Elden Cecil Tefft
Memorial services for world-renowned bronze sculptor Elden Cecil Tefft, 95, Lawrence will be held 2:00 p.m. Monday, February 23, 2015 at Warren-McElwain Mortuary in Lawrence. Private inurnment will be at a later date. He died Tuesday, February 17, 2015 at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
Born December 22, 1919 in Hartford, KS, Elden was the son of Cecil Elden and Lois Olive (Wilson) Tefft. He spent the first eight years of his life on the family farm, which Tefft called “the Ranch,” before moving to Lawrence. Bringing his farmer’s innovative spirit, Tefft grew up hanging around outside Woodlawn Lake and playing along the Kansas River sandbars. At local fairs and carnivals, Tefft became interested in magic and became a showman, having mastered the art of fire eating and sword swallowing.
As a student at Lawrence High School, he studied with Bernard Frasier, who became Tefft’s mentor and helped Tefft develop a passion for sculpture. He went to art school at the University of Kansas, but his studies were interrupted by WWII. The Air Force enabled Tefft to travel to other countries and study art and artists. While in the South Pacific, Tefft honed his wood carving skills and developed an art therapy program for wounded soldiers.
After the war, Tefft went to Tulsa to study again under Bernard Frasier. While in Tulsa, he met a young violinist named Mary Hammer and married her on July 28, 1947, in Tulsa. He returned to KU and completed his B.A. and Master’s degrees at KU and served as a professor at the university for the next 40 years.
In 1953, having travelled to Mexico and observing a large foundry, Tefft came back to Lawrence and built the first “lost-wax” foundry on a university campus, and made K.U. a teaching center for this form of bronze sculpture. He then travelled the world, aiding in the building of foundries and teaching the “lost-wax” method. Tefft was even brought to China to reintroduce the art of bronze casting, which had been lost during China’s communist revolution.
Prior to Tefft’s work, bronze sculpture was considered a craft because the work had to be sent away to be completed. Tefft taught artist to build their own foundries which allowed the artist to control the entire process from beginning to the end. Bronze sculpting became accepted as a fine art, meaning art museums would finally accept bronze sculptures for display. Many pieces of Tefft’s work are scattered across the University of Kansas campus, with the 10-ft Moses statue in front of the School of Religion being perhaps his most well-known work. Lawrence High School students frequently passed by his sculpture of “Chesty Lion.”
Because of his pioneering work in bronze casting and the success of many of his students, Tefft was awarded an honorary Ph.D. by Baker University in 1999. His many honors included the Kansas Governor’s Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement. The Kansas Senate passed resolution 1828 in 2009, recognizing and commending Tefft for his contributions to the art world and the state of Kansas.
During his lifetime he published numerous books and articles on sculpture and bronze casting, wax sculpting, waste mold casting and head and figure molding. In 1960 he established a biennial conference that brought together sculptors from around the world. These conferences led to the founding of the International Sculpture Center at KU, which is currently based in New Jersey.
Though he retired from KU in 1990, he never retired from his life’s work. His studio was frequented by former students as well as other artists who came to learn from the master. In 2012, at the age of 92, he had a very successful one man show called “Gossamer.” For this show, Tefft issued the following artist’s statement. “Despite my long standing interest in carving both wood and stone, I have spent the greater portion of my life in returning sculpture founding to the sculptor’s studio where it could again become part of the creative process, thus returning bronze to its rightful place in the hierarchy of fine art sculpture media.”
Tefft’s wife, Mary, preceded him in death September 18, 2011.
Survivors include her son, Kim Trevor and his wife, Wanda June of Lawrence and four grandchildren, Jared Elijah, Janell Esther, Jonathan Ezra and Joanna Elisabeth.
The family will greet friends from 3 – 5 p.m. Sunday, February 22, 2015 at the mortuary.
The family suggests memorials in his name to the Benevolence Fund through Indian Ave. Baptist Church or to the International Sculpture Center and may be sent in care of the mortuary.
Great artist. Great man. Great loss for all who loved him.
Ray and I send our deepest sympathy to Kim, Wanda and children.
Dear Kim and Family,
I thought so much of Elden and thoroughly enjoyed any time spent with him…His wit and personality combined with his talent made him a true treasure. My thoughts are with you.
Elden will be so deeply missed. He was so gifted in so many ways. He always greeted everyone who came his way and took interest in others talent and potential. His willingness to share his knowledge benefited anyone that was willing to take to heart his words. I will miss his insights and his gift of humor. I still eat the goat cheese he used to share at snack time. I had some today before I heard the news. His laugh and smile will always be remembered and treasured. I send my love and regrets to Kim, Wanda and the grandkids. I wish I could be there on Monday. homeschooling, the flu and other circumstances will not make it possible but my prayers are with you all. I send all of our love from here. Heidi
Kim & family,
I am sorry for your loss. Your dad was a dedicated Art professor and artists. When I first attended his Foundry class I thought I was in “boot camp”. He was the best teacher that I ever had. He was blessed with a keen sense of humor and an eye for detail. I believe that your family was a priceless treasure from him. Your dad will be missed by all that crossed his path.
Dear Kim and family:
Please accept my deepest condolences. I will remember your dad for his kindness and wisdom. He was such a treasure to all of us who knew him.
I am so thankful that I got to meet him when I was living in Lawrence. I am thankful for getting to share his vitality, wisdom and sense of humor. His art also touched me deeply and it still does when I visit Lawrence and the KU campus.
My mom in Spain remembers him all the time and she also wants me to express her sadness for your loss.
You should take comfort that it was a life well lived. Not everybody gets to do so much for humanity and the people around them as Elden did.
A lot of people do and will benefit from his legacy. He will be sorely missed. I am glad I got to see and talk to him in September. You have a precious family, Kim. Please, take care of yourselves and thank you for sharing your dad with all of us.
Dear Kim and family,
How this wonderful man will be missed! The world definitely needs more like him. We appreciate so much what he has done for all of us in the natural cut stone world! We have beautiful memories of how he was willing to share his talents and enthuasism with everyone he crossed paths with.
Max and Sue and family
Elden was one of those larger than life individuals whose personality was so charming and inviting that it was easy to forget that you were in the presence of greatness. The number of people whose lives he touched and influenced is staggering. For me he was a mentor and dear friend. I will miss him greatly. My deepest sympathies to Kim and the family.
The passing of Elden Cecil Tefft leaves us to reflect on his great works and contribution to the sculpture world. We have greatly benifited from his work. He will be greatly missed.
May he Rest In Peace
Rest in peace Dear Elden. Thank you for your amazing life’s work and contribution to the arts most especially Sculpture. I have treasured my time at ICS in NJ, and continue to be inspired and to grow as an artist due to your amazing life’s work.
Linda N. LaRose
Bucks County, PA
I never met Mr. Tefft but I want the family to know that his energy affected me as a student at Red Deer college in Canada where my instructors built a bronze foundary, and later my own student won the ISC outstanding student Achievement award. I can’t tell you how these simple events changed the lives of so many people that you will never meet. I encourage you to feel at little less alone knowing that the love you miss now exists multiplied and spread out overmuch of the world that you may never even know of!
My thoughts are with you, Roy Mills
Elden Tefft’s influence and work will continue without pause. The community of sculptors that he initiated in 1960 continues to grow throughout the world, through the International Sculpture Center, and his techniques of metal casting have informed university and artists’ studios everywhere. His work remains with us.
I know my words will fall short here…
From Dave and I, sincere condolences to Elden’s family and many friends.
Elden touched so many lives. He was a wonderful person, artist and teacher. If he’d not been the sort of person that was great to be around, that welcomed and gathered others to him, I would never have met my husband. My husband was a former student, and like so many former students, came to visit with Elden and everyone who frequented the foundry at KU. While Elden was there, it was such a great place to be. I cherish all my memories of that place and the wonderful group of people there – all thanks to Elden.
The women of Sigma Kappa would like to send our sincere condolences for your loss. It was an honor to have Elden as a neighbor and we will miss him greatly. In this time of loss, please know that many women are thinking of you!