military Academy, West Point, New York. He died at the age of 76. His papers and those of his wife, sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser, are held at the Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse University Library in Syracuse, New York, the Smithsonian Archives of American Art in Washington DC, and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The original bronze replica of the “End of the Trail” statue is located in Shaler Park, in Waupun, Wisconsin. The Buffalo nickel, discontinued after 1938, was reprised in 2001 on a US commemorative coin, and more recently on a buffalo one ounce gold bullion coin. (bio by: William Bjornstad)  Family links:  Spouse:  Laura Gardin Fraser (1889 – 1966)* *Calculated relationship


  • November, 04, 1876
  • USA


  • October, 10, 1953
  • USA


  • Willowbrook Cemetery
  • Connecticut
  • USA

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