CM:Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) is one of the most venerated religious figures in Roman Catholic history. Owing to his rejection of worldly life Saint Francis is bequeathed to humanity as the all-important patron saint of animals and nature. It has been argued that no one in history was as dedicated as Francis to imitate the life, and carry out the work, of Christ in the Christian way. He believed that nature itself was the mirror of God. He called all creatures his "brothers" and "sisters", to the point that he preached to the birds. The birds, emblematic of peace and innocence, surrounded Saint Francis, drawn by the softness of his voice and the power of his sermon. Frances Rich was recorded to have said: "I have a few feelings about great people like Saint Francis" [Jacqueline Van Voris 1971, p.45]. The present work is Rich's earliest surviving sculpture of Saint Francis of Assisi with Birds . An archival photograph records her at Cranbrook Academy in 1937 working on a plaster version known to be 137cm in height. The whereabouts of the plaster, which appears in the background of Seated Portrait of Frances Rich in her Studio [ RivD1941ric1 & RivD1941ric2], painted by Diego Rivera in January 1941, have been unknown since that time. Fortunately, the clay version survives to prove her skill in beautiful modelling, magnificent composition and bold originality. Here, Saint Francis appears standing on the crest of a schematic mountain in conversation with a bird on each hand, alas, here both broken. His gaze is fixed upwards towards his raised right hand, indifferent to the steep mountain slope. The modelling is characterized by a fluidity of horizontal curved lines balancing with vertical straight ones. The colors are limited to earth tones so as to evoke the great subject's humility. This type of Saint Francis is one of Rich's finest artworks and recurs later in her work, and is evident in her simplified clay and bronze variations of 1955.
[Megakles Rogakos 01/2009]
ARMITAGE, MERLE The Sculpture of Frances Rich 1974 Manzanita Press, Ramona, CA, p.36
VAN VORIS, JACQUELINE Interview with Frances Rich 14/11/1971 The Frances L. Rich Archives, Payson, AZ
ROGAKOS, MEGAKLES Frances Rich - La Gazelle 2010 The American College of Greece - ACG Art, Athens