The Life and Art of G. Preston Frazer

G. Preston Frazer in 1969
G. Preston Frazer, 1969 (Walter Gropius/G. Preston Frazer Papers, Ms1992-052)

In October, Special Collections put on the exhibit Sharing Our Voices: A Celebration of the Virginia Tech LGBTQ Oral History Project, highlighting the project and materials from our collections. One of the people whose works we displayed was G. Preston Frazer (1908-2003), an Associate Professor of Art at Virginia Tech from 1939 until 1974. Frazer graduated from Virginia Military Institute with a B.A. in Liberal Arts in 1929, before earning a B.S. in Engineering from the University of Hawaii in 1935. Two years later, Frazer received a masters degree in Architecture from Harvard University.

Cover of Frazer's Six Pencil Drawings of Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A.
Cover of Frazer’s Six Pencil Drawings of Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A.,1939 (G. Preston Frazer Collection, Ms2009-098)

Frazer began focusing his career on art, following work at the University of Chicago’ Oriental Institute and the Megiddo Expedition in Palestine. In 1939, he published Sixteen Pencil Impressions of Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A., inspired by his time in the then-territory. That year, he also began teaching in the architectural engineering department at Virginia Tech, but left to serve with the Second Armored Division of the U.S. Army during World War II, participating in the Normandy landings on D-Day. Upon leaving the military in 1946, Frazer had reached Major in the General Staff Corps and earned the Belgium Fourragere (twice), the French Medal of Liberty, and a Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster. He served in the Army Reserves until retiring at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1968.

Returning to Virginia Tech in 1946, Frazer taught art in today’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies until his retirement in 1974. The university established the G. Preston Frazer Prize, awarded annually to art graduates, and the College continues to award students for their work in the G. Preston Frazer Architecture Fund/Architecture 2nd Year Competition.

One of the paintings by Frazer that Special Collections displayed in the exhibit is Hercules Shooting the Stymphalian Birds (photograph from exhibit below). A letter in the G. Preston Frazer Collection (Ms2009-098) explains where the idea came from: “One of my favorite sculptures is an archer shooting a bow – The large life size one by Bourdelle is in the Metropolitan, NY. I went to see it every time I was in NY, and I named it ‘Hercules Shooting the Stymphalian Birds.'” (You can see this sculpture online on the museum’s website.) He continues, “I painted (oil on canvas) a figure (life size [-] Mike Sr, was the model) – of ‘Hercules Shooting the Stymphalian Birds’ (a canvas about 5 ft. by 8 ft.)”

Frazer worked on the painting from his studio overlooking Virginia Tech, where students would visit to see his projects. He recounts a funny incident during his painting, “One of the students who came in saw the buildings and said ‘Oh, that is Burress Hall, V.P.I. I hope Hercules shoots it & burns it down! (said jokingly of course.) It was in the Joan [sic] Fonda anti-establishment, anti-war period, etc. I explained that Hercules was shooting the Stymphalian Birds. Hercules’s labors were good deeds. Hence instead of just shooting the Bow, he was destroying Birds which were enemies of Humans!!”

In addition to Hercules and the aforementioned G. Preston Frazer Collection (Ms2009-098), Special Collections has a painting Frazer made of Icarus and the Walter Gropius/G. Preston Frazer Papers (Ms1992-052), with photographs and correspondence between Frazer and Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School. The G. Preston Frazer Artwork (Ms1992-055) contains a beautiful sketchbook of scenes in Spain in 1953 and several artworks. For your viewing pleasure, I end this post with a few of those pieces, including scenes from Blacksburg and the Virginia Tech campus. More can be seen on online at ImageBase.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction is 12

Coincidentally, I found mention of “the first SF I ever read” in a few places this year. The authors all happened to be about the same age, and all reading Gernsback publications with memorable Frank Paul covers. Paul, the primary illustrator of the first dedicated American SF magazine, is well known for his archetypal depiction of the alien machines from War of the Worlds. But the monolithic impression he made on Arthur C. Clarke is not so widely appreciated!

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Arthur C. Clarke – Amazing Stories, November 1928

“The very first science-fiction magazine I ever saw had a cover by Frank Paul – and it is one of the most remarkable illustrations in the history of science fiction, as it appears to be a clear example of precognition on the part of the artist! I must have seen Amazing Stories for November 1928 about a year after it had been shipped across to England- so rumor has it, as ship’s “ballast”- and sold at Woolworth’s for 3p. How I used to haunt that once-famous store during my lunch hour, in search of issues of Amazing, Wonder, and Astounding, buried like jewels in the junk-pile of detective and western pulps! – Korshak, ed. From the Pen of Paul (Orlando: Shasta-Phoenix, 2009): 9. 

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Frederik Pohl – Amazing Stories Annual, 1927

“The name of the game that year was the Great Depression, but I didn’t know I was playing it. And at some point in that year of 1930 I came across a magazine named Science Wonder Stories Quarterly, with a picture of a scaly green monster on the cover [unfortunately not in our collection; how did that happen?!]. I opened it up. The irremediable virus entered my veins . . . That first issue of Science Wonder was heaven, but I didn’t realize that the fact that it was a magazine implied that there would be other issues for me to find. When another science fiction magazine came my way, a few months later, it was like Christmas. That was an old copy of the Amazing Stories Annual, provenance unknown. Given two examples, I was at last able to deduce the probability of more, and the general concept of “science-fiction magazines” became part of my life.” – Pohl, The Way the Future Was (New York: Del Rey, 1978): 2, 6.

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Lester Del Rey – Science Wonder Quarterly, Fall 1929

“The Fall 1929 Science Wonder Quarterly has an unusually effective cover by Paul, showing three men in spacesuits, tethered by air lines to a rocket…This, incidentally, was the first science fiction magazine I ever read.” – Del Rey, The World of Science Fiction (New York: Garland, 1980): 50-51.