At A Glance
Commissioned for the Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial
An interpretation of the American migration westward
The first sculpture installed in the Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial
Spanning the Continent, Robert Laurent’s interpretation of the American migration westward, was the first sculpture installed in the Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial in 1938 by the Fairmount Park Art Association (now the Association for Public Art). The work was described by art critic Dorothy Grafly as an expression of “rugged individualism;” the man and woman are “taking the continent in their stride, wheel between them, and ax in hand.”
Born in the Breton region of France, Laurent was discovered at the age of 11 by the American art critic and painter Hamilton Easter Field, who brought the young artist to the United States and supervised his education. In his adopted country, Laurent became a pioneer in the revival of direct carving in wood and stone.
Central Terrace of the Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial
Construction of the Samuel Memorial began with the Central Terrace. Six sculptors were commissioned to create two large bronze monuments and four complementary figures in limestone. These works express the twin themes of America’s westward expansion and the new nation’s welcome to immigrants from other lands.
Sculptures in the Central Terrace:
- Spanning the Continent, Robert Laurent
- Welcoming to Freedom, Maurice Sterne
- The Ploughman, J. Wallace Kelly
- The Miner, John B. Flannagan
- The Slave, Hélène Sardeau
- The Immigrant, Heinz Warneke
- The Spirit of Enterprise, Jacques Lipchitz
Adapted from Public Art in Philadelphia by Penny Balkin Bach (Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1992).
Voices heard in the Museum Without Walls: AUDIO program: Penny Balkin Bach is the former Executive Director & Chief Curator of the Association for Public Art (formerly the Fairmount Park Art Association) and the author of many books and articles about Philadelphia’s public art. Kathleen A. Foster is Robert L. McNeil, Jr., Senior Curator of American Art and Director of the Center for American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Michael Taylor is the former Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the author of Jacques Lipchitz and Philadelphia. | Segment Producer: Amanda Aronczyk and Ave Carrillo