Rodin – Milles – LaGrone – UCH

Each year, UCH selects an individual LaGrone scholar from among applicants from the Harrisburg School District and pairs him/her with a UCH mentor. This article profiles a long history of mentorship associated with Oliver LaGrone himself.

Oliver LaGrone was also chosen to receive mentorship. At the prestigious Cranbrook Academy of Art near Detroit, the Swedish sculptor and Cranbrook faculty member Carl Milles (MILL-es) lived in a campus home designed by fellow faculty member, Eliel Saarinen. Milles was head of the Cranbrook Department of Sculpture 1931-1950. Oliver took his sculptures to Cranbrook, and in November 1941, Milles selected Oliver to study with him. Milles himself had been mentored by French sculptor August Rodin.

Oliver LaGrone

Milles advised Oliver not to go to the admissions office because Cranbrook did not accept African American students. By the turn of the year, however, Cranbrook records show Oliver was the first such to be formally accepted. Milles even arranged for Oliver to receive a McGregor scholarship and supplemented it personally because he was so committed to offer mentorship to Oliver. The couple who founded Cranbrook purchased more than 60 sculptures by Milles, many displayed today on the beautifully landscaped campus in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. UCH member Cordell Affeldt visited the archives at Cranbrook last summer and also viewed numerous Milles sculptures on the campus.

In Harrisburg, six huge sets of bronze double doors with designs sculpted by Milles in 1938 adorn the Finance Building in the Capitol Complex. They depict workers on Pennsylvania farms as well as in those in the glass, oil, steel and anthracite industries. The sculptures on the North Street side of the building, the plaza side, illustrate the principal industries of Pennsylvania—agriculture, mining and manufacturing.

But wait, there’s more! Located outside Stockholm, Millesgarden was the Swedish home of Carl and Olga Milles and today is a sculpture park and art museum. When UCH members Joe and Kandy Melillo and Don and Linda Brown visited it in 2008, they found plaster casts of the Harrisburg sculptures, shown in the accompanying photograph. Rodin, Milles, LaGrone, UCH: the mentoring continues.

Cordell Affeldt, ed. Bart Carpenter,  The Reporter, December 2019