Curator's Choice tells the stories behind prized objects and artifacts from the collections of historical organizations and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

A native of Philadelphia, Harriet Whitney Frishmuth (1880-1980) earned an enviable niche in early twentieth-century art circles with her sensitive, lithe sculptures of the female form in extended poses.

Not long after her parents Louise Otto Berens and Frank Beroni Frishmuth separated, the young Frishmuth and her older two sisters sailed with their mother to Europe, where the girls attended private schools in Paris and Berlin and vacationed in Switzerland. For a time the four returned to Philadelphia. By sheer chance, the nineteen-year-old Frishmuth, returning to Switzerland with her mother, met a woman sculptor who suggested she try modeling. Frishmuth was so pleased with her effort, a relief portrait of her mother, that she decided on a career in sculpture.

In 1899, mother and daughter returned to Paris where the younger Frishmuth studied briefly with Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) and received instruction from Emile Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929), Rodin’s protege. She exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1903 and, after more study in Paris and Berlin, she moved to New York, where she enrolled at the Art Students League. In 1908, she opened her first studio in Manhattan and two years later received her first commission.

Harriet Whitney Frishmuth created her best work in the teens and twenties, after she met a young dancer recently emigrated from Yugoslavia, Desha Delteil (1890?-1980) who became her favorite model and muse. With Delteil as her primary model, Frishmuth’s talents blossomed, and her exuberant representations of the female body suited the climate of the 1920s with their youthfulness, expressiveness, sensuousness, and freedom of movement.

At her debut with The Philadelphia Ten in 1928, Frishmuth showed several of her most successful and popular works of the decade (see “The Perfect Ten” by Page Talbott, Winter 2002). When she exhibited with the group, again as a guest, the following year, she exhibited seven pieces in a show that celebrated the group’s tenth anniversary. She did not show with The Philadelphia Ten again until 1939, when she became a member, her association renewed by her relocation to Philadelphia two years earlier. She last appeared with the artists in 1941 in a benefit tag sale. Her output declined during the 1940s, and she did not join her colleagues for what turned out to be their last group appearance in 1945. She moved to Waterbury, Con­necticut, in 1953, where a fall from a scaffold forced her to give up sculpting. She died at the age of ninety-nine.

In addition to her prodigious output of female nudes – ninety percent of them posed for by Desha Delteil – Frishmuth produced funerary monuments, memorials, medals, plaques, and portrait busts. Like many sculptors of the 1920s, she produced work suitable for furnishing the well-appointed middleclass home, both inside (with small, tabletop figures) and outside (with fountains and garden sculpture).

Harriet Whitney Frishmuth is represented by major pieces in a number of private and public collections, including the Marywood University Art Galleries in Scranton. The Suraci Gallery, the repository of the institution’s permanent collection of fine and decorative arts, holds Speed (1922), a large art deco bronze of a winged female figure on a black marble base. Speed, also produced as an automobile hood ornament, epitomizes the artist’s fascination with fluidity of form.

For information about the museum and its collection and changing exhibitions, write: Marywood University Art Galleries, 2300 Adams Ave., Scranton, PA 18509; telephone (570) 348-6278; or visit www.marywood.edu/www2/galleries on the Web. Admission is free.