These limestone reliefs by Frederick G. R. Roth (1872-1944) were created as decorative friezes for the Antelope House in the 1934 restoration of the Central Park Zoo.
Frederick G. R. Roth was born in Brooklyn and studied art privately both in Vienna and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin. By the time he completed his studies in 1894, he had already embarked on an active professional career as a sculptor, though it was his Roman Chariot group at the Pan-American Exposition of 1901, in Buffalo, New York that first garnered him significant attention and placed him at “the forefront of America’s young sculptors.”
Following this success, Roth was much in demand. The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired a series of small animal sculptures that Roth crafted early in the 20th century. He exhibited a figure of a polar bear at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, in Saint Louis, Missouri, and he received a silver medal at the Saint Louis Exposition the same year. In 1910 Roth modeled a horse as part of Augustus Lukemen’s equestrian composition, Kit Carson, displayed in Trinidad, Colorado. At the Panama-Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915, Roth collaborated with Alexander Stirling Calder (1870-1945) and Leo Lentelli (1879-1962) on the celebrated sculptural groups Nations of the East and West.
Roth’s talents earned him membership in many arts organizations, including the National Academy of Design (1902), the Society of American Artists (1903) and the National Sculpture Society (1910), and he eventually served as the latter organization’s president. He was the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the 1924 Speyer prize from the National Academy of Design, for his portrait of the celebrated Alaskan sled dog, Balto. This statue was unveiled in Central Park on December 16, 1925.
In 1934, Roth began employment through the Works Progress Administration as the chief sculptor for Parks. In that year, the new Central Park Zoo opened, and Roth oversaw a team of artisans who carved the limestone reliefs that adorn the animal houses. The following year the same team worked on the sculptural embellishments to the Prospect Park Zoo, and in 1936 Roth completed the granite statues of figures from Alice in Wonderland that stand at the center of the Sophie Irene Loeb fountain in Central Park’s James Michael Levin Playground.
In the spring of 1937, Roth’s Dancing Goat and Dancing Bear were placed in basins that flanked Kelly’s Cafeteria at the western terrace of the zoo. Cast at Roman Bronze Works in Brooklyn, the sculptures also serve as decorative fountains, with water spraying from five small frogs at the base of the bear, and from five ducks at the feet of the goat.
In the 1980s the Central Park Zoo was redesigned, and most of the larger animals (except for the polar bears) were consigned to other zoos. Contemporary buildings were designed to integrate with the few brick and limestone structures that were salvaged. When the zoo reopened in August 1988, the reliefs, which depict a variety of antelopes including gnu, hartbeest, beisa oryx, eland, and gazelle, were incorporated into the new structures, and, though no longer coinciding with animal species housed inside, help to enliven the architecture and provide a historical context for the current zoo.
African Antelopes Details
- Sculptor: Frederick George Richard Roth
- Architect: Aymar Embury II
- Description: Bas-relief in three continuous sections
- Materials: Indiana limestone
- Dimensions: Total H: 2'1" W: 23'2" (approximate)
- Cast: 1935
- Dedicated: 1935
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