Woodmen Accident and Life Insurance Company (1953-1955)
1526 K Street, Lincoln, Nebraska
Martin Aitken of David & Wilson, architect
Lawrence Tenney Stevens and Erwin Goeller, sculptors
medium: Indiana limestone
The Protecting Hand!
Part of the story is the location, across the street from the State Capitol, a location that demanded a strong hand. And part of the story is Lawrence Tenney Stevens.
This is a large (27 by 16 ) heavy (200 tons) limestone group for an insurance company. Six family members are nestled in a giant palm. Their nude state was a local problem, and skillfully implied drapery was the solution. Erwin Goeller assisted Stevens in moving this vast amount of stone. Thirty years before, Goeller had worked with Lee Lawrie across the street.
Stevens posed his own four children here. The father was Doug Henson, bodybuilder, Tulsa policeman, and according to one source, the 1952 Mr. America. (That, unfortunately, doesn’t prove out.)
The non-integrated placement of the sculpture on a blank facade is typical of the time, but the human figures, the skilled technical execution and the faint air of comedy here are not typical. Attribute these to Lawrence Tenney Stevens.
Stevens never had shortage of talent. Born in Massachusetts in 1896, in 1922 he was awarded the Prix de Rome, allowing study in Europe and Egypt with Paul Manship. Stevens thought big and foresaw a thoroughly American style but on returning he could not get commissions; he came to Wyoming then Tulsa and Tempe Arizona. His best-known work is the incomparably strange six-animal composite “Woofus” at the 1936 Dallas World’s Fair. Towards the end of his life he cultivated strong political opinions and an old-testament beard.
As to the similarity of Stevens’ style with 1930s fascism, the comparison would have made him furious. In reference to another piece, the architectural historian David Gebhard wrote, “… done by Stevens in the heroic style often associated with Nazi art. Remember that this style was not the product of dictatorship (although Mussolini and Hitler went for it) but a more general movement in the history of taste not completely analyzed.” That’s exactly right.