Avard Tennyson Fairbanks (1897–1987) was among the best-known traditional realist sculptors in the state of Utah in his time. Part of a family that has produced several artists working in the third dimension, Fairbanks contributed a great many pieces now familiar to the Utah public. Born in Provo, young Avard was a child prodigy who, at the age of thirteen, was taken to New York by his father – an art teacher at Brigham Young Academy – to study at the Art Students League, to exhibit that same year at the National Academy of Design, and then to travel to Paris in 1913. Fairbanks taught at the University of Oregon, Yale School of Fine Arts, and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor before returning to Utah in December 1946 to become the first dean at the University of Utah’s College of Fine Arts. He was actively associated with the school until his retirement in 1965 and is widely recognized as the one to legitimize the nude figure in Utah art. He received numerous important commissions and honors throughout his career.
In addition to his religious sculptures, small and large bronzes, marble carvings, medals, and relief panels, Fairbanks created hood ornaments for Chrysler Motor Company. Asked to design a hood ornament for the Plymouth, he designed a mermaid, after which he was asked to design an ornament for the Dodge car. The design he came up with was a ram. When management from Chrysler came to see the design, they asked Fairbanks what a ram had to do with Dodge. Fairbanks replied that when people see a ram coming down the road they’ll say, “Dodge!”
Fairbanks believed art should be simple and understandable, not only to the educated and technically trained, but also to children and the untutored. He believed art should be uplifting and represent the finer qualities of life to all men and women. He lost his mother when he was fourteen months old, and her loss inspired him with great respect and honor for motherhood. Fairbanks said, “The arts are created for contemplation and edification, the expression of the highest ambitions and the spiritual hope of a people,” and he applied this theory to his own art.