Arthur Putnam
Early life

Arthur Putnam is known as a sculptor who became famous for his cast bronze animals. He became famous for his renditions of the animals he observed in his life including pumas, bears, coyotes and mountain lions, and he had a deep understanding of animal anatomy that started in his childhood when he had studied the skeletons of animals. 3


Putnam was born when his parents made a journey through Waveland, Mississippi in 1873. His father, a member of a prominent New England family, made a living as a civil engineer in the South after the Civil War, which meant the family had an itinerant existence. The father died in 1880, leaving young Arthur Putnam, age seven to be raised by his mother and aunt in Omaha, Nebraska. 3

photo of Arthur Putnam
Arthur Putnam

At a very young age, Putnam manifested a natural talent for drawing and modeling clay. He was a rebellious youth but was not shy of hard work, and at sixteen worked the riverboats and managed to keep up many odd jobs. Later, he would settle with his widowed mother on a ranch in San Diego County, California. 5

In his early youth he was not interested in school but was an intelligent boy. His mother tried to curb his discipline problems by sending him to the Kemper Hall Military Academy, but he only lasted a year there. Instead of pushing for him to go to school, his mother decided he should work. Putnam took a job as an elevator boy and worked in a photoengraving office where he learned the basics of drawing. Eventually the family moved west to California where Mrs. Putnam bought a lemon ranch in San Diego. Putnam spent most of his teenage years working on the ranch and sketching the wildlife of the Southwest. He also trapped pumas for the San Diego Zoo. 3

San Diego
(near La Mesa)
Homesteading w/Gutzon Borglum

Putnam always had a love of nature and would often trek in the California desert area. For a short period of time he homesteaded with sculptor Gutzon Borglum. Borglum would go on to spend 10 years working on a memorial to the Confederacy at Stone Mountain. After a dispute with his patrons Borglum fled Georgia and burned his models. However, Borglum later achieved fame through his eccentric efforts on a similar but much more successful project, Mount Rushmore.4

Julie Heyneman (biographer, Desert Cactus)

Through Heyneman, an instructor with the Art Student’s League of San Diego, Putnam’s career really took off. He was introduced to Alice Lamber, who became a life–long friend and supporter. He also met a talented young painter, Grace Storey, who would later become his wife.

Early career
San Francisco Art Student’s League and assistant to Rupert Schmid

In 1894 he went to San Francisco to see the Mid–Winter Fair, and he stayed to take art lessons from Julie Heyneman at the Art Students League. Living at the ASL, he slept on the couch, sweeping the rooms in return for lodging. He dreamt of getting a job to support his art study and even worked briefly at a slaughterhouse while working for Rupert Schmid. 3

In 1894 he was accepted as an assistant in the sculpture studio of Rupert Schmid. He worked in other studios as well including the studio of animal sculptor Edward Kemeys, the studio of painter Gottardo Piazzoni, the studio of sculptor Earl Cummings, and with many architectural firms within the city of San Francisco.

Though a naturally talented artist, Putnam furthered his abilities and attended drawing classes at the San Francisco Art Students League. To support his studies, he worked in a slaughter house, the Lincoln terra cotta works modeling tiles, later as a ranch hand, surveyors crew, and as a trapper of pumas for the San Francisco Zoo. 5

San Francisco
Studies w/Edward Kemeys, animal sculptor

For a brief period of time Putnam studied with Edward Kemeys, famed anamalier. Coincidentally, Kemeys had achieved fame through his sculptures of wolves at the Central Park Zoo. The experience was not to Putnams liking however and he returned to San Diego quickly. His unhappiness is recorded in the poetic form as seen in the following excerpt:

…no friend have I in this dark place,
no sun to shine at day
no lark to echo the morning’s song
no sound of breaking waves.
I’m tired and sore of old town (lore?)
no face so good to see,
as the faces I left so far away
in a little town by the sea…4

San Diego
Returns to San Diego
Putnam sculpture
The Mermaid, by Arthur Putnam (In a personal correspondence to Alice Klauber, Putnam’s wife, Grace remarked that this sculpture’s "handsome" face had an uncanny resemblance to that of Ms. Klauber.)

At his mother’s ranch in La Mesa Putnam continued to throw himself into his art. At times working as a surveyor for the Mesa dam and a puma trapper for the San Francisco Zoo, Putnam continued to hone his knowledge of animal anatomy.

Works with Alice Klauber

Putnam’s friendship with Alice Klauber flourished during this period through their mutual love of nature, art and written word. Klauber became a prominent figure in the art world and an enthusiastic supporter of Putnam.

Cabrillo monument offer

During this time Putnam was offered a commission to plan the Cabrillo National monument but his plans were rejected. The commission was later given to San Diego Sculptor Allen Hutchinson.

Married Life

In 1899, Arthur Putnam married Grace Story Putnam (designer of the famous Baby Bi Lo Doll) and settled in San Francisco. 5

They lived in a flat above the Art Students League. Arthur was hired at the Gladding McBean terra cotta factory. Grace, also an accomplished artist, left her career to support her husband; teaching watercolor at the League. There he and a friend, Bruce Porter, promoted his artwork as did former teacher, Julie Heyneman. (Later she wrote a biography about Putman titled "Desert Cactus".) Putnam named his first daughter after Bruce Porter. The two were great friends and were involved in the same San Francisco socialist groups as Jack London.7

Putnam shared a studio space in San Francisco with Earl Cummings and Gottardo Piazzoni. Putnam’s work improved and gained recognition by the early 1900s, and it was between 1900 and 1905 that he did the work for which he is most recognized. Putnam also worked with the well–known architect Willis Polk on many buildings. 5

Mid career

By 1901 he had established his reputation, and in addition to modeling a prodigious number of animal and human figures, he obtained commissions from San Francisco for a series of lamp posts on market street depicting the western theme "the winning of the west". The many lamp posts – with each one holding part of a story in bronze – remain saved and beloved in the city to this day. 5

San Francisco
Commissioned by E.W. Scripps
The Indian
Indian, by Arthur Putnam

Putnam received a major commission to provide a series of large scale figures for the San Diego estate of E.W. Scripps. These commissions would be highlights of his career involving the hire of many artisans and apprentice workers. Today, the large–scale bronze figures are located in the parks and missions of San Diego county.5

The Scripps commission proved to be a valuable life–long stipend, even during Putnam’s later years. The initial plan was to produce five monumental pieces, two of which were never completed.

  • Indian 1904
  • Padre 1908
  • Ploughman 1910
  • Mexican woman on horseback (incomplete)
  • Soldier (incomplete)
London publishes The Call of the Wild

Jack London shared Putnam’s love of nature, idealistic political beliefs and artistic sentiments. It seems natural that the two would be friends. It is also known that Jack London was an occasional visitor to Arthur Putnam’s studio.1

In 1903, Jack London published The Call of the Wild. In 1904, Putnam was working for Scripps, presumably in San Diego. Therefore, it was during late 1903 that the tablet must have been carved and exchanged between the two men.

Jack London spent most of 1904 as a Russo–war correspondent, and Arthur Putnam left for Europe in 1905, returning in 1907.

Rome & Paris
European Travels
reclining puma

Together with his friend, painter Gottardo Piazzoni, Putnam spent time in Italy and France. He worked at a foundry and his sculpture was praised by the great August Rodin. Rodin is credited as saying he was, “the world’s greatest animal sculptor”.3 To be called such by Rodin is significant enough, but Rodin was himself a pupil of Antoine Bayre (1796 – 1875), widely regarded as the greatest animal sculptor of all time and father of the Animilier School.

His friends attempted to get him into the Royal Academy of art to no avail, but by then Arthur pined for his long time home in California.

  • Studies bronze casting in Rome
  • Spring Salon 1906
  • Paris Salon 1907
White Fang published
San Francisco
Return to San Francisco
San Francisco Studio
Arthur's Studio on the San Francisco Dunes, painted by friend and neighbor, H. Hammarstrom

The Putnams returned from Paris in 1907 to a San Francisco destroyed by the great earthquake. In addition, Putnam’s studio burned in the subsequent fire, and all contents were destroyed. This is evidence that the writing tablet had been given to Jack London before the Putnams had left to Paris.

For a period of time they lived in a tent near Cliff House and eventually built a house on the outskirts of the city, near Ocean Beach. 5

After the devastating earthquake, many people pitched in to repair the city. Putnam put his knowledge of foundries to practical use and worked on a number of repairs and improvements for the city. His sculptures of lions and pioneers were used along Market Street. 3

At this busy time in his career he built his own foundry. He modeled many architectural commissions and created many new sculptures. This is not well known, but he made a thunderous effort to bring back the old wax method of casting called "ciere perdue".

Putnam knew the foundry business well, and cast his own bronzes in his own studio and kiln during this period. Though they have no foundry stamps, they have his signature, and remain some of the finest bronzes made. This period was an artistic success and he sold many bronze castings in New York to the Macbeth Galleries and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 5

  • rebuilding after earthquake
  • lamps on Market st.
  • fountain for St. Francis Hotel
Later life
Brain Tumor

Putnam had been complaining of persistent headaches and numbness. It is possible that the condition originated when as a young boy, when he fell from a tree and suffered a severe concussion.

In 1910, Arthur Putnam was elected by the Bohemian Club, to be in charge of all the arts to be displayed at planned Panama Pacific International Exposition.


Arthur Putnam had won many victories through his love of art and his intense working standards he set for himself. Tragedy hit, one day in 1911 when, at the height of his creative powers, Putnam was found unconscious, lying in the street. He was rushed into surgery, and had a brain tumor removed. The surgery saved his life but he was never again able to produce another credible sculpture.

This condition was devastating, and intolerable to him, and his malcontent increased. Eventually his drinking and anger drove his wife Grace to leave him, taking the children and splintering his family.

Arthur Putnam then resigned from his position as sculptural director of the Panama Pacific International Exposition.


Putnam spent his later years in La Jolla. He stayed in a cabin provided by Ellen Scripps.

Legendary Armory Show

Putnam was the only California sculptor exhibited in the legendary 1913 Armory Show. It was at that show that the face American Art began to change from realistic traditional art to avant–garde Modern Art.6


Elected to National Sculpture Society

Panama Pacific International Exposition

Alma Spreckles, of sugar fame, went to Putnam’s studio, and gathered together 105 plaster marguettes, and took them to France. She had to petition the French government for an allotment of bronze due to war restrictions, and had casts of Putnum’s work, created at the Rodin foundry, to be brought back and entered in the competition held at the Panama Pacific International Exposition. Arthur Putnam was awarded several gold medals, even though he had not produced a single work in 4 years.

• Arthur was divorced by wife Grace.


• Jack London dies November 22nd.

San Francisco Children’s Pets Exhibit

Charmian London took Jack London’s writing tablet, carved by Arthur Putnam, had bronze tags made, engraved, and affixed to the writing surface, rendering it unusable for any other author. She then awarded this work by Arthur Putnam, in Jack London’s memory, as a first place prize at the Children’s Pets Exhibit. This honored not only her late husband, but also Arthur Putnam, who had tragically lost his ability to sculpt.


• Arthur Putnam moved to Paris.


• Arthur Putnum dies in Paris on May 27th, 1930.


Worked and assisted in studio of sculptor Rupert Schmid.- 1890
Studied at the San Francisco Art Students League. - 1894
Worked and assisted in studio with animal sculptor Edward Kemeys.- 1896
Worked in studio with painter Gottardo Piazzoni. - 1897
Worked in studio with sculptor Earl Cummings. - 1899


1932, Julie Heyneman Arthur Putnam - Sculptor, John & Seeger, 191 pages


Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco, California
Metropolitan Museum, New York, New York
San Diego Fine Art Museum, San Diego, California

Exhibition record (museums, institutions and awards):

Parks of San Diego - 1903.
the Rome Salon - 1906.
Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York - 1910.
International Exhibition of Modern Art - New York - 1913
San Diego Fine Art Museum - 1921.
Legion of Honor Museum - San Francisco 1921.
San Francisco Museum of Art - 1935.
California Palace of the Legion of Honor - 1930, 1932, 1940, 1956, 1958.
Oakland Museum - 1978.

Exhibition Record (galleries and art shows):

Salons of Paris - 1904
Salons of Rome - 1904
Winning of the West - Market Street - Path of Gold - San Francisco. 1905
Macbeth Gallery - New York - 1906

Artist statements:

"Having to stay with the work grows on one’s soul, and stamps those who have no outside resource of mind ".

"Advice poorly given is rarely well received ".

"It is foolish to say that your ideals are so high that you could not fall. He that has height has depth - things must have proportion ".

"Pride enters into all things - we are of value to the world only for what we leave behind ".

" Whether you are satisfied or not, there comes a time when you must deliver the goods ". 5

Notice: content is continually updated for accuracy. Please contact Christian Chaffee with any and all comments, questions, and corrections.