Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Anna Belle Crocker: Artist and Director of the Portland Art Museum

Anna Belle Crocker
Self Portrait
ca. 1926
Oil on panel
Portland Art Museum
While the first non-native, professional artists were men who arrived in the Pacific Northwest to accompany geographic surveys such as the United States Exploring Expedition of 1842, female artists put down roots and settled. They taught art classes, started art clubs and established a number of the art institutions that are still an integral part of the cultural community of Portland and the region.

Art practice and education were two of the few professions deemed appropriate and were available to women before World War II and, as a result, women generally outnumbered men in those fields. According to Jack Cleaver, curator of collections at the Oregon Historical Society, women had a "tremendous impact..." on the early development of the Oregon art community in three specific areas: "They dominated art exhibits at the Oregon State Fair, various Portland fairs, and county fairs during the nineteenth century. Also during that period, art teachers in Oregon were nearly all female, and, with the exception of the Portland Art Club, women were well represented in early art organizations. 

Anna Belle Crocker (1898-1961) was an artist who worked as both a portraitist and genre painter, that is a painter of scenes of everyday life. Crocker was director of the Portland Art Museum and principal of its art school, which is now the Pacific Northwest College of Art, from the years 1909 until 1936. At that point, courses in museum administration and connoisseurship were nonexistent, so Crocker educated herself by spending time at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, followed by a five-month tour of museums and galleries in England, France, Italy and Greece, where she conducted interviews and studied hundreds of works of art.    

During her lengthy tenure at the Portland Art Museum, Crocker not only continued an ambitious exhibition schedule, she expanded the museum’s permanent collections and helped to oversee the design and construction of the Ayer wing of the present museum building. “In the 110-year history of the Portland Art Museum,” observes art historian Prudence F. Roberts, “few people have exerted as much quiet influence as Anna B. Crocker.” In addition, she founded the docent program which supported her quest to make the museum an educational experience by training knowledgeable tour guides for school visits and for the general public.

Anna Belle Crocker
Leta M. Kennedy
ca. 1917-1918
Oil on board
Portland Art Museum
A dedicated artist, Crocker continued to study and was a member of the Portland Sketch Club in which she specialized in portraits and still-lifes. On at least two occasions, in 1904 and 1908, Crocker took time off from her job to study at the Art Students League in New York with Frank Vincent DuMond, whom she had met in Portland, and with Arthur Wesley Dow, whose theories influenced the work of artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

Marcel Duchamp
Nude Descending a Staircase
ca. 1912
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Crocker sought out and exhibited original works by both local and regional artists, and established ties with other institutions willing to share their collections of European and American prints and paintings. One of her most notable successes was to arrange the loan of Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912), the most controversial painting of the 1913 Armory Show held in New York. Duchamp’s painting was exhibited in Portland later that year, along with works on paper by Paul C├ęzanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and other members of the European and American avant-garde. In her memoirs, Crocker compared seeing the “new” art for the first time to a “ray of daylight let into a shaded room.”    
When Anna Belle Crocker retired in 1936, she had spent 27 years at the helm of the museum and its school. Crocker was praised for her “intellectual integrity, her constant and courageous pressure to attain her ideas, her religious devotion to art, and her ability to use small facilities for great ends.”   
Anna Belle Crocker
Ruth and Jean Reed
ca. 1920
Watercolor on Paper
Portland Art Museum
Women City Builders, Honoring Women's Civic Contributions to Portland, Sandra Hoff, 2003, http://wcb.ws.pdx.edu/?p=105, retrieved May 28, 2014.
Portland Art Museum, Online Collections, Anna Belle Crocker, http://www.portlandartmuseum.us/mwebcgi/mweb.exe?request=keyword;keyword=anna%20belle%20crocker#, retrieved May 28, 2014.
Independent Spirits, Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945, Patricia Trenton, ed., University of California Press, 1995, p 107-108.
The Oregon Encyclopedia, a Project of the Oregon Historical Society, http://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/portland_art_association/#.U4Tew6Pn_cs

Monday, May 19, 2014

Elizabeth Ayer: Pioneer Seattle Architect

Elizabeth Ayer
ca. 1939
Courtesy University of Washington,
Special Collections
On this journey to bring to your attention the hundreds of female artists that have been largely forgotten, or never known by most people, I do not want to neglect the architects. Elizabeth Ayer is an important woman of whom you should be aware.
Ayer's family arrived in the Washington Territory in 1852-among the earliest Anglo settlers. Her father was a lawyer and judge, her mother, an artist. Her interest in mathematics and art led Elizabeth to pursue architecture at the University of Washington, where she became the first female graduate of the University's architecture program. She received her degree in 1921, and in 1930 became the first female architect registered within the state of Washington. In the residential area, Ayer was instrumental in the synthesis of traditional Colonial forms such as double hung sash windows and a classically detailed cornice, with an irregular, boxy composition.

While Ayer’s career is linked primarily with architect Edwin J. Ivey, she worked for Andrew Willetzen in Seattle, for the architectural firm of Cross & Cross, and for Grosvenor Atterbury in New York. In addition, Ayer was interested in European architecture and twice during the 1920s, she spent a year abroad to tour and to study.

In 1927, Elizabeth Ayer began to collaborate with Ivey on a number of high profile commissions for Seattle’s social  and economic elite. Ivey provided Ayer with critical support and the guidance that would shape her approach to domestic architecture. In 1924, she was principal architect for at least one residence built in The Highlands (a gated community on Puget Sound) for C. W. Stimson. The design for these homes was traditional, predominantly Colonial Revival (with features such as the aforementioned double hung sash windows). The Langdon C. Henry residence (1927-1928), located in The Highlands, is a textbook example of the revivalist aesthetics driving domestic architectural design in the 1920s, especially in the more exclusive neighborhoods.

Langdon C. Henry residence,
The Highlands, ca. 1927-28.Courtesy University of Washington,
Special Collections
Ayer continued to employ her trademark period revival facades.  However, rear elevations and the interior spaces of her projects had a recognizable modernist flavor and often featured expanses of glass, modern materials and open floor plans.  Notable projects include the Davis House (1950) on Mercer Island; the Douds House (1951), which was featured in the book, Practical Houses for Contemporary Living; the Linden House (1962) on Bainbridge Island; and the Forland House (1963) in Seattle.
Robert F. Linden residence
Ayer and Lamping,
Bainbridge Island, 1962Courtesy University of Washington,
 Special Collections
William E. Forland residence,
Ayer and Lamping
Seattle, 1961-63,
Courtesy Shaping Seattle Architecture, Ochsner
In 1940, Ivey was killed in an automobile accident. After his death, Ayer took over the firm with Roland Lamping, another employee and graduate of the University of Washington. They continued the practice, but abandoned large-scale residential designs in favor of smaller residential and commercial projects. In 1942, they suspended the practice for the duration of World War II and Ayer worked as an Architect in the U.S. Engineers Office. She restarted the practice after 1945. Some time during the 1950s, the firm name was changed to Ayer & Lamping.
Elizabeth Ayer retired in 1970 after fifty years of successful architectural practice. She moved to Lacey, Washington, where she served on the Planning Commission through 1980. Ayer died in Lacey in 1987.
Elizabeth Ayer
Hawthorne K. Dent residence, Seattle, Washingto,
Architectural Drawing-West elevation and window details
ca. 1936
1. HistoryLink.org, The Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, Ayer, Elizabeth (1897-1987), Architect, http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=1721, retrieved May 19, 2014.
2. Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation, Elizabeth Ayer (1897-1987),  http://www.dahp.wa.gov/learn-and-research/architect-biographies/elizabeth-ayer, retrieved May 19, 2014.
3. University Libraries, University of Washington Digital Collections, http://digitalcollections.lib.washington.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/ac/id/1198/rec/4, retrieved May 19, 2014.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Helen Hyde: American Artist, Asian Identity

Helen Hyde
Helen Hyde embodies the art movement known as japonism: the artistic, historic, and ethnographic study of Japanese art. Hyde was raised in San Francisco and began her art education with artist-teachers in The City. As a child, she was exposed to Asian culture there and copied the beautiful and delicate Japanese prints. Hyde joined the Sketch Club and was a developing watercolorist while she studied at the California School of Design. Helen also spent time honing her craft in New York, at the Art Students League from 1888 until 1889, after which she traveled to Berlin and Paris to continue her art studies. Felix Regamey, one of Hyde's French instructors, was instrumental in exposing her to Asian art through his extensive Japanese art and artifact collection and, under his tutelage, she became part of the japonism movement.

While she lived and studied in Paris, Hyde most likely saw the 1893 exhibition of Mary Cassatt's color etchings which were inspired by the Japanese use of color, content, and perspective. By 1894, Hyde had returned to California and began to sketch likenesses of women and children in San Francisco's Chinatown. Through the Sketch Club, Hyde met, and became friends with another artist, Josephene Hyde (no relation) who was an etcher. Together they attempted color etchings, and in 1899, the two women settled in Japan to learn that country's painting techniques.

Helen Hyde
Baby Talk
Color woodcut
11 3/8 x 18 1/4 inches.
Josephene returned to America, while Helen spent the next fifteen years working in her Tokyo studio situated in an old temple. In Japan, Hyde learned the Japanese woodblock printing techniques from masters such as Emil Orlik, a European artist living in Japan. Hyde lived in Japan from 1903 through 1913 and refined color woodblock printing to a fine art.

Helen Hyde
An April Evening
Color woodcut
3 5/8 x 4 7/8 inches

Hyde studied for two years with the last of the Kano school artists, Kano Tomanobu, and learned the Japanese style of painting. She became skilled at the creation of woodblock prints and was invited to execute a kakemono, is a Japanese scroll painting mounted usually with silk fabric edges on a flexible backing, at an annual spring exhibition in Tokyo.

Helen Hyde
Going to the Fair
Color woodcut
7 3/4 x 19 inches
Because of the extensive collection of letters and prints saved by both Hyde and her relatives, an examination of her life provides a window into the experiences of an American woman who selected her subject matter and was faithful to the development and representation of her subject and style. Her women-centered artwork was filled with figures who were mothers or workers. She did not explore the prevailing Japanese women depicted by many male artists during the latter nineteenth century: the Geisha.

Hyde belonged to the Tokyo Woman's Club, at the time, however, the club did not admit Japanese women to membership. Japanese women were slowly gaining public recognition and acceptance to the Tokyo Art Institute. Hyde makes no mention of Japanese women artists or friends in her letter to her family. Hyde created a charming, pre-industrial world in her prints and preferred the traditional Japanese dress to the increasing popularity of Western clothing the was worn by many.

Helen Hyde
New Year's Day in Tokyo
Color woodcut
3/8 x 17 5/8 inches
Helen Hyde produced seventy-one color woodcut designs during her time in Japan which resulted in as many as 16,000 prints. She was a respected member of the art community and worked with a number of well-known and well-regarded artists and craftsmen there. Thanks to the care of her personal effects and artwork by her family, Hyde's prints are found in museums and her letters and printmaking tools are preserved in the California Historical Society.

Helen Hyde
The Furious Dragon
Color woodcut
 5 7/8 x 6 1/2 inches
Helen Hyde had been battling cancer for several years and by 1914, she became discouraged because she tired so easily and found it difficult to work. She returned home to the United States and died five years later. in Pasadena, California. 
Hyde's popularity has enjoyed a resurgence. Her prints are still sold at public galleries, and a vast collection of her works are included in the archives of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Hyde's works can be seen at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C as well. Two of her award-winning works are A Monarch of Japan and Baby Talk. In 1901, A Monarch of Japan took first place in the Nihon Kaiga Kyokai exhibition and the piece is now located at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In 1909, Baby Talk received a Gold Medal at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exhibition and it is now housed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.      

Conrad Graeber, Fine Art: Helen Hyde, http://www.conradgraeber.com/Hyde.html, retrieved 5/714.
Yesterday and Tomorrow: California Women Artists, edited by Sylvia Moore, Midmarch Arts Press, New York, 1989, 93.
Women Artists of the American West, edited by Susan Ressler, McFarland and Company, Inc., 2003, 245-246.
Women Artists of the American West, Helen Hyde Printmaker, Joan M. Jenson, http://www.cla.purdue.edu/waaw/jensen/hyde.html, 1998, retrieved 5/8/14.
Artelino, Japanese Prints, Helen Hyde, http://www.artelino.com/articles/helen-hyde.asp, retrieved 5/8/14.