Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Margrethe Mather: Modernist Photographer

Edward Weston, Margrethe Mather,
 ca. 1914, gelatin silver print
Collection Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson AZ
On March fourth of this year, Photography News wrote this about Margrethe Mather on the 125th anniversary of her birth in Los Angeles. " . . . . Margrethe Mather was a photographer who --through her exploration of light and form-- helped to transform photography into a modern art."
Despite her marvelous body of work, Margrethe Mather remains an enigmatic figure, best known for her association with Edward Weston . . . . However, many consider Mather to have been Weston's mentor and teacher. She shared with him her intuitive eye for composition and her innate sense of artistic style, "teaching him how to edit an image to its very essence."

Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston and Margrethe Mather 3, 1922
Imogen Cunningham
Margrethe Mather and Edward Weston
ca. 1922
Gelatin Silver Print
8 x 10 inches
Close companions for over a decade, Mather and photographer, Edward Weston, collaborated on many photographs. The photographers had a profound influence on each other and on the history of photography in the years just before and after the First World War, as photography swung back and forth between pictorialism and modernism. Mather, a photographer of considerable accomplishment who taught and learned from Weston, has unfortunately vanished into obscurity while his reputation has continued to flourish over time.

Collaboratively, Mather and Weston founded the Camera Pictorialists of Los Angeles in 1914 that became one of the most important camera clubs and exhibition venues in the country.

Lady in White
Margrethe Mather
Lady in White
ca. 1917
              Platinum print, 9 5/16 in. x 7 3/8 in.
 Collection SFMOMA
Mather's early work was in the Pictorialist style, beautifully photographed images, veiled in hazy, soft-focus effects, such as the above Lady in White, taken in 1917. Mather and Weston had begun to employ the distortion of shadows to intensify the drama of their images. In her 1918 photograph of a Chinese poet, Moon Kwan, Mather strategically placed the poet's figure and his shadow in broad spatial areas to produce spare, but arresting compositions, that were quite ahead of their time.

Margrethe Mather - Player on the Yit-Kim, 1918
Margrethe Mather
Player on the Yit-Kim
ca. 1918
Margrethe Mather
Florence Deshon,(1894-1922) US motion picture actress.
ca. 1921
Bromide print, 9 1/2”x 7 1/2”. Paul J. Getty Museum, Los Angeles 
Margrethe Mather
Japanese Combs
ca. 1931
Mather, an artistic and political rebel and a liberated sexual woman, helped to turn Weston's work in a more experimental direction by introducing him to her circle of free-thinking artists, actors and theater people, and political activists. Although Weston appreciated by Mather's intellectual curiosity, and for a time was passionately in love with her, he was also frustrated with her lack of dependability and unpredictable nature. In 1921, Weston embarked on an affair with the Italian-born actress photographer, Tina Modotti. When they departed for Mexico in 1923, Weston entrusted his Glendale studio to Mather's care, however by 1925, she lost interest in sustaining the business and drifted back to her bohemian haunts on Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles. Mather continued to shoot photographs sporadically until the mid-1930s, when she appears to have turned her back on photography altogether.

Mather's photographs were more experimental than those being produced by her contemporaries. Margrethe Mather died on December 25, 1952.

Her work is featured in the book, Margrethe Mather & Edward Weston: A Passionate Collaboration (W.W. Norton & Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2001).
In the early 1950s, recalling the greatest influences on his career, Edward Weston declared that Margrethe Mather was "the first important person in my life."

Sources, retrieved December 17, 2013.
Grace Glueck, Art In Review, Edward Weston and Margrethe Mather, A Passionate Collaboration, April 4, 2003,, Retrieved December 17, 2013.
SFMOMA,, Retrieved December 18, 2013
Margrethe Mather and Edward Weston: A Passionate Collaboration,, Retrieved December 18, 2013

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Happy Birthday, Women Out West! Meet Ruth Peabody-Painter, Sculptor, and Educator

Thanks to all the readers of my blog-the first post was created one year ago on November 22, 2012. This has been an incredible journey of discovery. After I submitted my dissertation I thought, now what? I had been writing for two solid years, nearly every day, through weekends, holidays, vacations, and summers. The void after completing the program was immense, so I began to investigate other avenues in which to continue to grow.

I have learned so much from the research into the fifty female artists that have been profiled throughout this year, along with their remarkable lives and contributions both to society and to the art world. I have been influenced and inspired by them-talented women, all.

Ruth Peabody
Ruth Eaton Peabody
Laguna Beach Art Association Artist
Ruth Eaton Peabody was a painter who, along with her mother, artist Elanor Colburn, were California modernists in the early part of the twentieth century. Peabody was born in Highland Park, Illinois on March 30, 1893. She first studied sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago and was taught to paint as a child by her mother. The two women moved to Laguna Beach, California in 1924 and became active in the local art scene where, in addition to painting, Ruth sculpted fountains and memorial plaques along with teaching art.
Ruth Peabody
Boy and Dog
ca. 1935
Laguna Beach, California
In her early works, Peabody focused on the figure and on still lifes. The Cook Book combines both these subjects in a carefully constructed composition. The woman looks pensive, perhaps pondering what to make for dinner.
Ruth Peabody
The Cook Book Oil on canvas, 1925
32 x 40 inches
Little Pig in New Mexico is created in a post-Impressionist style of lively broad brushwork and strong colors. The painting was perhaps inspired by a trip to New Mexico to which Peabody and her mother took in early summer, 1930. (Note the pueblo in the background). In the 1930s, Taos, Santa Fe, and the Southwest in became popular destinations for artists that sought fresh subject matter and discovered sweeping new vistas.

Ruth Peabody
Little Pig in New Mexico
ca. 1931
Oil on canvas, 24 x 20 in.

For years, Peabody designed figural compositions that were much like her mother's style, but in the 1930s, she explored Dynamic Symmetry and Cubism and her work went beyond the objective to Constructivist compositions.

Ruth Peabody
Laguna Beach
ca, 1930s
25x 20 inches
Peabody was an active member in the Laguna Beach Art Association, the California Art Club, and the San Diego Art Guild.  She received dozens of awards in Southern California between the years 1926-1937. Ruth Peabody died in Laguna on October 22, 1966.

Peabody's exhibitions include the Panama Pacific International Exposition, 1915, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1931, Art Institute of Chicago;  Oakland Art Gallery, 1932, Golden Gate International Exposition, 1939, San Diego Fine Arts Gallery, 1939, California State Fairs.

Works are held in the San Diego Museum, drinking fountain opposite the  Laguna Beach Art Gallery, Laguna Beach Art Association (portrait medallion of Anna Hills), Laguna Beach Humane Society (fountains), Anaheim High School, Hoag Memorial Hospital, and in Newport Beach.
California Art:, retrieved 12.3.13
The Redfern Gallery:, Retrieved 12.4.13
The Orange County Register, article: Where the Art Is: Laguna Beach's Public Art Tour Day to highlight works found throughout the city,
, Retrieved 12.4.13
Patricia Trenton, ed., Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945 (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995), 100.