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Robert Merrell Gage

Abraham Lincoln by Robert Merrell Gage

Sculptor.  Born: December 26, 1892, Topeka, Kansas.  Died: October 30, 1981, Laguna Beach, Califfornia.

Gutzom Borglum, the man who carved the famous figures on Mount Rushmore, called Robert Merrell Gage "that steady-eyed young sculptor," and from those steady eyes came a vision of art that spoke of strong values, American values, Kansan values. An alumni of the most sophisticated art schools, Robert Merrell Gage turned for subject matter to the basics of American history, the stories of the western struggle, and the lives of heroes of the American soul.

Gage was born in 1892 in Topeka, and educated in the Topeka public schools and at Washburn College. He left Kansas after graduation to study sculpture with Borglum and Robert Henri, two exponents of the "American Theme" in art, in both New York and France.

Returning to Topeka in 1916, the young sculptor set up shop in a barn behind his house on Fillmore Street and began his first public commission, the magnificent statue of Lincoln that rests on the Kansas State Capitol grounds. Deeply impressed by the writings of Walt Whitman and the example of Abraham Lincoln, Gage portrayed and interpreted the freedom and dignity of the American experience through the medium of his art. After a stint in the armed services during World War I, Gage began a teaching career at Washburn and at the Kansas City Art Institute.

His interests were many and they were reflected in the materials he worked with—stone, wood, metal, and clay—as well as his favorite formats, which ranged from portraiture to architectural sculpture. His subjects consistently expressed major American themes. Among his better known works are his Pioneer Mother Memorial situated a short distance from his Lincoln statue at the Capitol, his busts of Walt Whitman and John Brown at the Mulvane Art Museum on the Washburn campus, his Police Memorial and Veterans' Fountain in Kansas City, and his History of California frieze in Beverly Hills. 

From 1924 until his retirement in 1958, Gage taught at the University of Southern California. The winner of many awards and honors, Gage left behind a large and excellent body of work when he died in 1981. Some have called him, and, indeed he was, "the American sculptor."

Entry: Gage, Robert Merrell

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 2004

Date Modified: January 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.