Frederic Allen Williams, the American sculptor, was born April 10, 1898 in West
Newton, Massachusetts, to Dr. Frederic Allen Williams, Sr. and Elizabeth Williams
(née Paine). Williams' father was both an ophthalmologist and lawyer in
Boston, so Williams grew up in a privileged and proper household, spending his
time with the family horses. He received his secondary education at the Boston
School (1913-1917) where he was taught both Latin and Greek. In 1917 Williams'
education was interrupted when the United States entered World War I. Williams
joined the United States Army and was stationed on Manhattan Island for the duration
of the war. Following the war Williams stayed in New York City, and enrolled in
Columbia University (1918-1920), the Beaux Arts Institute of Design (1921-1923),
the National Academy of Design (1921-1929).
Williams' move to New York was instrumental in shaping his artistic vision. During
the 1910s the New York art scene was filled with images of the West. And, while
Williams saw the works of Charles Russell and Frederic Remington, he became quite
influenced by a group of artists who, beginning in 1898, began summering in Taos,
New Mexico, returning each winter to New York with their latest works in hand.
group of artists, who in 1915 had founded the Taos Society of Artists, included
Joseph Henry Sharp, Bert Geer Phillips, E. Irving Couse, and Ernest L. Blumenschein
among others. In 1925 Williams made his first documented trip to New Mexico and
Arizona. He returned again in 1926 with his first commission, to sculpt a Native
American. As a result Williams returned to Taos nearly every year thereafter,
the 1950s he was spending summers in Taos and winters in New York.
Another reason Williams' move to New York was so influential was that he saw his
first rodeo at Madison Square Garden. From that point on Williams was in love
the rodeo. Rodeo participants became some of his closest friends, and many of
travels were to see rodeos and round-ups not only in the west but also along the
East Coast. It was perhaps at the rodeo that Williams met a man named Dan Frost.
Frost, an importer and trader of beads with Native Americans, was responsible
getting Williams his first job as a ranch-hand, from a Pendleton (Oregon)
saddle-maker named John Hamley. Williams' ranch experience further solidified
love of the West and his respect for the cowboy.
Williams embraced all aspects of the American West, from cowboys to the Taos
lifestyle, and the growing trend of interest in the arts of Native Americans.
However, unlike many of his contemporaries who went on to adapt a more Modernist
approach to their art, Williams became a student of Native American art. In 1940
expanded his fields of study and took an extensive tour of Mexico, spending time
many states including the Yucatán, Oaxaca, Michoacán, and Mexico
State. Here he documented ruins, artwork, costumes, and fiestas both with still
photography and 16mm motion pictures. From his studies of the arts of North,
Central, and South American Native Americans, Williams began to incorporate their
imagery, designs, and symbolism into his own works, culminating in his design
the outdoor sculpture titled Shrine of the Americas
While recognized primarily as a sculptor of Native Americans and Western imagery,
Williams is also known for his portrait heads of early aviators, authors, musicians,
and jurists who were known to him and his family. Prominent subjects include
Augustus Post, Alan Hawley, Will Rogers, Charles Russell, Edwin Markham, and Percy
MacKaye. These portraits, along with his other works, were not for private
consumption only, and Williams had the pleasure of seeing his work exhibited at
National Academy of Design, The American Federation of Arts, The National Sculpture
Society, The San Francisco Sculpture Exposition, The Brooklyn Museum, the Santa
Museum, and the American Veterans Society of Artists, Inc. annual exhibitions,
In addition to his talents as a sculptor, Williams was also a teacher, lecturer,
writer, and amateur photographer. One of his main concerns was that art be made
accessible to the public at large. With this goal in mind, he produced a number
albums designed to instruct laymen of the value of the arts, function as guide
books, and provide historical information. In addition, the albums also served
the basis for a series of lectures Williams gave over a period of at least ten
years. A published brochure advertised the following lectures: 1. Mexico, 2. Arts
Mexico, 3. Indian Arts of the United States, 4. Indian Arts of the Americas, 5.
Arts of Peru, 6. Pottery, 7. Polychrome Sculpture, 8. The Sculptures of New York,
and 9. New York World's Fair. The lectures were illustrated with Williams' own
lantern slides and, in some cases, with the 16mm movies he made during his 1940
to Mexico. The audiences which received these lectures included art clubs such
the Newport Art Association, Masonic groups, and members of patriotic organizations
such as the American Legion.
Williams did not limit himself to presenting lectures to societies, he was also an
active member of a number of societies including the American Veterans Society
Artists, Inc. (President, 1943-1949), the American Rough Riders, Inc. (Vice
President, 1948), the New York Ceramic Society, the American Artists Professional
League, the Artist Guild, the Sons of the American Revolution, the Rodeo Cowboys
Association, and the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies.
Williams continued to sculpt in his New York studio, located at 58 West 57th Street,
until his death on 6 December, 1958.