“Who was Lee Lawrie?” by S.M. O’Connor

Lee Lawrie was born in Rixdorf, Prussia Germany on October 16, 1877 and emigrated to the U.S.A. with his family as a child.[1]    He began his career as a sculptor at the age of fourteen in Richard Henry Park’s studio in Chicago.  At the age of seventeen, in 1894 he moved to New York City to work in the studio of Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), the leading American sculptor of that era.  His first commission as an independent sculptor came in 1900 when he made marble reliefs for the Deborah Cook Sayles Public Library, designed by Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942), in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.  He attended Yale School of Fine Arts, where he earned his B.F.A. in 1910 and where he taught from 1908 to 1919.

For the architectural firm Cram and Goodhue, Lee Lawrie had provided sculptures for the Chapel at West Point, the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer in New York City, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City, and the reredos of Saint Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in New York City.  For Goodhue alone, he provided sculptures for the reredos of St. John’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, Connecticut; Trinity English Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana; the National Academy of Sciences Building in Washington, D.C.; Rockefeller Chapel (1925-1928) at The University of Chicago; Christ Church Cranbrook (1925-1928) in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; and the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The American philosopher and poet Hartley Burr Alexander (1873-1939), a professor at the University of Nebraska, suggested the Light of Learning theme for the statuary Lee Lawrie fashioned to decorate the Central Library of the Los Angeles Public Library. In addition to the sculptures, he also modeled the Rotunda’s bronze chandelier.

Lawrie sculpted allegorical figures for the bronze doors at the west and east entrances of the John Adams Building (1939) of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.  In that same city, he sculpted George Washington for the National Cathedral.  He is best known for the bronze sculpture of the Titan Atlas holding up an armillary sphere in the International Building’s courtyard of Rockefeller Center (across from Saint Patrick’s Cathedral).  Atlas could be seen in the establishing shots of 30 Rockefeller Plaza in the surreal N.B.C. sitcom 30 Rock (2006-2013), which was about making a fictional zanier version of Saturday Night Live and was set in that building.  In addition to Atlas, Lawrie also produced the allegorical figure Wisdom for 30 Rockefeller Plaza in the Art Deco style.  Lawrie had help from sculptor Rene Paul Chambellan (1893-1955) to create Atlas.  In addition to his architectural sculptures, he also sculpted the portrait relief that served as the basis for Roosevelt dime designed by John R. Sinnock (1888-1947), Chief Engraver of the United States Mint (1925-1947).

[1] The village of Rixdorf is now part of Berlin.

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