First there was the Classical Artist. He carved flawless statues of gods and maidens. He created stunning mosaics that survived the ages. But we don’t know who he was. He didn’t get to carve whatever he wished. A skilled laborer. Perhaps, even a slave.

Then there was the Medieval Artist, with his guilds and gold leaf. He was a skilled craftsman, for sure. But not a gentleman. The work was still anonymous, but at least he was a free man.

Renaissance Artist, now there’s someone you know. DaVinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Tintoretto. No longer nameless if famous. Art means wealth. Wealth means Power. Artist can be a great person. Entertained at Court. Respected, if appropriate.

The Court Artist filled a need. Rulers need to have images of themselves. To impress. To celebrate. To inspire. The Artist has contact to the sovereign. He is a courtier. In the social circle near greatness. He better do a good job.

Much like the Court Artist, the Society Artist paints the rulers of the business world. Millionaires. To make them look good. The moneyed class with class. He too better do a good job.

Then there’s the Artist who is part of Society. He paints, he sails, he sculpts, he summers, he exhibits, he hobnobs. Summers in the mountains and at the sea. Winters in fancy suburban neighborhoods. A spread on his place in House & Garden. He paints when he wants. Does a mural, joins a society, draws a map, follows his fancy.

This is a complicated bird. Less predictable. More likely to try another medium, a different subject, or pursue another interest. This is the story of one such artist known as Fred Dana Marsh.


His story starts in Chicago, just a year after the Great Fire. A time of rebirth and rebuilding. His father was a commission man at the legendary Union Stockyards.

A “commission man” was an individual who provided a vital service for the cattlemen by facilitating the sale to the slaughter and packing houses. Commission men not only possessed a thorough knowledge of the value of the cattle, but were highly skilled in the art of bargaining as well. Most importantly, perhaps, they knew which buyers were paying the highest prices. Mr. James Bacon Marsh was evidently, quite skilled. Not long after the birth of his son, Frederick Dana on April 6, 1872, he was able to move the family from 1329 Michigan Avenue, a few blocks north to 3428. It was a neighborhood of three-story stone houses. And more importantly, perhaps, it was to the north and east of the Stockyards; closer to the breezes off Lake Michigan than those from 475 acres of livestock. And his offices in the Exchange Building (Number 60 and later 95) at the “Yards” were just a short carriage ride away.

We don’t know anything about young Frederick Dana’s home life, but Chicago of that period was as exuberant as anywhere on Earth. Not only was the city rapidly being rebuilt after the Fire, but it’s role as the “City of big shoulders” and “Hog butcher for the world,” was not just growing, it was exploding. A hubbub of innovation in architecture, transportation, business, and much more.

Union Stockyards gate designed by Daniel Burnham

It was an exciting time in Chicago and likely the Marshes participated. While not yet “high society” they prospered. Fred attended a technical school and at age 16, his father brought him into the business.

It apparently did not take long to discover that Fred had no appetite for selling livestock and little knack for business. He did, however, like to draw and made sketches in the office.  He sold one of the drawings for $5 to the Drover's Journal (stockyard publication).  "That's more than you're worth as a bookkeeper," remarked the elder Marsh.  Soon he began attending classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he studied with John LaFarge.

Like a good father, James expected Fred to help with his expenses, so in 1892 he took jobs after classes with well-known artists who were creating murals for the Chicago World's Fair.

Known as the Colombian Exposition, the Fair was the ideal environment for an aspiring young artist. All of the most famous architects, designers, and mural painters were hard at work creating the most spectacular spectacle the world had ever scene. “The White City” built on the shore of Lake Michigan was a fantasy of exotic vistas at every turn. Building after building painted brilliant white, each filled with the latest and most unusual the world had to offer. A lacework of canals filled with an armada of boats carrying millions of visitors to and fro. The great Wheel of George Ferris anchored the mile-long Midway and the list of “firsts” would make your head spin.

While Daniel Burnham oversaw the design and construction of the Fair, and Frederick Law Olmsted did the layout and landscaping, decorations were directed by Francis Davis Millet. A good mural can decorate, educate, and inspire, and so an army of mural painters were needed to adorn the 200 buildings.

Edwin Howland Blashfield was most sought after. There were also James Carroll Beckwith, Edgar Cameron, Kenyon Cox, William de Leftwich Dodge, Lawrence Carmichael Earle, Oliver Dennett Grover, Jules Vallée Guérin, , Robert Reid, and more. Louise Abbema and Louise Bagillot van Parys were two of the artists to do murals in the Woman’s Building. It was a good place for a young artist to learn the bold brush strokes and color balances of mural techniques.

These photos are from the Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival Collection:


After the Fair all the air went out of the Windy City and it was time for Fred to leave home. He made New York his destination, though he did not stay long.  The following year, 1895, his father took him to Paris.

Ah! To be twenty-three and in La Belle Époque Paris. Not only the cultural center of the Universe, it was an enormous celebration of life. In 1895 les frères Lumière were creating and showing their motion pictures. And there was a great auto show, and a race from Paris to Bordeaux and back. (It was, naturally, the first real car race: 732 miles in 49 hours.) Alphonse Mucha did his first poster of Sarah Bernhardt in Gismonda, and on and on. Only superlatives are used when referring to Le Belle Époque.

The Art Nouveau architecture was splendid, sensual, and ever-present. And there was so much Art, one didn’t know which way to turn to experience it all. It was a time between the Old and the New.  Even between the Impressionists and the Modernists. Between the Barbizon School and the Paris School.

It was time for Expressionism. With shades of Fauvism and a touch of Symbolism. Wedged in between Impressionism and Post-Impressionism or even Neo-Impressionism. It was the new Avant Garde. More than just an artistic label, it was a cultural movement, as a frenzy of artists, poets, and others went to Paris, seeking to express the meaning of being alive at the turn of the century. The Paris Salons of the Académie des Beaux-Arts – or just Le Salon, sil vous plait - were bursting with Art and Patrons. It was the greatest Art event in the Western world.

High in the 18th Arrondissement, in the shadow of Sacré-Cœur, Montmartre was the epicenter of all things Arty and Absinthe since the mid-19th century. The definition of Bohemian lifestyle. Home of: Camille Pissarro, Henri Matisse, André Derain, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Maurice Utrillo (born and died there), Salvatore Dali, Amedeo Modigliani, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Claude Monet, and Vincent Van Gogh. Oh yes, and Édouard Manet, Camille Corot, Paul Cézanne, Auguste Rodin, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and others. The interaction among artists was extraordinary. For example, it was here that Picasso met George Braque and gave birth to Cubism.

And while Toulouse-Lautrec and a few reluctant Bohemians continued to haunt Montmartre, this next wave of artistic fervor was centered on the other side of the Seine in Montparnasse of the14th Arrondissement

Pablo Picasso frequented both Montmartre and Montparnasse, along with Guillaume Apollinaire, Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie, Marc Chagall, Fernand Leger, Gertrude Stein, Jacques Lipchitz, Max Jacob Chaim Soutine, Jacques Villon, Ezra Pound, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Henri Rousseau, Constantin Brancusi, Juan Gris, Diego Rivera, Alberto Giacometti, Salvador Dali, Henry Miller, Samuel Becket, Joan Miro and in his declining years, Edgar Degas.

Just a couple of kilometers from the left bank of the Seine, Montparnasse, attracted countless virtually penniless artists from every corner of the world. The above are just a few. There is a story that says when Tsuguharu Foujita arrived in Montparnasse from Japan in 1913 not knowing a soul, he met Soutine, Modigliani, Pascin and Leger virtually the same night and within a week became friends with Juan Gris, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.

Fred Dana Marsh

After convincing his father to let him stay on, young Fred Dana Marsh was eager to leap into the artistic fray. It has been said that his independent attitude toward the pursuit of Art led him to avoid workshop study, but he did study with Jean Paul Laurens.  Other than painting portraits of wealthy Americans in the city, we do not, in fact, know what he did in Paris, except:

1) He married Alice Randall from Coldwater, Michigan. A miniaturist who also studied at Art Institute of Chicago, she was then studying with James MacNeill Whistler, Luc Olivier Merson, and Fred MacMonnies. Alice showed a painting at Le Salon of 1895. It was entitled, Interior of Chapel at Crecy-en-Brie.

By Alice Randall

2) Fred also exhibited at Le Salon.  His first entry, which to the astonishment of his friends, had murder as its theme.  But his A Lady in Scarlet, was accepted.  The painting was a full-length (77” x 51”) portrait of his new wife in vivid and luminous red. He also showed it at the Paris Exposition where he received a Bronze Medal. Another piece was entered as a decorative composition called Fantaisie, representing a group of six women.  Marsh laughed when he related how while delivering his painting which had been accepted, he passed a dejected Andre Derain, whose work was rejected.

3) He and Alice gave birth to three sons, James Randall in 1897, Reginald on March 14, 1898, and Dana, the youngest at an unknown date, at 108 Boulevard du Montparnasse, above Le Dome Cafe.

Fred and baby James.

The other thing we know, is that Fred Dana Marsh and family returned to New York in 1900.


During his turn-of-the-century Paris sojourn, Marsh painted the elegant life of the city, focusing particularly on young women. When he returned to the United States, his subject matter changed to the American scene:

"I was impressed by the sight of brawny workmen swinging out on girders and riveting the lacy skeletons of the earliest skyscrapers on lower Manhattan."

Pennsylvania R.R. N.Y. Foundations by Fred Dana Marsh, circa 1905

Marsh told the  story about when he was making a drawing of the riveters who were fastening the last span of the Williamsburg Bridge.  The temperature was below zero and the men frantically working in the cold for only ten minutes at a time.  The foreman warned him to stay out of the way, but Fred crawled out on the girder to get closer to his subject.  When a riveter had to brush closely to him on his way to warm up.  Seeing this as a problem, one of the workers threw a wrench at Fred, which he was able to dodge, but watched the tool plummet into the East River far below.

It was an exuberant America. And it was felt by many that the country had arrived at a stage of culture sufficiently advanced to demand something special in the decoration of both public and private buildings. It should seem to flow naturally from the character of the building and have a certain relation to the human associations involved. Fred Marsh agreed.  He began painting a variety of works for placement in public buildings and private homes.
 The above are from the Frederick Dana Marsh papers,
Archive & Special Collections, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


The Marshes settled in Nutley, New Jersey, just thirteen miles from Manhattan. A pretty town bisected by the Third River, it had already become a Mecca for artists. They moved into No.16, The Enclosure, previously inhabited by the painter Frank Fowler (he did the ceiling frescoes in the old Waldorf-Astoria ballroom). The house would later be the home of the WPA muralist Michael Lenson.

Fred became known for his murals and bold brush work. He typically focused on traditional topics and did paintings for wealthy clients. There were murals for the Hudson River Lines and the Grosse Point (MI) Country Club, as well as other businesses and institutions.

Barback at Country Club of Detroit
 from the Frederick Dana Marsh papers,
Archive & Special Collections, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

He also made pictorial maps and small murals for John D. Rockefeller, Jr., William Rockefeller, E. H. Hutton, Herbert Pratt, and other millionaires.

Automobile Club of America office
 from the Frederick Dana Marsh papers,
Archive & Special Collections, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

At what some considered the young age of thirty, Fred was elected a member of the Society of American Artists. And while the Society was founded by artists like Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Louis Comfort Tiffany for those dissatisfied with the National Academy of Design, in 1906 the two organizations merged. This automatically made Fred an associate of the Academy. There was a tradition where new members presented a portrait of themselves to the Academy. FDM obliged by offered a painting by Charles Webster Hawthorne. He also joined the New York Architectural League, and served two terms as vice president. Marsh was also in the National Society of Mural Painters.

by Edmund Thomas Quinn (who later drowned himself)
 from the Frederick Dana Marsh papers,
Archive & Special Collections, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

He received a Silver Medal for either his In the Boudoir or Offering to Venus at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, 1901 (both were entered), along with Mary Cassatt. Gold Medals went to Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, James Whistler and Cecilia Beaux. Albert Sterner entered his portrait of Marsh. In 1904 Fred won a Bronze Medal at St. Louis’ Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

by Albert Stenner

Marsh did a series of murals entitled Allegories of Industry for the New York Engineering Society Library in 1907. The Engineers Club was just built at 32 West Fortieth Street by Andrew Carnegie. It had fifty feet of frontage facing Bryant Park and the new public library.

The Riveters (RPI Special Collections)

“It is my object then to depict the noble side of modern industry,” he wrote in an undated letter, “to emulate the efforts of the real workers, the investors, the engineers, the electricians, the great army of toilers – to express in ‘lofty allegory’ the drama of modern life.”

Also that year, Fred began summering at the fashionable resort of Sakonnet, Rhode Island, on the eastern tip of Narragansett Bay. He became an avid yachtsman and built this house at 4 Minnesota Road for his family:

from the Little Compton Historical Society
By Fred Dana Marsh

Slipping back into his artist persona, he exhibited at the twenty-sixth annual exhibition of the Architecture League of New York in 1911.
“Among the best of the mural designs is Engineering by Frederick Dana Marsh, a representation of laborers working on a rocky height above a city whose towers and smoking chimneys afford a pleasing break of delicate color in the somewhat heavy tone of the foreground.”

 from the Frederick Dana Marsh papers,
Archive & Special Collections, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

“A more salient and original decoration with the very excellent quality of coherence is the Engineering panel by Frederick Dana Marsh. The motto at the top defines engineering as “the art of organizing and directing men and of controlling the forces and materials of nature for the benefit of the human race.” Laborers and scientists are represented as working on a rocky height above a city, the towers and steaming chimneys of which afford a pleasant break of delicate color in the rather heavy tone of the foreground.”
While the mural, which was glued to the walls of the Engineering Society building, was destroyed, it had been photographed and distributed to schools and libraries across the country.

The luxurious McAlpin Hotel was built in 1913 on Herald Square (Broadway at 34th). The largest in New York City. Marsh was commissioned to do a series of murals for the Rathskeller restaurant.

Utilizing a favorite subject (boats), he created six 8-foot tall lunettes illustrating the naval history of New York Harbor. One depicted Native Americans paddling canoes out to greet a ship. Others featured pilgrims landing on the shore, Henry Hudson’s Half Moon, a British warship firing on New York, Robert Fulton’s Clermont, and a tug leading a luxury liner with a contemporary (for 1913) city skyline behind it.

The murals were transferred to terracotta tiles (made on Staten Island) and installed in the basement restaurant. (There were actually twenty murals with the original six being repeated.) The popular eatery became so associated with the murals that it was soon renamed the Marine Grill.

Also in 1913, the Carroll Art Galleries presented an exhibition of his paintings and sketches.


The Marshes moved to New Rochelle, in New York’s affluent Westchester County, the following year. He had a house built by Henry G. Morse at 56 Avon Road in Wykagyl Park, next to the country club. New Rochelle was no stranger to resident artists having had neighbors such as: Norman Rockwell and Frederic Remington, so the Marshes fit right in. The February 1918 issue of House & Garden magazine featured their home. That’s Frederick Dana Marsh, Esquire.

Marsh was very active in the local art scene.  He and Alice were members of the New Rochelle Art Association and showed their art often.  Beginning in 1920 he served as president.  It was Fred who placed the tarp over Frederick MacMonnies sculpture of Venus and Adonis (below), which the Association was exhibiting, when it created a scandal in New Rochelle in 1923.

During World War I (1914-18), Fred produced patriotic posters for the publicity department of the Navy.
The troopship U.S.S. President Lincoln sank on May 31, 1918, just months before the end of the War. Interestingly the ship was a former German ocean liner (both biggest cargo ship and emigrant carrier in the world). It was seized at the beginning of the War by the U.S. government and used as a troop carrier. Fred Marsh painted The Sinking of the USS President Lincoln on 31st May 1918 in 1920.

In the jury that year, for the 35th Annual Exhibition of the Architectural League show, was Fred Dana Marsh, along with Frederick Law Olmsted and Frederick MacMonnies.

There was another interesting project in which Marsh participated during the 1920s. Following a suggestion from James Marsh, the New Rochelle Art Association commissioned ten signs constructed of iron (by James) and hand-painted by well-known artists including several who lived in and around New Rochelle. The City erected the signs on major roadways to mark its borders with the Village of Pelham Manor, the Village of Pelham, Mamaroneck and Scarsdale.

This, naturally, included New Rochelle resident Fred Dana Marsh. His sign depicted the Huguenot Ship, La Rochelle and was installed on Shore Road, just north of the intersection with Pelhamdale Avenue. Settled in 1688 by the Huguenots of New Rochelle was the sign done by his son James. It depicts a ship with a Huguenot church nearby. That sign is located at Wilmot Road in Heathcote at the Scarsdale Village Limits.  Others were done by Norman Rockwell, Remington Schuyler, Cole Phillips and Clare Biggs.

The City also produced a pamphlet called Facts About New Rochelle employing local artists. Fred did a pictorial map for the frontispiece: Queen City of the Sound. Other artists contributing to this piece were: Coles Phillips, Norman Rockwell, and Frank Leyendecker.

Son James, who had his own house in New Rochelle, married Anne Steele in 1925. She was born in Nutley, New Jersey, the daughter of noted illustrator, Frederic Dorr Steele (best known for his Sherlock Holmes pictures.) They moved to Essex Fells, NJ to start a family.  He designed fine wrought iron fixtures, while she did printmaking, painting and crafts.

To Jack from Father
 from the Frederick Dana Marsh papers,
Archive & Special Collections, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

A "short subject" entitled, Interesting People - A Master of Murals, artist Fred Dana Marsh, was filmed in 1928. He was an artist people wanted to know about.
“Among New York’s most interesting studios is that of Fred Dana Marsh, one of America’s leading mural painters.
“Although his creations are designed to enliven lofty domes and high-walled rooms, his habit is to paint them on the floor.”
The film goes on to tell us that his pet hobby was making puppets of characters like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, William S. Hart, and Theda Bara. Fred liked all sorts of things and was always making small models of wax, or creating miniature theatres. One report said he built his own technologically advanced phonograph in 1910.

toy Teddy


Then in 1928 Fred retired from commercial art, though there is no evidence of an active business, perse. His parents had retired from Chicago, finding Deland, Florida to their liking. They had a house on Marsh Street. Fred visited and was soon taken with the area and its history. He did drawings of Timucua Indian chief Macaya in 1928.

Alice died suddenly while in Italy on October 24, 1829.  They were apparently vacationing in Rome when her appendix burst.  She died from the ensuing peritonitis. That was five days before the stock market crashed.  Both of his parents died earlier that year, as well as his youngest son Dana.  The later in a swimming pool accident.

That's Dana in the middle (James on the left and Reginald on right).

Fred married Mabel Van Alstyne, who lived at 504 Pelham Road in New Rochelle, on November 29, 1930 at the Little Chapel Around the Corner. They were said to have developed an “artistic relationship.”

In 1930 he sold his parents house for a "good price" and moved to Ormond Beach, Florida.  A playground for wintering Society since John D. Rockefeller first began going in 1914, the wide, hard-packed beaches were the site of some of the first car races in this country.  Thus Ormond Beach acquired the nickname, “Birthplace of Speed.”

Marsh hired an open cockpit bi-plane, with pilot, to fly him low over the Ormond Beach dunes until he chose the site for his future home: 307 Ocean Boulevard. He designed, with architect Albert Pierce; a large Streamline Moderne beachside home sprawled over three lots.  It became known as the "Battleship," and was considered the first modernistic house in Florida.

According to Fred's brief autobiographical notes, which he wrote in 1957, he bought the property "for a song.  Labor was thirty-five cents an hour, so I plunged in ... The 'across-the-way' golfers (members of the Oceanside Country Club) wanted to drown me."

 from the Frederick Dana Marsh papers,
Archive & Special Collections, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The low profile of the 4,500 square-foot concrete structure helped evoke the image of a great warboat. The flat roof of the first floor making the main deck, the second floor, rising in the center like a bridge. Huge and streamlined in the best Art Deco style.

Its soaring turret-tower became a local landmark leading guests into an entry that Marsh decorated with murals and low-relief sculptures of Florida natives.

A floor-to-ceiling mural in entry hall, The Conquest of Florida, greeted visitors to the Marsh home, which was designed to display his artwork. There was also a black dining room and an open-air atrium with a stunning floor.

from the Frederick Dana Marsh papers,
Archive & Special Collections, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

There were fourteen rooms on the ground floor. A narrow stairway lined with artwork of Native Americans spearing alligators and of a gold dolphin led to the second story. A mural map of Florida encompassed the entire south wall of the foyer.

Fred with Cactus Girl

Marsh once wrote, “I planned to proceed with all the newest materials at hand, experimental included, and not to build solely as a housing proposition, but a building of some visual significance; yet not just a museum.”

Against the back wall of the patio were two tall wooden sculptures, The Snakes and the Wildcat and The Shrimp and the Mermaid. On the south end of the patio was Marsh’s 20 x 30 foot studio. And there are several references to the carousel horses that the Marshes pulled from the local dump. They were painted white, and set up in the backyard.  Designs came from the sea, the air, the land, the legends.

There was also a residence for Mabel's sister, Dr. Eleanor Van Alstyne.


Marsh participated in community life and in 1938 donated his personally designed and specially built roadster to the Ormond Beach fire department because he felt they had a need for such a vehicle.  They attended the Beaux Ball, with Fred wearing a specially designed cape:

In the summer of 1932, Fred and Mabel arrived in Boothbay Harbor, Maine and immediately fell in love with the region.  While they stayed at the harbor-front Tinker Tavern, they looked at a few properties, before discovering Sawyer Island which lay just off shore.  It was covered with scrub, old fish houses, a wrecked scow, useless iron tanks, and various odds and ends.  After making the purchase (also "for a song), they immediately set about transforming the island into their own little Paradise.

The largest of the buildings was remodeled to serve as their residence and studio, while the fish sheds had to be torn down.  In their place a bungalow was built, at the edge of the old wharf, for Dr. Van Alstyne.  The old scow was converted into servants' quarters.  The shoreline was cleared, lawns were installed, as well as a seventy-two foot flag pole and a saltwater swimming pool.

 The above are from the Frederick Dana Marsh papers,
Archive & Special Collections, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Work continued each summer.  A lighthouse was erected overlooking the harbor, which became Fred's studio.  It had a 500 watt light which was used by boaters as a guide.  Carousel horses and cannons were also installed, giving the place the inimitable Fred Marsh look of whimsey.  It was later referred to on U.S. Government charts as "Marsh Island."

Apparently two residences was not sufficient, as the Marshes also had a home in the well-known artists' colony of Woodstock, New York.  Dr. Van Alstyne joined them there as well.  

Marsh continued to work, not able to completely “retire.”  In 1946 he illustrated R.O. Hughes’ book, The Making of Our United States for Allyn and Bacon. He did The Making of Today’s World in 1950.

Middle son Reginald died of a heart attack on July 3, 1954. Much has been written about Reginald Marsh and his paintings of people and places in New York City. Vaudeville, nightclubs, burlesque, and Coney Island were favorite haunts. Marsh was a free-lance illustrator for Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, The New Yorker, Esquire and many other national magazines.  An artist driven, he always had his sketchpad out.   He was part of the coterie of realist artists that became known as the Fourteenth Street School, and he received numerous awards. The Whitney Museum did a Reginald Marsh Retrospective Exhibition in 1955.

Reginald Marsh' s George C Tilyou's Steeplechase Park, 1936, Hirshorn

Reginald and his childhood friend (and biographer) Lloyd Goodrich, characterized Fred Marsh as a man of too many talents who never realized his potential as a painter. They claimed he was disillusioned with his career, and so turned to amateur inventing and architectural projects. Reginald felt that Fred discouraged his son from becoming a professional artist. By contrast, Marsh's mother, Alice Randall, enthusiastically supported her son's career choice. Yet many of Fred’s favorite subjects: carousel horses, trains, people at work, were specialties of Reginald’s.

Rising from the point where the Halifax meets the Tomoka River in Ormond Beach; where fishermen using nets or poles catch a variety of fish; is Fred Dana Marsh’s 40-foot tall sculpture, Chief Tomokie.  Built in 1955 using cement, bamboo, and other materials, the monumental artwork represented the climatic moment of a legend.

That's Fred on the ladder

According to Marie E. Boyd's transcript of the ancient myth, the Timucua regarded a particular spring as sacred and the people were forbidden to drink from it. They believed that every evening the Great Spirit came to sip the cool water from this spring.

Tomokie, a chief of great stature, did not share in this belief so one day he drank from the spring, defiling it. The others were incensed and war broke out. The water, however, seemed to have made Tomokie invincible. During the battle, Tomokie appeared to be immune to the warriors’ weapons, though every arrow was pointed at him.

Suddenly, Oleeta, a beautiful warrior princess, sprang out, drew back her bow, and slew the giant.

 Marsh bonded porous rock with cement to capture this moment. The skin was made with burnt red clay from the Tomoka River. Bamboo was used at points of stress and strain. He donated all his work and the state park put up around $10,000 for materials. A reflecting pool was added in 1956 and it was officially dedicated in 1957.

Chief Tomokie and Fred Dana Marsh
He also did sculptures of Native Americans for the Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach.  And then, Frederick Dana Marsh died on December 20, 1961.

 The above are from the Frederick Dana Marsh papers,
Archive & Special Collections, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
"Unlike most artists of today, when pressure groups are strong, I seem to have slipped between the inventive, who are super-conscious, and the imaginative, or objective, who furnish the romantic trend of expression.

Having subconsciously wobbled between the two - taking a bit perhaps from one, then another - I have developed no individual or personal style, thereby missing the road to publicity, or identity.

All trends and schools excite me and, being commercially free at this stage, I have probably scattered - but hope not wasted - my efforts.  At least I can say I have not copied any individual or group as far as I know."

Fred Dana Marsh

Time erodes the legacy.

The big problem with mural art is that when the wall on which the mural is affixed has to come down, it usually marks the end of the mural. In the case of Fred Dana Marsh’s tile murals in the Hotel McAlpin, there is a happy ending.

In 1990, when the restaurant space was taken over by a Gap franchise those murals were headed for the trash bin. Susan Tunick, president of Friends of Terra Cotta, spotted the dumpsters outside the hotel filled with fragments from the murals and began a desperate attempt to save them. Rescue efforts were eventually successful.

While the workers managed to remove most of the remaining ceramic tiles without breaking them, they simply piled them at random in two-dozen crates. Metropolitan Transit Authority had the crates delivered to a bus garage with some free floorspace, and a group of college interns working under Vel Riberto of the M.T.A. Arts for Transit Program spent their summer sorting them all out. The tiles were then turned over for conservation and finally installed in the Broadway/Nassau Station on the A-line subway in 2000.

Other monuments to Fred Marsh did not fare so well.

Upon his death, a museum for some of his works was established in Tomoka State Park, near the Chief. It contained paintings, drawings, sculptures, and artifacts from The Battleship that were donated by his late wife. The museum was listed in tourism guides around the world, leading Art Lovers to Ormond Beach. There was, however, no air and humidity control nor quality lighting. So in 1996 a campaign to update and expand the museum was undertaken. It met with no success. The museum was closed due to lack of operating funds and the collection was sent to the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami..

Marsh’s home in Ormond Beach, The Battleship, was purchased by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 1971 and used as the President’s home until 1995. As such, Marsh’s Art-Deco gallery/home hosted many celebrities. In the mid-90s it was sold again and then, sadly, demolished in 1996.

After years under the Florida sun, the Chief Tomokie Monument began to deteriorate. In 1998 the University of Pennsylvania Architectural Conservation Laboratory undertook a project to stabilize the sculpture. A valiant effort, but the Chief continues to get worse. The reflecting pool is closed.

Thanks for helping:

Joe Isaacs - Tomoka State Park, Ormond Beach, FL
John F. Dojka - Archives & Special Collections, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
Barbara Davis - New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY
Betsy Spekke - Boothbay Region Historical Society, Boothbay Harbor, ME
Little Compton Historical Society