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Features » William Gordon Huff
William Gordon Huff
An introduction to the art and life of William Gordon Huff. The artist who sculpted the statue of Chief Solano in 1934.

 

Huff posing with one of his sculptures at the Vacaville Pena AdobeWilliam Gordon Huff was born Feb. 3, 1903, the fifth of nine children to Thomas and Celia Huff in Fresno, California.

When William was 15, the family moved to Oakland, where he attended Oakland Technical High School. With scholarships in hand, he attended various art academies in Berkeley, studying under the famed Bennie Bufano, as well as in San Francisco, New York and a year in Paris.

After leaving Paris, he moved to Bennington, Vt., where he received his first major commission to sculpt a monument to the Revolutionary War depicting the Battle of Bennington.

He also had the good fortune to meet his future wife, Doris McIntosh. They were married in 1931 and spent their honeymoon traveling cross-country in a Model A Ford to Berkeley, where they settled in their new home. 

 

The Statue of Chief Solano - Competition

 

In 1933, a Commission for the California Division of Parks was formed to oversee competition for a statue of Chief Solano. The five-member commission included William E. Colby, Henry W. O'Melveny, Mrs. Edmond N. Brown, Joseph R. Knowland, and Laura E. Gregory. The state appropriated $5,000 and the Massasoit Tribe of the Red Men of Fairfield raised $500.

Huff entered the competition and received the following acknowledgement from the Commission's secretary, Laura Gregory, on Jan. 30, 1933:

"Several sculptors are expecting to submit ideas, and in order to assure absolute impartiality to the contestants it has been decided to assign each sculptor a number, which will be known only to me until after the Park Commission has made its decision. You are therefore kindly requested to place the number '15' somewhere on your model, using no other identifying mark. The model, which should be miniature, must be in my possession at 684 Mills Building not later than noon, Feb. 15, 1933."

 

What did Solano look like? Platon Vallejo's depiction

 

When William started his research on how the indian should look, there was very little information available. In fact, there are no known photos of Chief Solano in existence.

In the images below, Chief Solano (left) and Ysidora Solano (right) are depicted in bas-reliefs made by Platon Vallejo, son of General Mariano Vallejo. On the back of the original photo, Platon wrote, "This picture of Solano looks like him. I do not believe he ever sat for his portrait or went to a gallery to be photographed."

















 

 

 

Creating the Statue - Winning the competition

The final interpretation was an Indian raising his hand in friendship. Huff with amusement commented, "Since there was no picture of the man, it was a figment of my own imagination."

Huff's submission won the competition and he quickly went to work sculpting the 12-foot version that was cast in bronze by the Jerome Foundry in Oakland.

Before he learned he had won the competition, it is interesting to note that he received a short letter from Dr. A. Kroeber at the University of California Department of Anthropology. In it he said, "Your design strikes me as very dignified. It is also authentic. I have been unable to think of anything appropriate for the left hand: a bow and arrows thus seems indicated if you feel something is needed. The feathers are all right as far as I can see. Good luck to you."

In the images below, Huff puts the finishing touches on the statue at the Jerome Foundry in Oakland.

 

William Gordon Huff creating the Chief Solano Statue

 

 

Statue Dedication Ceremony - June 3, 1934

 

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The monument was finally completed and the Solano County Band opened the dedication ceremonies with a concert June 3, 1934, followed by a parade of tribes and councils in costume led by the Wahoo Drum Corps of Concord.

Several thousand spectators showed up for the ceremonies that included speeches by Joseph Knowland, editor of the Oakland Tribune and commission member; Dr. Vance Clymer, Sachem of Massasoit Tribe, Improved Order of Red Men; Sen. McCormack of Rio Vista, and Gov. James Rolph Jr.

The long program finally concluded with the unveiling by Mrs. H. Vance Clymer and a community singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Solano Statue Dedication ceremony

 

Solano's statue remained at the location on a small knoll near the CHP truck scales on today's Interstate 80 west of Fairfield until 1938. Mindless vandals just couldn't resist desecrating and damaging the magnificent sculpture so the decision was made to move it to its present location in front of the old library building on the corner of Union and West Texas streets in Fairfield.

The Jerome Foundry steered a lot of business to Huff. He became the sculptor of the E Clampus Vitus society, a group devoted to the Old West. He sculpted many of the plaques the group placed around the state.

 

World's Fair 1939

 

The sculpting genius gained further recognition during the 1939 World's Fair at Treasure Island where he and Ray Strong produced the Paleolithic dioramas of prehistoric animals and for his own statues flanking the Tower of Sun that thrilled so many visitors until 1940. Huff's most visible works at the Exposition were the four statues surrounding the plaster Tower of the Sun. The statues represented; Science, Agriculture, Industry and Art.

In the images below Huff can be seen assembling the statue representing Art (1st photo on left) Note that she carries an ancient Greek theatrical mask. Also note the small model for the large sculpture, on the right. Huff also created a number of caryatid-like human figures that "stood guard" over the entrances to buildings. These figures recall the kore maiden statues of archaic Greek art. On the center image, Huff surveys rows upon rows of his creations. On the far right image, one of his figures can be seen in place, watching over an archway.

W.G. Huff's monuments for the 1939 World's Fair

 

In addition to these monumental works, Bill also created several sculptures and dioramas for the University of California Museum of Paleontology's exhibit.

The image below is a diorama created by Huff depicting a scene at the famous La Brea tar pits, about 40,000 years ago. You should recognize the dire wolves, one of the sabretooths, and the baby mammoth.

 

A depiction of the La Brea Tar Pits by W.G. Huff

 

The image below shows Huff with his large bas-relief depiction of two extinct American lions attacking a long-horned species of extinct bison. This exhibit was moved, after the Exposition, to Berkeley and put on display in McCone Hall on the University's campus.

extinct American Lions Bas-Relief

 

Huff was not only an accomplished sculptor; he produced many fine drawings as well. The image below is a drawing that depicts a mosasaur, a giant marine reptile of the Mesozoic era. Mosasaurs shared the sea with other giant marine reptiles, such as plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs. They were actually fairly close relatives of the lizards of today, and were most closely related to the varanids the lizard family that includes the "Komodo dragon" of today.

 

a mosasaur drawing by W. G. Huff

Fossil Marsupials expedition - Australia 1950's

 

In the 1950s, the University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP) mounted an expedition to collect fossil marsupials from Australia. Below is an image of Huff's somewhat satirical view of what these marsupials of the past may have looked like. One of them, shown at the right, bears a suspicious resemblance to Dr. Stirton, the expedition leader. Huff named these magnificent beasts of the past Homomarsupialansis humbugi, and wrote at the lower right, "Friend Stirt This is a restoration of one marsupial fossil you will have a hard time finding in Australia. Bill Huff".

 

Fossil Marsupials by W. G. Huff

 

 

The Vacaville Pena Adobe - 1970's

 

Rodney Rulofson and W.G. Huff

 

In the 1970s, Huff returned to Solano County through the urgings of Rod Rulofson, who was the curator of the Pena Adobe and Bob Allen of the Vacaville Heritage Council. The Pena Adobe had been painstakingly and lovingly restored. Huff created a donor's plaque for the dedication ceremony.

Then he went on to create terra cotta plaques of pioneers, Juan Vaca and Juan Pena. These hang in the E Clampus Vitus Hall of Comparative Ovation at the Old Timer's museum in Murphys.

 

Looking back at a remarkable career

 

On reflection of his brilliant career, Huff simply stated: "There was not alot of work then and I was lucky," Huff admits. "The breaks have come my way all of my life."

Huff's 90th birthday was celebrated in February 1993 with newspaper stories highlighting many of his accomplishments and the special tie he will always have to Solano County. Huff lived his last days in Alamo, CA. William Gordon Huff passed away on December 13, 1993. His wife Doris having predeceased him.

Excerpts from content written by: Jerry Bowen, and Nancy Dingler.

Last Updated on 02/18/2013