Within the field of American sculpture, barriers have inhibited women’s participation and achievement in the field. The very act of shaping durable substance into aesthetic form is a physically demanding practice—one that had, since antiquity, been reserved as the purview of muscular male artisans. This was especially true in the American South, where notions of feminine propriety persisted in the antebellum period and the first half of the twentieth century.
Growing up in genteel circumstances in Louisville, Enid began dabbling in mud as early as age three and took to carving by age twelve. She attended Hampton College locally before enrolling at the Cincinnati Art Academy for further study in 1887, an initiative encouraged by her mother, an amateur artist. Following her graduation and a tour of Europe, Yandell accepted a position in 1891 with the Columbian Exposition. Held in Chicago in 1893, the world’s fair showcased international achievements in arts, science, and industry. During her two-year stay in the Windy City, Yandell labored alongside other female sculptors—who came to be known as the “White Rabbits”—to enlarge statuary designed by male contemporaries, such as Lorado Taft. Independent commissions came to the artist as well. Louisville’s historical society, the Filson Club, engaged Yandell to execute a sculpture of Daniel Boone for the Kentucky State Building at the exposition. Glowing accolades in the Louisville Commercial praised “the genius of a young Kentucky girl” for her depiction of the pioneer. A few years later, a Southern landmark exhibition provided Yandell with a major opportunity to advance her reputation. From her studio in Paris—where she studied with Frederick MacMonnies and sought advice from Auguste Rodin—she executed her monumental Pallas Athena, which, after being shipped in pieces across the Atlantic, was positioned outside the Fine Arts Building at the 1897 Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition in Nashville. Standing over forty feet tall, Yandell’s classical figure proved to be one of the fair’s leading attractions, garnering extensive news coverage and earning a silver medal.
Yandell pursued advanced training and commissions in both New York and Paris, developing a robust trans-Atlantic practice that crossed many media and was unrestricted in size and subject. In 1913, Yandell was represented in the watershed Armory Show by an allegorical bronze vase entitled The Five Senses, a sculpture which attested to her aesthetic flexibility and bore witness to modern abstract sensibilities.
Yandell’s command of classical subject matter can also be seen in her portrayal of the Greek mythological character Ariadne. Here, the recumbent female figure, shown from the back as if hiding from the viewer, retains realism and physicality, but lacks the individuality that imbued many of the artist’s earlier works. While sculptural depictions often expose the prostrated Ariadne’s face and body, Yandell’s does not, a creative choice that may signal her debt to Rodin, whose approach emphasized expressive emotion.
Whether creating enormous public sculptures or interpreting mythological narratives, Yandell challenged the gender norms of early twentieth century sculptural practice. Her achievements, while significant, were “hard won” and the collective progress modest, a reality she openly acknowledged during both the height of her career and later, when her record became obscure. Nevertheless, Yandell saw promise for future generations of women sculptors, remarking in 1924: “Yes, I think it is a lovely occupation for women, if they have love for form. It requires much study and is wonderful for developing the mentality. It requires a great deal of physical strength and, of course, one must have talent before entering the field. The field is not overcrowded for art is still much unappreciated in this country, but every year I see it advance.”