Better known for the buffalo nickel coin, he did large sculptures too

He, of course, was James Earle Fraser, the designer of the Indian Head or American Buffalo five-cent coin produced by the US Mint from 1913-1938.

In the 1930s, the architect of the new court building, Cass Gilbert, suggested the work of James Earle Fraser to the US Supreme Court Building Commission for two sculptures at the grand west entrance.

During the design process, Fraser wrote to Gilbert, “…the figures must have a meaning, and not be perfunctory and purely decorative, and after seeing the grandeur and simplicity of the Supreme Court room, I feel more than ever that the figures in front of it should symbolize that feeling and be a prelude to the spirit of the building.”

His two larger-than-life sculptures rest atop 50-ton marble blocks beside the steps that lead to the massive 17-foot high bronze doors.

On the left of the steps, Contemplation of Justice resides. Fraser described her as “a realistic conception of what I consider a heroic type of person with a head and body expressive of the beauty and intelligence of justice.”

The figure rests her left arm on a book of law while her right hand holds a small figure of Justice.

In his depiction, the small hand held Justice figurine wears a blindfold and clutches a set of scales in her arms.

On the right of the steps, a male figure, Authority of Law, resides. People also recognize this statue as the Guardian or Executor of Law.

Fraser described him as “powerful, erect, and vigilant. He waits with concentrated attention, holding in his left hand the tablet of laws, backed by the sheathed sword, symbolic of enforcement through law.”

On the tablet, Fraser inscribed LEX, the Latin word for “law.”

The Building Commission awarded the $90,000 contract for modeling and carving two statues to Fraser on June 20, 1932.

Fraser completed initial models in less than a year.

However, due to Fraser’s concerns about size and proper scale in relation to the building, he worked with full size models in front of the unfinished building.

Because of his preliminary onsite work, he did not finish placing the final statues until November 1935, a month after the official opening of the new Supreme Court Building.

Maybe he is better remembered for his buffalo nickel design, which can also be seen on the 2001 American Buffalo Silver Commemorative Dollar and on the gold bullion American Buffalo coins.

Certainly though, his work at the Supreme Court building shows his expertise with symbolism and beauty in the large marble statues.

Let’s remember Mr. Fraser, his American Buffalo five-cent nickel coin and his Supreme Court Building statues.

American Buffalo Nickel in front of the Supreme Court Building