Monday, January 6, 2014

Ernfred Anderson: Elmira’s Answer to Michelangelo

by Erin Doane, Curator

In a 1964 newspaper article, historian Tom Byrne called artist Ernfred Anderson “Elmira’s Answer to Michelangelo.”  The comparison is clear when one sees Anderson’s 19 foot tall sculpture “Builders of Men.”  He created the work as part of a Federal Art Project at the Elmira Reformatory.  Anderson used inmates for models and they assisted him with the casting process.    The finished bronze was placed at the entrance of the Reformatory in 1951 after Anderson agreed to add fig leaves to cover the male nudes.  To see the original work without the leaves click here.

Final bronze of “Builders of Men” 
by Ernfred Anderson
Ernfred Anderson was born in Sweden in 1896.  He studied art at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland and then came to United States in his early twenties.  After meeting fellow artist Lars Hoftrup at a meeting of the Seneca Art Association in 1933 he decided to move to Elmira.  Hoftrup hosted Anderson when he first arrived in the city and the two became close friends.  In 1938 they opened the Pine Gallery together on Dry Run Road outside of Pine City in an old barn that they completely renovated.

Plaster mask of Lars Hoftrup by Ernfred Anderson
Anderson’s first job in Elmira was teaching art at School No. 11.  He went on to teach drawing, sculpture and clay modeling at Elmira College.  He also taught at the Elmira Reformatory and Cornell University during the course of his career.  From 1942 until 1965 he served as the director of the Arnot Art Gallery where he did everything from creating exhibits and giving tours to trimming branches from trees outside the museum.  The whole time he was teaching and directing he was also creating art.  His work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, the Chicago Swedish Club, Cornell University, the New York Art Center, the Brooklyn Museum, the National Academy, the Steele Memorial Library and the Arnot Art Museum.  He was internationally known as a sculptor but he also painted, worked in stained glass, and restored and repaired artwork. He worked on several maps and paintings in CCHS’s collection.
Anderson repairing maps for the Chemung County Historical Society in 1958
One of Ernfred Anderson’s most famous works stands over the grave of Mark Twain in Woodlawn Cemetery. In 1937 Clara Clemens Gabrilowitsch commissioned Anderson to create the monument to her father and husband that you see there today.

Postcard of the Mark Twain’s monument 
in Woodlawn Cemetery
Anderson received the commission for the monument after impressing Clara with a portrait bust that he had made of Mark Twain.  Anderson sculpted the bust based on photographs of Twain and comments and criticisms from those who knew the writer.  Anderson originally made the bust of clay then cast it in plaster.  Some years later it was cast again in bronze.  Jervis Langdon considered it the finest likeness of Mark Twain he had ever seen.

Busts of Mark Twain by Ernfred Anderson


  1. It would make sense for the Arnot Art Museum to mount an Ernfred Anderson exhibit, comparable to the George Waters exhibit of several years ago.

  2. Did he teach at the Elmira Free Academy?

    1. No evidence that he taught at EFA. He did teach at Elmira College, Elmira Correctional Facility, and Cornell University.