1 Sculpture in Collection
(1904-1994) England / United States
Works in Public Collections
National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian, Washington, D.C; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
The Pursuit of Abstraction, Wolfsonian Art Museum, Miami, FL, 2017
Enid Bell: Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series 1987-1988, Douglass Library, Douglass College, Rutgers University, 1988
Enid Bell: Sculptures and Craft Illustrations, Leonia Public Library, New Jersey, 1983
Southern Connecticut State College exhibition, New Haven CT, 1966
Art Gallery exhibition, Illinois State Museum, Springfield, IL, 1957
Recent Work by Distinguished Sculptors, Brooklyn Museum, NY, 1951
Artists for Victory: An Exhibition of Contemporary American Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, 1942-43
Born 1904 London, England
Died 1994 Englewood, NJ
Enid Bell is a British born sculptor, author and teacher who spent most of her professional life in the United States. Bell worked in a number of mediums but is best known for her figurative carvings in wood. She executed many commissions for public works in libraries, hospitals, colleges and post offices throughout the U.S.
As a teenager Bell studied at Glasgow School of Art (1920-21) then at St. Johns Wood Art School in London (1921-22). The following year she was a private student of Sir William Reid Dick, a Scottish sculptor known for his monumental sculptures and stone busts. When Bell came to the U.S., she took classes at the Art Students League in New York. There she met painter Missak Palanchian who would become her husband.
Bell began to exhibit early in her life—showing 22 pieces in an exhibition at Feragil Galleries in New York in 1929 and 25 pieces at Arden Gallery in New York in 1934. The 1934 exhibition presented works in marble, wood and metal and included Cyclamen, the sculpture in the Jeri L. Wolfson Collection.
Throughout her career Bell experimented with different woods, working with exotics as well as pine and redwood. Bell scavenged wood from an array of places and was often given wood by fellow artists. In the mid 1930s she was given a piece of ebony which she used to carved a figure of a standing black man. The work won a gold medal in the American Art Exhibition at the Paris International Exposition in 1937. Cyclamen, the piece in the Wolfson Collection, was made from Japanese Lychee nut wood that she harvested from a tree in her garden during a long stay in Italy.
In 1932 Bell and Palanchian married and the couple occasionally exhibited together throughout their lives. In 1934 they had a son who was somewhat frail as a child, prompting Bell to move briefly to Sante Fe, New Mexico for the climate. During her life she traveled often, spending a great deal of time in Europe as well as Russia and Armenia.
During the Great Depression Bell, like many artists in the United States, was fortunate to be supported in her work by Roosevelt’s New Deal arts programs. The Works Project Administration (WPA) and the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP) commissioned artists to provide artistic embellishment for Federal buildings. Bell executed a number of commissions for these programs between 1934 and 1941. They include:
War (c. 1934) A terracotta relief panel of a gas-masked soldier holding a naked boy, location unknown
Football Tackle (c. 1937) A three-dimensional terracotta sculpture of football players tumbled together on the playing field, location unknown
Morning Mail (c. 1937) A whitewood carved relief panel depicting a woman and child mailing a letter, installed at the Boonton, New Jersey Post Office
The Post Office (c. 1937) A relief pine wood panel depicting well-dressed women and men exchanging envelopes, a child petting a cat and a parcel on a post office desktop, installed in the Mt. Holly, New Jersey Post Office
Music and Science (c. 1938) Two relief panels of carved white mahogany that show men playing instruments and men and women with scientific instruments, installed in the Union City Public Library, 15th St. Branch, New Jersey
On the Range (c. 1941) A pine cut-out panel depicting a steer, horses and cowboys resting and playing music, installed at Hereford, Texas Post Office (now in Deaf Smith Historical Museum)
Portrait of Erasmus (c. 1936) A panel of white mahogany showing the Catholic theologian and philosopher at his desk writing, location unknown
Boy and Girl reading (c. 1936-39) A freestanding cast stone sculpture of a girl and boy reading, installed in the Union City Public Library garden, 43rd St. Branch, New Jersey
Bird Bath (c. 1937) A cast stone bird perched on the side of a carved bath for the garden at Union City Public Library 43rd St. Branch, New Jersey
In 1940 Bell was asked to serve as the Sculpture Supervisor for the New Jersey Arts and Crafts Project for the WPA. A natural teacher, she also wrote articles for National Sculpture Review and American Artist magazine as well as authoring a book on wood craft. In 1944 Bell accepted a position teaching sculpture at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art. She held that position until 1968. While she was teaching, she continued to execute commissions, completing works for the Hoboken Public Library, Beth Israel Hospital and the Newark Board of Education. She also designed a Congressional Medal of Honor for Lincoln Ellsworth in recognition of his 1925 and 1926 polar flights.
Bell’s small scale sculptures as well as her public commissions generally consisted of human figures engaged in daily activity or classic poses. Her reliefs were realistic images of one or two people—often women and children. She also did the occasional piece that was wholly abstract as well as plant or bird images. Cyclamen is one of Bell’s botanical pieces. The carved form shows the leaves and its flowers in the posture of unfurling. The warm color of the wood and the deeply carved curves of the leaves and blooms is inviting and suggests an object in motion rather than stasis.
Bell was committed to creating intimate works that would be viewed from all sides. She sculpted with the knowledge that curves would capture light and shadow, animating the work. During interviews Bell said she understood people responded to monumental sculpture but she wanted to work on a more human scale and produce pieces that people could live with in their homes.
In an article Bell wrote in American Artist magazine in 1965 (My Wood Sculpture by Enid Bell) she outlines her approach as careful, deliberate and very conscious of the material’s properties. More often than not she would first create a small maquette out of clay or plasticine where she would work through the form’s contours and masses. In an interview from 1941 (From Ebony, Cherry Wood, Orange Wood, Pine, The Santa Fean newspaper) Bell articulates her motivation which did not waver during her lifetime: I am interested in creating forms that express a mood, an emotion, some inner concentration of harmony which produces its own necessary rhythm and relation of parts. While Enid Bell was enormously productive as an artist and an educator during her lifetime she is not widely known or collected today. Fortunately, many of her commissioned works remain intact and accessible.