Friday, April 4, 2008
Bela Lyon Pratt - Sculptor
Bela Lyon Pratt was born in 1867 in Norwich Connecticut. After studying art at Yale, he moved to New York, where he was a student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Saint-Gaudens encouraged him to travel to Paris, where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1892 he returned to the United States and began a prolific career as a sculptor. He settled in Boston, and in 1893 began a career as a teacher at the School at the Museum of Fine Arts. During his time teaching, he remained very active as a sculptor. His work can be found at Harvard University, the Boston Public Library, the United States Naval Academy, the Massachusetts State House, the Boston Public Garden, and many other institutions and communities. His Nathaniel Hawthorne is in Salem Massachusetts, and his Nathan Hale is at Fort Nathan Hale in New Haven, Connecticut.
Pratt also engraved two gold coins minted in 1908, a $5 and a $2.50. The coins were innovative at the time, being incuse relief of an Indian and a Bald Eagle. Rather than being raised from the surface and protected by an outer ring, the images and lettering were sunken into the surface of the coin. While the earlier "Indian" head penny had used the designers' son in a feather headdress as a model, the Pratt coin was modeled on an actual Indian.
A contemporary Boston Globe article places Pratt at 30 Lakeville place, Jamaica Plain when the coins were released in 1908. The Boston Directory of 1905 lists him at the same address. A look at the Fire Insurance maps that are available online show that he wasn't at the address (a house opposite the Lakeville Terrace apartments) in 1899, but shows up in the 1905 and 1914 maps. He died in 1917 at the age of 49. Not a born and bred JP guy, but a big deal in his own time. I've seen his work many times and I didn't know it until now.
Pratt biography and discussion of his coins
Listing of statues and links
Flickr Bela Pratt photo pool