Thirty years into his career as a sculptor, Elie Nadelman (1882-1946) began working with papier-mâché in the late 1920s. Following the stock market crash of 1929, Nadelman reduced his personal real estate holdings in Manhattan and Riverdale, and eventually had to dismantle his groundbreaking folk art collection which he had displayed as a private museum. Around the same time he started to experiment with the idea of serially produced sculptures, and to work with inexpensive materials. Prior to papier-mâché, Nadelman had developed various techniques using materials such as plaster casting, terra-cotta, ceramics, and “galvano-plastique” (electroplated plaster, a cost-effective substitute for bronze). His earliest papier-mâché works were two large-scale pairs of women, including “Two Circus Women” (c. 1928-29), which were later used as maquettes for the permanent installation of two marble statues in Lincoln Center’s New York State Theater, posthumously commissioned by Philip Johnson and revealed in 1962. In 1930 he turned to a smaller scale, and devoted the first half of the decade to developing a vocabulary for figurines with smooth, rounded contours and experimented with composite casting to yield slight variations on poses, often incorporating motifs of dancers, circus performers, ribbon bows, and dogs. In some cases, Nadelman painted his papier-mâchés, giving individuating color schemes to serially cast works, in the spirit of Pennsylvania Dutch pottery.
Works by Elie Nadelman recently have been included in “Outliers and American Vanguard Art”, curated by Lynne Cooke, previously on view at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and traveling to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in November 2018. “Making it Modern: The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman” opened at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, New Mexico (2015), and traveled to the New-York Historical Society (2016) and the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover (2016). The exhibition “A New American Sculpture, 1914-1945: Lachaise, Laurent, Nadelman, and Zorach”, opened at Portland Museum of Art, Maine (2017), and traveled to Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis (2017-2018) and Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas (2018).