Sunday, January 22, 2017

Birth of Haig Patigian (January 22, 1876)

The growth of the Armenian American community in the early twentieth century included the names of various artists. One of them was the sculptor Haig Patigian.
He was born in Van on January 22, 1876. His parents were teachers at the American Mission School. His father Avedis was interested in visual art too, and was the first person to take up photography in Van. However, when the Turkish authorities noticed him walking around the city and photographing picturesque scenery, they accused him of selling photos of Van’s fortifications to the Russians. He fled to the Caucasus in 1888 and traveled to the United States, settling in Fresno, California. In 1891 he was able to send for his family. His wife Marine and their five children (a sixth would be born in America) were able to make their way to Fresno. He eventually would purchase a ranch and set to produce raisins.
On the left, Haig Patigian with the bust of Helen Mills; on the right, the model herself
Haig Patigian started as an apprentice at a sign painter’s shop in 1893 and opened his own shop three years later. His older brother Horen (Khoren) was making a living in San Francisco as a newspaper illustrator, and he decided to make the leap himself in 1898. In 1900 he was hired as an illustrator for the evening newspaper SF Bulletin. His brother died a year later from pneumonia, followed by his mother several months later. He was devastated by their loss, and of his youngest sister, who passed away from tuberculosis.
Patigian, who had been engaged in self-teaching, turned this string of losses into a work of art. He created his first real statue in plaster, “The Unique Soul,” depicting a male nude fighting despair. Its display at the Press Club was immediately celebrated in local newspapers. In 1905 he was hired to create a statue of the late President William McKinley for the town of Arcata, in northern California. The completed statue was in a foundry and was prepared for shipping on April 18, 1906, the day of the Great Earthquake and Fire of San Francisco. Although he was informed that the foundry had been destroyed, and his statue along with it, he found out that some mechanics had saved it. The statue was unveiled in Arcata on July 4, 1906. In October, Patigian sailed to Paris, where he remained for a year. He re-created his work, “Ancient History,” which had been destroyed in the studio in San Francisco’s Fire, and entered it in the 125th official exposition of the Salon des Artistes Francais.
Patigian returned to San Francisco in late 1907 and married Blanche Hollister, the daughter of a landowner and Sacramento legislator, in the New Year of 1908. They would have two children, Hollis and Haig Jr. In the same year, he joined the Bohemian Club, of which he served as president from 1920-1922 and 1947-1948. He was assigned the sculptural works for the Palace of Machinery at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1914, and also produced a bronze monument for Dr. Chester Rowell (1844-1912), founder of the Fresno Republican, former mayor of Fresno and California state senator, which was placed on Courthouse Square in Fresno. Rowell was sympathetic to immigration and especially Armenians—who had a hard time in Fresno—and had been the Patigian family’s doctor. During the Armenian Genocide, Patigian created a medal for the Armenian Relief Fund.
Already a household name in American sculpture, Patigian received steady commissions after 1914, which included his “Lincoln,” in front of the City Hall of San Francisco (1928, see picture to the left), considered one of the best in the United States, and his bust of President Hoover that entered the White House in 1929, among many other works mostly spread throughout San Francisco and other places in California. During World War II, when metal for statues was scarce, he turned to watercolors. Many of his works during this period are in private collections, as well as clubs in San Francisco.
His wife Blanche passed away on September 10, 1950. Nine days later, on September 19, Haig Patigian, who already had a heart condition, followed her.