Among the many papers I inherited from my Aunt Ethel was an 8x10 photograph of what appeared to be a bas-relief sculpture. On the back, written in pencil, was the name “Paeff”. The name meant nothing to me. Initially, I simply filed the photograph away because I had no reason at the time to assign it an immediate high priority. By the time I returned to it, the Internet allowed me to quickly identify both the artist and the sculpture. The artist was Bashka Paeff and the bas-relief was her Sacrifices of War, more commonly known as the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial. The Internet documented a range of sculpture by this Russian-born artist, but it was her Sacrifices of War that spoke most profoundly to me. Several of the sites on the Internet addressed the history of Paeff being awarded the commission for this work, the political controversy that surrounded it and the conservation grant that allowed for restoration of the work in the Fall of 2000.
Information about the life of Bashka Paeff is limited. Brief entries of the “Who’s Who” type dominate. From these, it is possible to cull some basic information about her life. She was born into a Jewish family in Minsk, Russia in 1893. The family made the decision to immigrate to Boston when she was a young child to escape the violent pogroms that targeted Jews. As a young student, she studied with Cyrus Dallin at the Massachusetts Normal School (now the Massachusetts College of Art). In 1914, she won a scholarship to study with Bela Pratt at the Boston Museum School of the Fine Arts. She was also a participant of the then-famous (and still well-respected) MacDowell Artists’ Colony in Petersborough, New Hampshire. Early in her career, she won several major competitions for war memorials and established herself as a sculptor modeling portrait busts of such prominent figures as Oliver Wendell Homes, Jane Addams, and Justice Louis Brandeis. Among her better-known works are a fountain sculpture of a small boy with a bird installed at the Arlington Street entrance of the Boston Public Garden and a statue of Warren G. Harding’s pet airedale curently at the Smithsonian. She married Samuel M. Waxman, professor of Romance Languages at Boston University. Before her death in 1979, she was awarded the Daniel Chester French Award from the National Academy of Design for sculpture in the “classical tradition” and a special award from the city of Boston.
Bashka Paeff was awarded the commission for the Maine Sailors and Soldiers Memorial when she was only twenty years old. She received her commission from Governor Percival Baker but his succesor, Ralph Brewster, rejected her piece as “overly pacifist”. In the interest of having her work cast, Paeff made some changes that placated the new governor and the revised sculpture was installed in the John Paul Jones State Historic Site in Kittery, Maine in 1926.
SELECTION OF PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE SAILORS AND SOLDIERS MEMORIAL
SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY OF WORKS ABOUT BASHKA PAEFF
Wingate, Jennifer. "Motherhood, Memorials and Anti-Militarism: Bashka Paeff's 'Sacrifices of War'." Woman's Art Journal v. 29 no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2008) p. 31-40.
USEFUL WEBSITES ABOUT BASHKA PAEFF AND HER SCULPTURE, SAILORS AND SOLDIERS MEMORIAL:
Photo Credit: Sculptor Bashka Paeff at work in her studio. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
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