From Soap to Bronze


Levi L. Barbour Memorial Fountain (Robert Seiden, c. 1973)

Marshall M. Fredericks was born in Rock Island, Illinois on January 31, 1908. At age four, he was given a knife and bar of soap by his mother to distract him while she did the household laundry, and encouraged him to make her something. He carved her a pig! Fredericks continued to use materials such as tar, soap and clay throughout his childhood for sculpting and carving. Years later, Fredericks became a world-renown sculptor.

In 1930, Fredericks graduated from the Cleveland School of Art and then earned a fellowship which led him to study with Swedish sculptor Carl Milles. From there, Fredericks then joined the staff of Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills and became an art instructor.

Spirit of Detroit, c. 1968

Spirit of Detroit, c. 1968

Online visitors to our Digital Collection will find pictures of sculptures throughout the city designed by Fredericks, including the “Leaping Gazelle” at the Levi L. Barbour Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle. Levi L. Barbour (1840-1925) was a wealthy civic-minded lawyer who left $20,000 to the city of Detroit with the requirement that the money was intended for “the purpose of erecting some statue, monument, fountain or other permanent structure on Belle Isle….[and in some measure] benefit and pleasure the public.” As a result, “Leaping Gazelle” was formally dedicated to the public on June 25, 1937.

Seal of Wayne County, 1950s

Seal of Wayne County, 1950s

Fredericks most famous Detroit work is The “Spirit of Detroit,” which rests in front of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. It was presented to the public September 23, 1958. Though the estimated budget for the statue was between $40,000 and $58,000, it was paid for entirely by Fredericks. He asserted that it was his civic responsibility to donate such a statue.

– Rachel Loria, Wayne State University Graduate Student

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