Allan Schein of Salt Lake City submitted this article relating to Bela Lyon Pratt, designer of the $2.50 and $5 Gold Indians.
It was inspired by Joe Esposito's write-up of his recent visit to the Yale Art Gallery.
The timing of the piece by Joseph Esposito resonates with me because of my recent research into the numerous works of Bela Lyon Pratt, and the extensive historical work done by his Granddaughter Cynthia Kennedy Sam of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Sadly, Cynthia passed away June 8, 2015 after struggling to recuperate from a brain hemorrhage earlier this year.
Bela Lyon Pratt was the maternal Grandfather of Ms. Sam, a Grandfather she sadly never met. Pratt died at the much too young age of 49 in 1917 from heart failure. In his last weeks he knew he was ill, and through his letters he expressed a love for life and family, and the positive aspects of beautiful things surrounding him during his last days. Cynthia's relationship with this man she never met had an ethereal quality, getting to know him through a thousand letters he wrote weekly to his mother and family members, stories told by her mother and relatives, and the legacy of 180 works of art carefully designed and sculpted that are on exhibit today through the museums and public spaces around New England and Washington, DC.
Cynthia Sam was the Pratt family historian, fully dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of information about the history and works of her talented grandfather, a true artistic prodigy from the age of a toddler. She organized and assembled an impressive website documenting much of Pratt's personal history, his works and correspondence. Throughout the years she wrote historical pieces about Pratt and his designs and involvement in the creating of the $2.50 and $5 Gold Indians that are unique in American Numismatics. These popular quarter and half eagles with the sunken relief or incuse designs are a true piece of Americana never to have been replicated. Ms. Sam's articles have appeared in Coin Age magazine and her lectures were given throughout New England.
The Bela Lyon Pratt Study room is named in honor of this former Yale student, whose legacy includes a life sized bronze statue of Nathan Hale on the Yale campus. Among his other notable works are the spandrel sculptures above the entrance to the Library of Congress, and reliefs that adorn the walls of the Thomas Jefferson reading room in the Library and the monumental sculptural statue of Philosophy as a central figure in the Jefferson reading room.
The dedication of Cynthia to the memory of her Grandfather I find inspirational. Getting to know a family member long gone so incredibly well speaks of a love passed on by a parent who planted the seed for continuity. She was fortunate to have a great abundance of documentation to allow for discovery, but the flame that burned within her is testament to a bittersweet love and dedication rarely found. Cynthia Kennedy Sam was a unique and special link in a direct chain to a truly great American sculptor. Although often seen in the shadow of his early mentor Augustus Saint Gaudens in numismatic circles, Pratt stood head and shoulders above most sculptors of his generation, a legacy Cynthia worked ever so diligently to educate people about him.
In memory of Cynthia Kennedy Sam, April 18, 1936 to June 8, 2015
To visit the Pratt web site, see:
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
A VISIT TO YALE’S COIN AND MEDAL COLLECTION
Wayne Homren, Editor
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