Marshall Fredericks Was Here In Columbus!

Two Bears. Baboon with Chimpanzee. Baboon with Sleeping Child. All sculptures by a Michigan sculptor named Marshall Fredericks, on view at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“How do I know that name?,” I wondered, as my visit there continued. “I’ll check it out when I get home.”

So I did. Marshall Fredericks designed “The Man on the Cross,” the seven-ton, 28-foot-tall crucified figure of Christ at the National Shrine of the Cross in the Woods in Indian River, Michigan, which I saw last year.

A little research led to a big discovery. Marshall Fredericks was here in Columbus!

A graduate of the Cleveland School of Art, Fredericks was a professor of sculpture at Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy during the 1930s. His work was known for its restrained, modern style; animals were a favorite subject. In 1952, The Ohio State University commissioned Fredericks to create a series of unique sculptured bas-reliefs to be placed in succession along the side of an austere building on campus that would become the Ohio Union.

With help from Ohio Historical Society staff and Ohio State faculty members, Fredericks researched and selected six subjects that would powerfully illustrate highlights from the history of the Ohio River Valley. He submitted small-scale preliminary drawings for approval, then made full-scale drawings, followed by sculpturing full-scale clay models and making plaster casts. Fredericks and two assistants worked on site at the Ohio Union, placing the full-size models on the facade of the building, and then carving each eight-foot-tall sculpture on limestone blocks that had been placed in the facade.  Standing on scaffolding, they used compressed air chisels at first and then finished with hand tools. Although it was hard work, this process allowed them to take the actual light conditions into consideration, and afforded students the opportunity to watch the project unfold until it was finished. You can see Fredericks and one of his assistants at work on the project here, and what the reliefs originally looked like here, thanks to images from the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum Digital Archives and Objects Collection.

I’ve admired those reliefs for years, but never realized Marshall Fredericks created them. So, I stopped at the Ohio Union recently to take a closer look.

The series begins with a tribute to the Native Americans who once inhabited the Ohio River Valley, represented by abstract mound designs in the upper right hand corner of the first panel. An 18th-century Miami Indian in tribal dress, holding a peace pipe, stands next to a bear, representing the wild animals that were native to the state.

The hardships men experienced after arriving in the Ohio country are the subject of the second panel. A guide leans on his musket while a traveler who has fallen on his knees to gives thanks for a safe journey to Ohio – the first state in the Northwest Territory. The wagons in the upper left corner represent the arrival of settlers on the National Road, now known as Route 40.Ohio’s agricultural bounty is celebrated in the third panel. Foliage, fruit and birds symbolize the abundant corn, wheat, beef, hogs and dairy products which attracted settlers and later led to the establishment of the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College – now known as The Ohio State University — in 1873. At the center of the panel, Johnny Appleseed teaches a boy how to plant a tree while his mother and sister look on. Statesmanship and education are the subjects of the fourth panel. In front of the Great State of Ohio stands Rutherford B. Hayes, who dissuaded his fellow members of Ohio State’s Board of Trustees from selling to storekeepers a strip of land bordering N. High St. from 11th Ave. to Woodruff Ave. – the same land on which the Ohio Union stands. On the right is William Holmes McGuffey, whose influential Eclectic Readers shaped the 19th-century American mind. An early school bell and school desk complete the picture.In the fifth panel, the kneeling figure on the left represents Ohio’s ceramic industry, made possible by the area’s rich chemical and mineral deposits, and then strengthened by the founding of the nation’s first ceramic engineering department at Ohio State in 1894. The standing figure holds a model of the airplane invented by Ohioans Wilbur and Orville Wright, while the scythe symbolizes the importance of agriculture to the state. Fredericks’ final panel represents Ohio’s steel, coal and milling industries. A figure wearing a foundry apron holds a ladle in one hand and a model of a great ore boat in the other, symbolizing the strategic position of Great Lakes cities in shipping iron ore. A crucible is filled with molten steel used in making automobiles, scales, cash registers, electrical machinery and other related products. Miners load their coal into cars in the lower right section of the panel, while the central figure stands with a wheel representing the milling industry. The reliefs won an Honorable Mention in Sculpture from the Architectural League of New York in 1955. When reconstruction of the Ohio Union began in 2007, the reliefs were covered. When the building reopened in March 2010, two new, complementary panels by artist Linda Langhorst and sculptor William Galloway were added to the 12th Ave. facade.

Pathways of Courage honors Ohio’s contributions to the abolition movement. It depicts Harriet Beecher Stowe, the Cincinnati author who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin; Dayton poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, whose writings championed civil rights; the symbolic “Freedom Stairway” and a lantern that represents the escape from slavery through the Underground Railroad. Celebration of Arts represents Ohio’s artistic heritage, with artist George Bellows shown with his paintbrush and author/cartoonist James Thurber seated at his typewriter.In 1965, Fredericks created two reliefs conveying the joys of nature, recreation and work — Industry and Other Employment Activities and Recreational Activities — for the Ohio Bureau of Employment Services. He also created two more reliefs — Motion in Nature, expressing how young people take great enjoyment in movement in nature, and Transportation by Man, showing the evolution of transportation from primitive beasts of burden to the modern expressway — for the Ohio Department of Transportation in Columbus. Each relief was made of aluminum and measures 14 feet long. The first two reliefs, which were displayed in the lobby of 145 S. Front St. in downtown Columbus, have been placed in storage by the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services, which provided this photo of Recreational Activities.

I’m hoping to see all four in person sometime. Until then, click here to discover more about them through the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum Digital Archives and Objects Collection.

For more, read The Story of the Ohio Union Reliefs, by Marshall Fredericks, and Marshall M. Fredericks, Sculptor, edited by Suzanne P. Fredericks.

This entry was posted in Architecture, Art, Columbus, History, Michigan, Ohio, Ohio State University. Bookmark the permalink.

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