In the pages of She Found Eloquence, a pamphlet produced in the late 1950s by the Providence Art Club, one can learn much about sculptor Florence Kane (1895-1956). In fact, it was that very printed document that the Art Club recently turned to when promoting its current showing of Kane’s work, which is on exhibit in the Founders’ Room now through December 31. Her biography is a fascinating one, second only in magnificence to her sculptures themselves.
Florence Brevoort Kane was born into a dignified family; her father was Senator Henry B. Kane. At the age of three, she contracted spinal meningitis and in turn lost her hearing and suffered speech impairment. As a child and teen, Kane often perused the books in her father’s library, fascinated by one in particular: a book of plates on Greek sculpture. At 16, drawing inspiration from that book, she used clay to model the figure of a blacksmith at work. Her parents, surprised at Kane’s raw talent, sent her to New York City to study under the acclaimed Solon Borglum at the school of American Sculpture and the Art Students’ League. And thus, her formal education began.
After five years spent under Borglum’s wing, Kane flew to Paris where she studied under Henri Cordier. At only 24 years old, Kane was living the life many artists only dream of. She had a small studio in Paris where she lived for 20 years, often traveling to Cannes on the Riviera, where her aunt owned a villa. While in France, she studied for 10 years under Alexandre Descatoire, a famous sculptor from Douai.
Kane’s first “big break” came in 1927 when she was chosen, above many other French sculptors, by the city of Aix-les-Bains to design the monument of its native poet son, Alphonse Lamartine. Her talent and skill were cemented over the next three years when she exhibited four works, which received the highest praise from Parisian art critics: Chasseur Alpin, an eight-foot-tall bronze statue; Buste Marbre, a marble portrait of a woman’s head; Grand’mere, a bas-relief in bronze; and Groupe de Polo, a bronze statuette of polo ponies and riders.
The excellence of these four collective works won Kane a bronze medal in 1932, bestowed upon her by the Salon des Artistes Francais of Paris. In a preserved letter from the artist’s dear friend is written a statement that can summarize the enormity of her unlikely success: “It’s very hard for a beginner (as you really are, compared with older people who have been working for 30 or 40 years to less effect) to receive a medal, and especially for a woman.” When taken into account the added obstacle of overcoming her communication disability, Kane’s achievement, at the age of 37, is no diminutive feat.
Returning to Rhode Island shortly after the outbreak of World War II, the oft-lonely Kane found companionship among the members of the Providence Art Club and several other local clubs including the Providence Water Color Club. A sculptor by the name of Aristide Cianfarani proposed Florence for membership at the Art Club and she was elected shortly thereafter, in 1943.
Kane’s body of work is a vehicle by which she tells the tale of her unusual life, without words and even long after her death. In each bend and in every curve, viewers can’t help but glean a glimpse at Kane’s loneliness, her artistic drive, her passion and her victories. Kane’s sculptures were bronze microphones, allowing her to be heard and to become immortal.