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Frank James Morgan

Mt. Fuji, late 1945

Pearl Harbor Survivor

Chief Petty Officer, U. S. Navy (Retired)

Space Age Designer & Model Maker

Patron of Dance and Arts

Master Sculptor

Frank's retirement - piped over the side with 19 yrs, 6 mos. - San Diego 1955
Frank's retirement - piped 'over the side' with 19 yrs, 6 mos.
active service - Naval Training Ctr, Great Lakes, Ill., 1955

frank at six

Frank Morgan's life began as childhood trauma. He lost his mother, sisters, several cousins and other close relatives in the 1920s tuberculosis epidemic which spread over the countryside like a strangling blanket. Most of his youth was spent bouncing from distant relatives to total strangers who managed to raise him and his younger brother. His first sculpturing job was a commission for 50 lions carved from Ivory Soap to be used as place settings for a Lion's Club banquet. Finishing High School at the peak of the Great Depression, he felt both fortunate and grateful that he was able to enlist in the Navy. A Kentucky mountain boy, he found vast beauty everywhere near the sea and intuitively felt affinity for the form and function, sleekness, speed and power of warships, especially cruisers.

A machinist and pattern maker, Frank spent his entire career repairing the broken and mangled ships he admired so much. This segment displays many of his favorite naval vessels, collected on his first enlistment (1935-39). Often the photos were taken personally by Frank and they do not appear in any archives, nor have they been published before.

At San Diego, on 02 October 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt went aboard USS Houston (CA30), for a remarkable 'fishing trip'. Another heavy cruiser, USS Portland, followed in Houston's wake. While the President fished off Houston's fan tail the cruisers steamed south through the Panama Canal and on to Charleston, where the Commander-in-Chief disembarked. Years later he used Houston again for clandestine mid-Atlantic meetings with Winston Churchill and he was probably more shocked than most Americans when his favorite ship was sent to the bottom of the Sunda Strait on the First of March, 1942, by a Japanese invasion force.

In the early morning of 07 December 1941 Frank and his wife were still in bed eating a breakfast of pineapple when the sudden explosive din roused them from their quarters. For several seconds Frank, from his bird's eye view, got an indelible picture of the

whole action. His brother's old ship, Maryland, was already heavily damaged and burning. There followed a terrible hour long
dash down the mountainside through straffing and bombs, burning buildings and ships to his battle station aboard USS
Whitney (AD-4).

USS Maryland (BB-46) and
the China Clipper in more
peaceful times at San Pedro

Astoria's float planes were still an exciting novelty in an aviation era whose stars had names like Charles Lindberg, Beryl Markham, Wiley Post and Amelia Earhart. But not so many years later, in the combat darkness of 09Aug42, the wood and canvas aircraft became torches which lit up their mother ships and made them glowing targets for Japanese cruisers and destroyers. Astoria, along with USS Quincy (CA-39), USS Vincennes (CA-44) and HMAS Canberra, were all lost in that battle off Savo Island (Solomons). Frank and many other sailors wept when they heard the news. Unlike the battle wagons at Pearl, none of the cruisers would ever be salvaged.

A few months later, after torpedoes and naval gunfire had taken Northampton (CA-26) and Chicago (CA-29) down, too, Frank began to feel much as he had as a sickly, helpless child when his mother, then other close relatives had disappeared in awful, mysterious circumstances. Kept away, he had not seen those graves either. By the time Indianapolis (CA-35) met its grisly fate in July, 1945, he had found a new way to have and hold the things he thought beautiful.

iiiiiMake Art not War!iiiii

As early as 1939, Frank began producing the first of the 120 major works of art for which he would become so famous. This one, called "Slave Girl" (later Slave Girl #1) was inspired by pulp fiction of the day. He worked in exotic woods, such as apitong, jelutong, ash, mahogany, birch, ebony, rose wood and teak. After the War, he mastered other mediums like marble, bronze, cold cast bronze, epoxy, fiber glass and cast stone. At that time he studied with Donal Hord in San Diego and they became fast friends.

When the "unpleasantness" in Korea broke out, Chief Morgan was stationed in Sasebo again, this time aboard USS Jason (AR-8). There, in a china shop, he befriended a young woman named Asano. "My friend and tutor is the greatest sculptor on the West Coast of the United States," he said to her.

"My friend," Asano replied, "knows the Emperor's poet." And so Frank met Madame Yanakura, who arranged an introduction to renowned, aging poet, Tini Kachiba. Frank's arduous trip from Sasebo to Tokyo was memorable and during his brief, touching visit the old man praised General MacArthur's humanity and generosity. Taking Frank for MacArthur's emmissary, the dying poet honored Frank with a rare gift, Kachiba's own haiku poem, a thing once exclusively for the divine emperor's eyes and ears only.

Morgan's interest in culture and art knew few boundaries. In addition to sculpture and poetry, he became an avid fan of opera and ballet, eventually serving as Historian for the California Ballet Company.

 Gentle and generous (some said 'to a fault') Frank shared his knowledge and time freely. More than once he befriended wanderers, gave them food and lodging, offered an apprenticeship and taught them a trade. Most Friday evenings would find his home filled with students, dancers, artists, models, photographers, writers, sometimes politicians and active duty military personnel. Even at the peak of Vietnam War controversy, there was not a single disruptive evening, a tribute to Frank's social skills and wide interests.

  In 1980 Frank was honored for his overall body of work as Academic with Gold Medal by the Accademia Italia delle Arti a el Lavori and examples of his sculptures appeared in the Bronzes, Sculptures and Founders Encyclopedia. By 1982 his pieces had been accepted for the sixth consecutive year by the National Sculpture Society and he had won several awards, including the coveted Henry Hering Medal. Although known primarily for female figurative work, his entry "Rhino" won the 1984 Ellen P. Spayer Award at New York's National Academy of Design.

Frank's last project was the bow carving of "Queen Califia" for the top-sail schooner Californian out of Dana Point
Frank James Morgan's life was much more than these few pages can tell. His dear friend, Carole Estrup has written the only biography of his amazing years. It is called Chasing Venus and can be expected on book shelves within the next couple of years. In the meantime, find out more about Frank's lifelong adventure in Carole Estrup's memoir, Barefoot Girl Out of Ohio or new notes about Frank and his mentor, Donal Hord
created & written by H. F. Jansen Estrup

Carole Estrup's long awaited memoir, BAREFOOT GIRL OUT OF OHIO
A Memoir of Survival and Overcoming

Go to Estrup Books

also currently available
War Stories for My Grandchildren: A memoir in short stories
by H. F. Jansen Estrup

copyright 2002-2018 H F Jansen & Carole Estrup
updated 05Jan2018

"Yankee Doodle" arranged and performed by Mark McGuire

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