CM: Frances Rich is famed for her many religious statues that grace churches and museums along the west coast of the United States. Rich was not a Catholic - nor particularly religious - but developed a specialty in statues of Saint Francis of Assisi because of his fondness for nature and the natural world, which she shared. Variations on this statue include The Firestone Saint Francis (1951) for Saint Margaret's Episcopal Church, Palm Desert, CA; the Saint Francis (1952) for M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA; The Henderson Saint Francis (1954) for Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, CA; The Geyman Saint Francis (1955) for the Geyman Home, Montecito, CA; The Milles Saint Francis (1960) commissioned by Carl Milles for Millesgården, Lidingö, Sweden; and The Mount Hymettus Saint Francis (1970), commissioned by The American College of Greece, Athens, Greece. All these variations constitute original free-standing types of Saint Francis with exceptional grace.
The original sculpture of The Mount Hymettus Saint Francis type is known as "The Firestone" after its first owner. It was cast in natural gold bronze (200 cm, 110 kg) at Fonderia Nicci in Rome in July 1951, sent to Hope Ranch, Santa Barbara in 1952, then was displayed in 1955 at a personal exhibition at the Legion of Honor in San Francisico, at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and at the "Religious Art" exhibition at the Denver Museum of Art. It then became a centerpiece of the "National Decorators Show" at The Armory in San Francisco in 1956, and was displayed at Rich's retrospective exhibition at Palm Springs Art Museum in 1969, before finally being gifted by Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Firestone (the Pebble Beach California Firestones, not Mr. Sigmund Firestone associated with the Diego Rivera commission) to Saint Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, California, in 1970. An impressive photograph records Saint Francis, at dusk, on the rocks at the Rich Studio, 4200 feet above the desert floor, looking out from Shumway Ranch to Coachella Valley.
The Firestone Saint Francis is perhaps a culmination of all Rich's previous efforts, and may therefore be considered her greatest work. Departing from the traditional portrait of a benign saint looking downward upon us, Rich fashioned a thin and elongated ascetic figure singing his hymn to the sun with his arms stretched upward. Here, Saint Francis is shown in ecstasy, head tilted back as far as possible, drawn by heaven, raised arms blessing nature, and one leg bent as if he is about to genuflect. The open arms are echoed in the wings of the bird on the saint's right hand. Remarkable in this version of Saint Francis is the sheer balance of body and soul, achieved through the starkness of the flesh and the plainness of the garment. An inscription in Rich's own handwriting on the rear of a photograph showing her nearing completion of this statue's plaster model records that the sculpture was a product of "direct carving", without preliminary sketch. In 1969 the plaster was air-freighted from California to Fonderia Fratelli Nicci in Rome, where three models in wax were created so that an equivalent number of statues could be cast in bronze. The first was destined for Pierce College, Athens, where it still stands. It was gifted on 28 August 1969, but arrived in Athens from Rome in 1970. The second was shipped to Hope Ranch in Santa Barbara, later moved to Shumway Ranch, and eventually placed near the entrance of "Westenwind", her Payson residence, where it still stands. The third was also shipped to Santa Barbara; eventually, in June 1978, it was installed on a spectacular spot on the Smith College campus between the president's house and Paradise Pond. Yet another casting was done in 2005, and this was placed in the woods of Whispering Hope Ranch in Arizona, just below the Mogollon Rim. Letters in English were incised in situ on the natural marble outcropping on mount Hymettus to record the fact of Rich's generous gift to her beloved Pierce College. Beholders of Rich's Saint Francis are delighted that she took care to carve a rain-water feeder for birds out of his hood.
ARMITAGE, MERLE The Sculpture of Frances Rich 1974 Manzanita Press
ROGAKOS, MEGAKLES Silent Dialogues: Multimedia Portraits Throughout Time 2008 The American College of Greece - ACG Art, Athens
ROGAKOS, MEGAKLES Frances Rich - La Gazelle 2010 The American College of Greece - ACG Art, Athens