Ramsey County History – Winter 2009: “Courthouse Sculptor: Lee Lawrie”

Paul D. Nelson

Courthouse Sculptor: Lee Lawrie
Author: Paul D. Nelson

A look at renowned sculptor Lee Lawrie (1887–1963), who designed the exterior artwork for the New York Rockefeller Center and the St. Paul City Hall and County Courthouse. His specialty was architectural sculpture or, so to speak, carving on buildings. Lawrie was born in Prussia in 1877 and came to the United States four years later. He learned his trade in Chicago and with Eastern artists. Like others, he dealt with the development of skyscrapers and how adornment could fit into vertical spaces. One of his first major projects was the Nebraska State Capitol, which rejected the usual neo-classical style. Lawrie was hired in 1931 to be the sculptor for the St. Paul City Hall and County Courthouse, another a modern structure. He departed from the suggestions of the public commission that was set up to help plan the building; instead he developed his own sculptural ideas, which have proven to be well received then and now. Lawrie felt that his artistic goal was not to express himself but to express the purpose and function of the building and called his work “modern mural sculpture.” There are sidebars on Lawrie’s works around the country and other area architectural sculptures.
PDF of Nelson article