Arthur Putnam appears to have been one of California’s most talented sculptors, his promising career cut short by illness. After his birth the Putnam family lived in Omaha and then San Francisco, returning to Omaha after Mr. Putnam’s death in 1880. In the early 1890s Arthur lived on his mother’s lemon ranch near La Mesa in San Diego County, California. At one point he had his own ranch near where the sculptor Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941) happened to have his studio, and the two became close friends. Among other jobs, Putnam worked as a land surveyor. In 1894 he went to San Francisco to study drawing, attending the Art Students League there and briefly studying with the sculptor Rupert Schmid (1864-1932). In 1895 he returned to La Mesa and then in 1897-98 he assisted in the Chicago studio of the animal sculptor Edward Kemeys (1843-1907). After his return to California Putnam was employed as a modeler in a terra-cotta works in Lincoln.
In 1899 he married and moved permanently to San Francisco, where he worked primarily as a sculptor of architectural commissions. In 1905 a patron enabled Putnam to go to Europe, where he spent about a year and a half, mainly in Rome and Paris. While abroad he mastered the craft of bronze casting, which he later practiced in his own foundry in San Francisco. The five years after his return to that city were his most productive of both architectural sculptures and the small bronzes of wild animals for which he is known.
Neurological problems that began in 1909 led to an operation for the removal of a brain tumor in 1911. As a result, Putnam was paralyzed on his left side and his formal perceptions were impaired. He never modeled again. From 1921 until his death he lived abroad.
Putnam’s bronzes were accorded recognition during his lifetime, including the praise of Rodin and a gold medal at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915.
Archiv. Am. Art, Macbeth Gallery Papers (portions on microfilm) § Rose V. S. Berry, "Arthur Putnam: California Sculptor," American Magazine of Art 20 (May 1929): 276-82 § Julie Helen Heyneman, Arthur Putnam: Sculptor (San Francisco: Johnck & Seeger, 1932), with list of works § California Art Research (San Francisco: Works Progress Administration Project, 1937), 6: 1-59, with bibliography, lists of works in California Palace of the Legion of Honor, works in PanamaPacific International Exposition, and medals § Carol M. Osborne, "Arthur Putnam: Animal Sculptor," American Art Review 3 (September-October 1976): 71-81.