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Sheridan, Clare (1885–1970)

Sheridan, Clare (1885–1970)

English sculptor, journalist, and travel writer. Name variations: Clare Frewen Sheridan. Born Clare Consuelo Frewen on September 9, 1885, in London, England; died in 1970 in Brede, England; daughter of Moreton Frewen and Clara (Jerome) Frewen; niece of Jennie Jerome Churchill (1854–1921); married Wilfred Sheridan, on October 10, 1910 (died 1915); children: Margaret (b. 1911); Elizabeth (1912–1913); Richard (1915–1936).

Born into the English upper classes in 1885, Clare Frewen Sheridan spent her early years in London and at the family home in Sussex. Her father Moreton Frewen inherited little wealth and struggled for years to make his fortune through cattle-ranching, gold mining, and other schemes in the United States and Africa, but left the family dependent on their wealthy relatives for support. Her mother Clara Jerome Frewen came from New York's social elite and was the sister of Lady Jennie Jerome Churchill . Clare was tutored in London, Ireland, Paris, and Germany, but made little progress in her studies except in foreign languages. Her family's financial problems made it difficult for her to find a suitor, but Clare, sensitive and intelligent, decided she wanted to be a writer anyway. She became the protégée of Rudyard Kipling and Henry James who encouraged her ambitions, but she considered her first novel a failure and burnt it. In 1910, she married Wilfred Sheridan, with whom she had fallen in love several years earlier. He came from a respectable but poor Irish family; their decision to marry caused a rift between Clare and her parents, who had demanded that she marry a wealthy aristocrat in order to support them. The newlyweds moved outside London; Clare had two daughters in 1911 and 1912, but the younger died of tuberculosis in 1913.

Sheridan wanted a memorial stone erected over her daughter's grave, and resolved to design it herself. She entered a technical school to study sculpture and found that expressing herself in clay helped her through her grief. However, the next year Wilfred joined the British army fighting in World War I. Sheridan gave birth to a son in September 1915, one week before her husband was killed in action. With little income and two children, she left her children in her parents' care and set up a studio in London, launching a career as a professional sculptor. At first she sold only decorative pottery, but soon her connections to the London elite led to commissions for portrait busts in marble and bronze. By 1920, she was well established in London, and a one-woman exhibition of her work was planned for the fall. That summer, Sheridan traveled secretly to Moscow, on the invitation of a Russian ambassador to England. She was lodged at the Kremlin where she modeled busts of the Bolshevik leaders Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky as well as other Russian political figures. On her return home in 1921, she was surprised to find that London society and many in her own family branded her a traitor for living with England's enemies in Communist Russia. There was great media interest in her experiences, however, and she soon published a memoir, Mayfair to Moscow. She moved to New York to set up a studio and brought her children over from England. Clare became friends with the editor of the New York World newspaper, and went to Mexico to write articles for the paper on life there. Her exploits and her quick, impressionistic writing style made Clare Sheridan well known in the U.S.; at the invitation of movie producer Samuel Goldwyn, she went to Hollywood, where she became a close friend of Charlie Chaplin. When it was falsely reported in the press that they were engaged, Sheridan had little choice but to return to New York.

In 1922, she went to England as correspondent on European affairs for the New York World. Over the next two years, she would interview top political figures during a key period in the emergence of the new Europe in the aftermath of World War I, including Kemal Ataturk, founder of Turkey, Irish nationalist leaders, and the kings of Rumania and Bulgaria. At Benito Mussolini's invitation, she went to Rome where she was able to interview him at length. Her articles on these meetings were considered major scoops in the American press. She returned to Europe in 1923 as permanent correspondent from Germany for the World but continued to travel across Europe as events unfolded. It was the combination of her unique status as a female journalist, her remarkable beauty, her family connection to Winston Churchill, and her lack of public political commitments which gave Sheridan access to people most male journalists were not allowed to meet in a period of international hostility. The Soviet ambassador to London then offered her a visa to visit southern Russia, which she quickly accepted. She and her brother Oswald Frewen took his motorcycle across southern Europe to the Ukraine and Crimea in 1924. Clare fell in love with the country and declared herself a Communist. She nonetheless hoped to settle with her children in Constantinople, yet after only one year there they left for Algiers when it was rumored Clare was a spy for the Communists. From 1927 to 1931, they lived in Bikstra in the Sahara, Sheridan producing several novels as well as travel books on her experiences in Europe and Russia, and continuing to sculpt as well. Always restless,

Sheridan moved back to England again, where she met and sculpted a bust of Mohandas Gandhi. In 1936, after the sudden death of her son, Sheridan moved briefly to an art colony in the American Rockies, finding consolation in sculpting once again. She rejoined her family in Sussex at the outbreak of war in 1939, and in 1946, after the war's end, left for Italy. There she converted to Catholicism, then moved to Galway in Ireland. The depth of her spiritual feeling is revealed in her Irish sculptures, mostly large-scale religious works in wood or stone, often portraying madonnas, still on display in Galway churches. She received few commissions in Ireland, and left in 1952 to return to her house in Bikstra. There she wrote her final book, the autobiographical To the Four Winds.

In 1959, Sheridan returned for the last time to England and settled in Brede Village, Sussex. She remained there until her death at age 84 in 1970. A posthumous exhibition of Clare Sheridan's works was shown at the Rye Art Gallery in Sussex in 1971.

sources:

Leslie, Anita. Cousin Clare: The Tempestuous Career of Clare Sheridan. London: Hutchinson, 1976.

Sheridan, Clare. To the Four Winds. London: A. Deutsch, 1957.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California

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