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, http://collections.lacma.org/node/228973, retrieved November 3, 2015.
Los Angeles Times Blog, Deborah Netburn, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/home_blog/2009/12/frances-gearhart-color-block-prints.html, retirieved November 3, 2015.
The Annex Galleries, Frances Gearhart Biography, https://www.annexgalleries.com/artists/biography/781/Gearhart/Frances, retrieved November 3, 2015.
Francis Gearhart, http://www.francesgearhart.com/, retrieved November 3, 2015.

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