Monday, February 23, 2015

Margaret Peterson: Berkeley Modernist

Portrait of Margaret Peterson
Curtis Lantinga
ca 1978
Painter and illustrator Margaret Peterson was born in Seattle in 1902. She moved to the San Francisco Bay area for her education and earned her Master of Arts degree at the University of California, Berkeley. When art historians discuss the Berkeley School, the art department at U.C. Berkeley, Margaret Peterson is the artist who seems to have best understood the theories of modern artist and teacher, Hans Hoffman. She began teaching at Berkeley in 1928, and held that position until 1950. Peterson became a self-described disciple of Cubism early in her career and is considered to be one of the “Berkeley Modernists” along with Worth Ryder, John Haley, and Erle Loran. Among her students were Elmer Bischoff, Richard Diebenkorn and Jay DeFeo, artists important to the San Francisco abstractionist movement. 

Margaret PetersonFemale Nude 
ca 1932
19 1/8 x 13 9/16 inches
de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA
By the mid-1930s Peterson was working in an abstract style that was influenced by Braque as well as Mexican modernists Carlos Merida and Rufino Tamayo. She met both artists in Mexico City during her solo exhibition at the Biblioteca Nacional in 1934.

In an interview conducted by Paul J. Karlstrom, West Coast Regional Director of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Jay De Feo provides a vivid description of Margaret Peterson, her art instructor. De Feo claims Peterson believed that a painting not be a literary idea but a visual one. Her preferred media was not to paint with oil but to work on gessoed board using egg tempera. 

Margaret Peterson
Cover Illustration
ca 1977
Peterson married Howard O’Hagan, the Canadian writer famous for the novel Tay John. Published in 1939 and all but forgotten in the conflagration of WW II, despite being re-published in 1960, it did not receive its proper recognition until it was reprinted in the New Canadian Library in 1974. Margaret Peterson’s work became the cover art for The School-Marm Tree published in 1977 by Talonbooks in Vancouver.

Refusing to sign a loyalty oath during the McCarthy era, Peterson resigned from Berkeley and with her husband, left the country where they relocated to Victoria, British Columbia. Peterson had a solo exhibition with the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in 1953, 1959, and 1978. In the mid 1960s and 1970s, Peterson was commissioned to develop glass and ceramic mosaics for the University of Victoria and the British Colombia Hydro Building there. 

Margaret Peterson
ca 1956
Oil on Hardboard
25 x 18 15/16 inches
Margaret Peterson
The Gemini
ca 1959
Tempera on wood panel
Legacy Maltwood, Victoria, B.C.
Until the late 1940s, her inspiration was from Picasso. Deeply interested in spirituality and Peterson spent much of her life traveling the world exploring human spiritual belief and practice which became the basis for her work. She was particularly interested in the art and spiritual iconography of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest and of Central and South America. Peterson’s work in the late fifties into the early sixties displays her interest in both abstraction and native art. 
Margaret Peterson
The Birth of Fire
ca 1960
Tempera on wood panel
Legacy Maltwood, Victoria BC
Margaret Peterson
The Gods of Intertidal Waters
ca 1960
Termpera on wood panel
Legacy Maltwood, Victoria BC
Margaret Peterson died in Sidney, British Columbia on May 15, 1997. 
de Young/Legion of Honor, Fine Art Museums of San Francisco,, retrieved February 23, 2015.
Brian Dedora, Margaret Peterson,, posted 2011, retrieved February 23, 2015.
Independent Spirits, Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945,  Patricia Trenton, ed, p.32
Preview, The Gallery Guide, Margaret Peterson: A Search in Rhythm,, retrieved February 23, 2015.
AskArt, Margaret O'Hagan Peterson,, retrieved February 23, 2015.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Quilts of the Oregon Trail

I received a lovely email from Anita Williams, quilter and fellow blogger. Anita commented on one of my entries that discussed quilts and which included a bit of history and several examples of the wide variety that have been created over time. Inspired by Ms. Williams, (thank you) and since this is a blog about female artists working in the West, I'd like to share what information I've found about Quilts of the Oregon Trail.

The 2,200 mile long Oregon Trail beginning in Independence Missouri and ending in the Columbia River Valley
During eight decades in the 1800s the Oregon Trail served as a natural corridor as the United States moved from the eastern half of the continent toward the west coast. The Oregon Trail ran approximately 2,000 miles west from Missouri toward the Rocky Mountains to the Willamette Valley. A trail to California branched off in southern Idaho and the Mormon Trail paralleled much of the Oregon Trail, connecting Council Bluffs to Salt Lake City.

The trail began as an unconnected series of trails used by Native Americans. Fur Traders expanded the route to transport pelts to trading posts and to meet other traders. In the 1830s, missionaries followed the still faint trail along the Platte River and the Snake to establish church connections in the Northwest. In the 1840s, a combination of economic and political events converged to start a large scale migration west on what was then known as "The Oregon Road." Joel Walker is credited as the first settler to make the complete trip with a family, in 1840. Large scale migration began in 1843, when a wagon train of over 800 people with 120 wagons and 5,000 cattle made the five-month journey.

Iconic Photograph of an unknown pioneer family
Caravan on the Oregon Trail
Then, in 1847, Mormons headed toward Salt Lake, and along with the discovery of gold in California in 1848, sent a wave of fortune seekers west. Military posts, trading posts, shortcuts, and spur roads emerged along the Oregon Trail over the next thirty years. The Central Pacific Railroad connected California to the rest of the continent in 1869, and the Oregon Short line completed a railroad from Portland, Oregon to the Union Pacific railroad in Wyoming in 1884. Modern transportation eclipsed travel by wagon train. The trail became a route for eastward cattle drives, but by the twentieth century, the Oregon Trail was considered part of a historic past, and the image of covered wagons and the pioneers had become a historical footnote.

We know that quilts were precious to pioneer women for a variety of reasons. They were indeed practical and comforting, but the quilts also kept them emotionally connected to their past. Women sometimes received them from friends and family as a friendship quilt that provided a memento of loved ones left behind. Leaving home for Oregon in 1852, Lodisa Frizzel wrote in her diary about the sadness of leaving home and later passing the graves of those pioneers who had died before them.
"Who does not recollect their first night when started on a long journey. The well known voices of our friends still ringing in our ears. The parting kiss still warm upon our lips and the last separating word 'farewell!' sinks deeply into the heart." (1852). Women also made quilts in anticipation of the journey. Names of quilt patterns can relate to the journey and/or to their faith. There are names that refer directly to the pioneer experience such as Rocky Road to Kansas, Road to California, and, of course, Oregon Trail.
Wandering Foot, Made on the Oregon Trail
Courtesy Douglas County Museum of History
Roseburg, Oregon
Quilts made by and for women who traveled the Trail between 1840 and 1870 are known as Oregon Trail quilts. Often made over the life of the journey which could last four to nine months, they can be considered quilts of migration. Many Oregon Trail quilts were meant to be kept as heirlooms; as narratives or visual records of their experiences on the journey. Those traditional quilts were made or given to acknowledge major events such as births, educational accomplishments, marriages, community involvement, and even death.
Wagon Wheels
Quilt made while traveling the Trail
The quilts that were brought on the trail were a comfort in times of anxiety and grief as there was so much loss during the course of the journey. We typically think of disease as being the primary cause of death during that time, but accidents were also a significant danger. Death could come by any means such as wagon mishaps, livestock stampedes, gunshot and unexpected encounters with snakes, wild animals, or encounters with Native Americans, in addition to storms, and tornadoes. Demise from disease like smallpox and cholera increased as the routes west became more crowded, and clean water in areas that received little rain became scarce. Jane D. Kellogg wrote, "There was an epidemic of cholera, think it was caused from drinking water from the holes dug by campers. All along was a graveyard most any time of day you could see people burying their dead. Some places five or six graves in a row. It was a sad sight. No one could realize it unless they had seen it." (1852)
Peony, Quilt made to accompany travelers
Courtesy Douglas County Museum of History
Roseburg, Oregon
Oregon Trail quilts reflected the influence of the West, the direct exposure to outdoor living, the elements of weather, and the impressions the women had of western landscape. Other themes were the reliance on equipment and divine guidance to see them safely through their journeys.
Piecing the trail to Kansas
Zeralda Carpenter Bones Stone, known as "Grandma Stone"
"Snail's Trail Quilt" made at age of 95 in 1908.
Stitched Signature
Willamette Heritage Center, Oregon

Zeralda Carpenter Bones Stone, known as "Grandma Stone"
"Snail's Trail Quilt" made at age of 95 in 1908.
Willamette Heritage Center, Oregon
The ruts of the Oregon Trail were up to six feet deep in some places along the trail and have been preserved as State Historic Sites. The land over which families traveled was incredibly unforgiving.

Oregon Trail, North Platte River, Gurnsey, Wyoming
A lonely stretch of the Oregon Trail
 For more tales of women and their experiences on the Oregon Trail, here are several books that will fascinate and educate:
Women's Voices from the Oregon Trail by Susan G. Butruille
Wagon Wheel Kitchens, Food on the Oregon Trail by Jacqueline Williams
Wagon Wheels and Wild Roses, Heirloom recipes and Oregon trail stories from the McCaw family, 1847-1995 by Naomi Stanley Kulp
Treasures in the Trunk, Quilts of the Oregon Trail by Mary Bywater Cross
Judy Ann Johnson Brenman,, Quilt Notes,
Mary Bywater Cross, Quilts of the Oregon Trail, Schiffer Books, 2007. Retrieved February 5, 2015.
The Oregon Encyclopedia, Oregon Trail Quilts, Mary Bywater Cross, Retrieved February 5, 2015.
Anita Williams, Granny Anita's Quilting Diary,
Kansas Troubles Quilters,, Retrieved February 5, 2015.
Triumph and Tragedy, Women's Voices from the Oregon Trail, Oregon Public Radio,, Retrieved February 6, 2015.
U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Basic Facts about the Oregon Trail,, Retrieved February 6, 2015.