Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Women Painters of Washington: Hardwick, Gilbert, and Jensen

Women artists were among the earliest instructors, exhibitors, and contributors to the cultural legacy of the state of Washington. The area's first art groups such as the Society of Seattle Artists, established in 1904, and the Fine Arts Society, founded in 1906, were organized primarily by women. The Women Painters of Washington, was founded during the summer of 1930, when six female artists met while attending a portrait class sponsored by the Fine Arts Society, a predecessor to the Seattle Art Museum. The founding members-Elizabeth Warhanik, Dorothy Dolph Jensen, Lily Norling Hardwick, Myra Albert Wiggins, Anna B. Stone and Helen Bebb, joined together to overcome the limitations they faced as female artists and to stimulate artistic growth through fellowship.[1]

Women Painters of Washington exhibit outside Seattle Public Library,
From left, standing: Louise Gilbert, Lily Norling Hardwick, Dorothy Dolph Jensen, Z. Vanessa Helder;
Bottom: Theodora Harrison, Ruth Kreps, Mary Garrett, Seattle,
ca. 1936
Courtesy Martin-Zambito Fine Art, Seattle
Lily Norling Hardwick (1890-1944) was best known for her portraits of Northwest Native-Americans. She was born in Ellensburg, Washington, into an artistic family and was one of three siblings that were all successful in the arts. Her sister, Dorothy Gilbert, was an illustrator and charter member of the Women Painters of Washington. Her brother, Ernest Norling, was known in both Seattle and California as a painter, muralist, and an illustrator.[2] Hardwick attended Central Washington College of Education, the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and also studied portrait painting with Audubon Tyler in New York.

She married Charles D. Hardwick in 1911 and raised a son during the period of her studies. Hardwick created an extensive body of portrait studies of Northwest Native Americans. In about 1921, she painted her first Native American portrait of an elderly woman who had assisted her in her home-the daughter of Yakama Chief Owhi, which led to her painting other elders of the tribe. [3] She began to live and work throughout the state’s reservations at Colville, Nespelem, and LaPush, for nearly 20 years. Her collection serves as a significant record of Northwest Native culture.

Lily Norling Harwick
Chief Selatsee's Wife
ca. 1932
Oil on canvas
34 x 39 1/2 inches
Collection of Yakama Nation Museum
Toppenish Washington

Lily Norling Harwick
Katie Sly
ca. 1934
Oil on canvas
28 x 21 inches
Collection of Yakama Nation Museum
Toppenish Washington
Hardwick created numerous portraits of tribal figures, both male and female, painted in a vivid, modern style. The collection is now housed at the Yakama Nation Museum in Toppenish, Washington.

Louise Lewis Gilbert
Nazi Destruction
ca. 1945
Color serigraph 
17 7/8 x 12 inches
The Annex Galleries, Santa Rosa, California
Louise Lewis Gilbert (1900-1987) painter, printmaker, pacifist and political activist. Born in Detroit, Michigan, she moved to Seattle with her family when she was a young child. She studied at the Portland Museum School as a scholarship student. Confronted with tremendous levels of poverty and inequality during the Great Depression, Gilbert became politically conscious. She and her sister Jane, relocated to San Francisco just before World War II. They had become radicalized during the labor struggles of the 1930’s and Louise became involved in the California Labor School, while her sister began writing for the People’s World newspaper. Louise met the artist Refregier at the Labor School, and when he received a commission at the Rincon Annex Post Office, she assisted him on the mural. [4]

Gilbert's career spanned 70 years, and in those decades she created posters, prints, and other graphic work which she used to rally support for union struggles, farm workers, the women’s movement, gay and lesbian rights, and the international movement for peace. In San Francisco, Gilbert worked on murals for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and later, she joined the San Francisco Graphic Arts Workshop, an artist-run collective that specialized in traditional printmaking from lithographs and etchings to woodblocks and silkscreen. [5] A pacifist, peace and human rights were the issues that inspired the rest of her life's work, as she donated her art and her time towards the causes that, to her, were most important.

Louise Lewis Gilbert
ca. 1965  
Color serigraph
5 3/8 x 15 1/8 inches
The Annex Galleries, Santa Rosa, California
Dorothy Dolph Jensen (1895-1977) was born in Forest Grove, Oregon, to a prominent pioneer family, her grandfather was a U.S. Senator and her mother, a well-known character actress. In 1907, chaperoned by an aunt, she and her sisters went to Europe where she remained for seven years during which time she began her art education in Antwerp with a Monsieur Hanneau, and then continued her studies in Paris where she became a student at the Academie Julian. It there she first learned how to produce etchings at just thirteen years old.

At the outbreak of World War I, Jensen left Europe for the Northwest in 1914, where she returned to Oregon to study at the Portland Art School with Harry Wentz and Sidney Bell. Jensen met her husband, Lloyd, at the Schneider Art Gallery in Seattle where they worked together-he, a noteworthy craftsman, and she, working as a gilder. Following her marriage in 1919, Dorothy would remain in Seattle permanently, becoming one of the City's most highly respected artists. Lloyd Jensen produced exceptionally beautiful hand-carved frames not only for his wife but also for most of Seattle and Alaska's most important artists.[6]

Dorothy Dolph Jenson
Mt. Rainier
ca. 1930
 Oil on canvas
20 x 24 inches'
Collection of Doris Jensen Carmin
Jensens's earliest inspiration as a painter was the Oregon countryside including its coastal areas, mountains, and deserts in the eastern region of the state. Jenson continued to develop her technique in printmaking, and became one of the city's few artists working in intaglio methods in the 1920s and 30s. A founding member of the Women Painters Of Washington in 1930, Dorothy Dolph Jensen was also a charter member of the Northwest Watercolor Society and an early exhibitor and long time member of the Northwest Print-makers organization, which was formed in 1928.

Dorothy Dolph Jensen
Fossil Inclusions
ca. 1940

9 x 12 inches
Susan Teller Galleries, New York
Her exhibition history includes a one-woman show at the Seattle Art Museum, the Seattle Fine Arts Society, Women Painters of Washington as well as exhibitions in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, Cleveland and San Francisco.Her work is in the Permanent Collection of the Portland Art Museum, the Tacoma Art Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Hallie-Ford Museum of Art in Salem, Oregon.

1. Women Painters of Washington,, (accessed April 22, 2013).
2. David F Martin., An Enduring Legacy, Women Painters of Washington, 1930-2005, (Washington: University of Washington Press, 2005), 32.
3. Ibid.
4. Mark Vallen, Mark Vallen's Art for a Change, events, theory, commentary,, (accessed April 23, 2013).
5. Ibid.
6. Women Painters of Washington, 75th Anniversary, 1930-2005,  Dorothy Dolph Jensen, 1895-1977,  One of Six Founders, (accessed April 24, 2013).
6. Ibid.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Art and Women Artists in California, Part Three

Panama Pacific International Exposition
ca. 1915
San Francisco, California
One of the most important events to happen in the West, with regards to art, was the San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exposition, which opened in February 1915. This enormous enterprise was erected on a marshy site reclaimed from the bay (now known as the Marina District) to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal.  Over fifty years in the making, it was dubbed "The 13th Labor of Hercules." [1]  The waterway promised to profit California as the midway port between the East Coast and Asia. The exposition offered the largest display of up-to-the-moment art ever shown in the state.
The Exposition was just the event that the city needed in 1915. The art world in San Francisco had languished since the 1906 earthquake and fire. From 1906 until 1915, there had been few displays of art, other than a small, permanent show at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, and annual shows at the San Francisco Art Association. The Panama-Pacific Exposition rekindled San Francisco’s art world, bringing in architects, landscape designers, interior designers, sculptors, and painters from the East to design, construct, and decorate the site. It attracted East Coast artists, either as tourists, or to help install their work in the fair’s huge art exhibition. [2] The beauty of the architecture in the Beaux-Arts-style, travertine-faced buildings, arranged around open courtyards and patios, gave painters a subject never before seen in rustic California—an urban park. The exposition left San Francisco its first art museum—the Palace of Fine Arts.
Palace of Fine Arts
Panama Pacific Exposition
San Francisco
ca. 1915
Not only was the exposure of artists to the architecture and texture of the stone of the Beau Arts buildings at San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915 groundbreaking, it was also the collection of more than 10,000 works of art representing almost all the important styles of the recent past that had created excitement in the artists’ community. More important for California painters, were several galleries of French and American Impressionist paintings. Despite the availability of art reproductions in magazines and books, friends who had traveled to, or studied in Paris, attended the Exposition and could describe French Impressionism firsthand. A California artist’s reaction to seeing a large group of California Impressionist paintings must have been almost overwhelming. Although French Impressionism had been developed nearly forty years earlier, and was no longer avant-garde, what the artists saw at the Pan-Pacific Exhibition were entire rooms filled with paintings of light and air.
Isabel Percy West
Maartje and Neltje in the Yard
ca. 1913
16 x 12.75 inches
Women artists participated in the Exposition as well. Isabelle Percy West grew up in Alameda, California and studied at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art in San Francisco. West was one of the founders of the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and was a Professor of Design there for many years. West designed book plates and worked in oils, pastels, watercolor and lithography. In 1915, she won a bronze medal for lithography at the Exposition. Constance Macky was born in Australia and studied at the National Gallery School of Painting in Melbourne. She moved to San Francisco and, with her husband, taught large classes in painting and drawing at the San Francisco Art Institute. The couple collaborated on decorative panels in the Exposition and also exhibited paintings in the Palace of Fine Arts.

Constance Lillian Jenkins Macky
Trees overlooking a Valley
ca. 1919
Oil on canvas
20 x 16 inches

The 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition at the San Francisco Museum of Art mounted two exhibits that discussed the significant contributions of women artists. Those exhibits: “California Art in Retrospect” and “California Art Today,” stated that, throughout the eras (both early and contemporary), women artists enriched California’s visual heritage through their work as painters, art educators, art jurors, newspaper art critics, gallery owners, museum administrators, collectors and patrons. They were essential to the growth and development of California culture, and as educators, furthered art education, and contributed to public art exhibitions. [3] Yet, as I've previously discussed, the names of many women artists have remained largely anonymous and their contributions unacknowledged.
Despite the conservative preferences of Southern California art buyers—they wanted paintings that would fit into their tiny bungalows—California Impressionism was such a natural way to transcribe the local landscape that it continued to grow in popularity and to evolve in style. Artists such as Helena Dunlap, returned from study in Paris, brought with her new impressionist ideas, and influenced others by her exhibitions at the California Art Club.[4]
Helena Dunlap
Flowering Coastal Dunes
Oil on canvas
18 x 24 inches
An abundance of flowers, both cultivated and wild blooming all year round, became the theme of paintings, as Southern California landscapists of the 1920s created idealized, romantic, scenes. The genre flourished, encouraged by boom times, the relatively inexpensive living conditions, and the freedom from restraint with regards to the art environment, which gave free rein to creativity. In addition, the Los Angeles Times wrote supportive reviews that encouraged several hundred landscapists from professionals, to housewives and businessmen, to adopt the bright colors and broken brushwork of the French Impressionist style.
The diverse group of artists who came to Southern California did so for a variety of reasons: a bright, sunny, climate that is ideal for out-of-doors painting, an opportunity to settle in a fresh environment, a need to escape tight restrictions of the Eastern art milieu. It was a decision calculated to improve their art and, once in California, most artists recognized the potential benefit to their art. Consequently, the artists either settled permanently or established part-time studios. By 1915, both Southern and Northern California had healthy and complex art communities, and the artistic differences between the two were diminishing rapidly.
The young artists who born in California that went to art school in San Francisco and Los Angeles were introduced to, and influenced by, Ashcan School painters, through exhibitions at galleries, and shows at museums such as the Los Angeles Museum in Exposition Park. The Ashcan school artists focused on genre paintings of people and city scenes. California artists soon found out that art buyers in California were not interested in the lives of ordinary people engaging in everyday activities. What the art of the Ashcan School did foster was attendance at museum exhibitions that popularized this style of painting as American Scene Painting or Regionalism.
San Diego's Panama-California Exposition
San Diego, California
Also influencing the change in art was San Diego’s Panama-California Exposition, which opened at the stroke of midnight, December 31, 1914. Although smaller in scope and somewhat overshadowed by the Exposition in San Francisco, it nevertheless stimulated the art world in San Diego. The Spanish Colonial style of architecture, with its columned arcades, patios, and red-tiled roofs, became synonymous with the state and inspired the first of California’s many Spanish revivals. Work in the exhibition included art by New York modernists from the Ashcan School, to works by contemporary Southern California artists gathered by the then-powerful California Art Club of Los Angeles. Any California artist attending both expositions would have seen contemporary art from most of the Western World!

 [1] Museum of American Heritage, “A Sense of Wonder: The 1915 San Francisco World's Fair,” (accessed November 20, 2010). Website devoted to the Fair and the locations of murals and structures that still exist in San Francisco and beyond. 
 [2] Moure, California Art, 149.
 [3] Moore, Yesterday and Tomorrow: California Women Artists, 74.
 [4] Moure. California Art, 162.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Women and the Southern California Art Scene: Part Two

Helen Lundeberg
Interior with Painting
ca. 1982
Acrylic on Canvas
Up until the latter half of the twentieth century, Southern California had continually been the stepchild at the hands of Bay area intellectuals, in the same way that Europe had long felt culturally superior to America. San Franciscans saw themselves as “old money” with more class, a more varied culture, truly sophisticated art patronage, and more, as well as superior cultural institutions.[1] As Los Angeles reinvented itself in the late 70s and into the 80s—downtown got an infusion of art galleries, and encouraged artists to move into the city with the promise of inexpensive loft space for living and working. The city became a business center for the Pacific Rim. With the rise of the Getty Museum, the L.A. County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles, the current scene in art and culture has shifted southward to Southern California.
By the turn of the twentieth century, Southern California’s towns evolved from supply centers for ranches to large cities which traded with Pacific Rim countries and developed businesses in real estate, oil, and manufacturing. The population of the Los Angeles area swelled from 102,000 to 1,750, 000 during this period.[2] Although each has its own distinct history, the towns shared the arrival of the railroads, boom times, the growth of sizable populations, and the development of their first resident art communities. Initially, art was rare—restricted primarily to documentary landscape drawings in pencil or watercolor by itinerants and portraits of Spanish-Mexican aristocracy. Many women artists in the west were limited by the physical rigors of painting the landscape. This was especially true in Southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico, where much of the land was still rugged, raw terrain, considered unfit for the woman artist whether traveling on foot, by horse, or by carriage. As a result, much of the artwork created by women artists was paintings of flowers, interior scenes, portraits, and genre scenes.
Elsie Payne
The Thrifty Drug Store
ca. 1945
Oil on Canvas
27 x 34 inches
Irvine Museum

However, small numbers of women rose to the challenge and a few early painters, such as Marion Wachtel, recorded the stark beauty of the outdoors. Although the art being produced during that period in Southern California, in particular was not quite on par with that of San Francisco, the work is crucial to the art history of the southern part of the state. It represents a time when artists, studios, art exhibitions, art reviews in newspapers and magazines, commercial art galleries, art collectors, and patrons began to appear. The period also witnessed the first locally developed aesthetic; a communal way of representing the landscape.
Anna Hills
Picnic Beach, Laguna
ca. 1920
5 x 7 inches

Art in Southern California grew in the general prosperity that followed the link of the Santa Fe railroad in 1885. In Los Angeles, a town that was more interested in real estate than art, the first artists worked tirelessly to have their work noticed.  Few women artists ranked equally with their male counterparts over the first two decades of the century. They placed their paintings in well-trafficked areas, and banded with other artists to hold exhibits. The Los Angeles School of Art and Design was established in 1887, by a young woman by the name of Louisa Garden, and it flourished through 1919. Within a year of opening, Garden was organizing a club for artists. Her art association included lay members, held lectures, and maintained a permanent exhibition in its gallery of either loaned work, or artwork by the school’s students.[3]
Art classes sprang up in a number of locations, including elementary and high schools as well as the Throop Polytechnic Institute in Pasadena, and in some of the newly instituted colleges such as the University of Southern California. Women joined any one of several art clubs that were founded, among them the Ruskin Art Club [4] which offered a self-conducted art study program in the then fashionable field of prints.  The club also sponsored public exhibitions, lectures and art tours to Europe. Articles on local artists began to appear sporadically in the Los Angeles Herald and the Los Angeles Times.

Despite growing wealth in Los Angeles, most artists scrambled for patronage. Some made occasional illustrations for The Land of Sunshine, a pamphlet created by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce to extol the virtues of the California climate with regards to health, and in other locally published periodicals. Some women taught art, others painted portraits, but only a small number of artists found patronage among the few local millionaires from Bunker Hill, who had an interest in art.  While the art scene still attempted to become established, two broad artistic philosophies struggled for precedence. Some artists were “Americanophiles.” Those artists believed that a new, uniquely American art could result, if American artists rejected European training and embraced academic ideas, that derive their inspiration directly from the landscape and life, especially that of the American West. The other group had its ideals firmly rooted in the European tradition.
The “Western Myth” refers to those rugged individualists living in a lawless land, doing what's right and keeping their loved ones safe—visiting death and destruction (in highly stylized, impossible combat "dueling" situations) on those who threaten them or their loved ones with harm. The fantasy was especially fueled by the early movie industry in California. Boom town Los Angeles was looked upon as a place unrestrained by East Coast establishment ideas and institutions—and artists saw it as free place, where an artist who had ability and drive could devise something really “American” and new. The Western image—Indians, missions, Spanish/Mexican rancho life, and local landscapes were painted by Los Angeles’s resident “Western” artists, who moved around the Southwest and West, painting Native Americans or frontier life. The train provided a convenient connection between Los Angeles and Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos. When "Anglo" artists began to settle in the Santa Fe area in the opening years of the twentieth century, they discovered a mother lode of images, esthetics, and amenities. The main draw to the region, as elsewhere in the west, was the landscape. It was, and continues to be, a matchless blend of shape, color, and light. 
Alice Schille
Winding Road, New Mexico
ca. 1926-36
Watercolor on paper
18 x 21 inches
There were a host of artists who settled in Southern California during the early years of the twentieth century, who were independent spirits labeled “eccentrics.” Born and raised in either Europe or the Eastern United States, they preferred isolation, and made a conscious choice to isolate themselves from their peers. Artists Helen Forbes and Dorr Bothwell, both from San Francisco, went in search of wild, untamed, nature, and settled in Death Valley and Joshua Tree, painting haunting landscapes that bordered on the surreal. Even in Los Angeles, artists such as Lorser Feitelson, (artist, art instructor, and husband of Helen Lundeberg) moved to Southern California from San Francisco, where he felt that the community was too tightly knit, much like New York. Artists enjoyed the fact that, in Southern California, although they were part of a community, they had to travel two or three days to visit one another—“very few knew each other, or if they did, they never saw each other.”[6]
In Southern California, before 1920, only a few artists were painting the perpetually sunny coast, rolling hills, eucalyptus trees, and Southern Sierras. The earliest landscape artists were challenged by the lack of precedence—as there were no established themes or compositions to follow. In those days, Los Angeles itself would have been the perfect location for interesting cityscapes, but only a few have surfaced, mostly downtown scenes and paintings of Chinatown. The late nineteenth century backlash against urbanization might have led most Southern California painters to render pure landscapes. Some painters created a California version of American Impressionism or plein-air style, which can be traced as a concurrent phase of the American Impressionist movement and as a direct offshoot of the French Impressionist style. The style was established in California, at a time when an American version of Impressionism was just becoming acceptable, in general, throughout the United States. Artists who did not have European training but realized that they had to paint in a style that was acceptable to collectors, utilized Barbizon stylistic elements, through training with artists of that background or through book illustrations. [7] The practitioners were a closely knit group of professional artists who painted together and were active in numerous artistic societies, on the East Coast as well as in California. They not only exchanged ideas, but were open to outside influences.
Dorr Bothwell
Pensioner's Row, Port Gamble
ca. 1926
Pastel on paper
 14 1/4 x 15 1/2 inches

  [1] Nancy Dustin Wall Moure, California Art: 450 Years of Painting and Other Media (Los Angeles: Dustin Publications, 1998), 123.
 [2] Ibid., 65.
 [3] Los Angeles Art Association, Chronological History of the Los Angeles Arts Association, (accessed January 18, 2012). Louisa Garden MacLeod, principal of the Los Angeles School of Art and Design, organized an Art Association, which served as Los Angeles's first public art gallery and compensated to some extent for the lack of a public art museum. Nonetheless, the city's residents continue to clamor for a more official institution.
 [4] Windsor Village: The Early History of Windsor Village, (January 19, 2012). The Ruskin Art Club was established in Windsor Village in 1888 by some of Los Angeles’s most prominent and socially-elevated women. Limited to a membership of 100 to maintain its exclusivity, club members held annual study programs and dedicated themselves “lovingly and earnestly to the study and democratic availability of art.”
 [5] Nancy Dustin Wall Moure, California Art: 450 Years of Painting and Other Media, 123.
 [6 Lorser Feitelson, interviewed by Fidel Danieli, Los Angeles Art Community, Group Portrait, Oral History Program, University of California at Los Angeles Art Library, 1982, n.p., Tape no. 1, side 1, (accessed June 2012).
 [7] Dita Amory, "The Barbizon School: French Painters of Nature," Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Women in the Western Art Scene: Part One

Marion Kavanaugh Wachtel
Long Lake, Sierra Nevada
 Oil on canvas
20 x 26 inches
ca.  n.d.
Collection of The Irvine Museum
          From the nineteenth century to the present day, the American West has been defined as the region west of the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean. The West, however, is not simply a single region, but a set of values and mythologies, germane to the specific areas, and historical period of the United States. In this sense, there are multiple “Wests” that encompass a succession of frontiers, beginning in the northeast, and pushing progressively westward. Where do women fit in this saga of Western exploration amid the masculine narratives of conquest and domination that have come to represent the American West? Exploitation, and alteration of the West, was never part of women’s desires in facing frontier life. It is assumed that women wanted to provide for communal and spiritual needs by gardening, creating quilts, crafting pottery, or engaging in some form of traditional “women’s work.” While Western historians grapple with a 'new' historiography of the American West—rethinking and broadening its scope in terms of race, class, and gender—the production of art by Western women has all but been ignored. Nearly all the attention and focus of art in the West has been directed toward nineteenth-century artwork created by men, and towards the stereotypical imagery of the Old West, conveyed by their work. [1]
Nearly everyone has heard of western artists Frederick Remington, and Charles M. Russell, whose cowboy and Indian art defined the classical western art canon. How many of those same people, artists and non-artists alike, are aware that women artists also worked in what would come to be called the American West, and have done so for as long as humans have inhabited the terrain? Navajo women wove. Pueblo women made pottery. Pomo women shaped baskets. Between 1890 and 1945, women artists of all types worked in the West in great numbers, creating objects that were as extraordinarily abundant and diverse as to defy generalization. [2] 
Hopi woman weaving a basket.
Photographed by Henry Peabody

ca. 1900
Until the 19th century, the western United States and the California landscape had not been painted.  Foreign explorers of the Pacific Coast in the early 1800s brought artists to record both their discoveries and interesting sites along both coast and inland. Later, government surveys enlisted artists to record the geology and geography, vegetation and inhabitants of this westernmost region. There were not, however, any female Audubons, women explorers, or government survey teams. Even in the “wild” West, social restrictions prevented women from traveling alone, or with expeditions, into the wilderness, or to record the landscape. That was a male concern with which women were not encouraged to participate. [3] As women traveled west with their families, the bulk of their artistic narrative left behind were letters, diaries, cookbooks, crafts, and quilts. Yet, there were women painters working among the early settlers—and by the time the frontier closed in 1890, there were more than 1100 women artists and art teachers active in the west. [4] Although many of the paintings of these early artists are regarded more as historical documents, rather than works of art, they represent the beginning of a Western visual heritage.
The discussion of art in California, in particular, must address the differences between the Northern and Southern regions of the state, because each area is distinct geographically, climatically, and culturally. Although the north and south have no legal borders, for the purposes of this blog, Southern California refers to the lower third of the state, with its primary boundaries from south to north being: the cities of San Diego, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara, (each founded during the Spanish period) Palm Springs, the Mojave desert, and the southern Sierra Mountains. Northern California encompasses the region beyond Santa Barbara including San Luis Obispo, the Monterey peninsula, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, and the northern Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Southern California is climatically different from the north, with a much more temperate climate and mostly sunny days, which attracted health seekers, winter tourists, artists, and those seeking to “reinvent” themselves. According to Henry Hopkins, museum director, curator, and educator, the colors most representative of the painters in the southern area of the state are white, blue, and yellow, and the art in general is “clean, intellectually clear, high-colored, light filled.” [5] The natural setting of San Francisco encompasses the bay, green and gold hills, forested ridges and foggy coastline. The colors used in general by the artists reflect the climate in richer, more saturated colors of silver, gray, and green. In both areas, according to Hopkins, the paintings have always expressed the ambience of light. [6] As the fashion in landscape painting moved away from large Romantic panoramas of dramatic scenery, smaller canvases of intimate pastoral themes became popular, themes of which included inland farms and towns that celebrated man’s taming of the land.
Annie Harmon
,Mendocino ranch Rock Pile
 11 1/2 x 17 1/4 inches
Oil on canvas
ca. 1911
 Collection of the Hearst art Gallery
San Francisco was an established city by the turn of the last century. Women artists were not only greater in number, but enjoyed a stronger voice in the artistic community, and they were organizing themselves. The Sketch Club, an exclusively female group, was founded in 1887. The San Francisco Society of Artists, as it was later known, merged in 1915 with the San Francisco Art Association (also founded by women in 1916) bringing about the forerunner of today’s San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. During the early 1920s, the two groups reorganized as the San Francisco Society of Art, and included both men and women. By 1925, the women of the Society branched off as a separate entity, known as the San Francisco Society of Women Artists.
The urge by Western artists to paint and photograph nature was pegged by the East Coast art establishment as an impulse of endearing, almost folksy, eccentricity, by those who lived largely without vast expanses of open space. But artists in the West, wherever they lived, were surrounded by deserts, coastal hills, canyons, valleys full of fruit orchards, redwood forests, and/or beaches every day. To live in the West was, and still is, to have a preoccupation with the landscape, since it is almost impossible to be oblivious to the beauty of nature surrounding those who live there. The variety of  the landscape, ethnic mix of peoples, ideas, events, religious and social attitudes have all influenced the West, in general, and California’s unique landscape art form. Women of every ethnicity were working as artists up and down the coast.
Anna Hills
Laguna Clouds
ca. n.d.
Oil on board5 x 7 inches
The art scene in the West includes those artists who migrated to Southwestern states, such as Arizona and New Mexico. They were charmed by the native inhabitants, who had lived for centuries in the surrounding pueblos. The native culture was beautiful to see and to paint, and their own local artistic heritage was evident in pottery, weaving, and architecture, as we examined Maria Martinez at the Pueblo San Ildefonso in New Mexico. Artists with considerable reputations before they arrived in the west came to work among the beautiful landscapes of the region. Those artists were not entirely cut off from their Eastern markets, and many of them divided their time between East and West, or made annual trips to New York City, importing New Mexico to the East Coast as well as exporting their talents to the frontier. The Taos Founders arrived at the end of the nineteenth century. They formed a cohesive group of educated Easterners in a tiny, remote village seventy miles north of Santa Fe, preceding the early Santa Fe artists by only a couple of decades. In many ways, their arrivals overlapped—there was much cultural interchange between the village of Taos and the provincial capital of Santa Fe, and artists visited both places before settling in one or the other.

Georgia O'Keeffe
Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico/Out Back of Marie's II
ca. 1930
Oil on canvas mounted to board
24 1/4 x 36 1/4 inches
 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
Although Georgia O’Keeffe is the most famous female artist to call New Mexico her adopted home, she is by no means the only one. In the first half of the twentieth century, the state was a sanctuary for women, where they could escape the overcrowding and social restrictions of more formal East-coast cities, wear trousers, and ride their horses across the sage-dotted desert. Like their male counterparts, these painters, sculptors, printmakers, and photographers found a welcoming network of like-minded pioneers who drew inspiration from the landscape and the spiritual life of the Hispanic and Native American people. Unlike the male artists, these artist’s names are largely unknown. [7]

  [1] Virginia Scharff, "Introduction: Women Envision the West, 1890-1945," in Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945 (Autry Museum of Western Heritage in association with the University of California Press, 1995), 3.
  [2] Sylvia Moore, ed. Yesterday and Tomorrow: California Women Artists (New York: Middlemarch Arts Books, 1989), 66.
  [3] Ibid., 65.
  [4]Patricia Trenton, Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945 (Autry Museum of Western Heritage in association with the University of California Press, 1995), xi.
  [5] Harry Hopkins, Fifty West Coast Artists: A Critical Selection of Painters and Sculptors Working in California (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1981), 10.
  [6] Ibid., 10, 12.
  [7] Dottie Indyke, The Collectors Guide: Sharing the Art of New Mexico. Women Artist Pioneers of New Mexico. (accessed November 15, 2011). Article originally appeared in The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque, Vol. 16.


Friday, April 5, 2013

California Modernist Artist, Mabel Alvarez

Armory Show Poster
ca. 1913
The Armory Show, formally known as "The International Exhibition of Modern Art," held in New York City in 1913, was the first opportunity for Americans to see the new art styles that had been developing in Europe. The show became a turning point in the history of American art. It introduced those who were accustomed to realism to the experimental styles of the European vanguard, including Fauvism, Cubism, and Futurism, by such artists as Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, in addition to women artists such as Mary Cassat and Russian painter, Lyubov Popova. The show served as a catalyst for American artists, who were determined to create their own "artistic language."

Lyubov Popova
The Pianist
ca. 1915
Oil on canvas
The term "Modern" art includes artistic works produced during the period extending roughly from as early as the 1860s to the 1970s, that denotes the style and philosophy of the art produced during that era.[1] The term is generally associated with art in which the traditions of the past have been discarded in a spirit of experimentation.[2] Modern artists played with new ways of seeing and with the attempt to discover fresh ideas about the nature of materials and functions of art. Many artists moved away from the narrative, a typical mode of representation for the traditional, toward abstraction, which is characteristic of modern art. More recent artistic production is generally referred to as Post-Modern or, art that is created in the present, Contemporary art.

Modernism can also be defined as taking a series of responses to a situation, and to wrestle universal principles from the collision between the two. Modernism was not merely defined by its avant garde, but also by a reforming trend within previous artistic norms. [3] Contrary to those artists and critics from the East, specifically New York, California was a region that inspired modernists from both Europe and the United States to relocate in order to explore the experience of the climate, popular culture (Hollywood), and all of the freedom from the social problems and the debates that raged over European modernism.

Though small in number, in comparison to the artists working in the European capitals or in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco drew artists, writers, musicians, and composers that expanded the cultural horizons and created a new found cosmopolitan atmosphere to the region. Traveling exhibitions of contemporary painting from coast to coast had a profound effect on pulling California artists onto the national and international stage. Women artists involved in the movement out west tended to be independent, free thinkers, and representative of the "New Woman." Self-sufficiency and eccentricity was considered an asset.

Mabel Alvarez was born on November 28, 1891, on the Island of Oahu, Hawaii, the youngest of five children. Her father, Luis, a Spanish-born physician, was involved with the leprosy research begun by the legendary Father Damien. The family moved to the mainland in 1906, where they settled in the town of Berkeley in Northern California, then to Los Angeles in 1909 where Mabel attended Los Angeles High School and found her niche-art.

Her high school art teacher, James Edwin McBurney had received a commission to create murals for the Panama-California Exposition to be held in San Diego in 1915, and engaged his former student to work for him. Alma May Cook wrote that “demure, little Miss Mabel Alvarez” had created a mural in which “every stroke spells the poetry of springtime in California."[4] Alvarez’s work at that time was marked by an interest in Symbolism and Art Nouveau, and in the color and atmospheric effects derived from Impressionist painting, a highly influential style that was popular in Southern California during that period. American Impressionists rarely dissolved form as the French had done, and Alvarez’s mix of careful rendering with an Impressionist-inspired palette is typical of plein-air methods practiced in California early in the century.

Mabel Alvarez
Title and date unknown
Alvarez's skills continued to improve as a result of her contact with her second significant instructor, ex-Bostonian William Cahill, co-founder of the School for Illustration and Painting. Again, her skill was recognized as exceptional when one of her drawings was reproduced in the school’s 1916 brochure. It clearly demonstrates her extraordinary skill in academic rendering.

Brochure Cover School for Illustration and Painting
ca. 1916

Her first portrait painting was displayed at the Los Angeles Museum (now the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) in 1917, a museum with which she continued a close relationship throughout her life. Her technique displays a mix of Realism and Impressionism. The sitter’s features are rooted in realism, while light and color flicker around and on her in a manner derived from Cahill’s well-known 1919 painting, Thoughts of the Sea, featured in the same California Club show.[5] Had Alvarez focused on the development of a personal style of California Impressionism, she may have become one of the movement’s premier practitioners. Los Angeles Times critic Antony Anderson wrote in his review of this show that “This young artist, always an earnest student, is advancing with much rapidity, doing better and more distinguished work from year to year."[6]

Mabel Alvarez
In the Garden
ca. 1922
Oil on canvas
20 x 24 inches
 Laguna Art Museum Collection
Alvarez embraced aspects of popular regional painting.While a student of Cahill’s, Alvarez took singing lessons, attended concerts and local exhibitions, met with fellow artists (including those with experimental tendencies like her own, such as Henrietta Shore), and discovered the Theosophical writings of Will Levington Comfort (1878-1932). who ran a spiritualist colony in the Hollywood Hills, where he lectured and monitored group meetings. A temple, a lotus pond, and a Greek theater were available on the grounds where Alvarez attended  meetings she embraced aspects of popular regional painting. Alvarez attended many meetings at the colony, as well as meditation sessions in Comfort’s home in Highland Park.

Her first exhibition as a professional artist occurred at the San Francisco Art Institute’s annual show in 1918. [7] Alvarez joined the ranks of the influential California Art Club the same year, where she won an honorable mention in her debut exhibit with that organization, and she received regular positive press for her painting (critic Pauline Payne likened her color work to “mosaic”). [8]

 In 1919 Mabel Alvarez met the man who would have a profound influence on early Modernist art in California, Stanton MacDonald-Wright (1890-1973). She became his student, and her own words from 1928 describe the effect of his teaching:

"My idea of painting is so different now from the formless idea of it I had when I started...With Bill [Cahill] we learned to paint in the Impressionistic manner with broken color. We were never allowed to use black. As I remember he limited us at that time to red, yellow and blue. I struggled for months with the “direct” method - a most difficult process...When I started painting for myself alone, I gradually forgot all “methods” in my interest in getting the feeling of things I wanted to do....Then came the study in color and drawing with Macdonald-Wright. That opened up a whole new world. I haven’t come to the end of it yet." [9]

Color plays an important role in Alvarez’s symbolic paintings. Green, tinged with blue, is the dominant hue of Dream of Youth, an image of stillness and stability stemming from the central figure’s Madonna-like presence. In 1924 Macdonald-Wright had privately published his Treatise on Color, distributing copies mainly to his students. In his Treatise, he discussed the emotional meaning of each color in the spectrum and called green “a disciple of non-action, of calm and of quiet.” [10]

 In 1927, Alvarez was introduced to the work of Morgan Russell when he held a joint show with Macdonald-Wright at the Los Angeles Museum. In 1931, Russell moved to Los Angeles and taught at Chouinard, befriending Alvarez. About this time, Alvarez’s subject matter evolved away from the mystical and became more sensual. She turned away from the symbolism of the mid-to-late-1920s work to a series of realistic semi-draped figures, most of them of her friend and favorite model Arabella.Morning, won first prize at the California Art Club’s 1933 Annual Exhibition.
During the 1930s, Alvarez’s continued to search and experiment. Perhaps inspired by her friend Conrad Buff, one of California’s most accomplished printmakers, she made her first lithographs. Though never fully committed to the medium, she made a number of prints and exhibited them locally and in national shows. In addition, she made ceramic tiles and figures, working with her friend and fellow-artist Maxine Albro.

Mabel Alvarez
Hawaiian Boy (Abraham Kamahoahoa)    
ca. 1939
Oil/Canvas Board   

24 x 20 inches

After a lengthy relationship failed, Alvarez returned to Hawaii in 1939at the invitation of a friend. While healing there, she painted colorful portraits, still lifes, and landscapes. In 1940 the artist was back in Los Angeles and was the subject of a one-woman show at the Los Angeles Museum in August, 1941, that featured the work she had created in Hawaii. During the Second World War, she volunteered for he Red Cross.

During the 1950s, Alvarez continued to explore harmonious color relationships as she referenced subject matter derived from her travels, especially trips to the Caribbean and Mexico: fruit markets, churches, and festivals became her inspiration. Stylistically her palette moved in a decorative direction, exploiting the possibilities of bright pastels layered over each other with ethereal brushwork.

 In the 1960s,
Alvarez returned to her long-time interest in women as subject matter, and in themes of youth, growth, and regeneration...all that flowers represent. She continued to paint throughout her sixties and seventies, and to exhibit regularly, including with the Women Painters West organization. The later years of her life were spent in a retirement apartment and then in a nursing home. She died on March 13, 1985, at the age of ninety-three.

Mabel Alvarez is remembered for her role in the early Modernism movement in California and for her contributions to Impressionism in both portraits and landscapes.
  1. Atkins 1990, p. 102.
  2. Gombrich 1958, p. 419.
  3. Modernism., (accessed April 3, 2013).
  4. Alma May Cook, “War Brings New Era in Art - America for American,” Los Angeles Tribune, August 30, 1914, Theater, Music and Art section, (photo of Alvarez and her mural), p. 3.
  5. William V. Cahill, Thoughts of the Sea, 1919, oil on canvas, 40X391/2 inches, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Gerald D. Gallop, is reproduced in South, p. 64. Alvarez saved a photograph of Cahill painting Thoughts of the Sea in her scrapbook, Alvarez Papers AAA.
  6. Anderson, “Of Art and Artists”.
  7. The San Francisco Art Association’s Annual Exhibition by Contemporary American Artists, March 22 - May 22, 1918, at the Palace of Fine Arts, Alvarez exhibited The Breakfast Room and The Brass Bowl.
  8. 10 California Art Club’s Spring Exhibition, April 4-30, 1918, at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art, Exposition Park. Alvarez showed two works, Portrait of Miss C. and Blue and Gold. Honorable Mention was for Miss C., and carried a twenty-five dollar prize. Alvarez also showed in the club’s fall exhibition, and received the following notice in the Los Angeles Times: Mabel Alvarez shows ‘Above the Sea’ and has caught the vastness of the ocean and the brilliant sunshine” (November 22, 1918). Alvarez became a very active member of the California Art Club, serving on various committees (including chairperson of the Art Committee), serving as a juror, and acting as a sometime editor and contributing writer to the Club’s Bulletin.
  9. Alvarez Papers AAA
  10. Dr. Will South, "Mabel Alvarez, 1891-1985," Mabel Alvarez Estate Collection, essay written for the 1999 “Mabel Alvarez, A Retrospective” presented jointly by Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, and the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, California., (accessed April 5, 2013).