Sunday, November 18, 2018

Eliza Barchus: Northwest American Landscape Painter

Eliza R. Barchus
It's been a while since my last post-I retired from teaching and moved to Portland, Oregon for a year of adventure and exploration so, meet Eliza Barchus, a native Oregonian and landscape painter. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, December 4, 1857, Barchus relocated to Oregon with her second husband, John, in 1880. While she was raising a family, she began to study art with William Parrott, joined the Mutual Art Association, and began to exhibit at early industrial fairs. Barchus sold her first painting in 1885 and drew national attention in 1890 when one of her large paintings of Mount Hood, a 40 x 60 inch canvas, was displayed at the National Academy of Design in New York City. She created a number of paintings of the mountain such as the one below.
Eliza R. Barchus
Mt. Hood
Oil on Art Board   
4 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches
Widowed in 1899, Barchus became the sole support of her family. In addition to managing a thriving art studio, she sold and traded many artworks in order to make ends meet. In 1905 she won a gold medal at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition for her paintings and is also credited with the introduction of color postcards in the United States made from six of her landscapes at the exposition.

This lithograph was offered for sale at 50 cents during the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition. The lithographs of Mt. Hood at Sunset and Mt. Rainier at Noonday (large size) were a little more – 75 cents. Unsold inventory after the Fair generated income for the family for years afterwards.

This sign was created on sheet metal, painted black with white lettering. It measures approximately 20″ by 14.” A December 22, 1901 mention in the Oregonian newspaper announced that: Mrs. E. R. Barchus, artist, painter of mountain scenery, offers her beautiful picture of Mount Hood for the holidays. Small sizes. Low prices. Room 1 Multnomah block.
The reference to “Room 1” on both the sign and in the article link the sign to her time in that studio.

Eliza Barchus was quite the innovative artist and businesswoman. She produced thousands of artworks, often employing an assembly-line system, painting several canvases at once. She painted almost exclusively in oil with just a few watercolor sketches that were most likely done as preliminary pieces for the larger works. Barchus advertised in catalogs and had a thriving business through the mail. For those familiar with local history, Eliza Barchus sold paintings at the B.B. Rich Cigar and Concession at the Portland Hotel where Portland's "Living Room" now exists: Pioneer Square.

Eliza R. Barchus
Wilson River (?) Oregon
Oil on Art Board   
4 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches
Eliza Barchus was an artist of considerable talent and a business woman quite ahead of her time. Her painting career ended in 1935 due to arthritis and failing eyesight, but she lived until she was 102 years old. She is one of Oregon's most popular pioneer artists and, several years after her death, Barchus was named "The Oregon Artist" by the Oregon Legislative Assembly. Eleanor Roosevelt honored Eliza Barchus' 100th birthday in her syndicated column, "My Day."

Eliza R. Barchus
Multnoma Falls
Oil on canvas
12.25 x 22 inches

The Oregon Encyclopedia, Ginny Allen,, retrieved November 18, 2018
Elizabeth R. Barchus, Oregon Artist, Research Site,

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Abby Tyler Oakes: One of the First!

Artwork by Abigail Tyler Oakes, ACROSS THE VALLEY, Made of oil on canvas
Abby Tyler Oaks
Across the Valley
c 1854
Oil on canvas
17 3/4 x 24 inches

According to a simply marvelous book entitled "An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West" by Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, artists have been inspired by the American West for more than 150 years, producing works of art as varied as the region itself and distinctive for their power and imagination. Early artists from the Hudson River School such as Albert Bierstadt and Edwin Church, and Abby Tyler Oakes, painted landscapes from uncultivated areas of the Hudson River valley in New York. They headed west, to capture and depict America's panoramic landscape views which explored the individual's and country's relationship to the land. In other words, what identifying qualities rendered America's history and geography, unique?

Abby Tyler Oaks
Western Mountain Landscape with Waterfall
Oil on canvas
23 x 44 inches

Early female artists played a major role in the development and growth of art communities through their participation in art schools, art associations, art colonies and public art exhibitions. California, San Francisco in particular, became the first mecca for women artists in the West. A boom town as a result of the discovery of gold in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, San Francisco exploded into a financial and cultural center almost overnight. Those original female artists to arrive in the 1850s, sailing via Cape Horn or the Isthmus of Panama, were typical of the many who were to follow. The migrants who settled in to stay, or visited other centers in the West in subsequent years were the wives, daughters, or sisters of business, religious, and professional men; many connected with people of at least moderate means. Some were self-taught as artists, not surprising for a woman at that time; a number, had substantial art study and training while many were teachers.

Abby Tyler Oaks
 Mountain Vista
Oil on canvas
18 x 24 inches

Born in New York state, Abby Oakes shares with Mary Park Seavy Benton credit for being California's first professional woman artist.  According to her birth certificate, Abby was born and raised in Charleston, Massachusetts. In 1845, at age 19, she married Bostonian William Harrison Oakes, a music engraver and printer of newspapers. The couple had two sons, one who did not survive infancy. In 1856, she left Boston and joined her husband in San Francisco, where he was working for the San Francisco Bulletin. Abby was active for several years in the Bay Area as an artist, including exhibiting at the Mechanics Institute in 1857. During her stay in California, she received high praise from local newspapers for her studies of Yosemite and other Sierra Nevada scenes.

Abby Tyler Oaks
Croton, New York
Oil on canvas
no size given

Abby Tyler Oaks
Hudson River Boating Scene
c 1859
Oil on canvas
23 x 44 inches

Abby Oakes settled with her husband in New York City where she continued her art career and did dramatic writing and William, who lived until 1890, formed his own engraving business.  From 1865 to 1886, she exhibited at the National Academy of Design, and in 1868, studied in France with Emile Charles Lambinet.  Oakes lived in the city until about 1891 when it is thought that she returned to Charleston where she died in about 1898, however, that date is undocumented.

Her painting subjects in New York state include Hudson River locations, and among the titles of her work were The Clove and Catskill Mountains.  In France and England, she also did landscapes such as On the Marne, France and Near Hampton, England.  California titles include View of Mission Dolores, Great Yosemite Falls, California, and Ocean Beach, San Francisco.

Although her western experience was brief, Abby Tyler Oakes was one of the first women and certainly among the most capable to paint the state of California during the 1850s. A prize winner and exhibitor, her work is in the collection of the California Historical Society. 

An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West, Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, Univeristy of Tesas Press, Austin, 1998, p. 234. 
Yesterday and Tomorrow: California Women Artists, Sylvia Moore, ed. Midmarch Arts Press, New York, 1989, p. 64.
Artwork from various websites including Mutual Art, askArt, and invaluable, retrieved April 24, 2018. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Anna A. Hills: California Impressionist

Anna Althea Hills
Anna Althea Hills was a renowned plein-air artist, community activist, and a key founder of the Laguna Art Museum. Hills was a six-term president of the Laguna Beach Art Association and is best-known for her work as a California Impressionist, specializing in landscape, marine, genre, and figure painting. 

Anna A. Hills was born in Ravenna, Ohio on January 28, 1882, daughter of a minister. Due to her father's occupation as a Presbyterian minister, the family lived in a number of locations during her childhood. Hills lost her mother in 1886 when she was just four years old, and her father remarried several years later. In 1898, Hills attended Olivet College in Michigan where she took painting and drawing classes. She went on to study at the School of the AIC (Art Institute of Chicago), and Cooper Union in New York where, in 1905, she won awards for her watercolor and oil painting and in 1906, for her still life work. She received her diploma in 1908 and culminated her art training abroad between the years 1908-1913 at the Academie Julian, Paris. 

Hills returned to the United States in 1914 and settled in Los Angeles. As she began to visit and sketch in Laguna Beach, surrounded by its scenic beauty, she decided to move there to pursue her art career. Hills taught painting, helped to organize the Laguna Beach Art Association and helped to found a new gallery which opened in 1929. 

Anna A. Hills
Sunshine & Shadow, 
Oil on board,
7 x 10 inches
Orange County Park, California
Private Collection
Hills' early landscapes were created using the darker atmospheric Barbizon tradition, but once in Southern California's light and varied landscape, in addition to her exposure to contemporaries Edgar Payne and George Brandriff, she embraced a lighter palette while abandoning her brushes for the palette knife. Coastal scenes from Laguna to Carmel including trees were among her favorite themes. She also loved the desert, staying in such locations as Banning and Hemet. Physically energetic, and despite a severe spinal injury, Hills took ruggedly adventurous trips into remote mountain areas to sketch. 

Anna A. Hills
Springtime, Banning, California

Oil on paperboard,
10 x 14 inches

Private Collection, shown by the Irvine Museum

Anna A. Hills
The Lone Palm 
Andreas Canyon
Oil on board
10 x 7 inches
Private Collection
Anna A. Hills
The Spell of the Sea
Laguna Beach near Moss Point
30 x 39
Oil on Canvas
Private Collection
Hills won the Bronze Medal at the Panama-California Exposition, San Diego in 1915; the Bronze Medal at the California State Fair, 1919; and the Landscape Prize at the Laguna Beach Art Association, 1922 and 1923. Anna A. Hills died at age 48 on June 19th, 1930. 

Anna A. Hills exhibited widely including with the San Francisco Art Association, the California Art Club, the Panama Pacific Exhibition in San Diego, the Laguna Beach Art Association, and the California State Fair in Sacramento. Her solo shows included the Kanst Galleries in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Museum of Art and California State University, Long Beach. Her works are often featured in shows curated by the Irvine Museum, Irvine, California.

The Eclectic Light Company, Into the Light, Anna Hills and California Light, retrieved December 11, 2017.
An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West, Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1998, p. 142. 
Independent Spirits, Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945, University of California Press, Los Angeles, 1995, ppg 66, 68.
Bodega Bay Heritage Gallery Monthly, Anna Althea Hills, 1880-1930,, retrieved December 11, 2017.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Waldine Tauch: American Sculptress

Waldine Amanda Tauch at work

The Tauch Family. Standing: Emma (left) and Waldine
Courtesy Fayette Heritage Museum & Archives
Waldine Amanda Tauch was born on January 28, 1892, in Schulenberg, Texas, the second of three children of William and Elizabeth (Heimann) Tauch. Her father, the mayor of Fayetteville, a farmer and photographer, recognized and encouraged her emerging artistic abilities by giving her photographs to draw. At age seven she began to sculpt, initially modeling in clay, and later carving soap, wood, chalk, and stone. When she was 13, while living in Brady, Texas, she carved a figure from butter for the McCulloch County Fair. Brady Tuesday Club president Maggie Miller Henderson convinced local rising sculptor Pompeo L. Coppini to take Waldine as his pupil, and in 1910, just two weeks shy of graduating from high school, she began her studies with Coppini in San Antonio. When funds for her education were exhausted, Coppini taught her without tuition and he and his wife welcomed her as a foster daughter in their home. 
Pompeo Luigi Coppini
May 19, 1870-September 26, 1957
b. Moglia, Mantua, Italy
Under the influence of Coppini, a staunch advocate of classical sculpture, Tauch developed a naturalistic style, He condemned abstract art as "an irritation to the eye and an insult to the mind!" By 1911 she had secured her first public commission, a bas-relief (low-relief sculpture) commemorating Mrs. I. J. Rice, for the Brownwood Library. More commissions followed, primarily for portrait busts. Tauch determined that she wanted to sculpt heroic public monuments and Coppini initially opposed her decision, arguing that a small woman would not have the strength to complete the larger-than-life-sized works, an issue that faces all women who sculpt large-scale works.
From 1918 to 1922 Tauch worked with Coppini in his Chicago studio, where she assisted him with various projects and completed a life-sized marble high relief commemorating her early patron, Maggie Miller Henderson (1919), which was placed over Henderson's grave in Richmond, Kentucky. Tauch returned to San Antonio for a short time but, in 1922, moved to New York to help Coppini's wife recover from an injury and to assist him in his work on the Littlefield Fountain for the University of Texas at Austin.
During the following twelve years in New York City, Tauch completed a number of major sculptures, including her first commission for a large work, the Indiana War Memorial (1926) in Bedford, Indiana. While in New York she began producing small genre figures that were reproduced for the mass market by the Gorham Company. Small statuettes such as Surfboard (ca. 1924), Gulf Breeze (1929), and Boy and Eel (1924), all of which celebrated the nude figure, revealed a more romantic, personal, vision than the sober commemorative works that occupied most of her time. 
Waldine Amanda Tauch
Turbulent Youth
Bronze Bookends
Tauch returned to San Antonio in 1935 in order to compete for commissions inspired by the Texas Centennial celebration (1936). She was awarded the commission to carve The First Shot Fired For Texas Independence (1935), a life-sized bronze bas-relief set in granite seven miles southwest of Gonzales, near the site of the battle of Gonzales. She also completed Centennial memorials to Moses Austin (1937–38) in San Antonio and Isaac and Frances C. Lipscomb Van Zandt (1938) in Canton. In 1936 Tauch and Coppini built a studio at 115 Melrose Place, San Antonio. Their sharing the costs of the studio indicated a move away from their mentor-protege's relationship to a partnership. Tauch remained in San Antonio for the rest of her career, completing works for patrons throughout Texas and in New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Oklahoma. 

Waldine Amanda Tauch
Douglas MacArthur
ca. 1969
Douglas MacArthur Academy of Freedom
Affiliated with Howard Payne University
Her best-known works are Douglas MacArthur, an eight-foot bronze statue at Howard Payne University, Brownwood; Higher Education Reflects Responsibility to the World (1965), a heroic-sized bronze at Trinity University, San Antonio; Texas Ranger of Today (1960), an eight-foot bronze statue at the Union Terminal in Dallas; and Pippa Passes, a bronze, life-sized high relief at Baylor University, in Waco, Texas.

Waldine Amanda Tauch
Pippa Passes
ca 1956
Baylor University, Waco, Texas
In addition to sculpting, Tauch traveled throughout the state promoting traditional art in lectures to various clubs and organizations. In 1939 she began teaching, initially at the San Antonio Art Academy and later in her own studio. She taught at Trinity University from 1943 to 1945, when Coppini was head of the art department there. In 1945 Coppini and Tauch founded the Academy of Fine Arts, a club dedicated to traditional art styles and techniques. Members met regularly for discussion and exhibited their work in museums and galleries throughout the state. The organization was later renamed Coppini Academy of Fine Arts and was sponsored by Tauch after her mentor's death in 1957. 
Coppini Academy of Fine Arts
San Antonio, Texas
Tauch was active in a number of other organizations, including the Society of Medalists, the Southern States Art League, the Artists Professional League, the National Society of Arts and Letters, Artists and Craftsmen, the San Antonio Art League, and the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. In 1941 she was awarded an honorary doctorate of fine arts degree by Howard Payne College, and in 1964 she was elected a fellow of the National Sculpture Society of New York City. The Texas Senate awarded her a Recognition Certificate in 1969 for her contribution to the cultural and artistic life of Texas and the nation. In 1971 Alpha Delta Kappa, an honorary society for women educators, named Tauch Woman of Distinction. She continued to sculpt into her eighties, when her eyesight began to fail. 
Comanche Indian bas-relief figure, once a fountain
Waldine Tauch
Commerce Street Bridge, San Antonio, Texas
Waldine Tauch died in San Antonio on March 31, 1986, and was buried at Sunset Memorial Park in the plot where the Coppinis are buried. Many of her sculptures are on view at her former studio, which now houses workshops, classes, and exhibitions sponsored by the Coppini Academy of Fine Arts. Tauch, who was a fellow of both the National Sculpture society and the American Academy of Arts and Letters is also represented in many public collections, among them the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon; the MacArthur Memorial Foundation, Norfolk, Virginia; the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and the Witte Museum, San Antonio.

Here is a link to a video for more information on the life of Waldine Amanda Tauch. 

Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1998, p. 298.

Texas State Historical Association, Waldine Amanda Tauch, published in partnership with University of Texas at Austin, retrieved September 19, 2017.
Pompeo Coppini, From Dawn to Sunset (San Antonio: Naylor, 1949). Coppini-Tauch Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Dallas Morning News, April 3, 1986. 
Patricia D. Hendricks and Becky D. Reese, A Century of Sculpture in Texas, 1889–1989 (Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin, 1989). Alice Hutson, From Chalk to Bronze: A Biography of Waldine Tauch (Austin: Shoal Creek, 1978).

Vimeo, Waldine Tauch Documentary,, retrieved September 20, 2017.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Ethel Magafan: American Muralist and Painter of Abstract Western Landscapes

Jenne (left) and Ethel (right) Magafan
ca. n.d.
Ethel Magafan and her sister Jenne were identical twins, born in Chicago, Illinois in 1915 to Petros Magafan, a Greek immigrant father and Julia (Bronick) their Polish mother. Due to their father's health concerns, the family moved to Colorado, where the landscape reminded Petros of his native village in Greece. The family lived in Colorado Springs and then in Denver from 1931-1934. The twins both wanted to become artists and were supported by both teachers and family members. Unfortunately, Petros died suddenly in 1932, a tragic loss for both of the girls. 
The twins attended East High School in Denver, where they found a mentor in their art teacher Helen Perry. She had studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and her background made her uniquely qualified to help the girls in their pursuit of an art career.
 In 1936, Jenne won the Carter Memorial Art Scholarship and shared it with her sister so that they both could attend the Broadmoor Art Academy in Colorado Springs. Once they ran out of money, Mechau, now teaching there, hired them as assistants. Through their involvement at the Academy, the twins entered into careers as muralists, working at first with Mechau and then with Peppino Mangravite.
From 1937 to 1943, Ethel was commissioned to paint her first of seven government sponsored murals. Located in the US Post Office in Auburn, Nebraska, this commission made Ethel (at age 26) the youngest artist in America to receive such an honor. Denver Art Museum director Donald J. Bear once commented that "[Ethel and Jenne's] study of local detail makes them appear as little Bruegels of ranch genre - natural and unforced."
Ethel Magafan
Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, January 8, 1814
Recorder of Deeds Building, Washington, D.C.
Other New Deal Works Progress Adminstration (WPA) murals included the US Senate Chamber, the Recorder Deeds Building, and the Social Security Building in Washington, D.C. which Ethel painted with her sister. One of her earliest submissions to the Treasury Department Section of Fine Arts was a study of The Lawrence Massacre for the Post Office of Fort Scott, Kansas. The subject was a tragic event in the town but was not accepted as a design at the time. Magafan realized that she needed to work with government bureaucracy in order to have her ideas accepted and focused her subjects on local agriculture and industry. She included subtle references that pushed against the limitations of subject matter in her work such as including Black workers depicted in a noble light during a period of segregation in the South for a mural in the Wynne Post Office in Arkansas.
Ethel Magafan
The Cotton Pickers
ca. 1940
Oil on Canvas
Post Office, Wynne, Arkansas
During the World War II era, the sisters would frequently drive across the country together in their station wagon to research and complete art assignments. They were thrifty as they saved gas coupons and used re-treaded tires in order to secure their work.
Ethel Magafan at Palisades Reservoir, Minidoka Project, Idaho.
As mural painting commissions diminished, Ethel began to do more easel painting for which she used a palette knife and tempera paints to great effect. Ethel earned her first solo exhibition in 1940 at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in New York. She and her sister collaborated to create seven joint exhibits during the course of their careers. While working together, yet maintaining their own artistic styles, the sisters were able to avoid the competitive nature of business and respect each other's abilities.
Phil Fitzpatrick, Ethel Magafan, Bruce Currie, Cecile Forman.
Photograph by Adrian Siegel.
Courtesy of WAAM Archives.
After living in Los Angeles, California for five years and briefly in Wyoming, the twins relocated to the art colony at Woodstock, New York in 1945, where the sisters lived and worked apart for the first time. Ethel began working in a style that evolved from the literal to the semi abstract and from figurative studies to landscapes. She met fellow artist Bruce Currie at an artist's party, and the two were married in 1946.
Ethel Magafan
Corralled Horse
ca. 1947
Etching, pencil signed and titled, lower margin
10 x 14 inches
Both sisters were awarded Fullbright Scholarships and Tiffany Foundation Awards which allowed Ethel to go to Greece and Jenne to Italy.In 1952, almost immediately upon their return to the U.S., Jenne died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage, a loss that Ethel would mourn deeply. With her sister gone, her landscapes became much more abstract, as she sought out the feeling of the scene rather than an exact representation. She ignored the rules for color and explored simplicity and open space in her work.
Ethel Magafan
Canyon Cascade
Tempera on canvas
96.5 inches highx48.5 inches wide
In 1956, Ethel gave birth to a daughter, Jenne Magafan Currie, named after her sister. During the mid-fifties, Ethel began to make annual trips to Colorado to sketch and find inspiration. She was elected an Academician of the National Academy of Design in 1968 and taught art throughout the 1970s at both the University of Georgia and Syracuse University in New York. Her stature within the art world was solidified in 1971 when the United States Department of Interior requested that Ethel tour and draw sketches throughout the Western U.S. These sketches were later exhibited at the National Gallery in Washington and then sent on a national tour by the Smithsonian Institution.
Ethel's last mural "Grant in the Wilderness" was installed at the Chancellorsville Visitor's Center at the Fredericksburg National Military Park, Virginia, in 1979. From 1962 until her death in 1993, she had an impressive 19 solo gallery shows. Ethel Magafan died at her home in Woodstock from a series of strokes in 1993. In a later Woodstock Times interview, her husband stated "if there was one word for Ethel, it would be warmth, because there was never a person or an animal with a broken wing or broken heart she didn't try to help."
Ethel Magafan
Gibson Dam on the Sun River Project, Montana
ca. n.d.
27 x 53 inches
Ethel Magafan was a member of the American Watercolor Society, Audubon Artists Incorporated, the National Academy of Design, Woodstock Artists Association and the WPA/Federal Arts Project.The recipient of a number of awards including the Fullbright Grant, Tiffany Fellowship, Hallmark and Ranger Awards, Purchase and Altman Prize, the Audubon Artists Medal of Honor and the Childe Hassam Purchase Award. Her work is included, but not limited to collections in the Denver Art Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, Museum of Modern Art, NY, National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C., Oklahoma Museum of Art, and the United States Department of the Interior. 
An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West, Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, University of Texas Press: Austin, 1998, p. 199-200. 
Sullivan Goss, An American Gallery, Ethel Magafan (1916-1993), Alish Patrick,, retrieved May 8, 2017.
David Cook Galleries, Ethel Magafan Ethel Magafan (1916- 1993), retrieved May 8, 2017.
Ask Art, Ethel (Currie) Magafan,, retrieved May 8, 2017.
New York Times Obituaries, Ethel Magafan, Dead, Published April 29, 1993,, retrieved May 8, 2017.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Una Hanbury: Sculptress Extraordinaire

Una Hanbury
Lioness and Cubs
ca. 1984
Rio Grande Zoo
Albuquerque Public Art Program
Albuquerque, New Mexico
After a long and unintended break from exploring talented women artists in history, let's check out sculptor Una Hanbury (1904-1990). I connect with her because, as I have done, Hanbury had several careers and even lived in Washington, D.C. before she ended up out an artist.

Una Hanbury
Phoenix Rising from Ashes
ca. n.d.
Hanbury was born Una Rawnsley in Middlesex, England in 1904, and grew up primarily in Kent County, UK. Her grandfather was Hardwicke Rawnsley, a Church of England clergyman, poet, hymn writer, local politician, and conservationist. He was also one of the founders of the National Trust. 

Hanbury exhibited artistic talent when she was quite young and received instruction from animal artist Frank Calderon. When she reached fourteen years old, she attended the London Polytechnic School of Art after which she studied for three years at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Sir Jacob Epstein, an American sculptor who championed many concepts central to the modernist sculpture movement was her most influential teacher. During this period, Hanbury learned the art of stone cutting on the Italian island of Capri.

Una Hanbury married her first husband, Anthony H.R.C. Hanbury, a stockbroker, in 1926, and retired from her art career to raise a family. She later divorced Hanbury, left England with the children at the outbreak of World War II, and settled in Bermuda in 1940. Hanbury relocated to Washington D.C. in 1944 to work for the British Embassy. After the war she became a real estate broker and general contractor until she married again in 1957 to Alan Cotsworth Brown. 

Una Hanbury
Lying Horse Foal
ca. n.d.
After some time in Canada, she resumed her artistic endeavors and studied painting at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, Academie Julian, and L'Atelier de Vieux, located in Paris. Her interest in sculpture was stimulated by a piece she created while using her youngest stepdaughter as a model. When she returned to Washington in 1961, she had to address personal and professional issues before exploring sculpture as her medium of choice. 

Beginning in the mid-1960s until 1982 or '83, Hanbury produced an impressive body of work in bronze, cast aluminum, stone, terracotta, and marble. 
Image result for una hanbury
Georgia O'Keeffe posing for Una Hanbury
ca. 1967
Unidentified Photographer
Una Hanbury
Bust of Rachel Carson
ca. 1965
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D.C.
Hanbury resumed her sculpting career, completing a number of large-scale commissions for public buildings such as the Medical Examiners Building, Baltimore, and St. Mark's Lutheran Church, Springfield, Virginia. She developed a fine reputation as a portrait sculptor, and commissions included busts of Rachel Carson, Enrico Fermi, Buckminster Fuller, Laura Gilpin, Richard Neutra, Georgia O'Keeffe, Robert Oppenheimer, S. Dillon Ripley, and Andrés Segovia. In addition, animals--particularly horses--were a favorite subject since childhood; sculptures were commissioned by several zoos, and horse portraits often were commissioned by owners. She had solo exhibitions at the Folger Shakespeare Library and National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. in 1971.

Una Hanbury
Circle of Three Lamas
ca. 1970
Potomac School, Washington, D.C.
In 1970, Una Hanbury relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she continued working well into old age and became a significant force in the art life of that region. Her western themes included animals, both domestic and wild and Native Americans.

Una Hanbury
Navajo Land
ca. n.d.
Hanbury exhibited in shows at the Royal Academy, London; Salon d'Automne, Paris; Religious Art Commission, Washington, D.C.; Mostra d'Arte Moderna, Camaiore, Italy; NAD; National Arts Club, New York; and National Cowboy Hall of Fame, Oklahoma City. Her papers are in the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West, Phil Kovinick and Marion Yoshiki-Kovinick, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1998, p. 125.
The Potomac School,, retrieved March 16, 2017.
Public Art Archive,, retrieved March 16, 2017.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Irene Lentz: Fashion and Style Icon during Hollywood's Golden Age

With all the craziness since the beginning of the school year, I completely missed Women out West's third birthday last month! So, thank you for joining me as we continue to honor the talented women who have added such richness to our lives.

     Along the way we have explored female painters, sculptors, photographers, quilters and architects. Time to give a nod to women artists who braved the early entertainment business. It’s a tough venue in which to work and I can assure you from experience, just getting the proverbial “foot in the door” is a real challenge.
Irene Lentz
Pictured with original designs
Los Angeles, California
     There is an enormous range of artistic areas in which to work in show business; everything from animation, which includes storyboard artists and inkers, make-up, scene painters, set designers and dressers and costume designers. Most people with even a cursory knowledge of film costume designers are familiar with the names Edith Head and Bob Mackie. Unfortunately, few have ever heard of Irene Lentz, a twice-Oscar-nominated designer with a seemingly charmed career that ended in tragedy when she leaped to her death from her room at Hollywood's Knickerbocker Hotel in 1962. 

Irene at a fitting
     Born in Baker, Montana, Lentz began her Hollywood career as a silent film actress at age 20 appearing in supporting roles in silent films with Mack Sennett as early as 1921. She appeared as an ingénue in roles opposite Sennett's leading comedians, Ben Turpin and Billy Bevan. Her first film was directed by Sennett's production chief, F. Richard Jones and their professional relationship matured into a personal one. They had been married for less than a year when Jones perished, most likely due to tuberculosis which was rampant in Los Angeles in the 1930s. After his death, Irene Lentz left for Europe where she discovered couture.
Frank Richard JonesAmerican Director and Producer
Husband of Irene Lentz
ca 1919
     Lentz had been sewing since childhood and, with a gift for style, she opened a small dress shop on the USC campus in Los Angeles. After her husband's death and her return from Europe, she opened another boutique at 9000 Sunset Boulevard where she built a following among wealthy women. Those influential clients included MGM chief Louis B. Mayer's daughters Irene and Edith and a celebrity clientele that would embody Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, and Carole Lombard. Bullocks, a now defunct but high-end department store in Los Angeles, offered Lentz the opportunity to open her own custom design shop at the store. As a costume designer, her first big film break came when she designed the wardrobe for the 1933 film Flying Down to Rio.

     Lentz remembers, the day Mayer called. "I thought maybe he wanted me to design wardrobe for some pictures," instead, he offered her the job as head of MGM's costume department, replacing the well-known Gilbert Adrian, who was leaving to start his own fashion line. During her tenure, Lentz (who had by then closed her shop at Bullocks) clashed with Mayer. "It was not easy for her," says fashion writer Mary Hall, founder of The Recessionista blog, who has researched Lentz's life. "She had conflicts with Mayer because she wanted quality in design. Mayer's top priority was economy in design." In addition to work pressures, her second marriage to screenwriter Eliot Gibbons (brother of MGM head art director Cedric Gibbons) was said to be an unhappy one.
Ginger Rogers in Irene
Shall We DanceRKO Radio Pictures
ca 1937
     Billing herself simply as "Irene," her first work was on the 1933 film, Goldie Gets Along, featuring her own designs for star, Lily Damita. Lentz was also hired to create the gowns for Ginger Rogers on the 1937 film Shall We Dance with Fred Astaire. This was followed by additional designs in another Rogers’ film as well as work for other independents such as Walter Wanger Productions, Hal Roach Studios and major studios RKO, Paramount and Columbia Pictures. During the 1930s, Irene Lentz designed the film wardrobe for leading ladies such as Constance Bennett, Hedy Lamarr, Joan Bennett, Claudette Colbert, Carole Lombard, Ingrid Bergman, and Loretta Young among others.
Ava Gardner
The Postman Always Rings Twice
ca 1946
     Lentz not only costumed Hollywood's Golden Age stars for the big screen, famously putting Lana Turner in then-scandalous high-waist shorts with a midriff-baring top in 1946's The Postman Always Rings Twice, she also dressed them in life. Her signature Irene clothing line was one of only two to have its own salon at the Bullocks Wilshire department store in the 1930s and '40s (Coco Chanel had the other). But since her death, until fairly recently, Lentz has been largely forgotten. "She is the most celebrated costume designer nobody has heard of," says TV and movie costume designer Greg LaVoi, who is in process of writing a book about her.
Doris Day in Irene
ca 1960
     Her close friend Doris Day, whom Lentz dressed in the early ’60s films Lover Come Back and Midnight Lace, still remembers her fondly. "She was such a talented designer, and I loved everything she did for me," Day tells THR. "She knew exactly what I liked, and when we did a film, we didn't even have to discuss my wardrobe because she knew what I would wear." Lentz was revered for her dresses in ultrafine silk soufflé, luxurious bias-cut chiffon gowns and kick-pleated day skirts. Her looks represented a new wave of modern American dressing: wide swingy trousers with elegant silk blouses, tailored suits cut to hug a woman's curves, with hand stitching and exquisite buttons. "Her tailoring flattered a woman's figure," says Doris Raymond, owner of L.A. consignment store The Way We Wore.
Irene Lentz Design
Dinner dress of  bianchini black crepe
     By the end of the ’40s, Lentz wanted out of MGM. After leaving MGM, she founded her own fashion line and sold that line in 20 of the biggest department stores in America in the 1950s. including Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, to relaunch her line at a more mass-market level. "It was marketing genius. Upscale stores could offer clients the Irene garments that stars loved," says Hall. "Today, that would be similar to how someone like [designer] Janie Bryant has leveraged Mad Men to design a fashion line for Banana Republic. Except Irene was a fashion designer before she was hired by the studios."
Irene Lentz Design
     If her career sounds like a Hollywood movie, the ending is a real tear-jerker. On Nov. 15, 1962, days after her latest show received rave reviews and three weeks short of her sixty-first birthday, Lentz checked into the Knickerbocker in Hollywood under an assumed name. (The now-closed hotel has a history of tragedy: Actress Frances Farmer was arrested there before her institutionalization, and I Love Lucy's William Frawley was dragged there to die after he had a heart attack on the street.)
Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel
1714 Ivar and Hollywood Boulevard
ca 1940s
     There is some question as to what drove her to such despair. In her 1975 autobiography, Doris Day wrote that Lentz had spoken of a longtime love for the actor Gary Cooper who was married, but known for his many affairs and had died the year before. Other factors surely played their parts as well: her husband's ill health following a series of strokes, her alcoholism and an incident (recounted by client Barbara Sinatra in her autobiography) in which Lentz suffered facial paralysis after falling asleep with her face under an electric blanket.

     Lentz jumped to her death from her bathroom window where she landed on the awning of the lobby entrance and was not discovered until the following morning. Lentz left suicide notes for friends and family, for her ailing husband, and for the hotel residents, apologizing for any inconvenience her death might cause. As per her wishes, Lentz is interred next to her first husband, F. Richard Jones, at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

Sadly, her line closed a few years after her death. But Lentz no doubt would be pleased to see her designs coming back into style. Says Day: "I can see why there is interest in her today. I often hear from fans telling me how much they loved my wardrobes in films, and I can thank Irene for that. Her designs are truly timeless."
Marlene Dietrich in Irene
The Lady is Willing
Columbia Pictures
ca 1942
Doris Day in Irene
Midnight Lace
Ross Hunter
ca 1960
Now, 51 years after her suicide at age 61, Lentz's designs have a new group of admirers including Tory Burch who wore a Lentz creation on the NYC charity circuit, and for 2010's The Tourist, costume designer Colleen Atwood, who dressed Angelina Jolie in a caramel shawl and ivory sheath based on an Irene look. "I have always been enamored of the refinement of her eye," says Atwood. Her most enthusiastic fan is the aforementioned Greg LaVoi. During the run of TNT's The Closer, he dressed star Kyra Sedgwick in 60-year-old suits, and in spring of 2013, relaunched the Irene line with the consent of her family. Irene items come up for sale occasionally at The Way We Wore and Melrose Avenue's Decades and are priced from $1,800 to $3,800. It's a wonderful tribute to a legendary designer!
Irene Lentz
1., retrieved December 2, 2016
2. Colette, Californian Elegance, February 2011,, retrieved December 2, 2016
3., retrieved December 2, 2016
Vintage Style Files, The California Elegance of Irene Lentz, January 2014, 4., retrieved December 2, 2016
5. The Hollywood Reporter Remembers Irene, Mary Hall, 2013,, retrieved December 5, 2016