Douglas Tilden - Famous Deaf Sculptor

The Young Acrobat by Douglas Tilden
The Young Acrobat by Douglas Tilden. Smithsonian Institution

Douglas Tilden -- famous deaf sculptor -- was born May 1, 1860, and died in 1935. He was born hearing but lost his hearing to scarlet fever at the age of five.

Tilden attended the California School for the Deaf (CSD), and after graduation he worked at CSD. While working there, he began sculpting. Then he moved to France for awhile. In Paris, Tilden studied under the sculptor Paul Chopin, who was also deaf.

The young Californian made a name for himself, creating several bronze statues and winning medals in prestigious competitions. He was the first native Californian sculptor to establish a reputation for himself outside the state.

Sculptures in San Francisco

Tilden made many sculptures, most of which are in San Francisco. Some of the sculptures are known by more than one name. Here are the best-known San Francisco scultpures and their locations.

  • Admission Day​ (Market-Post-Montgomery streets)
  • California Volunteers (Market and Dolores Street)
  • The Baseball Player​ (Golden Gate Park)
  • Mechanics Monument​ (Sandow Museum, intersection of Market, Bush and Battery streets)

Sculptures Elsewhere

  • The Bear Hunt​ (California School for the Deaf)
  • The Football Players​ (University of California) - In the early years of the 20th century, the statue had one primary meaning for students. It was a symbol of a triumph in a college rivalry. As the 20th century neared its close, however, the statue took on another meaning for many students. It became a homoerotic symbol on a campus where openly gay and lesbian students were becoming increasingly visible.
  • Solders' Monument (Lownsdale Square, SW. 4th Ave., between SW. Salmon and SW. Main Sts in Portland, Oregon)
  • The Tired Boxer​​​: The De Young museum in San Francisco has a reproduction of the sculpture. The original was destroyed in an earthquake in 1906.
  • The Young Acrobat - The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC has this sculpture.

    Deaf Community Involvement

    Tilden found time out from sculpturing to be involved in the deaf community. He was:

    • A vice president of the World Federation of the Deaf
    • A president of the California Association of the Deaf

    Books and Chapters on Tilden

    Books have been published about Tilden, plus chapters in deaf history books.

    • Douglas Tilden: Portrait of a Deaf Sculptor (compare prices)
    • Sculptor to the City. (Chapter)in: Movers & Shakers: Deaf People Who Changed the World. by Cathryn Carroll & Susan M. Mather. (compare prices)
    • Nelson-Rees, Walter A. Douglas Tilden: The Man and His Legacy (compare prices).
    • Great Deaf Americans. Deaf Life Press (chapter).

    Detailed Online Biographies

    There are detailed online biographies of Tilden.

    Miscellaneous Tilden

    Tilden also sculpted Medusa heads for the George W. Gibbs historic residence's portico, at 2622 Jackson St., San Francisco. He made a statue of senator Stephen White, in front of the Cabrillo Beach Museum in Los Angeles. The University of California, Berkeley library has the Douglas Tilden papers.

    Finally, the Oakland Museum of California, in Oakland, CA has a sculpture court, which may have Tilden statues, and the Hearst Art Gallery at St. Mary's College of California may also have Tilden works.

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