Motor Illustrator: F. H. Frolich
February 1906 cover. A photograph of a carved wood relief depicts a racer driving his car on a sunny day alongside small watercraft on a bay.
Finn Haakon Frolich (August 13, 1868 — September 5, 1947) was born in Oslo, Norway to a prosperous family. His father, in fact, was personal envoy from the King of Norway to the King of England. Finn was tutored at home and spent long winter nights learning to carve wood. He first went to sea at age 9, and at 14, he ran away from home to sail on a windjammer, where he served as second mate after a plague took many of the crew. On July 15, 1886, then 18, he jumped ship at Brooklyn, New York, and sought out a community of prominent Norwegians. In response to an advertisement placed by noted sculptor Daniel Chester French, the Norwegians introduced Frolich, who became French's studio boy and protege. Finn learned from the master, swept floors, and modeled for such sculptures as "Death Stays the Hand of the Sculptor". With encouragement from French, Frolich also continued his studies at the Art Students League. Adventure called, however, and Frolich went back to sea. He only lasted a short while, though, before he broke his leg and had to return to land. French found him and re-hired him.
In 1895, Frolich had progressed sufficiently that French sent him to Paris, to study for two years at the Ecole de Beaux Arts and Ecole Nationale, with American sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens. Thereafter, he stayed in Paris and continued studies at the Academie Colarossi with sculptor Louis-Ernest Barrias. By 1899, however, Frolich was ready for more adventure and traveled to South Africa where he met and modeled President Paul Kruger. During the Boer War in 1899, Frolich held a commission in one of Kruger's regiments. While in Africa, Frolich also modeled "Lalu", a Zulu Princess, the first known bust of a prominent black African done from life.
He returned to New York, became a naturalized U.S. citizen on October 19, 1899, and worked for six years in French's studio. While he established his own New York Studio in 1900, he continued to assist French, working on such commissions as the 70-foot statue of the Republic at the Chicago World's Fair and the 1904 sculpture of a woman representing art for the St. Louis Art Museum at the World's Fair there. He also assisted other sculptors--Roland Hinton Perry, in 1897, on the sculpture" The Fountain of Neptune", and, returning to France in 1898, sculptor Alexander Phimister Proctor on the chariot drawn by four horses for the American building at the Paris Exposition. On his own, he also completed numerous works, inclusive of "Light", a sculpture at the 1903 Palace of Machinery at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis; a portrait in butter of President Teddy Roosevelt for the same exposition; a 1905 cover design for Four-Track News, travel magazine; and a medal commemorating the 1906 coronation of Norway's King Haakon VII.
By 1907, he was living in Springfield, Massachusetts and working as an artist at a manufacturing company. He also completed sculptures honoring Civil War soldiers and sailors, erected in Webster, Massachusetts. The following year he returned to New York where commissions were hard to come by and where he separated from his first wife. Always a colorful character, sometimes traveling with a parrot (trained to curse) on his shoulder, and often going on benders, Frolich awoke one morning from an all-nighter, near Grand Central Station. So he walked to the ticket office and asked for a ticket to a place as far away as possible. The agent sold him a ticket to Seattle.
There he settled in and set up workshops where he established a school of design and taught the plastic arts at an old synagogue. Some of the sculptures he created were likenesses of Naval Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans, chanteuse Madam Mary Louise Clary, restaurateur John F. Conant, and "Light", a metaphorical woman holding a globe of light aloft. The following year, he became commissioner of sculpture for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909, honoring the Klondike gold rush. One of his largest pieces for the Exposition was "Spirit of the Pacific", a thirty-foot tall Cascade fountain. At its base were depictions of the chief races of the Pacific — Japanese, Chinese, Eskimo, and Pacific Islanders, supporting the fountain. On a second tier, women of each of the four races looked outward, and a winged figure representing the Spirit of the Pacific crowned the design. Frolich also created smaller sculptures for the exposition — "The Hunting", a South Seas Island statue, and "Mining", an Alaska statue.
In 1909, Frolich was commissioned to sculpt a bust of James J. Hill, the railroad mogul who had chosen Seattle as the Western terminus of his Great Northern Railway. The bust stood on a tall granite pedestal, and bronze relief plaques covered its four sides, depicting a train, a steamship, a farmer plowing, and the Seal of Washington. That same year, the Norwegian citizenry of Seattle commissioned a bust of composer Edvard Grieg, and offered Frolich compensation in the form of a Viking ship they'd built for the Exposition. Frolich planned to fit the ship with an engine for cruising and was already dreaming of a new adventure. The sculptor found time in 1909 to head back East to assist sculptor L.O. Lawrie on grotesques he was sculpting for the cadets' barracks at West Point. In 1910, Frolich was commissioned to sculpt a lion's head for the fountain at Seattle's central library. And in 1911, he went to Portland, Oregon where he designed a potlatch float representing Seattle in Portland's Rose Festival.
During his stay in Seattle, the sculptor was a prime mover for the establishment of the Society of Beaux Arts, a school of arts and crafts. He joined other artists in incorporating the Western Academy of Arts and purchasing extensive acreage on the western shore of Lake Washington for sketching grounds, workshops, sports fields, recreation, etc.
With his Viking ship, Frolich planned a round-the-world voyage that was to last four years and make ports of call in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Honolulu, several Japanese cities, the Siberian coast, Korea, China, the Philippine Islands, Australia, New Zealand, South Seas islands, Singapore, India, Ceylon, Aden Province, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, England, and Norway. At the conclusion of the voyage, the ship was to be gifted to the government of Norway.
Frolich did his best to raise money for the venture, selling subscriptions to Viking Magazine, a publication to be mailed monthly from foreign ports, describing the crew's adventures. Frolich also planned to sculpt notables along the way, earning more revenue and providing additional story material. He started out but his efforts were not sufficient to fund the voyage of his dreams. Disappointed, Frolich made plans to head to California instead.
In San Francisco by 1912, he found work as the director of sculpture for the Panama Pacific International Exposition, celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal. Frolich created sculptures for the grounds of the exposition. By 1913, he had a studio in Oakland, California and had struck up a lasting friendship with writer Jack London. The two shared tales of the sea, played poker and chess, and socialized together. Frolich produced a bas relief of London as well as a marble medallion and bronze bust. And, in 1917, he sculpted animal designs on redwood slabs as prizes for a children's pet exhibit in Oakland, California, to be presented by Jack's wife Charmian London.
In 1914, Frolich modelled cement sculptures for gardens and was manager of Western Sculptors, a studio in Burlingame, California. That year he also sculpted a bust of botanist Luther Burbank. At the time of World War I, he was teaching at the University of California Berkeley and was simultaneously the Director of the Oakland Art Gallery.
By 1921, he had moved to southern California where he worked as a sculptor for the movie industry. In a later article (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle of January 22, January 1928), he said, "I modeled everything from the leading lady to a custard pie." He claimed that in one three-month period he made a hundred statues for one film. In 1923, for instance, he was the uncredited sculptor for the movie "The Hunchback of Notre Dame".
He continued to encourage communities of artists as well as aspiring young artists, hosting the monthly meeting of the Hollywood Art Association at his studio in August, 1922. From 1922 to 1944, he worked and taught at Frolich's School of Sculpture in Hollywood. From 1922 to 1924, he taught, as well, at the Carmel Art Institute. In 1923, he issued an open invitation to Los Angeles art teachers and their students to visit his studio. And, in 1928, he taught sculpture at Fairfax High School in Beverly Hills.
During the late twenties, Frolich became involved with statue advertising, a kind of advertising that began on the West coast. He constructed plaster statues to stand outside businesses as three-dimensional advertisements. For the Los Angeles Adohr Dairy, he made more than thirty copies of a sculpture of a maid bringing a cow home. In front of Richfield gas stations there were racing statues which he had modeled after two-time Indy 500 winner Tommy Milton, as his racer slid through a turn. While he continued to do serious sculpting, such as the 1928 bust of Roald Amundsen, he was unabashed in accepting commercial art commissions.
By the late forties, Frolich had left Los Angeles and was living in a homemade trailer on a beach in Carmel. In 1947, he died in Salinas, California, leaving behind his third wife.
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