Charles Cary Rumsey - Table of Contents ............... Rumsey Family - Table of Contents .................. Cary Family - Table of Contents

Bio - Charles Cary Rumsey
1879 - 1922

Charles Cary Rumsey on Buffalo Architecture and History website:

"The Centaur"  ...............  "Three Graces  ..............  "Pizarro"  ...............    "The Wave"   ...............   "Star Gazer"    

born in Buffalo in 1879, was the second eldest of five children of Laurence Dana Rumsey and Jennie Cary Rumsey. The family, having inherited a small fortune built by Bronson Case Rumsey in tanning and railroads, was both wealthy and socially prominent.

(Charles's uncle was George Cary, the Buffalo architect who is best remembered for his design of the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society Museum. It is fitting that Charles' sculpture "The Centaur" greets visitors at the front of the museum.)

Charles Rumsey's interest in sculpture appeared and was encouraged at an early age. Family members record his modeling a figure which was shown to the public when Rumsey was only thirteen. His aunt Evelyn was a painter most noted for her activity as a portraitist and designer of the poster for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition held in Buffalo. The most significant encouragement came, however, when the boy was taken by his parents to Paris in 1893. Instead of returning with them to attend school, he stayed in Paris for two years to serve as an apprentice to one of the most prominent American sculptors abroad, sculptor Paul Weyland Bartlett (whose father had been one of the early American champions of Rodin).

After returning to the United States in 1895, Rumsey completed college prep studies at The Nichols School in Buffalo in three years, and entered Harvard in 1898. While at Harvard he joined the Porcellian Club, an exclusive association of young men from the most prominent families in America - useful associations for a future sculptor.

During the summers he attended the school at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts where he studied under Bela Lyon Pratt.

In 1901, Rumsey exhibited a figure of an Indian ("The Challenge") at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo.

After graduating from Harvard in 1902, Rumsey returned to Paris where he took a studio in the Latin Quarter and enrolled at the Julian and Colarossi Academies. One professor, Emmanuel Fremiet, a specialist in equestrian statuary, devoted special emphasis to the study of the horse, and his training was to have a decisive influence on his young pupil.

Horses were nearly a mania with the Rumseys. For not smoking or drinking before his 21st birthday, the young artist was rewarded with a fine Kentucky thoroughbred which was led into the family dining room as a surprise. Apart from sculpture, horses were the great passion of his life. A superb rider, a world-class polo champion and member of the foremost teams, he won many awards throughout the United States. (He was a member of the US Polo team for international competition with teammate Seymour Knox Jr.

By the age of 23, Rumsey was also an amateur boxing champion in Paris.

Rumsey's Career

In 1906, Rumsey returned to the US where he settled in a studio on 59th Street in New York, and it was in this year that his serious sculptural production began.

Around 1909, Rumsey began a series of sculptures to decorate the large manor at Arden, New York, being built by the railroad magnate, Edward H. Harriman (whose daughter, Mary, Rumsey would marry in 1910). One of the sculptures was a large bronze fountain of "The Three Graces" for the terrace outside. A recast of "The Three Graces" fountain was installed in 1987 in Mirror Lake in Buffalo's Forest Lawn Cemetery where Rumsey is buried.

When he returned to France in 1917-18 during the war, it was as an officer in the 25th Cavalry Division of the United States Army. It was with immense sadness that he witnessed the failure and decline of the horse as a military factor overpowered by the development of mechanical forces.

Rumsey's specialties included equestrian sculptures - portraits of polo players and prize horses, as well as of cowboys, cattle and horses as metaphors.

He worked principally in bronze and stone, often employing mythological and historical themes articulated in private commissions for freestanding statuary and in public monuments. His 40-foot bas-relief panels of Indians, horses and buffaloes for the Manhattan Bridge and the heroic subject matter of Rice Stadium commission are examples.

Rumsey was equally at home with historical and mythological themes, shifting from a relaxed naturalism to more informal works and studies to an expressive exaggeration or simplification of forms for more bombastic subjects.

Probably the artist's most renowned work is the "Buffalo Hunt Frieze" executed In 1916 for the Manhattan Bridge In New York City. But the flattened and simplified figures for the Brownsville Memorial in Brooklyn (1921) were his most adventurous forays Into "modernism." In these powerful bulky figures he comes close to an Art Deco style.

Rumsey was one of the more notable sculptors working in the Beaux-Arts tradition, a monumental and grandiose style that was the chief mode of public sculpture of Rumsey's day. Yet he was far more than a standard producer of facile monuments. In his brief career he died in an automobile accident in 1922 he touched on realistic and quasi-impressionist styles and at some points tentatively introduced some modern elements into his work. He had, in fact, enough contact with modernism to be included in the famous Armory Show held in New York in 1913, the exhibition that is credited with the first major introduction of modern art to America.

In 1927, the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts presented an important exhibition of his works and has, since, faithfully celebrated his memory each year as the Rumsey Prize for Sculpture has been awarded at the Salon Exhibitions.

During his career Rumsey was awarded a number of major commissions. A number of different versions of "Pizarro" were made later, one of which stands in front of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Another larger version is found in Lima, Peru.

In Buffalo,within a few blocks on Elmwood Avenue, visitors can view a collection of Rumsey's works:

Rumsey's"The Three Graces" Fountain is located nearby in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Rumsey died in 1922 and is buried in Section X in Forest Lawn Cemetery


  • "From Paris to a New Age of Stone: The Sculpture of Charles Cary Rumsey," by Robert Evren
  • "Rumsey's Greek Goddesses Come to rest at Forest Lawn," a November 15, 1987 Buffalo News article by Richard Huntington

Reprint from The Buffalo News, November 15, 1987

Page by Chuck LaChiusa in 2004
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