Meet George Stanley, Sculptor of the Academy Award

Plus, a guide to finding his artworks around Los Angeles

George Maitland Stanley spent more than half a century making art in Los Angeles but is best remembered for one tiny sculpture: the Academy Award. Stanley was 26 years old when M.G.M. art director Cedric Gibbons tapped him to transform a rough sketch into the iconic golden statue. He was born in Louisiana but came to California as a child, attending high school near Santa Cruz. At age 20 he enrolled in the Otis Art Institute, the first independent, professional school of art in Southern California. The school was entering its 5th year on Wilshire Boulevard, headquartered in the former mansion of Los Angeles Times publisher General Harrison Gray Otis. At the conclusion of his studies, Stanley became an instructor at the school (he left briefly to study bronze casting in Santa Barbara) until 1942. He would go on to organize art fairs and exhibits, design and build his own home in Sunland, and occasionally create custom artwork for homes, gardens, and public buildings. His 200-foot long granite sculpture outside the Hollywood Bowl was one of the largest ever built by the Works Progress Administration federal art program.

In a profile from 1930, Stanley was described as “impossibly modest,” a sentiment echoed by his grandson. “My grandmother said he was acknowledged at the first Academy Awards ceremony,” says Vincent Stanley. “And he hid behind a plant.” Stanley died in 1970 and outside of the nearly 3,000 copies of his statuette handed out by the Academy, very little of his work still exists. In 1950 the students of Hoover High School in Glendale commissioned a 10-foot long woodcarving depicting the missions, the gold rush, and covered wagons to mark California’s centennial. Today the whereabouts of that piece are unknown. Most of the building representatives I spoke to for this story had no idea who Stanley was or that they owned his art. One property recently replaced his carved doors with plain ones during a remodel. “It’s unfortunate people don’t understand the value when they’re taking something down,” said Stanley’s daughter Deborah Smith. “They want to do it quick and not take the time to figure out what things are.” A handful of pieces are still in the family, a few have shown up at auction, and the ones below are preserved in situ, preserved as part of the buildings they were designed for.

Bullocks Wilshire
3050 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles [1929, Parkinson and Parkinson]
The super stylized bas-relief near the Wilshire entrance to Los Angeles’s most elegant art deco department store sits above the quote “To build a business that will never know completion.”

First Presbyterian Church of Burbank
521 E. Olive St., Burbank
Family records note a “decorative symbolic panel on a communion table” and carvings created for the church in 1956. A panel depicting a chalice and cloth remains above the 5th Street entrance.

Pacific Telephone Building
740 S. Olive St., Los Angeles [1930, Parkinson and Parkinson]
When this 1911 building was got an art deco makeover in 1930, Pacific Telephone commissioned a ceiling relief in the lobby titled Telephone Symbolized. It was restored when the building was converted to senior apartments in 1979.

St. Benedict’s Church
1022 W. Cleveland Ave., Montebello [1959, O.J. Bruer]
Academy records directed me to look for a “13-foot figure of Christ” at this modernist church in the San Gabriel Valley. There are two. Gladding McBean, a Stanley collaborator, fabricated the one above the entrance but the figure above the altar looks a little more like Stanley’s style.

U.C.L.A. Religious Conference
900 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles [1951, Rowland H. Crawford]
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tells me there is a work here, but the keepers of the building are unaware of its current location and are planning to sell the property. They plan to hire a locksmith to open some long-closed storage before they leave. Crawford was the chief architect in the office of Gordon Kaufmann during construction of the Los Angeles Times building and the Santa Anita racetrack.

American Martyrs Church
624 15th St., Manhattan Beach
This well-kept 1960s modern church in one of the wealthiest cities in the South Bay may be home to a preserved Stanley piece according to Academy research.

Griffith Observatory
2800 E. Observatory Rd., Los Angeles [1933, John C. Austin]
Five different artists collaborated on the massive “Astronomers Monument” on the lawn of the Observatory. Stanley was responsible for the figure of Sir Isaac Newton.

Glendale County building
600 E Broadway, Glendale [1959, Arthur Wolfe]
The terra cotta wall mural “Liberty, Justice, and Freedom” adorns the county courthouse in Glendale with an open law book, the scales of justice, and laurel wreaths.

Hollywood Bowl
2301 Highland Ave., Los Angeles [1929, Allied Architects; 2004, Hodgetts + Fung]
The monumental sculpture at the entrance to the Hollywood Bowl was unveiled in 1940 and titled “Muse of Music, Dance, Drama.” It features a cascading wall of water longer than an Olympic length swimming pool.

Long Beach Polytechnic High School
1600 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach
Stanley created a piece for this school sometime in the 1950s but it seems to be missing. Along with works created for Wilson High School, Scripps College, American Potash Co., and several churches I contacted.