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John Frazee papers, 1810-1964

John Frazee papers, 1810-1964

Frazee, John, 1790-1852

Sculptor

The papers of John Frazee in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2010.The bulk of the papers have been scanned and total 264 images.

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Collection Information

Size: 0.6 linear feet

Summary: The papers of sculptor and architect John Frazee measure 0.6 linear feet, and date from 1819-1966, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1819-1893. These scattered papers contain documentation of Frazee's early career as a gravestone carver, his commission to design the New York Customs House, and his busts of John Jay, the Marquis De Lafayette, and other famous figures. There is also correspondence with family members, genealogical materials, sketches of Frazee monuments and stone engravings, poems and notes by Frazee, printed materials, a few financial documents, photographs of works of art, and a plaster cast of a medal.

Biographical/Historical Note

John Frazee (1790-1852) was a sculptor from New York, N.Y. Born in Rahway, N.J., Frazee worked in New York City and died in Crompton Mills, R.I.

Provenance

The John Frazee papers were donated by the sculptor's great granddaughter Marguerite Heath and grand niece Theresa Eliot in several increments between 1973-1978.

Related Materials

Funding

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Location of Originals

  • Some correspondence included in this collection are photocopies of originals that remained with the donors.

A Finding Aid to the John Frazee Papers, 1819-1966, bulk 1819-1893, in the Archives of American Art
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Finding aid prepared by Jayna Hanson
Scope and Content Note
The papers of sculptor and architect John Frazee measure 0.6 linear feet, and date from 1819-1966, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1819-1893. These scattered papers contain documentation of Frazee's early career as a gravestone carver, his commission to design the New York Customs House, and his busts of John Jay, the Marquis De Lafayette, and other famous figures. There is also correspondence with family members, genealogical materials, sketches of Frazee monuments and stone engravings, poems and notes by Frazee, printed materials, a few financial documents, photographs of works of art, and a plaster cast of a medal.
Biographical information consists primarily of family history and genealogical materials.
Correspondence is mostly with family members, although there are a few letters from others regarding his work. The majority of letters written by John Frazee are to his first and second wives, Jane and Lydia respectively. Other letters are addressed to his brother Noah and reflect his sorrow at the premature deaths of his first wife and some of his young children. In these letters, he talks about the grave markers he designed for his family members, and includes sketches of the markers and lettering. In another illustrated letter written to Lydia Frazee, John describes and sketches his experience on a railroad train in 1834. General correspondence includes letters of praise by the sons of John Jay and the Marquis de Lafayette for Frazee's busts of their fathers. There is also one letter from John J. Audubon. The majority of letters concerning busts for the Boston Athenaeum are photocopies.
There is one file documenting documenting John Frazee's congressional commission as the designer of the New York Customs House. The file contains a draft of the petition by Frazee for the position, the subsequent grant of the petition by President Tyler, and a detailed report written by Frazee to Congress of the work completed on the building.
Artwork consists of scattered unsigned sketches of grave markers designed by Frazee. It is not clear whether Frazee completed the sketches, or if they were done at a later date by someone else.
Writings and notes include poems written by Frazee and scattered notes referencing Frazee's works. There is also one small ledger of Frazee's purchases and scattered receipts. Printed materials consist of a clipping and two catalogs. One catalog is about Frazee's design of the Washington Monument in the New York Customs House, and the other is of the New York Historical Society's art collection, which includes pieces by Frazee.
Photographs are of Frazee's busts including Chief Justice John Marshall, Daniel Webster and Nathaniel Bowditch as well as an image of a bust of John Frazee by another sculptor. There is one plaster cast of a medal commemorating Napoleon Bonaparte.
Biographical Note
John Stark Frazee (1790-1854) worked as an sculptor and architect primarily in New York City. He is best known for his design of the New York Customs House and his busts of notable American public figures, including John Wells, John Jay, John Marshall, and Daniel Webster.
Born in Rahway, New Jersey in 1790, Frazee began his career as a bricklayer. He lost a young son in 1815 and carved a memorial sculpture to commemorate his son's life. In 1818 he started a marble workshop in New York City specializing in memorials and grave markers. Sadly, many of Frazee's monuments were completed for deceased family members including his first wife Jane and several children. His reputation grew and he was well known for tasteful, simple, and well-executed memorials. Frazee began to receive private commissions for monuments and cenotaphs throughout New York. Frazee did not have formal training and developed a realistic style of carving that was heavily influenced by the neoclassical style.
By the mid 1820s, Frazee began to receive public commissions to carve busts of famous Americans. His bust of John Wells is considered to be the first carved marble bust made by an American born sculptor. In 1831, he received a Congressional commission to sculpt a bust of John Jay. Later, Frazee sculpted busts of Chief Justice John Marshall, Daniel Webster and others for the Boston Athenaeum.
After achieving considerable recognition for his sculpting abilities, President John Tyler appointed Frazee as the designer of the New York Customs House. He oversaw construction from 1834-1840. It is likely that Frazee created many of the decorative sculptural elements within the building as well. John Frazee died in 1854 in Rhode Island.
Arrangement
The collection is arranged into 9 series:
Series 1: Biographical Information, circa 1825-1966 (Box 1-2; 4 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1819 - circa 1880s, circa 1960s (Box 1; 6 folders)
Series 3: New York Customs House Commission File, circa 1837-1841 (Box 1; 1 folder)
Series 4: Artwork, 1830 - circa 1840s (Box 1; 1 folder)
Series 5: Writings and Notes, 1824 - circa 1890s (Box 1; 4 folders)
Series 6: Financial Materials, 1838-1853 (Box 1; 2 folders)
Series 7: Printed Material, 1848-1889, 1942 (Box 1; 4 folders)
Series 8: Photographs, circa 1910s, circa 1930s (Box 1; 1 folder)
Series 9: Plaster Cast, circa 1800s (Box 1; 1 folder)
Provenance
The John Frazee papers were donated by the sculptor's great granddaughter Marguerite Heath and grand niece Theresa Eliot in several increments between 1973-1978.
Location of Originals
  • Some correspondence included in this collection are photocopies of originals that remained with the donors.
Processing Information
Upon receipt, the papers were microfilmed on reels 1103 and 2804. All accessions were merged and processed by Jayna Hanson in 2008 and scanned in 2010 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Additional Forms Available

The collection was digitized in 2010 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

John Frazee papers, 1810-1964. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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