Enfield, Connecticut, is often associated with the manufacture of gunpowder and weapons, but it is also the place where Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edward Clark Potter, born in 1857, was raised in this small township just across the border from southern Massachusetts. Educated in local schools and at the Williston Seminary in Easthampton, Massachusetts, young Edward defied his mother’s plans for him to enter the ministry and instead enrolled at Amherst College in Massachusetts for three semesters before heading to Boston in 1879 to study art. A few years later he moved to Vermont to work at a marble quarry, overseeing stone cutting there for Daniel Chester French, an established sculptor working in Boston. In the late 1880s Potter studied in Paris with figure sculptor Antonin Mercié and animal specialist Emmanuel Frémiet. He returned to the United States in 1890 and married May Dumont of Washington, D.C. The couple started a family back in Potter’s hometown of Enfield. His friend and mentor Daniel French encouraged Potter’s interest in modeling animals, and the young artist eventually earned a reputation as one of America’s leading animaliers by the turn of the twentieth century.
Potter and French collaborated on numerous commissioned projects, mostly statues of famous personalities on horseback with Potter being responsible for sculpting the horses. Potter’s own five equestrian groups, including those representing Henry Warner Slocum and Philip Kearny, demonstrated his growing talent and ability to express the unity between the rider and his horse. Potter won a gold medal at the Louisiana Purchase Universal Exposition in 1904 for the equestrian De Soto Sighting the “Father of the Waters.” When his statue of a Civil War bugler on horseback was unveiled in 1915 in Brookline, Massachusetts, it was praised as innovative and unconventional.
Potter and his family preferred to stay in the rural countryside, where he could take care of the animals he raised and used as his subjects for sculpting. However, Potter also enjoyed his proximity to New York where he was involved in the art community. He was a charter member of the National Sculpture Society and took a leadership role in the National Academy of Design. He also made significant original artistic contributions to New York City, including a marble statue of Zoroaster on the cornice of the New York Appellate Court House in Madison Square. Surprisingly, his most famous sculpting contribution to New York, or any place for that matter, did not come in the form of a person or a horse.
Around 1910 Potter received a commission of $8,000 on the recommendation of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of America’s foremost sculptors of the day. Potter teamed up with the Piccirilli Brothers, renowned marble carvers, to create two statues constructed of Tennessee pink marble. The two pieces were originally named Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, but sometime in the 1930s, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named them Patience and Fortitude, for the qualities he felt the citizens of New York would need to survive the economic depression. Architecture critic Paul Goldberger praised the pieces as “New York’s most lovable public sculpture.” These two majestic lions flank the Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street entrance to the New York Public Library. Patience still guards the south side of the Library’s steps, and Fortitude maintains his position to the north. As a tribute to the Lions’ popularity and all that they stand for, the Library adopted these figures as its mascots. They are trademarked by the Library, represented in its logo, and featured at major occasions.
To learn more, consult Top Cats: the Life and Times of The New York Public Library Lions by Susan G. Larkin. This publication surveys their history through photographs, cartoons, prints, original drawings, memorabilia, and lively tales.