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“John C. Fremont Bust” unveiled at the Fremont Main Library

On Tuesday, September 8, the Fremont Main Library was pleased to accept the gift of a bust of John C. Fremont. This beautifully-executed work, sculpted by the late Rex E. Smith, was donated in his memory by his wife, Barbara Smith, and family.

Rex. E. Smith grew up in Manhattan, Kansas and graduated from high school in St. Joe. Missouri. He was a Marine on the aircraft carrier Enterprise when Pearl Harbor was attacked and during the first year of the war.

Rex met Barbara while attending the Naval pre-flight school at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, They spent their first few years of marriage living in the Cordonecis Housing Project in Albany. There Rex developed an interest in John C. Fremont when he met one of his neighbors – the great grandson of General Fremont also named John C. Fremont or “Jack”. Twenty years old at the time, Jack was continuing the family tradition of petitioning the federal government over a land claim. He said “Here I am living in the projects while I’m holding the deed to the Presidio of San Francisco.”

Rex was accomplished in painting, stained glass and wood carving, but had a special talent for clay sculpture. The Fremont bust was sculpted in the mid 60’s. To ensure its durability as a public art display the bust was recently bronzed – a process which surprisingly revealed several additional pieces of detail in the work including the artist’s signature.

John C. Fremont, the namesake of our city, was one of the most flamboyant and controversial figures of the mid-1800’s. He was called “The Pathfinder” for his role as trailblazer across the young continent. He first came to California in 1845 and was struck by the beauty and agricultural possibilities of the Mission San Jose area. He attempted to purchase property here, but his intermediary, Thomas Larkin, bought land in Mariposa instead.

Mayor Bob Wasserman accepted the bust on behalf of the city of Fremont and shared the story of the how the name “Fremont” was chosen. When plans for incorporation were under discussion there were a few suggestions for the new city’s name including “Fremont” and “Mission Valley”. Faced with the need to make a choice or miss the deadline for filing the incorporation paperwork, Wally Pond said “Fremont.”

Tuesday’s presentation coincided with the opening of Fremont Main Library’s new Local History display area which currently features an exhibit about John C. Fremont. Library Manager, Don Nunes also took this occasion to show plans for the new Maurice Marks Center for Local and California History which is currently under development.

The bust is situated on the second floor of the library by the Local History display area. You are invited to view the sculpture and enjoy the display on John C. Fremont.

– Janet

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