RARE FELIX WEHLS DE WELDON (AUSTRIAN-AMERICAN, 1907-2003) BRONZE JOHN GLENN AEROSPACE MEDAL WITH SIGNED LETTER, signed in mold, retaining original burnished gilt surface, commemorating Glenn's successful orbital of Feb. 20, 1962. Together with a photo of the presentation ceremony where Glenn receives his gold version of the present medal, and a 2003 three-page, hand-written note on United States Senate letterhead from then-Senator Glenn to the recently widowed Mrs. De Weldon, which describes, in part, that Glenn had "several sessions with [De Weldon] in the studio - which was as new an experience for me as the space flight had been." Three pieces total. Medal 1962. Medal 7" D.
Catalogue Note: Felix Wehls de Weldon (1907-2003) was one of the most important American sculptors of the 20th century. Over the course of his distinguished career, he produced more than 1,200 sculptures, examples of which are displayed on every continent, including Antarctica. Specializing in large scale public monuments, De Weldon is perhaps best known for the Marine Corps Memorial near Arlington Cemetery, which depicts the iconic photographic image of Marines raising the American flag on Iwo Jima. In addition to working on grand public projects, De Weldon also accepted commissions for individual busts and medallions, working with many of the most influential figures of the mid 20th century, including Sam Rayburn, John Glenn, and Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson.
Born in Vienna, Austria, De Weldon showed artistic promise at an early age when he drew critical acclaim for a bronze bust he created as a teenager. After receiving degrees in both art and architecture from the University of Vienna, De Weldon traveled through France, Spain, and Italy while working and studying, and eventually settled down in London, where he opened a studio. In England, De Weldon quickly established himself among the country's political elite as a premier portrait sculptor, taking on commissions from members of the Royal Family, including George V. In 1937, De Weldon traveled to North America, where he completed a bust of Canadian Prime Minister MacKenzie King before crossing into the United States and embarking on an epic road-trip that took the artist through 44 of 48 states. According to a 1963 interview with the Truman Library, it was during this period that De Weldon, drawn to what he called the nation's "tremendous vitality", decided to settle in the United States permanently. With the outbreak of World War II, De Weldon enlisted in the United States Navy, where he served, primarily, as an official artist, often working on private commissions for portrait busts of various admirals and other leading figures in the military. At the conclusion of the war in 1945, De Weldon was selected to design and erect a public monument depicting the scene in Joe Rosenthal's famous war-time photograph from the fighting on Iwo Jima, which captures four Marines struggling to raise an American flag on the battlefield of Mount Suribachi. Once completed, the 200-ton bronze monument, known as the Marine Corps Memorial, was immediately received with public acclaim and now resides near Arlington Cemetery.
Now firmly ensconced as the leading sculptor among Washington's elite, de Weldon was commissioned to create a portrait bust of President Truman following the 1948 election (an original plaster maquette of this bust is in the current sale), and the artist's national and international reputation continued to grow rapidly as a result. Over the next fifteen years, De Weldon worked feverishly on public monuments and private commissions, all while serving on the United States Commission of Fine Art, which oversaw such monumental projects under the Truman Administration as the renovation of the White House and the Captitol Building. In the early 1960's, he was also commissioned by the Greek government to create a large public bronze statue of President Harry S. Truman in recognition of his support for the Greece under the Truman Doctrine. A plaster maquette in the current sale is likely an original model used in the execution of that statue, which still stands in Athens today.
In the spring of 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy asked De Weldon to create a bronze portrait bust of her husband, and De Weldon complied, visiting the White House on two separate occasions for sittings with President Kennedy. As the bust was nearing completion, the President was tragically assassinated, and it would be several months before Mrs. Kennedy would return to the task of overseeing the production of her martyred husband's sculptural likeness. So taken with De Weldon's work, Mrs. Kennedy wrote to the artist in June of 1964 expressing her admiration: "I do want to tell you how pleased I am with your bust of the President, and when it is placed in the Library, I know it will serve as a constant reminder of the President and all he means to our country." An original plaster maquette of this bust is included in the current sale.
Over the next three decades, De Weldon traveled the world working on large-scale projects, from Malaysia to Greece. Flush with success, the artist acquired the historic Beacon Rock estate, a palatial Gilded Age compound in Newport, Rhode Island, which he began to fill with Continental antiques and art, particularly fine Old Master paintings, all while maintaining a studio in Washington, DC. Eventually, years of financial mismanagement lead to bankruptcy, and De Weldon lost most of his property, including many of his own works. The present group of objects from the De Weldon estate were retrieved from the artist's studio in Washington, DC in the aftermath of that bankruptcy and brought to Virginia, where they have remained to the present.
Medal in very good overall condition with light scratches. Letter excellent.
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Property from the estate of Felix de Weldon, Newport, RI and Washington, DC.