Thursday, December 17, 2015

Z. Vanessa Helder: Early Northwest Modernist

Z. Vanessa Helder (Paterson)
Zama Vanessa Helder was an American watercolor painter who gained national attention in the 1930s and 40s, primarily for her scenes in Eastern Washington. She painted with a bold, Precisionist style not commonly associated with watercolor, rendering landscapes, industrial scenes, and houses with a Magic Realist touch (an American style with Surrealist overtones) that gave the pieces a forlorn, isolated quality, somewhat in the manner of Charles Sheeler and Edward Hopper. I love her dynamic style!
For a number of years,  Helder's work was out of vogue and largely forgotten by the public, but the power of her artwork has gradually been rediscovered, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. The Tacoma Art Museum held an exhibition of her work in 2013, and the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture in Spokane has her twenty-two piece series relating to the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam - generally considered her masterwork - in its permanent collection.
Born in the town of Lynden near Bellingham, Washington, her somewhat eccentric family had an artistic bent whose interests included music, theosophy and astrology, Helder was an unconventional figure often found strolling Seattle's streets dressed in her finest attire with "Sniffy," her pet skunk in tow. She kept an unorthodox array of pets throughout her life (at one time making inquiries with various state agencies to find out if she could legally own a flying squirrel). 
Portrait of Blanche Luzader Morgan (Losey)
Z. Vanessa Helder
ca. 1939
Oil on masonite
Private collection
Her mother, passionate about art, gave Helder her first painting lessons at a young age and, eventually, she studied at the University of Washington. After graduation, Helder established herself as a well-known local watercolorist in the area. In 1934, she received a scholarship to the Art Students League in New York and studied with artist/educators Frank Vincent DuMond, George Picken, and Robert Brackman. During this time, Helder's work became more refined and she began to experiment with other mediums such as oil and lithogrpahy. In 1935, Helder was elected to the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors club and in 1937, received a solo exhibition at the Grant Studios in New York. In addition, she won membership in the American Watercolor Society in 1943. 
Sand and Gravel Works Z. Vanessa Helder
ca. 1939-1941
After she moved back to the Pacific Northwest after her studies in New York, Helder became a member of the Women Painters of Washington (WPW) an organization created to provide an opportunity for women to network and overcome obstacles faced by women artists in the male-dominated art world. WPW is still active and lively-information about the organization, membership, and exhibitions can be found at 
Hallett House, Medical Lake Z. Vanessa Helder
ca. n.d.
When the Federal Art Projects began in 1933, members of the WPW became involved. The projects continued under the Works Progress Administration, established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939. Helder created a striking series of watercolors depicting the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam executed between 1939 and 1940.
Grand Coulee Dam Z. Vanessa Helder
ca. 1940
After relocating back to Seattle in 1941, Helder married industrial architect Robert J.S. "Jack" Paterson. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, she joined the Washington State Artists Council for Defense. Helder continued exhibiting locally and nationally, and in 1943, reached a high point in her career when several of her works were selected for inclusion in American Realists and Magic Realists, a major exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. 
Sea Shells - Blue and Gold Z. Vanessa Helder
ca. 1942
In 1943, Helder followed her husband, Robert Paterson, to Los Angeles as he pursued professional opportunities and joined the board of the California Watercolor Society while she continued to exhibit old and new works in California, Washington, and New York,. She also maintained an active involvement in the Los Angeles art associations that were the primary exhibitors of California artists at that time. Of course, art evolves and tastes change. While Helder made an attempt to keep pace with the post-war developments happening in the art world, she was squeezed out of the New York galleries by Abstract Expressionism which began to take precedence in painting while watercolor fell out of favor. 
Near San Jacinto Z. Vanessa Helder
ca. n.d.
Helder lived in Los Angeles for 25 years and worked as an instructor at the Los Angeles Art Institute from 1952-1955. Over time, Helder exhibited less regularly and as a result of poor health, she passed away on May 1, 1968, just one week after her husband's death.
Her art estate was bequeathed to the Westside Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles, a puzzling decision since she herself was not Jewish. The center sold the remaining works from her estate in several sales over the ensuing years, unfortunately with no record of the buyers. Of the hundreds of artworks Helder made over her lifetime, the majority remain missing -- to this day. 
Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Denver Art Art Museum, Seattle Art Museum, collections at the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, the Newark Museum, the High Museum of Art, the Portland Art Museum, Portalnd Oregon, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the St. Louis Art Museum, the Academy of Arts and letters, Washington State University, I.B.M Corporation, the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, and the Whatcom Museum of History & Art.
  1. An Enduring Legacy: Women Painters of Washington, 1930-2005, Whatcom Museum of History & Art, Bellingham Washington, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 2005, pp 74-77.
  2. George Stern Fine Arts, Z. Vanessa Helder, retrieved December 17, 2015.
  3., Women Painters of Washington, Essay 7644,, retrieved December 17, 2015.
  4. Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945, ed. Patricia Trenton, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1995, p. 120.
  5. An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West, Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1998, p. 135.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Kathleen Blackshear: Treating her subjects with Humility and Grace

Kathleen Blackshear
Unknown Photographer
Kathleen Blackshear was born in the Texas cotton belt. She grew up spending summers on the nearby cotton plantations of both her maternal and paternal families close to Navasota, a town founded by her grandfather. It was there that she became friends with the children of the African Americans who picked cotton for her family-an experience that would have great significance in her later career, both as an artist and teacher. She began to study art at age 12. The first woman in her town to wear trousers, Blackshear bucked convention her whole life. She earned a bachelor’s degree in modern languages from Baylor University in Waco in 1917 and studied at the Art Students League in New York, where her teachers included Solon Borglum, George Bridgeman, and Frank Vincent DuMond. In 1918, she left New York and spent the next six years travelling and exploring career options in Los Angeles, where she got a job creating posters for films. She also found work in Culver City coloring films in the days before Technicolor, and when every transparency had to be hand-colored under a magnifying glass. Blackshear also explored New Orleans, Europe, and Mexico, continuing to produce photographs, prints, paintings, and sculpture.
Blackshear moved to Chicago in 1924, where she attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) to study painting and graphic arts. She was inspired by the art history class taught by Helen Gardner in which she enrolled in 1925. Gardner became mentor and inspiration to Blackshear, and they formed a close relationship which lasted until Gardner's death in 1946. Blackshear began teaching art history in 1926, continuing until her retirement in 1961. Like Gardner—whose widely used textbooks, Art Through the Ages (1926) and Understanding the Arts (1932) which she illustrated—Blackshear introduced modernist ideas in her courses. She did not teach the standard history of classical through Renaissance art, but included a wide variety of non-western, pre-Renaissance, and progressive, twentieth-century art in her classes as well. She sent students to explore not just the galleries of the Art Institute, but the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium, the Oriental Institute, and the Bronx Zoo for inspiration. In this way, Blackshear influenced generations of students at SAIC to discover idiosyncratic sources and connections with cultures other than their own, laying the groundwork for later Chicago artists of the Monster Roster and Imagist movement. Blackshear was particularly influential in inspiring and supporting the careers of the African American students in her classes, such as Margaret Burroughs. She also made two dioramas for the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago, and illustrated Art Has Many Faces by Katherine Kuh. Blackshear emphasized the aesthetic over the historical in teaching art history.
Kathleen Blackshear
Untitled (Woman Mopping)
ca 1930s
Blackshear frequently depicted African Americans, inspired by her summer visits to Texas and her childhood memories but also by her experiences in Chicago. Her lithograph,Untitled (Woman mopping) sympathetically depicts a sturdy washerwoman mopping, in a generalized style typical of the American Scene and regionalist styles of the Depression era. Blackshear renders her head at an unnatural angle as if to emphasize the backbreaking work, and her heavy, bulky form suggests that she has and will continue to spend hours performing this monotonous task. It exemplifies why critic C. J. Bulliet called her “Chicago’s most sympathetic, most understanding painter of the American Negro” in 1939. Bulliet continued: “Her Negroes in these slight but expert drawings live and breathe a happy, wholesome life,” though he was quick to qualify that she was not a Communist recruiter.
 From 1924 to 1940, Blackshear returned to Navasota to visit her mother at Christmas as during these visits, she often depicted the small-town Texas ritual of Saturday shopping. Her familiarity with her subjects enhanced her sensitivity and understanding of a "simpler world where eloquent compassion was adequate for commenting on racial issues and clean form was remarkably effective in communicating art values."
A Boy Named Alligator demonstrates her interest in storytelling found in much Regionalism of the time and the painting's interest lies not in the narrative, but in its bold, simplified forms and rhythmic patterns of the land.
Kathleen Blackshear
A Boy named Alligator
ca 1930
22 1/8 x 18 1/8 inches
Kathleen Blackshear
Ruby Lee and Loula May Washington
ca 1932
Oil on canvas
In her best works, Blackshear captures her subjects with simple grace and humanity without sentimentality or cliche. In her painting, Ruby Lee and Lula May Washington, she paints a dual portrait where the wood grain provides and intriguing visual backdrop.
Blackshear maintained a studio in Houston and spent many summers at her home in Navasota, After her retirement in 1961, Kathleen Blackshear returned to Navasota with her companion, Ethel Spears, and continued to lecture on art at museums and schools throughout Texas until the early 1970s. She received the title Professor Emeritus from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1968. She died on October 14, 1988 in Navasota where she is buried in Oakland Cemetery.
Blackshear’s work was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Society or Artists; Witte Memorial Museum, San Antonio, TX; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas; among others. Her works also are held in the Art Institute of Chicago.
Kathleen Blackshear
Title Unknown
ca 1930s
Oil on canvas

  1. Bulliet, C. J. “Artists of Chicago Past and Present: No. 97: Kathleen Blackshear.” Chicago Daily News, July 29, 1939.
  2. Illinois Women Artists Project,
  3. Kovinick, Phil, and Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick. An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998.
  4. Landauer, Susan, and Becky Reese. “Lone Star Spirits.” In Patricia Trenton, ed. Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890–1945, 199–200. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995.
  5. Tormollan, Carole. A Tribute to Kathleen Blackshear. Chicago: School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1990.
  6. Tormollan, Carole. “Kathleen Blackshear.” In Women Building Chicago: 1790-1990, edited by Rima Lunin Schultz and Adele Hast, 84–86. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.
  7. Weininger, Susan. “Kathleen Blackshear.” In Elizabeth Kennedy, ed. Chicago Modern, 1893–1945: Pursuit of the New, 92. Exh. cat. Chicago: Terra Foundation for the Arts, 2004.
  8. Yochim, Louise Dunn. Role and Impact: The Chicago Society of Artists, 222. Chicago: Chicago Society of Artists, 1979.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

June Wayne: Pushing Boundaries, Bending Definitions

June Wayne
Photo: Niku Kashef
An artist and art historian, I had heard of, but was not really familiar with June Wayne's life or her artwork. Considering her body of work and renown it seems impossible to have missed that enormous talent and contribution to the world of art throughout the twentieth century but...I did. Wayne was a true Renaissance "Woman." She was a print-maker, painter, tapestry creator, author, filmmaker, educational TV star, lecturer, administrator, feminist thinker and activist-whew! 

Born in Chicago in 1918, as June Claire Kline, she quit high school at 15 years old to become an artist and had her first solo show-a series of abstract pointillist paintings-in the city at the Boulevard Gallery in 1935. On the strength of that show, she was invited to Mexico City by the Department of Education to create and install an exhibition in the Ministry of Public Administration alongside the works of Diego Rivera at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. 

June Wayne
Waiting for Newspapers
ca 1936
Oil on canvas
Wayne returned to Chicago in 1935 to work with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as an easel project artist and continued to paint in the Social Realist style. By 1939, she landed in New York, where she would continue to paint while supporting herself making jewelry, as an industrial designer creating buttons and notions in the garment district, and as a production illustrator and staff writer for radio, bouncing between New York and Los Angeles.

June Wayne
Cryptic Creatures
Kafka Series
ca 1948
Oil on Canvas
36 x 30 inches
With the United States entry into World War II, Wayne moved to Los Angeles with the intention of working in the aircraft industry. She took classes in production illustration run by CalTech and Art Center but returned to Chicago to work for radio station WGN. 

As I explored opportunities for women during the early years of the twentieth century in my doctoral thesis, Wayne's experiences seemed to further prove it was difficult for female artists to work independently and to exhibit their work. She recalled in an interview with Betty Hoag, " those days one of the reasons it was easy to get on the project is that government really didn't take seriously that any art was going to come out of it. It was "made" work in which categories of people got jobs, but nobody really took the job seriously."

Despite the limitations of the era, Wayne painted and explored, refining her technique in lithography, the process of printing from a plane surface (as a smooth stone or metal plate) on which the image to be printed is ink-receptive and the blank area ink-repellent.

After the war, in 1945, Wayne settled permanently in Los Angeles. She incorporated techniques she learned at CalTech and developed a body of work that anticipated POP and OP art incorporating invented images suggesting nuclear fission and the atom bomb. Wayne produced a series of lithographs -- the Kafka Series and the Justice Series. She was ready to embark on the next body of work, a collection based on the poems of John Donne. Erotic in nature, her California printer balked and, frustrated, Wayne looked to other options. En route to Paris to work with the renowned printer Marcel Durassier, at a layover in New York she met Mac Lowry of the Ford Foundation. Irked by the lack of creative collaborative support available to artists in the States, Wayne asserted her feelings. Intrigued, Lowry asked her to keep in touch. "I remember saying to him: No wonder Picasso was so prolific. Anything he wanted to do, there was an army of craftsmen to fabricate it or him.They had a tradition of collaborative practices. We don't have that here."

June Wayne
The Final Jury
Justice Series
ca 1954
June Wayne Collection, Louis Stern Fine Arts

During the 1950s, Wayne exhibited in major shows at museums in Southern California including and in San Francisco at the De Young Museum of Art, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, and the San Francisco Museum of Art. She also showed her work at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Philadelphia Art Alliance. She set out to revive the art of lithography and created a plan of the Tamarind Lithography Workshop, a place where a pool of master printers would be trained and collaboration of artists would be encouraged. Under her direct supervision and administration, over 300 printers were trained and virtually all the major print workshops in America today trace their roots back to Tamarind.
June Wayne
Grande Vague Noire (Black Tidal Wave)
ca 1973
Woven at Atelier de Saint Cyr
Her tapestry era began with travel to France to work with master weavers in translating her pieces into tapestries. She felt the weaving with its rhythmical, slow, technique created an appropriate way by which she could transmit to the viewer a sense of time passing that is integral to the process. 

June Wayne
Delegate Dorothy from The Dorothy Series
 ca 1977
Color lithograph printed by Edward Hamilton.
In the late 70s Wayne created The Dorothy Series, a traveling exhibition of 20 lithographs, accompanied by a video presentation that appeared in museums across the country. The combination of ephemeral-sequential imagery of narrative in collage from letters, documents, newspaper clippings, and old photographs that narrated the life of her mother, a traveling corset saleswoman. 

Wayne was also involved in the feminist art movement in Los Angeles in the 70s.  Her biggest contribution to the movement was in education, as Wayne taught a series of professionalization seminars entitled "Joan of Art" to young women artists beginning around 1971. Wayne's seminars covered various topics related to being a professional artist, such as pricing work and approaching galleries, and involved role-playing and discussion sessions. They also encouraged giving back to the feminist community since graduates of Wayne's seminars were required to then teach the seminars to other women. Wayne, along with fellow artists Shelia Levrant de Bretteville, and Ruth Weisberg founded the Los Angeles Council of Women in the Arts which sought the equal representation of women artists in museum exhibitions. In addition, Wayne was also part of the selection committee for the exhibition Contemporary Issues: Works on Paper by Women, which opened at the Los Angeles Woman's Building in 1977, featuring the works of over 200 women artists.

"Wayne's uniqueness lies precisely in her departures," then-Times art critic William Wilson wrote in 1998. "She offers a fruitful alternative model for the artist. Never allowing a signature style to imprison her, like a creative scientist she investigates her ideals and passions even when they lead her out of the studio. She does more than make superior art in Los Angeles. She helped mold its larger culture."
June Wayne
Tenth Wave
ca 1972
June Wayne Collection, Louis Stern Fine Arts
Wayne never reached the prominence as an artist some said she deserved. Experts offered several reasons for her limited recognition. "She has not fallen into any of the art movements that have had such publicity," Los Angeles County Museum of Art curator Victor Carlson said when a retrospective of Wayne's work opened in L.A. in 1998. He mentioned Pop Art, Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting. "None of those brackets explain her," he said. "I think that a lot of critics have not known what to make of her."
June Wayne
Cognito Series
ca 1984
Acrylic and silver leaf on paper marouflaged onto canvas
with gesso and gelatin
72 x 54 inches
Wayne's art has been exhibited all over the world and is part of several museum collections, including the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Norton Simon Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She has been awarded honorary doctorates from the Rhode Island School of Design, Moore College of Art and Design, California College of Arts and Crafts, and The Atlanta College of Fine Arts.

In 2002, Wayne became a research professor at the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper. Wayne also donated a group of over 3,300 prints, both her work and the work of other artists, to the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper, which established the June Wayne Study Center and Archives to house the collection.

Wayne passed away at her Tamarind Avenue studio in Hollywood, CA on August 23, 2011 with her daughter and granddaughter by her side.
HYPERALLERGIC, Alicia Eler, June Wayne's Farewell, June 23, 2014,, retrieved November 24, 2015
The Creative Cosmos of June Wayne, Lynell George, KCET, Artbound,, retrieved November 24, 2015.
Yesterday and Tomorrow: California Women Artists, Sylvia Moore, ed., Midmarch Arts Books, New York, 1989, p. 15-159.
The New York Times, June Wayne, Painter and Printmaker dies at 93, William Grimes, August 22, 2011.
The Los Angeles Times, June Wayne dies at 93; led revival of fine-art print making, Mary Rourke, August 25, 2011,, retrieved November 24, 2015.
The June Wayne Collection,, retrieved November 24, 2015.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Frances Hammell Gearhart: Printmaker and Woodblock Artist

Frances H. Gearhart
1900 Graduation Photograph
University of California, Berkele
Watercolorist, printmaker, and teacher, Frances Hammell Gearhart was born in Sagetown, Illinois on January 4, 1869 and grew up in Henderson County Illinois. She moved to California and settled in Pasadena in 1888. Gearhart attended the State Normal School, Los Angeles (now UCLA) from 1889-1891. After her graduation, she joined her sisters, May and Edna, in the field of education, teaching English History at Los Angeles High School for a number of years. During that same period, Gearhart spent her summers from 1905-10 in the East studying watercolor with Charles H. Woodbury and Henry R. Poore. In 1911, Gearhart held her first exhibition of her watercolors depicting the California landscape and, encouraged by the reception of her work, took a years' sabbatical to continue to study and work on her watercolor technique. Other exhibitions of her watercolors followed in 1912 and 1916 before Gearhart moved to the woodcut technique which would become her medium of choice.
Frances H. Gearhart
After the Rain
ca. 1919
Color woodcut

Gearhart joined the newly founded Print Makers Society of California in 1919 and became a driving force in shaping the future of that organization. By 1923, Gearhart left teaching to devote more time to her own career. She and her sisters converted the Pasadena studio into an art gallery where they organized shows while Gearhart co-chaired the selection committee for the Print Makers Society. By championing the color woodcut, the sisters attracted European and British printmakers to exhibit there and to join the society. In 1920, Gearhart produced a color linocut entitled, On the Salinas River (below) for the Print Makers Society of California that became the first of their gift prints to members.

Francis H. Gearhart
On the Salinas River
ca. 1920
Color Woodcut

Frances H. Gearhart
The Joyous Worldca. 1923
Color woodcut
In 1924, Frances and her sister, May, had a two-person exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Gearhart was also a member of the Prairie Print Makers and the American Federation of the Arts which organized a circulating exhibition of her block prints in 1930. There was a solo exhibition of her prints in 1933 at the Grand Central Galleries in New York and Gearhart was included in survey exhibitions of American color woodcut at the Brooklyn Museum and the American Institute of Graphic Arts.Toronto Museum, and the Worcester Art Museum.
Frances H. Gearhart
Above the Trail
ca. 1929
Color woodcut
While her sisters traveled, Gearhart stayed in California where she found subject matter for most of her works. In time, she sketched in the variety of areas offered by a state with such diversity canvassing coastal regions, deserts, and the mountains.
Frances H. Gearhart
Big Sur Bridge
ca. 1933
Color woodcut
Frances H. Gearhart
October Splendor
ca. 1930
Color woodcut
Gearhart lived a long, productive life. Her work is represented in the collections of the Achenbach Foundation for the Graphic Arts, Art Institute of Chicago, Library of Congress, Los Angeles Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Smithsonian Institute.
 Frances Hammell Gearhart died in Pasadena, California on April 4, 1958.

An Encyclopedia of  Women Artists of the American West, Phil Kovinick and Marion Yushiki Kovinick, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1998, p. 106
Los Angeles County Museum of Art,, retrieved November 3, 2015.
Los Angeles Times Blog, Deborah Netburn,, retirieved November 3, 2015.
The Annex Galleries, Frances Gearhart Biography,, retrieved November 3, 2015.
Francis Gearhart,, retrieved November 3, 2015.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Pauline Powell: Oakland Painter and Pianist

There's so little information about the earliest female artists and much of their work is lost. The lack of recognition has to do with a variety of factors including the structure of society during the Victorian era that drove independent women west. The era of the woman artist in the American West began as early as 1843 in the San Francisco bay area where the town exploded as a result of the discovery of gold in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The women who arrived were the wives, daughters, or sisters of business, religious or professional men; some self-taught, while others had substantial art training. Pauline Powell's story is unique.

Pauline Powell
Pauline Powell was among the first African Americans to enter the professional ranks of painting in California. Her grandmother, Isabella Fossett, was sold from where she lived with her family at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's estate in Virginia. Isabella was only eight years old, but she succeeded in escaping to Boston in the 1840s using a free pass forged by her brother, Peter. Always afraid and at risk of re-enslavement because of the Fugitive Slave Act, Isabella was finally able to join the rest of her family in Cincinnati by 1860. 

After Isabella’s death in 1872, her daughter, Josephine Turner, moved to Oakland with her husband, William W. Powell, a porter on the new transcontinental railroad. Their daughter, Pauline, demonstrated artistic and musical talent at a young age and pursued years of study of both painting and piano. She gave numerous public recitals in the Bay Area and was hailed as “the bright musical star of her state.”  

Pauline would go on to become the first African American to exhibit artwork in the state of California. The California School of Design was open to blacks but few had the advantages of a middle class life that would permit them to pursue such an uncertain career. 

Pauline Powell
ca. 1890
Oil on canvas
In 1890, when she was just fourteen, Pauline exhibited her paintings including Champagne and Oysters, (I could not locate a copy of this painting) at the Mechanics Institute Fair in San Francisco. Burns’s work is extremely scarce, not only because of the time in which she lived, but also because she lived a relatively short life, dying of tuberculosis in 1912. She and her husband, Edward E. Burns, both cultural leaders in their community, left no descendants.
Independent Spirits, Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945, Patricia Trenton, ed.,University of California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1995,  p. 12. 
Swann Auction Galleries,, retrieved October 12, 2015.
Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Pauline Powell Burns,, retrieved October 12, 2015.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Anna Althea Hills: Early American Impressionist

Anna Althea Hills
Anna Althea Hills  was an American Plein-air painter who specialized in impressionist landscapes of the Southern California coast. Hills is best known for her lovely landscape, marine, genre, and figure painting. 
Anna Hills was born in Ravenna, Ohio on January 28, 1882. Hills, daughter of a minister, moved frequently with her family due to her father's occupation. She lived in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, where her mother passed away when she was only four years old, Olivet Michigan, Springfield, Illinois, and in Oberlin, Ohio. 
As a teenager, Hills explored her passion for painting. She attended Olivet College, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City from which she graduated in 1908. Hills continued her studies privately with Arthur Dow and Rhoda Holmes Nichols in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Hills won awards for her work in watercolor (1905) and oil painting and still life (1906). Hills traveled abroad for four years, studying in England with John Noble Barlow, and in 1908, attended the Academie Julian in Paris.
Anna Althea Hills
painting En plein air
In 1913, at thirty-one years old, Anna Hills returned to the United States. She moved to Los Angeles and changed her artistic focus from painting interior figures using the darker, tonalist style in which she was trained, to creating lighter and brighter impressionist landscapes in a higher chromatic range. Hills settled in Laguna Beach, California that same year where she opened a studio in which she worked and taught in the Plein-air tradition. A highly respected teacher, Hills promoted the visual arts through lectures and the organization of special exhibits, which circulated among Orange County public schools. Hills was inspired by the landscapes of the West with its coastal views, deserts, arroyos and mountains and was often seen painting on the hills above the coast of Laguna Beach.
Hills was also known for her community activism. She was involved with the Presbyterian church and ran the Sunday school. Hills was an active member of the California Art Club and held a membership at the Washington Watercolor club. She won the Bronze Medal at the Panama-California Exposition held in San Diego in 1915, the Bronze Medal at the California State Fair, Sacramento, California, in 1919, and received the Landscape Prize at the Laguna Beach Art Association in 1922 and 1923. Hills was president of the Laguna Beach Art Association for six years and, as president, it was Hills' advocacy that led to founding the Laguna Beach Art Museum there in 1929. 
Anna Althea Hills
By the Roadside Near El Torro
ca 1914
14 x 11 inches
Oil on canvas
Anna Althea Hills
California Hills
ca n.d.
7 x 10 inches
Oil on canvas board
Solo shows included the Kanst Galleries in Los Angeles, the Fern Buford Galleries in Laguna Beach. Forty-four years after her death, the Laguna Beach Art Association sponsored an exhibition of her work in 1974. Her paintings hang in the Laguna Art Musuem, the Irvine Musuem, Irvine, California, the Fleisher Museum of Russian and California Impressionism in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, California.
Anna Althea Hills
Laguna Canyon Road
ca 1912
Oil on canvas
Anna Hills Gallery of Art
Anna Althea Hills
Springtime, Banning, California
ca 1916
Oil on paper/board10 x 14 inches
Private Collection, Courtesy of The Irvine Museum
Hills loved the desert, staying often during the winter months at places such as Banning and Hemet, located near Palm Springs, from which she made sketching treks into the surrounding country. Sadly, Hills passed away on June 13, 1930 in Laguna Beach, California at the age of forty-eight. 

An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West, Phil Kovinick and Marion Yoshiki Kovinick, University of Texas Press, 1998, p. 142-143.
Independent Spirits, Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945, Patricia Trenton, ed., University of California Press, 1995, pp. 68.
The Irvine Museum, Essay, Peaceful Awakening: Springtime in California, January 20-May 12, 2007,, retrieved September 11, 2015.
Bodega Bay Heritage Gallery Monthly,, retrieved September 11, 2015.
Anna Hills Gallery, Anna Althea Hills Biography American Impressionist,, retrieved September 11, 2015.