Connections: Alden and Vada Dow and Marshall M. Fredericks

Marshall M. Fredericks

One of the most prolific sculptors of the 20th century, Marshall M. Fredericks is known in America and abroad for his monumental figurative sculpture, public memorials and fountains, portraits, and animal figures. He was born of Scandinavian descent in Illinois and grew up in Cleveland, where he graduated from the Cleveland School of Art in 1930. He then journeyed to Sweden on a fellowship to study with sculptor Carl Milles. In 1932, Milles invited Fredericks to work with him and teach in the sculpture program at the Cranbrook Academy of Art and the Cranbrook and Kingswood Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

Following his service in World War II, Fredericks didn’t return to Cranbrook, instead setting up his own studio not far from Cranbrook in Royal Oak. His steady work on numerous commissions and growing reputation led Fredericks and Alden B. Dow to connect through their wide circle of mutual friends.

The architect and the sculptor connected professionally on two projects. Fredericks was commissioned to sculpt a 6-foot tall crucifix to stand alongside Mr. Dow’s modest Indian River Catholic Church, but instead designed a 28-foot tall bronze figure that was completed and mounted on a 55-foot redwood cross in 1959. In their second collaboration, which spanned 1957-59, Fredericks brought beauty and grace to the façade of Mr. Dow’s McMorran Memorial Auditorium in Port Huron with an inset clock of gold anodized cast aluminum that reaches 20 feet in diameter from point to point. In the fountain at the base of the wall, the sculptor personified time with figures representing night and day.

On a personal level, though, there was a warm and enduring personal connection between the Dows and Marshall and Rosalind Fredericks that is clearly conveyed in the letters and notes found in the Archives of the Home and Studio. In 1959, on pages torn from a steno notepad, Rosalind wrote in a late-night letter to Mr. Dow, “We have to move because we need more bedrooms.” After listing what they needed in a larger house, she apologized for her crude stationery and added, “We will be in a frenzy until we hear from you.” In reply Mr. Dow wrote, “Dear Roz, I enjoyed your letter of 2:00 a.m. I am enclosing a sketch of a house that I would guess approaches the size you are considering.”

Unfortunately, the cost he estimated for building it in their area proved prohibitive. “If we built the house, we would never be able to go anywhere or do anything,” Rosalind wrote back, “So goodbye to our beautiful dream.” Over the years the Fredericks would spend time at Higgins Lake with Mr. and Mrs. Dow and enjoyed staying at their home, while the Dows were frequent guests at the home of the Fredericks in Birmingham.

Mr. Dow was an early admirer of Fredericks’ work and nominated him for the American Institute of Architects Fine Arts Medal in 1951, stating, “I have watched his work closely for many years and I feel that he is one of the very few sculptors who sincerely combines meaning and beautiful form…I think it is time that a man who is trying to combine the two be recognized and encouraged.”

One of the highlights of the many pieces of art collected by the Dows is the reduced-scale version of Fredericks’ Seven Saints and Sinners that is displayed in the elevated hearth in the dining room. There are two other pieces of his sculpture in the residence – a small bronze relief entitled Childhood Friends, and the rather whimsical Anniversary Baboons. The inspiration for the Baboons came from Mrs. Dow, who called Fredericks and asked him to come up with something unusual that she could give to Mr. Dow for their anniversary. He made the two baboons with one of them putting a ring on the finger of the other. As Fredericks recalled in the oral history interview retained in the Archives, “Alden really got a big kick out of that.”

Fredericks spoke fondly of Mr. Dow throughout his oral history interview, which took place in his studio in Royal Oak in December 1992. “I think he was ahead of most people. He had a fantastic philosophy about everything, especially about nature. He liked nature so much. I think that is probably why he liked my work because it is basically based on nature. He liked that.”

Fredericks created the bronze relief of his friend that is installed on the brick wall of the auditorium lobby at the Midland Center for the Arts. The text reads “Alden B. Dow Architect, Humanitarian – Citizen – Benefactor. He also produced the bronze relief of Mr. Dow that is located outside the Grand Traverse Performing Arts Center that he designed at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Interlochen, Michigan. Fredericks’ sculpture of The Two Bears sits nearby.

Alden B. Dow was not the only Dow with a connection to Marshall Fredericks. His niece, Dorothy (Honey) Arbury, studied with Fredericks when she attended Kingswood School in the 1930’s. She and her husband Ned Arbury and Mr. And Mrs. Fredericks initiated the idea to have a permanent exhibit of Fredericks’ work at Saginaw Valley State University. The Arbury’s, the university, and its board worked together to have the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Gallery built within and adjacent to new facilities housing the art, music, and theatre departments. The gallery opened to the public in the new Arbury Fine Arts Center in May 1988, and was renamed the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum in 1999, a year after Fredericks died.

The main exhibit space includes about 200 works, mostly plaster models, spanning his career of over 70 years. The centerpiece is a 28-foot tall Christ statue, the model for the version standing near Mr. Dow’s Indian River Catholic Church, connecting sculptor and architect once more.

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