CM: For Frances Rich, Carl Milles was "Sweden's great man" [Jacqueline Van Voris 1971, p.26]. He had greatness and was, at the same time, a wonderful man. At Cranbrook, Milles and his wife Olga always welcomed the students who would call at their residence. Rich recalls Milles as a fine teacher, always encouraging young artists and giving them good and friendly advice. Rich records that while he was composing his clay works in his studio, he played beautiful recordings on his phonograph, both for his own joy and to help his work-weary students slip into a reverie when they were taking a break. Milles was also exceptionally caring towards Rich, owing to her very agreeable nature. When she received the commission for The Army-Navy Nurses Memorial in 1937 he made a point of taking her on a trip to Europe to show her key pieces of art in situ that would suggest aesthetic solutions to the problem of sculpting folds in fabric. He was also generous to her. When, in 1938, Purdue University commissioned Milles to create its six bas reliefs, he turned the job over to Rich, which flattered her to "no end" [ibid. p.32]. A great friendship thus developed between them over the years. When Milles' sister, Ruth, died, he told Rich she was his best friend, and promised to write to her as he always wrote to his sister [Roy Slade 1981, p.7]. He also appreciated her sculpture of Saint Francis to such a degree that in his last letter to her from Stockholm, dated 26 August 1955, he requested: "I must say that the picture of S. Franciscus is very good. I like it so much that I would like to have a smaller replica of it in my home - Lilla Osterrike (Little Austria) - where I have planned everything for Olga.", and requested that it be "on a fine, straight, granite pedestal" [Roy Slade 1981, p.12]. Milles' request was fulfilled after his death, and on 27 August 1960 Rich attended the placement of her 137 cm Saint Francis close to his tomb on the Millesgården cliff top overlooking Stockholm.
While studying at Cranbrook Academy of Art between 1937 and 1940, Rich was going to write a thesis on the sources and influences or inspirations for the remarkable fountains by Milles. The reason she did not see this through seems to be the unexpected amount of work that came her way. Still, she was recorded as saying, "The Milles things are really fantastic and filled with a wild beauty that goes beyond anything I've ever seen in art" [Roy Slade 1981, p.79].
Although there is no documented record of the present pair of Young Tritons Riding Dolphin, it appears that Milles gave it to Rich as a farewell present the year she left the academy, in 1940. The Triton is a composite sea-hued creature with a human torso and one or two fish tails. Associated with a class of merman-like creatures, Tritons were part of Poseidon's retinue and usually formed the escort of other marine divinities. Either male or female, the Tritons were a favourite motif of Milles. They mainly appear surrounding the Europe and the Bull fountain (1926) at Millesgården, and The Meeting of the Waters fountain (1940) at Aloe Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri.
Being made out of plaster, these compositions served as scale studies for enlargements. It is worth mentioning that at Cranbrook Milles had an indispensable plaster assistant, Lindy Angstrom, who made the armature and molds for sculpture. In this case the Tritons are young and each riding a dolphin. One appears to be listening to a twisted conch shell, while the other is holding tight to the dolphin to avoid falling off. The vivid sculptural composition suggests rough-water swimming conditions. On a visit of her mother, Irene, at Cranbrook on 10 July 1937, Rich records how "Carl was amusing about his Saint Louis Tritons, and showed us how one mother triton was spanking the little tritons because they had been naughty. [...] The room was a mass of these tritons and mermaids and he would go working on them from one to the other and start something fresh" [Roy Slade 1981, p.107]. These particular Young Tritons bear resemblance to the parties in Milles' fountain group, The Wedding of the Waters. A plaque on the west side of the fountain says: "This fountain, the work of Carl Milles, symbolizes the union of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers which occurs a few miles north of the City of St. Louis. These two mighty rivers in their power and beauty are represented by the two central figures. The accompanying water creatures are symbols of the many streams that contribute their riches to the major currents. The sculptures are embodiments of the freedom and primeval forge of the waterways of the Mississippi Valley in accordance with man's age-old impulse to represent the powers of nature in human or animal form. The Meeting of the Waters is conceived as a festival in which all these water forces are taking part." Commissioned in 1936 and unveiled on 11 May 1940 to a crowd of about 3000 people - including Rich, as an archival photograph documents - the fountain caused a local uproar because of its playful, irreverent, naked and nearly cartoonish figures, and because Milles had conceived the group as a wedding party with undeniable sexual overtones.
[Megakles Rogakos 01/2009]
VAN VORIS, JACQUELINE Interview with Frances Rich 14/11/1971 The Frances L. Rich Archives, Payson, AZ
SLADE, ROY Interview with Frances Rich 24/02/1981 The Frances L. Rich Archives, Payson, AZ
ROGAKOS, MEGAKLES Frances Rich - La Gazelle 2010 The American College of Greece - ACG Art, Athens