Theme/Style – Art Nouveau, Beaux-Arts, portraits, figurative work, bas-relief, architectural elements
Media – Bronze, wood, plaster
Artistic Focus – Few women artists ranked equally with their male counterparts in the early 1900s, but one who did was Julia Bracken Wendt. Principally sculpting portrait busts, statues and bronze plaques and medallions, Wendt earned a sound reputation over her career, winning praise as the “foremost woman sculptor of the west … taking her place indisputably among the foremost sculptors of the day, whether men or women.” (Elizabeth Waggoner, Los Angeles Times, 1893) A staunch proponent of equality for women in all aspects of life and art, Wendt endowed both the male and female figures in her sculptures equally with strength in body and mind, reflecting an inscription she placed on one of her artworks: “Intelligence has no gender.”
Career Highlights –
- Julia Bracken Wendt was born in Apple River, Illinois in 1871, the twelfth of 13 children. Her mother died when she was nine years old, and Julia left home at age 13; she was working as a domestic servant at 16 when the woman who employed her, impressed by her artistic talent, paid her tuition for study at the Art Institute of Chicago.
- At the Art Institute Wendt studied with Lorado Taft, later becoming one of Taft’s group of female assistants known as the “White Rabbits,” who worked under Taft’s direction on sculpture for exposition buildings at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair).
- Wendt also won her own sculpture commissions at the Fair for the Reception Room in the Illinois State Building, including a statue called Faith, and a work in plaster entitled Illinois Welcoming the Nations of the World, which was later cast in bronze and placed in the Illinois state capitol building in Springfield in 1895.
- Wendt exhibited with the Palette Club in Chicago in 1895, and by early 1896 she had a studio with other women artists in Chicago’s Tree Studio Building, exhibiting with the city’s Arché Club that same year, and with the Chicago Municipal Art League in 1905. During the late 1800s Wendt also became a leading figure in the city’s Bohemia Guild, a workshop following the precepts of the Arts and Crafts movement that was affiliated with the Industrial Art League.
- In 1903, Bracken was appointed a staff sculptor for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri, and was commissioned to execute a sculpture of James Monroe for the venue.
- She married painter William Wendt in 1906, and the couple moved to California, where they purchased a studio on Sichel Street and became a prominent duo in the Los Angeles area art world. Julia taught at the Otis Art Institute and became a member of the National Sculpture Society, and together with her husband was instrumental in founding the California Art Club in 1909.
- After moving west, Wendt continued her association with Chicago and often traveled back to work there, where in 1909 she created a medallion for the Chicago Society of Artists. That same year the Art Institute of Chicago mounted a joint exhibition of the work of Julia Bracken Wendt and William Wendt, in which Julia exhibited 16 plaster sculptures; another joint exhibition at the Art Institute took place in 1921.
- In 1911 Wendt began a commission awarded her by the Fine Arts League of Los Angeles, for an 11-foot-high, three-figure Beaux-Arts allegory group entitled Three Graces: History, Science and Art. Depicting three women in bronze holding aloft a globe illuminated by electric light, the sculpture was the first piece of public art funded by Los Angeles County, and now stands in the rotunda of the county’s Natural History Museum at Exposition Park in Los Angeles.
- In 1915 Wendt exhibited bas-relief medals and a sculpture entitled Music at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. She also exhibited at the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego, winning a gold medal for her sculpture displayed in the Southern California Counties Building.
- Wendt exhibited with the California Art Club in 1918; and with the National Sculpture Society in 1923 and also in their 1929 exhibition Contemporary American Sculpture at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.
- During the 1920s and early 1930s Wendt completed many public and private commissions, including figures of noted Los Angeles residents. Her public sculpture of Abraham Lincoln, dedicated in 1926, stands in Los Angeles’s Lincoln Park.
- Julia Bracken Wendt passed away at her home in Laguna Beach, California in 1942.
- In 2001-2002, Wendt was included in the exhibition Four Women of Influence at the Laguna Art Museum, along with Anna Althea Hills, Donna Norine Schuster, and Marion Kavanagh Wachtel.