Sally Serena

Mount Sally Serena (junction of Stockdale and Horsethief Creeks)
Serena Creek (flowing into Stockdale Creek)

Sally Farnham was an established member of New York’s high society, a wife, and a mother, but she also became a successful and sought after sculptor, noted for her “keen eye and her ability to capture individual character.”

Sally the Serene

Mount Sally Serena, located up Horsethief Creek, is named after Mrs Sarah (Sally) James Farnham, wife of Paulding Farnham of Mt Farnham fame. According to a letter written by Thomas Starbird, in 1901 as he was building the Horsethief Road towards the Red Line Mine, he was visited by Hon Wilmer C. Wells, then Minister of Public Works, as well as Sally and Paulding Farnham.

As the group was having lunch, Wells told Mrs Farnham, “in an offhand manner that he would have named after her any physical feature which she might select.” Asked what name she had been known to her school-mates, she had replied, “Sally the Serene”: “serene…she thought had been added on because she was proud.” Sally chose the mountain on the east side of Horsethief Creek at the junction where the road turned of up McDonald Creek to the Red Line (Ptarmigan) Mine where her husband had financial interests and with which she was no doubt very familiar. Sure enough, “Mr Wells made his promise stick” and Mount Sally Serena appeared on maps.1

Sally Welles James

So who was Sally Farnham? During that 1901 visit to the Windermere Valley she was an established member of New York’s high society and settled as a wife and mother. That same year, however, she was introduced to scuplture, and she soon became a successful and sought after artist in her own right.

Sally was born Sarah Welles James in 1869 in the upstate New York town of Ogdensburg close to the Canadian border to a very wealthy and influential family: her grandfather (Amaziah James) served in the US Congress (1877-1881) and her father Colonel Edward C James was a celebrated Civil War Veteran and later notable lawyer in New York City.2 She grew up in an opulent home staffed by four servants. At age ten (1879) her mother died after a long illness, and Sally was raised in Ogdensburg by her grandparents and great aunt.3

Sally grew up with a love of the outdoors and was a bit of a tomboy, becoming as she later recalled, “a scandal for breaking in my horses along Main Street.” She was also an above-average singer, performing at Opera Houses in her hometown, and was known for a sharp wit and love of a good time.4 Sally was close to her father, and travelled with him on at least two overseas trips while in her twenties.

Sally met Paulding Farnham, the designer for Tiffany and Company, on a hunting and fishing trip in Canada “and the two became enamored.” They married 31 December 1896 after just two months, moving to Farnham’s family estate on Long Island.5 The couple had one son (James, 1898) and one daughter (Julia, 1900), and enjoyed an active social life among New York’s elite.

The year 1901 was both a tragic one for Sally as well as a turning point. Her father passed away in late March, and months later Sally was confined to her hospital bed after undergoing surgery. The slow passage of time was difficult, and Paulding brought her some modeling clay to distract her and cheer her up.6 She took to it quickly, creating her first sculpture at the age of 32.

A Career in Sculpture

As Sally recovered, she decided to pursue sculpture professionally, soon opening a studio in New York City. A family acquaintance, Frederic Remington, encouraged her work, commenting on seeing one of her works that it was “ugly as sin” but “full of ginger.” He became a friend and mentor. Sally’s husband also encouraged her work: Paulding was himself a member of the National Sculpture Society.7

As an artist with no formal training, and beginning her career so relatively late in life, Sally nonetheless became an undisputed success. She got her first important private commission in 1903, just two years after her first experiments with modeling clay. In 1905 she began to enter and win competitions for public memorial sculptures, including a war monument in her hometown of Ogdensburg New York, as well as one in the Rochester, New York. When the city of Rochester wrote her requesting a meeting to discuss the project, she telegraphed, “Regret cannot be with you. Have important work on hand to finish.” Two weeks later she sent another message: “Work finished. He weighed 10 pounds, His name is John.”8

Sally James Farnham, 1921. Photo: Library of Congress

Even as Sally’s professional life flourished, her personal life was less positive. Paulding Farnham had resigned his position at Tiffany’s as a result of conflicts with its new president, Louis Comfort Tiffany. Sally and Paulding two drifted apart. After working for a few years as a sculptor in New York, Paulding returned to British Columbia to pursue various mining opportunities. These turned out to be failures, and Paulding drained the family resources. In 1914 Sally petitioned for divorce, which was granted in 1915 on grounds of desertion.9

In 1916, Sally received her largest commission to date, being chosen by the Government of Venezuela to create a new equestrian monument for South American hero Simón Bolívar to be installed in New York’s Central Park. The monument was dedicated 19 April 1921 to general acclaim: Sally was subsequently awarded the Order of Bolivar by the Venezuelan Government, the highest civilian honor.10

Sally continued a busy career over the next decade with public monuments, commemorative medals, memorials and portraits. She was noted for her “keen eye and her ability to capture individual character,” as well as an ability to capture moments of excitement and intensity and freeze them in time.11 Sally herself was known for her sense of humor and energy. The inscription on her tombstone reads : “A merry heart goes all the day.”

Sally passed away in April 1943, and her work fell quickly into obscurity. It took some time to be rediscovered, and she is now recognized as a pioneer in American Sculpture as well as an early and prominent female artist.12

Some Fact Checking: For the Curious

I took a look to determine if I could find substantiating evidence for Thomas Starbird’s story about the origins of the name Mount Sally Serena. It checks out. Paulding and Sally Farnham arrived from New York to Canterbury [Invermere] on 29 July 1901.13 They stayed for nearly two weeks before returning to New York, during which time they, “enjoyed themselves very much… and said they would return again next summer, as they desire again to look upon this beautiful scenery.”14

Mr and Mrs Farnham spent several days up McDonald Creek at the mine Farnham owned, and Farnham gave a “champagne supper” in honour of Wilmer C Wells at the Hotel Canterbury (Wells had arrived to the Valley on the same boat as the Farnhams).15

That summer, work was progressing quickly on the Horsethief wagon road being built up to McDonald Creek.16 The progress reported on the road that summer is consistent with Starbird’s account.17

See Also:

Red Line Mine
Paulding James Farnham
Horsethief

Footnote

1. “Mt Sally Serena,” Valley History and the Windermere Valley Museum (May 2016): p 2. [Newsletter for the Windermere Valley Museum and Archives. From a letter written by Thomas Starbird, 14 March 1913.]
https://windermeredistricthistoricalsociety.files.wordpress.com/2018/01/2016_05.pdf
2. Michael P Reed, “The Intrepid Mrs Sally James Farnham: An American Sculptor Rediscovered,” Aristos Posted Nov 2007. Accessed 9 April 2019.
https://www.aristos.org/aris-07/farnham.htm
3. Lawrence P Gooley, “Ogdensburg’s Sally James Farnham Sculpted A Beautiful Career,” Adirondack Almanack Posted 29 March 2016. Accessed 9 April 2019.
https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2016/03/ogdensburgs-sally-james-farnham-sculpted-beautiful-career.html
4. Lawrence P Gooley, “Ogdensburg’s Sally James Farnham Sculpted A Beautiful Career,” Adirondack Almanack Posted 29 March 2016. Accessed 9 April 2019.
https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2016/03/ogdensburgs-sally-james-farnham-sculpted-beautiful-career.html
5. Lawrence P Gooley, “Ogdensburg’s Sally James Farnham Sculpted A Beautiful Career,” Adirondack Almanack Posted 29 March 2016. Accessed 9 April 2019.
https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2016/03/ogdensburgs-sally-james-farnham-sculpted-beautiful-career.html
6. Michael P Reed, “The Intrepid Mrs Sally James Farnham: An American Sculptor Rediscovered,” Aristos Posted Nov 2007. Accessed 9 April 2019.
https://www.aristos.org/aris-07/farnham.htm
7. Michael P Reed, “The Intrepid Mrs Sally James Farnham: An American Sculptor Rediscovered,” Aristos Posted Nov 2007. Accessed 9 April 2019.
https://www.aristos.org/aris-07/farnham.htm
8. Michael P Reed, “The Intrepid Mrs Sally James Farnham: An American Sculptor Rediscovered,” Aristos Posted Nov 2007. Accessed 9 April 2019.
https://www.aristos.org/aris-07/farnham.htm
Lawrence P Gooley, “The Career of Ogdensburg Sculptor Sally James Farnham,” Adirondack Almanack, Posted 4 April 2016. Accessed 9 April 2019.
https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2016/04/career-ogdensburg-sculptor-sally-james-farnham.html
9. Michael P Reed, “The Intrepid Mrs Sally James Farnham: An American Sculptor Rediscovered,” Aristos Posted Nov 2007. Accessed 9 April 2019.
https://www.aristos.org/aris-07/farnham.htm
10. Michael P Reed, “The Intrepid Mrs Sally James Farnham: An American Sculptor Rediscovered,” Aristos Posted Nov 2007. Accessed 9 April 2019.
https://www.aristos.org/aris-07/farnham.htm
11. Michael P Reed, “The Intrepid Mrs Sally James Farnham: An American Sculptor Rediscovered,” Aristos Posted Nov 2007. Accessed 9 April 2019.
https://www.aristos.org/aris-07/farnham.htm
Lawrence P Gooley, “Sally James Farnham Sculpted a Beautiful Career (Conclusion),” Adirondack Almanack Posted 11 April 2016. Accessed 9 April 2019.
https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2016/04/sally-james-farnham-sculpted-beautiful-career-conclusion.html
12. Michael P Reed, “The Intrepid Mrs Sally James Farnham: An American Sculptor Rediscovered,” Aristos Posted Nov 2007. Accessed 9 April 2019.
https://www.aristos.org/aris-07/farnham.htm
13. “Ledge Croppings,” The Outcrop (Canterbury), 1 August 1901, p 1.
http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/newspapers/OTC/1901/08/01/1/Ar00102.html
14. “Ledge Croppings,” The Outcrop (Canterbury), 15 August 1901, p 1.
http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/newspapers/OTC/1901/08/15/1/Ar00102.html
15. “Ledge Croppings,” The Outcrop (Canterbury), 1 August 1901, p 1.
http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/newspapers/OTC/1901/08/01/1/Ar00102.html
“Ledge Croppings,” The Outcrop (Canterbury), 8 August 1901, p 1.
http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/newspapers/OTC/1901/08/08/1/Ar00104.html
16. “Ledge Croppings,” The Outcrop (Canterbury), 1 August 1901, p 1.
http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/newspapers/OTC/1901/08/01/1/Ar00102.html
17. “Windermere District,” The Outcrop (Canterbury), 22 August 1901, p 1.
http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/newspapers/OTC/1901/08/22/1/Ar00105.html

 

Resources

More on Sally’s sculpture’s and artistic career

BC Geographical Names, “Serena Creek,” Accessed 9 April 2020. http://apps.gov.bc.ca/pub/bcgnws/names/18885.html
BC Geographical Names, “Mount Sally Serena,” Accessed 9 April 2020. http://apps.gov.bc.ca/pub/bcgnws/names/13632.html

 

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