Gilbert Franklin came to Provincetown in 1938 to study with John Frazier at the old Hawthorne School. He always said Provincetown wasn't much different than it is today "except for the large condos and inns. Commercial Street had two way traffic, if you can believe that, and everywhere you went you saw people painting. It's always been a fascinating place. It think it's a place of freedom; people can do what they like, mostly, and other people let them do it"
Franklin was born in England and grew up in Attleboro, MA. His Father was a jeweler and so he was exposed to the tools of working with metals at a very young age. In high school he took an evening course in drawing with an instructor who taught at Rhode Island School of Design and who encouraged him to attend art school. He went to RISD, and continued his studies at the Museo Nancional in Mexico City and the American Academy in Rome.
"Touring Gilbert Franklin's studio of finished pieces and wax forms in progress," Lynn Stanley wrote, "A restrained elegance and simplicity of line were evident everywhere. The features of each face were nondescript, the forms stylized; one had the sense of the archetypal body moving in time, not confined to the specifics of identity."
The human figure was always a major source of inspiration for Franklin. Much of his work has antecedents in the classical sculpture of Greece and Rome -- classical, but expressing a contemporary aesthetic through its often rough surfaces, boldly sliced interacting forms and sharp edges. Franklin has said, "I do basically two types of sculpture: one, figurative both realistic and/or abstracted related to the figure; the other, abstracted forms derived from natural forms found on the Cape like shells and rocks." Franklin primarily worked in bronze, but also had an interest in other mediums. He also had a gift for portraiture. He sculpted many of his friends including his famed teacher John Frazier. Describing his work in portraiture, Franklin said in the interview with Lynn Stanley: "In portraits, I don¹t feel constricted to any one approach. Each piece is tied to capturing the character. I see it as a kind of freedom I afford myself. You don't go into a thing seeking an experience but if you go into the process it becomes an experience."
Franklin served as Professor of Sculpture and Chairman and Dean of the Division of Fine Arts at the Rhode Island School of Design, and taught at Harvard, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania, among others. He received the Prix de Rome in Sculpture, was a Fellow at the American Academy of Rome, and was named an H.M. Danforth Distinguished Professor of Fine Arts at RISD.
Franklin also served as Trustee, co-chairman of the Board and as Chairman and Member of the Visual Arts Committee of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Michael Mazur wrote in FAWCs Memorial to Franklin: "His steady leadership helped to steer us away from the dangers of debt toward greater securityŠ.Gil was a natural steward, conserver, and conciliatorŠHis work was characterized by a love of form, especially those sensual forms of the human body abstracted to very particular telling curves and volumes. He created the beautiful medal with which FAWC honors distinguished artists and writers whose careers are models of mentoring and generosity. (In other words, people like Gil.)"
During his long and impressive career, Franklin received many public commissions for his sculpture including pieces for the Hallmark Collection, Kansas City; the Gannett Building, Arlington, VA; the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, DC, the Harry S. Truman Memorial, Independence, MO, and the Orpheus Ascending Fountain at the Frazier Memorial in Providence, RI. His outdoor sculpture, Seaforms, stands at the Wellfleet Public Library. His sculpture can be found in the permanent collections of important Museums across the Country.