John Storrs (1885-1956)


John Henry Bradly Storrs was born on June 28th, 1885, the youngest of seven children. His father David W. Storrs was a successful architect and real estate developer. Following the death of his brother William at the age of nine, his mother, Hannah Bradley Storrs pampered her only surviving son. So much was this protection that Storrs did not enter school until the age of nine where he was still unable to read or write.

In 1900, Storrs enrolled in the Chicago Manual Training School. It was there, through woodwork lessons that he began his love of sculpture. The ability to render his ideas in physical form appealed to him as a powerful means of expressing himself.

Storrs graduated in 1905 and his parents sent him on a promised trip to Europe where he traveled to England, Germany, Holland and Belgium. When in Berlin, he visited his older sister Mary who had lived there for over a year, studying singing, piano, French and German. Through his sisters friend, Maud Allan, Storrs was advised to study with sculptor Arthur Bock. He took the advice and spent six months in Hamburg under supervision of Bock. Bock’s concepts of unity in design appealed to Storrs and became a trait he would demonstrate in his own architectural commissions.

In November of 1907, Storrs returned to Chicago to work in the family business, but determined to pursue his dream, he took art classes at night. By 1909, he had moved to the School of the Museum of Fine Art, Boston to continue his studies under sculptor Bela Pratt. A year later, due to a disagreement on style, Storrs transferred to to the Pennsylvania Academy of Arts, under Charles Grafly.

In 1911, he returned to Paris and soon began studying under Auguste Rodin. While his own style is quite unique, it is argued that Rodin’s approach to mass and space and the use of planar surfaces formed the basis of this style. While in Paris, Storrs became interested in modernist trends such as Cubism and Futurism. These would ultimately become the backbone of his own style when rendering three dimensional works.

In 1914, Storrs married Marguerite Chabrol, an author and correspondent for Paris Temps. The following year, the couple visited the United States, touring various states, including San Francisco to see an exhibition including some of his own work. During this time, Storrs developed a strong interest in American Indian art.

Storrs returned to France and remained there during World War I, where he worked in a hospital tending to the wounded. The horrors of war, made a strong impression on his work that would feature dark undertones. Such examples of this would include “Three Soldiers” (1918) and “Mourners” (1919). 1918 saw the birth of his daughter Monique who would feature in several bust sculptures that carried an Egyptian flavour, indicative of his earlier travels.

His father died in 1920, leaving a will stipulating that Storrs had to spend at least eight months of every year in the United states to receive his inheritance. Despite a legal challenge to the will, Storrs was unsuccessful and had to forfeit a significant fortune. He settled in Mer where he purchased the 15th-century Chateau de Chantecaille.

The 1920’s saw several visits to United States. Exposure to sky scrapers, saw the creation of a series of tall architectural forms, many of them using combinations of stone, wood, concrete and metal. In 1925, architect Barry Byrne visited Storrs in Paris and purchased two sculptures. In the late 1920’s Storrs received a commission for a statue of Ceres to be placed atop the Chicago Board of Trade. At around the same time, he was involved in designing  the statue of Christ to stand in front of Barry Byrne’s’ Church of Christ the King, Turners Cross, Cork.

During the depression of the 1930’s, Storrs turned to oil painting in lieu of raw materials for sculpture. Some of his finest paintings were executed during these years. By 1939, World War had again broken out and yet Storrs still remained in France. In December 1941, he was imprisoned for six months by the Germans, accused of transmitting information to the allies. The imprisonment had a lasting effect on his mental and physical well being. In 1944, he was again imprisoned, this time with his daughter Monique, who at this point was heavily involved with the French Resistance. Three weeks later, they were liberated by American troops.

After the war, Storrs returned to Mer where he remained until his death. He suffered from depression and a weak physical condition and during these years sculptures were very rare and often of low relief given his frailty. In 1956, he died from cancer at the age of seventy one.

After his death, appreciation of his art grew more and more, in particular when interest in Art Deco was revived. Today most Art Deco collections and writings will mention the work of Storrs and many American and European museums feature his work.