James Earle Fraser was an American sculptor during the first half of the 20th century. His work is integral to many of Washington, D.C.'s most iconic structures.
Fraser was born in Winona, Minnesota. His father, Thomas Fraser, was an engineer who worked for railroad companies as they expanded across the American West. A few months before his son was born, Thomas Fraser was one of a group of men sent to recover the remains of the 7th Cavalry Regiment following George Armstrong Custer's disastrous engagement with the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho forces at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
As a child, James Fraser was exposed to frontier life and the experience of Native Americans, who were being pushed ever further west or confined to Indian reservations. These early memories were expressed in many of his works, from his earlier trials, such as the bust Indian Princess, to his most famous projects, such as End of the Trail and the Indian Head (Buffalo) nickel.
In 1911, it was announced that the Mint would be soliciting new designs for the nickel. Fraser, who had been an assistant to Saint-Gaudens, approached the Mint, and rapidly produced concepts and designs. The new Mint director, George Roberts, initially favoured a design featuring assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, but Fraser soon developed a design featuring a Native American on one side and a bison on the other. Andrew and Roberts recommended Fraser to MacVeagh, and in July 1911, the Secretary approved hiring Fraser to design a new nickel. His design was issued between 1913 and 1938.
Fraser was a member of the National Academy of Design, the National Sculpture Society, and the Architectural League of New York. His numerous awards and honours include election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters and gold medal from the Architectural League in 1925. He served on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts in Washington, D.C., from 1920 to 1925.
James Earle Fraser died on October 11, 1953, at Westport, Connecticut, and is buried in Willowbrook Cemetery.