Putnam is known as a sculptor who became famous for his cast
bronze animals. He became famous for his renditions of the
animals he observed in his life including pumas, bears, coyotes
and mountain lions, and he had a deep understanding of animal
anatomy that started in his childhood when he had studied the
skeletons of animals. 3
was born when his parents made a journey through Waveland,
Mississippi in 1873. His father, a member of a prominent New
England family, made a living as a civil engineer in the South
after the Civil War, which meant the family had an itinerant
existence. The father died in 1880, leaving young Arthur Putnam,
age seven to be raised by his mother and aunt in Omaha, Nebraska. 3
At a very
young age, Putnam manifested a natural talent for drawing and
modeling clay. He was a rebellious youth but was not shy of
hard work, and at sixteen worked the riverboats and managed
to keep up many odd jobs. Later, he would settle with his widowed
mother on a ranch in San Diego County, California. 5
In his early youth he was not interested in school but was
an intelligent boy. His mother tried to curb his discipline
problems by sending him to the Kemper Hall Military Academy,
but he only lasted a year there. Instead of pushing for him
to go to school, his mother decided he should work. Putnam
took a job as an elevator boy and worked in a photoengraving
office where he learned the basics of drawing. Eventually the
family moved west to California where Mrs. Putnam bought a
lemon ranch in San Diego. Putnam spent most of his teenage
years working on the ranch and sketching the wildlife of the
Southwest. He also trapped pumas for the San Diego Zoo. 3
| San Diego
(near La Mesa)
Putnam always had a love of nature and would often trek in
the California desert area. For a short period of time he homesteaded
with sculptor Gutzon Borglum. Borglum would go on to spend
10 years working on a memorial to the Confederacy at Stone
Mountain. After a dispute with his patrons Borglum fled Georgia
and burned his models. However, Borglum later achieved fame
through his eccentric efforts on a similar but much more successful
project, Mount Rushmore.4
Julie Heyneman (biographer, Desert Cactus)
Through Heyneman, an instructor with the Art Student’s
League of San Diego, Putnam’s career really took off.
He was introduced to Alice Lamber, who became a life–long
friend and supporter. He also met a talented young painter,
Grace Storey, who would later become his wife.
Francisco Art Student’s League and assistant to Rupert
In 1894 he went to San Francisco to see the Mid–Winter
Fair, and he stayed to take art lessons from Julie Heyneman
at the Art Students League. Living at the ASL, he slept on
the couch, sweeping the rooms in return for lodging. He dreamt
of getting a job to support his art study and even worked briefly
at a slaughterhouse while working for Rupert Schmid. 3
In 1894 he was accepted as an assistant in the sculpture
studio of Rupert Schmid. He worked in other studios as well
including the studio of animal sculptor Edward Kemeys, the
studio of painter Gottardo Piazzoni, the studio of sculptor
Earl Cummings, and with many architectural firms within the
city of San Francisco.
Though a naturally talented artist, Putnam furthered his
abilities and attended drawing classes at the San Francisco
Art Students League. To support his studies, he worked in a
slaughter house, the Lincoln terra cotta works modeling tiles,
later as a ranch hand, surveyors crew, and as a trapper of
pumas for the San Francisco Zoo. 5
| San Francisco
w/Edward Kemeys, animal sculptor
For a brief period of time Putnam studied with Edward Kemeys,
famed anamalier. Coincidentally, Kemeys had achieved fame through
his sculptures of wolves at the Central Park Zoo. The experience
was not to Putnams liking however and he returned to San Diego
quickly. His unhappiness is recorded in the poetic form as
seen in the following excerpt:
…no friend have I in this dark place,
no sun to shine at day
no lark to echo the morning’s song
no sound of breaking waves.
I’m tired and sore of old town (lore?)
no face so good to see,
as the faces I left so far away
in a little town by the sea…4
| San Diego
to San Diego
The Mermaid, by Arthur Putnam (In a personal correspondence to Alice Klauber, Putnam’s wife, Grace
remarked that this sculpture’s "handsome" face had an uncanny resemblance to that of Ms. Klauber.)
At his mother’s ranch in La Mesa Putnam continued to
throw himself into his art. At times working as a surveyor
for the Mesa dam and a puma trapper for the San Francisco Zoo,
Putnam continued to hone his knowledge of animal anatomy.
Works with Alice Klauber
Putnam’s friendship with Alice Klauber flourished during
this period through their mutual love of nature, art and written
word. Klauber became a prominent figure in the art world and
an enthusiastic supporter of Putnam.
Cabrillo monument offer
During this time Putnam was offered a commission to plan
the Cabrillo National monument but his plans were rejected.
The commission was later given to San Diego Sculptor Allen
In 1899, Arthur Putnam married Grace Story Putnam (designer
of the famous Baby Bi Lo Doll) and settled in San Francisco. 5
in a flat above the Art Students League. Arthur was hired at
the Gladding McBean terra cotta factory. Grace, also an accomplished
artist, left her career to support her husband; teaching watercolor
at the League. There he and a friend, Bruce Porter, promoted
his artwork as did former teacher, Julie Heyneman. (Later she
wrote a biography about Putman titled "Desert Cactus".)
Putnam named his first daughter after Bruce Porter. The two
were great friends and were involved in the same San Francisco
socialist groups as Jack London.7
Putnam shared a studio space in San Francisco with Earl Cummings
and Gottardo Piazzoni. Putnam’s work improved and gained
recognition by the early 1900s, and it was between 1900 and
1905 that he did the work for which he is most recognized.
Putnam also worked with the well–known architect Willis
Polk on many buildings. 5
1901 he had established his reputation, and in addition to
modeling a prodigious number of animal and human figures, he
obtained commissions from San Francisco for a series of lamp
posts on market street depicting the western theme "the
winning of the west". The many lamp posts – with
each one holding part of a story in bronze – remain saved
and beloved in the city to this day. 5
| San Francisco
by E.W. Scripps
Indian, by Arthur Putnam
Putnam received a major commission to provide a series of
large scale figures for the San Diego estate of E.W. Scripps.
These commissions would be highlights of his career involving
the hire of many artisans and apprentice workers. Today, the
large–scale bronze figures are located in the parks and
missions of San Diego county.5
The Scripps commission proved to be a valuable life–long
stipend, even during Putnam’s later years. The initial
plan was to produce five monumental pieces, two of which were
- Indian 1904
- Padre 1908
- Ploughman 1910
- Mexican woman on horseback (incomplete)
- Soldier (incomplete)
publishes The Call
of the Wild
Jack London shared Putnam’s love of nature, idealistic
political beliefs and artistic sentiments. It seems natural
that the two would be friends. It is also known that Jack London
was an occasional visitor to Arthur Putnam’s studio.1
In 1903, Jack London published The
Call of the Wild. In 1904, Putnam was working for
Scripps, presumably in San Diego. Therefore, it was during
late 1903 that the tablet must have been carved and exchanged
between the two men.
Jack London spent most of 1904 as a Russo–war correspondent,
and Arthur Putnam left for Europe in 1905, returning in 1907.
| Rome & Paris
Together with his friend, painter Gottardo Piazzoni, Putnam
spent time in Italy and France. He worked at a foundry and
his sculpture was praised by the great August Rodin. Rodin
is credited as saying he was, “the world’s greatest
animal sculptor”.3 To be called such by Rodin
is significant enough, but Rodin was himself a pupil of Antoine
Bayre (1796 – 1875), widely regarded as the greatest
animal sculptor of all time and father of the Animilier School.
His friends attempted to get him into the Royal Academy of
art to no avail, but by then Arthur pined for his long time
home in California.
- Studies bronze casting in Rome
- Spring Salon 1906
- Paris Salon 1907
| San Francisco
to San Francisco
Arthur's Studio on the San Francisco Dunes, painted by friend and neighbor, H. Hammarstrom
The Putnams returned from Paris in 1907 to a San Francisco
destroyed by the great earthquake. In addition, Putnam’s
studio burned in the subsequent fire, and all contents were
destroyed. This is evidence that the writing tablet had been
given to Jack London before the Putnams had left to Paris.
For a period of time they lived in a tent near Cliff House
and eventually built a house on the outskirts of the city,
near Ocean Beach. 5
After the devastating earthquake, many people pitched in
to repair the city. Putnam put his knowledge of foundries to
practical use and worked on a number of repairs and improvements
for the city. His sculptures of lions and pioneers were used
along Market Street. 3
At this busy time in his career he built his own foundry.
He modeled many architectural commissions and created many
new sculptures. This is not well known, but he made a thunderous
effort to bring back the old wax method of casting called "ciere
Putnam knew the foundry business well, and cast his own bronzes
in his own studio and kiln during this period. Though they
have no foundry stamps, they have his signature, and remain
some of the finest bronzes made. This period was an artistic
success and he sold many bronze castings in New York to the
Macbeth Galleries and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 5
- rebuilding after earthquake
- lamps on Market st.
- fountain for St. Francis Hotel
Putnam had been complaining
of persistent headaches and numbness. It is possible that the
condition originated when as a young boy, when he fell from
a tree and suffered a severe concussion.
In 1910, Arthur Putnam was elected by the Bohemian Club,
to be in charge of all the arts to be displayed at planned
Panama Pacific International Exposition.
Arthur Putnam had won many victories through his love of
art and his intense working standards he set for himself. Tragedy
hit, one day in 1911 when, at the height of his creative powers,
Putnam was found unconscious, lying in the street. He was rushed
into surgery, and had a brain tumor removed. The surgery saved
his life but he was never again able to produce another credible
This condition was devastating, and intolerable to him, and
his malcontent increased. Eventually his drinking and anger
drove his wife Grace to leave him, taking the children and
splintering his family.
Arthur Putnam then resigned from his position as sculptural
director of the Panama Pacific International Exposition.
spent his later years in La Jolla. He stayed in a cabin provided
by Ellen Scripps.
Putnam was the only California sculptor exhibited in the
legendary 1913 Armory Show. It was at that show that the face
American Art began to change from realistic traditional art
to avant–garde Modern Art.6
to National Sculpture Society
Pacific International Exposition
Alma Spreckles, of sugar fame, went to Putnam’s studio,
and gathered together 105 plaster marguettes, and took them
to France. She had to petition the French government for an
allotment of bronze due to war restrictions, and had casts
of Putnum’s work, created at the Rodin foundry, to be
brought back and entered in the competition held at the Panama
Pacific International Exposition. Arthur Putnam was awarded
several gold medals, even though he had not produced a single
work in 4 years.
• Arthur was divorced by wife Grace.
London dies November 22nd.
Francisco Children’s Pets Exhibit
Charmian London took Jack London’s writing tablet,
carved by Arthur Putnam, had bronze tags made, engraved, and
affixed to the writing surface, rendering it unusable for any
other author. She then awarded this work by Arthur Putnam,
in Jack London’s memory, as a first place prize at the
Children’s Pets Exhibit. This honored not only her late
husband, but also Arthur Putnam, who had
tragically lost his ability to sculpt.
Putnam moved to Paris.
Putnum dies in Paris on May 27th, 1930.
Worked and assisted in studio of sculptor Rupert Schmid.-
Studied at the San Francisco Art Students League. - 1894
Worked and assisted in studio with animal sculptor Edward Kemeys.-
Worked in studio with painter Gottardo Piazzoni. - 1897
Worked in studio with sculptor Earl Cummings. - 1899
1932, Julie Heyneman Arthur Putnam - Sculptor, John & Seeger,
Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco, California
Metropolitan Museum, New York, New York
San Diego Fine Art Museum, San Diego, California
Exhibition record (museums, institutions
Parks of San Diego - 1903.
the Rome Salon - 1906.
Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York - 1910.
International Exhibition of Modern Art - New York - 1913
San Diego Fine Art Museum - 1921.
Legion of Honor Museum - San Francisco 1921.
San Francisco Museum of Art - 1935.
California Palace of the Legion of Honor - 1930, 1932, 1940,
Oakland Museum - 1978.
Exhibition Record (galleries and art shows):
Salons of Paris - 1904
Salons of Rome - 1904
Winning of the West - Market Street - Path of Gold - San Francisco.
Macbeth Gallery - New York - 1906
"Having to stay with the work grows on one’s soul,
and stamps those who have no outside resource of mind ".
"Advice poorly given is rarely well received ".
"It is foolish to say that your ideals are so high that you could not fall. He
that has height has depth - things must have proportion ".
"Pride enters into all things - we are of value to the world only for what we
leave behind ".
" Whether you are satisfied or not, there comes a time when you must deliver
the goods ". 5
is continually updated for accuracy. Please contact Christian
Chaffee with any and all comments, questions, and corrections.