August Zeller (7 March 1863 - 11 January 1918) was an American sculptor and teacher. He was a student of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under Thomas Eakins, and moved to Paris in 1890 to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and then at the studios of Auguste Rodin. He spent his final years as a teacher and curator of Sculpture at Carnegie Institute of Fine Arts and Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Zeller was born in Bordentown, New Jersey on 7 March 1863. His father, Wilhelm August Zeller (1834-1904), was the owner of the local general store In Fieldsboro and became the postmaster there in 1880. It is said that Zeller inherited his artistic abilities from his mother, Susanne Schmidt Zeller (1839-1875), whose father had been a well-known wood carver in Kaiserslaten, Germany. He married Louise Gerber (1871-1953), his Paris housekeeper, in France in October 1892. They had two children, Suzanne Henriette Zeller (1893-1953) born in Paris and Marcel August Zeller (born 1896 in Philadelphia).
When Zeller was four years old, the Zeller family moved from Bordentown to neighboring Fieldsboro. His father set up the general store there and tended a large community garden across the street from the store. When Zeller was 12 years old, his mother died leaving his father alone to raise and support his big family. At age 14, Zeller left home to study sculpture at Struther's Monument Works in Philadelphia. During these years he received education and training at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.
At the age of 19, in the shed behind his father's store, from a block of Cararra white marble, he began carving a marble monument for his mother's grave. It took him two years to finish and he called it "The Slaughter of the Innocent". The statue depicts a frightened mother protecting her infant and commemorated the massacre of infants ordered by King Herod when Christ was born. This was exhibited in the National Academy of Design in New York City in 1884, and Zeller was awarded a traveling prize of $5000. He did not accept the award, however, since one of the provisions of acceptance was that he must study art in Italy, a course he preferred not to pursue.
From 1882 to 1887 (ages 19–24), Zeller studied in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) with Thomas Eakins, who had just become the director there. The school was viewed as the "most liberal and advanced in the world." Eakin's teaching philosophy involved teaching by example and letting students find their own way with only terse guidance. "A teacher can do very little for a pupil and should only be thankful if he doesn't hinder him ...the greater the master, mostly the less he can say." In February 1886 Thomas Eakins became embroiled in a controversy over the use of nude models in mixed classes of male and female students. Zeller joined 55 PAFA students who signed a petition threatening to withdraw from the school if Eakins was not reinstated. The petition was rejected by the Academy and 15 of the students, including Zeller, withdrew from the Academy and formed their own school. They named it The Art Students' League of Philadelphia. Thomas Eakins frequently taught classes without pay to the students. The school was located at 1429 Market Street, moving into 1338 Chestnut Street after several months as the enrollment increased.
From June 1887 to October 1890 (ages 24–27), Zeller lived and worked in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. He moved there, striking out on his own after he had received a commission to carve a statue for the Gettysburg battlefield, dedicated to the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, honoring the 25th anniversary of their role in that battle. On 21 June 1888 the statue was placed and dedicated at the position of the regiment during that engagement 25 years before. "We are here to unveil the beautiful stone which marks the spot where our regiment fought twenty-five years ago. The monument, artistic merit of which reflects great credit upon the young artist who designed it, bears upon its face the history of our organization," Colonel Henry Royer's (96th Pennsylvania Infantry) address at the statue dedication. Based on his successful work on the Gettysburg statue, Zeller was commissioned to design the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. This was a huge effort which included five figures and weighed an estimated 100 tons. The initial carvings were done in wax and then were cast in bronze and took two years to complete. On October 1, 1890 (Monument Day) with thousands of people in attendance to watch the parade and unveiling ceremonies, the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in Garfield Square in Pottsville, Pennsylvania was dedicated. Zeller did not attend these ceremonies; he was already at sea on his way to study in France.
From November 1890 to September 1894 (ages 27–31), Zeller studied and worked in Paris, France. He began his studies in November 1890 at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, becoming active in the American Students' Art Association. While there, he studied with Gabriel-Jules Thomas, Alexandre Falguiere, and Jules Dalou.
In May 1891 Zeller left the Ecole des Beaux Arts and began working as a student and praticien sculptor in a private studio of Auguste Rodin. After showing Rodin photos of his work, Rodin told him "to start the next Monday morning." Zeller worked for Rodin for the next two years. He worked 10-12 hour days, 6–7 days per week and had worked on 8 statues, including a marble statue of "Eve" by Summer 1892.
On October 22, 1892, Zeller married his housekeeper, Louise Gerber, in a civil ceremony at the Palace of Versailles with Rodin in attendance as a witness.
In May or June 1893, Zeller left the employ of Auguste Rodin after working for him for 2 years and 5 days. He had become frustrated with the long hours and the fact that he didn't receive any credit for the work he had done for Rodin. This was not unusual for the times, but clashed with Zeller's artistic desires to express his independence. Zeller considered it an honor to have worked in one of the finest studios in the world but felt the need to move on.
After leaving the employ of Rodin, Zeller worked for the French Cultural Society at the Palace of Versailles. He was engaged to sculpt a large statue there (it is not known which one), He also was charged with doing some restorative work on existing statues, including a statue of Hygeia (the goddess of medicine).
In September 1894, Zeller sailed home to the US on the steamship, SS City of Berlin from Southampton England with his wife, Louise Gerber Zeller and his baby daughter, Suzanne Henrietta Zeller. They arrived at Ellis Island on 1 October 1894.
On returning from Paris, Zeller spent several months working at the (then under-construction) Library of Congress Building in Washington DC. It is not known specifically what he worked on there.
On his return to Philadelphia, Zeller taught at the Spring Garden Institute from 1895 through 1899. This school was known for its education of technically talented individuals with practical skill training in addition to the fundamentals of a classical education.
During this period Zeller continued his sculpture work. In 1895 he worked with a team put together by Edward Maene to redesign the University of Pennsylvania Quadrangle Dormitories. Zeller carved a large percentage of the 69 grotesques at the second floor level. In 1897 he won a competition to create the bust of Judge Joseph Allison, which was placed in the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. In 1888-1889 Zeller created "The Last Supper," a high-relief marble background for the altar of the Episcopal Church of Fox Chase, Pennsylvania (now Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, Rockledge, Pennsylvania). He took charge of the sculptural detail for the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York in 1900-1901. In 1903-1904 he produced a colossal figure entitled Colorado for the St. Louis World's Fair. In that same year he also sculpted a bust of a popular entertainer and folk hero of the time, Captain Jack (John Wallace Crawford)
Carnegie (Pittsburgh) (1905-1918)
In 1905 Zeller moved with his family to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to take a position as the Curator of the Department of Sculpture at the Carnegie Institute (now the Carnegie Museum of Art). In September 1907, he also became a member of the Faculty of the Carnegie Technical Schools (now Carnegie Mellon University), teaching in the School of Applied Design as an instructor and then assistant professor of Architectural Sculpture. He continued to create a limited number of original pieces over these years, including several collaborative works with Francis Edwin Elwell, sculptor and former curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. He produced 2 vases for the State of Pennsylvania for the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.
Death (January 11, 1918)
Zeller died at his home at 411 Lloyd Street in Pittsburgh at age 54. The cause of death was listed as chronic myocarditis. From the Carnegie Newspaper, "Professor Zeller was one of the oldest members of the faculty, and universally well known and liked. His death came unexpectedly and was a blow to the whole school, which united in mourning for him." Friend and fellow Carnegie faculty member, Haniel Long, at this point a 29-year old poet and writer, read his newly-composed poem "To a Dead Sculptor" at Zeller's memorial service. Zeller was buried next to his mother and father at the Bordentown Cemetery.
1884 "Slaughter of the Innocent" This 4 foot white Cararra marble sculpture commemorated the massacre of infants ordered by King Herod when Jesus Christ was born and was carved to be placed on his mother's grave in Bordentown, New Jersey. Originally exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York City in 1884, Zeller won a $5000 prize for it. After the Exhibition, it was moved to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (1885-1896). It marked the grave of Zeller and his parents at the Bordentown, New Jersey Cemetery from 1918 to the 1970s when it was removed for fear of damage by vandals and weather issues. It was later displayed in a Bordentown bank lobby for a number of years. It currently is displayed at the St. Louis University Museum of Art .
1887 "Sherman's March through Georgia" bronze, location unknown
1888 "Edith" marble bust of a young girl in a lace dress, now in a private collection
1888 "96th Pennsylvania Infantry Monument at Gettysburg" a young prone soldier with a rifle in a defensive position, carved in granite. Located on the battlefield, south of Gettysburg on Wheatfield Road, just East of Crawford Avenue, near Little Round Top. (Google map: 39.796094 N, 77.237696 W).
1889"Bust of Benjamin W. Cummings" Marble bust of prominent Pottsville, Pennsylvania attorney. Location is unknown. No photo available.
1890 "Soldier and Sailors Memorial", A large granite bronze memorial with 4 standing soldiers near the base of a tall column which is topped with a large standing female figure, "Genius of Liberty" Located in Garfield Square, Pottsville, PA.
1897 "Bust of Judge Joseph Allison" 22 inch white Carrara marble bust: Allison was a judge of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas from 1851 until 1875. In the Collection of the Philadelphia Bar Association.
1899 "The Last Supper"A high relief marble sculpture behind the altar of the Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, Rockledge, PA
1904 "Colorado Monument" A colossal plaster statue located in the Colonnade of States at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. Lke all similar works, the statue was destroyed after the Fair ended.
1905 "Captain Jack, Poet Scout"24 inch bronze bust of John Wallace Crawford (American adventurer, author, and storyteller).In the collection of the Autry Museum of the American West, Los Angeles California
1907 "Cornice Sculptures "Greece" and "Rome"" carved in pink Tennessee marble for the then newly constructed , New York City (with Francis Edwin Elwell/ This building now houses the National Museum of the American Indian
1907 "Dispatch Rider of the American Revolution" 9 foot tall Bronze Statue which stands in the corner of the Old Burying Ground Cemetery in Orange, New Jersey. Zeller assisted Frank Edwin Elwell on this work.
1912 "Stephendes Pferd" 16.5 x 17.5 inch Bronze of a horse Private Collection