Charles Fracé's Biography Continued:

...his boyhood fascination with the outdoors has remained intact. Fracé began drawing at five, recalling his discoveries on nearby Bear Mountain in his sketch book. Even at that early age, Fracé remembers wanting to be an artist. He taught himself to paint when he was fifteen, and his self-instructed talent earned him a scholarship to Philadelphia's Museum School of Art (now the Philadelphia College of Art), where he graduated with honors.

In 1955 Fracé began his professional career as a freelance illustrator in New York City. His first few years were filled with struggle, but eventually his talent and determination were recognized and rewarded by some of the nation's best-known publishers of books and magazines.


     In 1962 Frace spent three months at the wildlife facility of the late John Hamlet, one of the world's most respected naturalists. As an assistant to a photographer working on a book about birds of prey, Fracé helped capture and train the large birds and other animals, soaking up Hamlet's wisdom and nature's wonders. The experience left him with an insatiable appetite for more.

     Fracé returned to his New York apartment with three birds of prey and a single-minded determination to bring the world of animals to life in his art. His passion and intensity caught the attention of wildlife author Roger Caras, and eventually a wide range of nature publishers began to seek his work. He soon became one of the nation’s most sought-after illustrators of wildlife.

     The tremendous demand and tight deadlines, however, eventually became exhausting. Fracé also grew frustrated by the restrictions of illustrating ideas conceived by others and longed to paint some of his own. As he had done years earlier when his work seemed stale, Fracé laid down his brush and sought respite. Soon he found his escape in painting canvases for his own pleasure. He finished only one, which his wife Elke took to a nearby art gallery to show to the owners. They insisted on displaying the painting in the gallery, and it sold that same afternoon.


     Encouraged by this initial response, Fracé spent his evenings working on more paintings for the gallery while still devoting his days to illustration assignments. The immediate sale of each canvas fueled Fracé's confidence, helping him to make the change from illustrator to painter.

     In 1973, with the issue of Fracé’s first limited edition print, he finally made the permanent change to fine art. All 3,000 prints of his "African Lion" were sold out upon release, as was his second edition, "Tiger." Wood Hannah, then the artist’s publisher and a leading figure in the limited edition print field, remarked that never had he seen such sudden, massive collector acceptance of a new artist.


     Much of the appeal of Charles Fracé art is rooted in the artist himself. One can sense an almost spiritual bond he shares with his wildlife subjects. Fracé brings to his art over three decades of personal research and close kinship with animals. A cat or bird in a Fracé painting is not merely one particular animal, but the accumulation of all those he has seen and known, infused by all the experiences he has shared with them.

     Fracé’s field research has taken him on three lengthy expeditions to Africa, where he has explored much of the continent to better know the animals and the habitats he paints. The artist has also ventured to the Glacial heights of Alaska on several occasions, where he has come face-to-face with grizzlies, wolves and other of North America's magnificent animals. On the ice floes in Canada's Gulf of St. Lawrence, Fracé has witnessed the nursing of baby harp seals. On the California coast, he has drifted on a boat alongside sea otters as they congregate in the floating kelp beds of Monterey Harbor. Fracé has also broken paths through the rain forests of Central America and walked across the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park, Montana.

     Even Fracé pleasure trips with his family are to locales where he can soak up the nature around him to make new discoveries. All nature’s creatures fascinate him, whether a stately lion or a common possum. Experienced as he is with all animals, Farce hungers for more and becomes deeply inspired by each personal encounter.


     In his studio, Fracé works as diligently on his painting's composition as he does on his brushwork. Hs design reflects a relationship between the animal and its habitat, determining the mood of the painting. Fracé begins by "blocking in" the canvas, painting the darkest areas to define shapes and create balance. He then overpaints in many thin layers, progressing from background to foreground, from darker areas to highlights. With each delicate coat, he builds greater density and depth, as well as increased degrees of refinement and detail.

     While Fracé’s mastery of design and technique captivates art collectors, His flawless precision intrigues nature experts. Although most Fracé paintings convey a rich and wide range of colors, the image actually results from a very limited palette of colors which the artist carefully blends to create his desired tone and shade. His technique is an intensely laborious one, though it is a labor of love. His canvases require weeks even months-to complete, working an average of ten hours a day. The demands of his paintings are so great that he is able to complete only five or six each year.

     Having been featured in over 450 one man shows throughout the country, Fracé each year spends several weeks appearing at exhibits and keeping in close touch with his collectors. He has been honored by a number of museum shows including the Denver Museum of Natural History, Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin, the Cumberland Science Museum in Nashville, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

     In 1987 a special Silver Jubilee exhibit was held in Atlanta, commemorating Fracé’s 25th anniversary as a wildlife artist. In 1991 he was honored as one of the inaugural inductees into the Artist's Hall of Fame by U.S. Art Magazine. Fracé has also frequently been sought as a guest speaker or panelist at major art and wildlife functions, such as the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History’s Forum of Wildlife Artists and Scholars in Jamestown, New York.

     Fracé and his art have been the subject of two books, The Art of Charles Fracé in 1982, and Nature's Window-Charles Fracé, in 1992.Charles Fracé received perhaps the greatest recognition of his career in October 1992, when he was honored with a one-man exhibit of thirty-six of his paintings at the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.. Entitled "The American Wildlife Image and Charles Fracé," the exhibit was seen by millions of visitors to the nation's capital within its seven month duration.


     Since the earliest years of his wildlife art career, Fracé has been an active supporter of conservationist causes. In 1987, to commemorate his 25th anniversary as a wildlife artist, he established the Fracé Fund for Wildlife Preservation. Each year the Fracé Fund awards major grants to conservation organizations, large and small, including wildlife parks, zoos, breeding facilities and museums. The Fund provides many meaningful benefits to animals as well as educational efforts to increase public awareness of environments concerns.

      Special limited editions of Fracé’s art have benefited the conservation efforts of the Smithsonian Institution, Nashville's Cumberland Science Museum, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and other groups. Fracé has also sought to have his art draw attention to the struggles of individual species that are particularly threatened. Limited editions have been dedicated to the harp seal, sea otter, koala and other animals. These Fracé editions not only raise needed funds to further the animals' survival, but also serve to create public awareness and concern, motivating people to act.

     In truth, Fracé hopes each of his works of art in some way speaks on behalf of animals, generating a greater appreciation of their beauty and value to our lives. While Fracé continues to support wildlife causes through special editions and other donations, his greatest contribution is the message his art communicates to all who see it. Each new print edition holds the promise of opening more people’s eyes to the wonders of yet another animal -and the challenges it faces for survival. A Fracé exhibit offers to the thousands of visitors a sensitive view of a vanishing world that might otherwise have escaped them.


   Charles Fracé passed away on December 16, 2005, but his legacy as an internationally renowned wildlife artist and dedicated conservationist for more than 30 years will stand the test of time. His portraits of so many of the world’s beautiful animals – from a leopard cub to an elephant – are still admired and collected by people who have known the man and others who know of Fracé’s reputation for setting the standard for painters of wildlife.

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