Question of the Week

This woman was a noted Philadelphia sculptor whose Seaweed Fountain is located in Fairmount Park’s Centennial Arboretum. Who was she?

Tuesday, 6/10/14

Answer: Beatrice Fenton

Philadelphia is a city full of sculpture, but most people know little about the artists responsible for them.  One sculptor whose work graces some of the City’s parks and other prominent locations is Beatrice Fenton (1887-1983).  For example, her Pan with Sundial (1938) sits on the University of Penn’s campus near Van Pelt-Dietrich Library.

Beatrice Fenton was born in Philadelphia to ophthalmologist Thomas H. Fenton and Lizzie Remak Fenton, the daughter of prominent lawyer Gustavus Remak. Through her father's aunt, Fenton met Thomas Eakins, one of the most important artists in American art history.  It was Eakins who advised a young Fenton to sculpt in clay. Fenton herself was the central figure in Eakins’ The Coral Necklace.

Fenton was associated with “The Philadelphia Ten.”  This progressive group of women artists created and exhibited works from 1917-1945. In the face of a male-dominated art establishment that presented formidable barriers to professional female artists, the Philadelphia Ten challenged conventional expectations of women through a commitment to exhibiting and selling their work together. Fenton, like many of the other members, studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, taught at the Moore College of Art, and kept a studio in Philadelphia.

Fenton is best known for her fountains, many of which are still located in public places and private gardens. Perhaps the most famous of these is Seaweed Fountain. Located in the Centennial Arboretum in Fairmount Park, the distinctive piece depicts the nude figure of a young girl astride the back of a turtle, her arms covered in seaweed. Completed in the early 1920s, it stood for 50 years in East Fairmount Park until parts of it were stolen in 1974. Fittingly, it was Fenton’s maternal grandfather, Gustavus Remak, who helped plan the 1876 Centennial Exhibition.

Like many Philadelphia families, the family tree and accomplishments of the Fentons can be traced through papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The Fenton and Remak families papers (#3148) include papers from various members of both families, in particular, Lizzie Remak Fenton's mother, Susan M. Scott Remak, and Thomas and Lizzie Fenton's daughters, Doris and Beatrice. The collection is rich in genealogical source material and family documents, correspondence, and photographs. 

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