A. Phimister Proctor
1860 - 1950
Intrigued by the Wild West, A. Phimister Proctor was a prolific sculptor of animals and Western scenes at the turn of the century. Born in 1862 in Bosanquet, Ontario, he lived a nomadic life as a child, moving with his family through the United States, and eventually settling in Denver, Colorado. Living on the frontier in the late 1800s, Proctor's love of nature kept him in close contact with animals. He learned to hunt, not only for food but also for study: "One of my boyhood ambitions was to be a great hunter, as well as a productive sculptor and painter." As a teenager, Proctor combined his interest in and familiarity with the natural world with a passion for sketching, enrolling in drawing and wood engraving classes that cost fifty cents a session.
In 1885, at age twenty-three, he left for New York City to attend the National Academy of Design. He excelled in drawing, and earned money illustrating books and cigarette packages. In the summers he revived his love of wildlife in the wilderness of Alberta, British Columbia, and Montana: "As much as I enjoyed my art work, whenever the spring came and the rocks began to show through the snow, I became restless. Art materials, ammunitions and fishing tackle began to appear in my war bag."
By the early 1890s Proctor was studying at the Académie Julien in Paris, where he learned French techniques of sculpture. In 1894 he returned to the United States to model the horses for the statues of General Logan and General Sherman by the American artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens. During this time he was completely immersed in sculpting: not a neighbourhood dog or stray cat escaped Proctor's studied gaze. He received commissions for commemorative monuments, decorative pieces for buildings and bridges, and even figures for the dining room mantelpiece at the White House. Proctor also made several trips back to Europe, including one as a Rinehart Scholar for three years of study in Paris, and another to Rome as an artist-in-residence at the American Academy.
Proctor's work can be found across North America. His pumas grace the gates of a New York park, his stately tigers guard the entrance to Princeton University, and some of his smaller works reside within the collections of Canadian museums. He continued to work until late in life, making bas-reliefs, statuettes, and writing his autobiography, Sculptor in Buckskin. He also belonged to the Canadian Art Club, which aimed to exhibit the work of those whose art was 'Canadian in spirit' and recognized internationally. His last work, a large sculpture of mustangs, was unveiled at the University of Texas just two years before his death in 1950.
All quotations are from Sculptor in Buckskin, ed. Hester Elizabeth Proctor, 1971
Text by Erin Fitzhugh
Photography: M.O. Hammond Collection, National Gallery of Canada Archives
A. Phimister Proctor
Born in Bosanquet, Ontario, 27 September 1860
Died in Palo Alto, California, 05 September 1950
Library and Archives