Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Irene Lentz: Fashion and Style Icon during Hollywood's Golden Age

With all the craziness since the beginning of the school year, I completely missed Women out West's third birthday last month! So, thank you for joining me as we continue to honor the talented women who have added such richness to our lives.

     Along the way we have explored female painters, sculptors, photographers, quilters and architects. Time to give a nod to women artists who braved the early entertainment business. It’s a tough venue in which to work and I can assure you from experience, just getting the proverbial “foot in the door” is a real challenge.
Irene Lentz
Pictured with original designs
Los Angeles, California
     There is an enormous range of artistic areas in which to work in show business; everything from animation, which includes storyboard artists and inkers, make-up, scene painters, set designers and dressers and costume designers. Most people with even a cursory knowledge of film costume designers are familiar with the names Edith Head and Bob Mackie. Unfortunately, few have ever heard of Irene Lentz, a twice-Oscar-nominated designer with a seemingly charmed career that ended in tragedy when she leaped to her death from her room at Hollywood's Knickerbocker Hotel in 1962. 

Irene at a fitting
     Born in Baker, Montana, Lentz began her Hollywood career as a silent film actress at age 20 appearing in supporting roles in silent films with Mack Sennett as early as 1921. She appeared as an ingĂ©nue in roles opposite Sennett's leading comedians, Ben Turpin and Billy Bevan. Her first film was directed by Sennett's production chief, F. Richard Jones and their professional relationship matured into a personal one. They had been married for less than a year when Jones perished, most likely due to tuberculosis which was rampant in Los Angeles in the 1930s. After his death, Irene Lentz left for Europe where she discovered couture.
Frank Richard JonesAmerican Director and Producer
Husband of Irene Lentz
ca 1919
     Lentz had been sewing since childhood and, with a gift for style, she opened a small dress shop on the USC campus in Los Angeles. After her husband's death and her return from Europe, she opened another boutique at 9000 Sunset Boulevard where she built a following among wealthy women. Those influential clients included MGM chief Louis B. Mayer's daughters Irene and Edith and a celebrity clientele that would embody Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, and Carole Lombard. Bullocks, a now defunct but high-end department store in Los Angeles, offered Lentz the opportunity to open her own custom design shop at the store. As a costume designer, her first big film break came when she designed the wardrobe for the 1933 film Flying Down to Rio.

     Lentz remembers, the day Mayer called. "I thought maybe he wanted me to design wardrobe for some pictures," instead, he offered her the job as head of MGM's costume department, replacing the well-known Gilbert Adrian, who was leaving to start his own fashion line. During her tenure, Lentz (who had by then closed her shop at Bullocks) clashed with Mayer. "It was not easy for her," says fashion writer Mary Hall, founder of The Recessionista blog, who has researched Lentz's life. "She had conflicts with Mayer because she wanted quality in design. Mayer's top priority was economy in design." In addition to work pressures, her second marriage to screenwriter Eliot Gibbons (brother of MGM head art director Cedric Gibbons) was said to be an unhappy one.
Ginger Rogers in Irene
Shall We DanceRKO Radio Pictures
ca 1937
     Billing herself simply as "Irene," her first work was on the 1933 film, Goldie Gets Along, featuring her own designs for star, Lily Damita. Lentz was also hired to create the gowns for Ginger Rogers on the 1937 film Shall We Dance with Fred Astaire. This was followed by additional designs in another Rogers’ film as well as work for other independents such as Walter Wanger Productions, Hal Roach Studios and major studios RKO, Paramount and Columbia Pictures. During the 1930s, Irene Lentz designed the film wardrobe for leading ladies such as Constance Bennett, Hedy Lamarr, Joan Bennett, Claudette Colbert, Carole Lombard, Ingrid Bergman, and Loretta Young among others.
Ava Gardner
The Postman Always Rings Twice
ca 1946
     Lentz not only costumed Hollywood's Golden Age stars for the big screen, famously putting Lana Turner in then-scandalous high-waist shorts with a midriff-baring top in 1946's The Postman Always Rings Twice, she also dressed them in life. Her signature Irene clothing line was one of only two to have its own salon at the Bullocks Wilshire department store in the 1930s and '40s (Coco Chanel had the other). But since her death, until fairly recently, Lentz has been largely forgotten. "She is the most celebrated costume designer nobody has heard of," says TV and movie costume designer Greg LaVoi, who is in process of writing a book about her.
Doris Day in Irene
ca 1960
     Her close friend Doris Day, whom Lentz dressed in the early ’60s films Lover Come Back and Midnight Lace, still remembers her fondly. "She was such a talented designer, and I loved everything she did for me," Day tells THR. "She knew exactly what I liked, and when we did a film, we didn't even have to discuss my wardrobe because she knew what I would wear." Lentz was revered for her dresses in ultrafine silk soufflĂ©, luxurious bias-cut chiffon gowns and kick-pleated day skirts. Her looks represented a new wave of modern American dressing: wide swingy trousers with elegant silk blouses, tailored suits cut to hug a woman's curves, with hand stitching and exquisite buttons. "Her tailoring flattered a woman's figure," says Doris Raymond, owner of L.A. consignment store The Way We Wore.
Irene Lentz Design
Dinner dress of  bianchini black crepe
     By the end of the ’40s, Lentz wanted out of MGM. After leaving MGM, she founded her own fashion line and sold that line in 20 of the biggest department stores in America in the 1950s. including Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, to relaunch her line at a more mass-market level. "It was marketing genius. Upscale stores could offer clients the Irene garments that stars loved," says Hall. "Today, that would be similar to how someone like [designer] Janie Bryant has leveraged Mad Men to design a fashion line for Banana Republic. Except Irene was a fashion designer before she was hired by the studios."
Irene Lentz Design
     If her career sounds like a Hollywood movie, the ending is a real tear-jerker. On Nov. 15, 1962, days after her latest show received rave reviews and three weeks short of her sixty-first birthday, Lentz checked into the Knickerbocker in Hollywood under an assumed name. (The now-closed hotel has a history of tragedy: Actress Frances Farmer was arrested there before her institutionalization, and I Love Lucy's William Frawley was dragged there to die after he had a heart attack on the street.)
Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel
1714 Ivar and Hollywood Boulevard
ca 1940s
     There is some question as to what drove her to such despair. In her 1975 autobiography, Doris Day wrote that Lentz had spoken of a longtime love for the actor Gary Cooper who was married, but known for his many affairs and had died the year before. Other factors surely played their parts as well: her husband's ill health following a series of strokes, her alcoholism and an incident (recounted by client Barbara Sinatra in her autobiography) in which Lentz suffered facial paralysis after falling asleep with her face under an electric blanket.

     Lentz jumped to her death from her bathroom window where she landed on the awning of the lobby entrance and was not discovered until the following morning. Lentz left suicide notes for friends and family, for her ailing husband, and for the hotel residents, apologizing for any inconvenience her death might cause. As per her wishes, Lentz is interred next to her first husband, F. Richard Jones, at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

Sadly, her line closed a few years after her death. But Lentz no doubt would be pleased to see her designs coming back into style. Says Day: "I can see why there is interest in her today. I often hear from fans telling me how much they loved my wardrobes in films, and I can thank Irene for that. Her designs are truly timeless."
Marlene Dietrich in Irene
The Lady is Willing
Columbia Pictures
ca 1942
Doris Day in Irene
Midnight Lace
Ross Hunter
ca 1960
Now, 51 years after her suicide at age 61, Lentz's designs have a new group of admirers including Tory Burch who wore a Lentz creation on the NYC charity circuit, and for 2010's The Tourist, costume designer Colleen Atwood, who dressed Angelina Jolie in a caramel shawl and ivory sheath based on an Irene look. "I have always been enamored of the refinement of her eye," says Atwood. Her most enthusiastic fan is the aforementioned Greg LaVoi. During the run of TNT's The Closer, he dressed star Kyra Sedgwick in 60-year-old suits, and in spring of 2013, relaunched the Irene line with the consent of her family. Irene items come up for sale occasionally at The Way We Wore and Melrose Avenue's Decades and are priced from $1,800 to $3,800. It's a wonderful tribute to a legendary designer!
Irene Lentz
1. http://articles.latimes.com/2014/feb/17/image/la-ig-irene-20140216, retrieved December 2, 2016
2. Colette, Californian Elegance, February 2011, https://blog.colettehq.com/inspiration/irene-californian-elegance, retrieved December 2, 2016
3. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/irene-lentz-costume-designers-chic-430898, retrieved December 2, 2016
Vintage Style Files, The California Elegance of Irene Lentz, January 2014, 4. http://www.bluevelvetvintage.com/vintage_style_files/2014/01/06/the-california-elegance-of-irene-lentz/, retrieved December 2, 2016
5. The Hollywood Reporter Remembers Irene, Mary Hall, 2013, http://therecessionista.com/the-hollywood-reporter-remembers-irene-lentz/?doing_wp_cron=1481046590.9050979614257812500000, retrieved December 5, 2016

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Mary Elizabeth Colter: American Architect and Designer

Once again, the beginning of the school year took over my life for a couple of months. Now that we have settled into a routine, I have some time to continue the exploration of the cache of incredible female artists, photographers, and architects of which you are unfamiliar!

Mary Elizabeth Colter
Let's examine the compelling life and work of Mary Elizabeth Colter, an architect and designer working during the early twentieth century in the West. Colter was one of the few female American architects in her day. She was the designer of a number landmark buildings and spaces for the Fred Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railroad, notably in Grand Canyon National Park. Colter's work had enormous influence as she helped to create a style that blended Spanish Colonial Revival and Mission Revival architecture with Native American motifs and rustic elements, that became popular throughout the Southwest.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to William H. Colter, an Irish immigrant, and Rebecca Crozier, she moved with her family to Colorado and to Texas before settling down in St. Paul, Minnesota, which she considered to be her home. Colter graduated from high school in St. Paul at the age of 14.  After her father died in 1886, Colter attended the California School of Design (now the San Francisco Art Institute), and apprenticed with a local architectural firm. She then taught art, drafting, and architecture in St. Paul for some years, at the Mechanic Arts High School for fifteen years and lectured at the University Extension School.
In 1901, Colter met Minnie Harvey Huckel, daughter of founder Fred Harvey, owner of the well-known rail stop Harvey House restaurants and pioneer of cultural tourism. The 46-year relationship with Harvey began with her task to decorate the Indian Building at the Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque (unfortunately, since demolished).
Colter designed the interior of the museum at the Alvarado Hotel,
pictured in the center of the above photo, known as the Indian Building.
Colter began working full-time for the Fred Harvey Company in 1910, promoted from the role of interior designer to architect. For the next 38 years, she served as chief architect and decorator for the company, often working in rugged conditions to complete 21 landmark hotels, commercial lodges, and public spaces for the Fred Harvey Company, by that time, run by the founder's sons. She and the Harvey Company civilized travel across the Southwest by providing what it lacked-restaurant efficiency, palatable food, clean-cut and primly dressed pretty young women, high-end tourism, and quality souvenirs. Anthropologists on his staff located Native American art and artifacts such as pottery, jewelry, and leather work and merchandisers designed goods based on those artifacts. In strategic locations, Colter produced commercial architecture with striking decor based on concern for authenticity, floor plans were calculated for smooth user experience and commercial function and she employed a playful sense of the dramatic inside and out.
Travel pamphlets designed by Mary Elizabeth Colter
The Santa Fe railroad bought the La Fonda hotel on the plaza of the old city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1925 and leased it to the Harvey Company to operate. For a major expansion, Colter was assigned to do the interior design and decoration. She hired artists and artisans from the nearby pueblos to make the furniture. Native American styles were employed in hand-crafted chandeliers, copper and tin lighting fixtures, tiles and textiles, and other ornamentation. La Fonda became the most successful of the Harvey House hotels with its striking blend of Pueblo and Spanish artistic influences, today known as the Santa Fe Style.
Mary Elizabeth Colter
Hopi House
Grand Canyon, South Rim
ca. 1905
Mary Elizabeth Colter
The Watchtower, with its construction hoist still attached, circa 1933
ca. Begun 1932
Colter created a series of remarkable works in the Grand Canyon National Park, most located on the South Rim: the 1905 Hopi House, the 1914 Hermit's Rest and observatory Lookout Studio, and the 1932 Desert View Watchtower, a 70-foot tall rock tower with a hidden steel structure, as well as the 1935 Bright Angel Lodge complex, and the 1922 Phantom Ranch buildings at the bottom of the canyon. Colter decorated, but did not design, the park's El Tovar Hotel. In 1987, the Mary Jane Colter Buildings, as a group, were listed as a National Historic Landmark. (She also designed the 1936 Victor Hall for men, and the 1937 Colter Hall, a dormitory for Fred Harvey's women employees.)
Colter worked in a wide array of styles including Pueblo Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, Mission Revival architecture, Streamline Moderne, American Craftsman, and Arts and Crafts Movement styles, often synthesizing several together evocatively. In addition, Colter's work is credited with inspiring the Pueblo Deco style. She was one of the first architects to give buildings a site-specific sense of place.  
Mary Elizabeth Colter
Art Deco Ashtray Design
Colter was a chain-smoking, Stetson-wearing dynamo, a tough-minded woman in a man's world who knew how to negotiate for and insist on what was most important to her. The architect was a stickler for authentic materials and motifs, which she deployed with theatrical flair. cIn an economic climate where Colter's male counterparts earned up to ten times more for their efforts, her career was quite successful. Harvey was an innovative tourism entrepreneur who also tapped into the postcard publishing business that featured photographs of his 84 hospitality facilities, those "Harvey Houses," which went a long way to expose Colter's work to the general public. Many of her female contemporaries, including those who were apprenticed with the equality-minded and internationally famous Frank Lloyd Wright did not fare as well.
Though operated by the Fred Harvey company, the buildings Colter designed were built and owned by the Santa Fe Railway, which produced construction blueprints based on Colter's floor plans and elevation drawings. The Santa Fe Railroad's chief architect, E.A. Harrison, signed off on her work, which later may have unfairly diminished her role. While sometimes referred to as the company decorator, she always called herself (correctly) "Harvey architect and decorator."
By the early 1960s, Mary Colter was virtually unknown. In recent years books about her have brought her name back into the consciousness as a brilliant American place-maker. The art critic Robert Hughes once called Colter "one of the pioneers of the American theme-park mentality." This is somewhat true—in some ways she was a precursor to Disney, an architect of entertainment. But her holistic approach to design and construction makes lavish popular theme parks seem like superficial hodgepoge. Like the centerpiece castle in Disneyland, Colter's Watchtower was a composite of several sources; however, unlike Snow White's castle, the Watchtower could be mistaken for an actual artifact from the past.
Mary Colter retired to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1948. Four of her Grand Canyon National Park buildings are protected within the Mary Jane Colter National Historic Landmark District, 11 are on the National Register of Historic Places. 
Mary Colter,
ca. 1919
For more information about her Grand Canyon structures, see https://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/wom/2001/colter.htm, National Park Service Women's History Month entry. 
San Diego Reader, Pioneering Women Architects of the Wild West,  Ruth Newell, June 7, 2011,  http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs/roody2shoes/2011/jun/07/pioneering-women-architects-of-the-wild-west/#, accessed November 2, 2016.
Curbed, Meet Mary Colter The Architect Who Conjured the Romance of the American West, Jeff Book,  http://www.curbed.com/2015/7/29/9936432/mary-colter-architect, July 29, 2015, accessed November 2, 2016.
Friends of BNSF Railway Company, https://www.friendsofbnsf.com/content/mary-colter, accessed November 2, 2016.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Olinka Hrdy: Abstract Painter and Muralist

Olinka Hrdy
Olinka Hrdy exemplifies the female artist who was not only well-known during her lifetime, but worked extensively and was respected by major artists and architects of the day. She was a risk-taker and an artist who worked in a genre that was not mainstream in her native Oklahoma. Hrdy's star has, unfortunately, faded into near obscurity.

Olinka Hrdy is one of Oklahoma's first modern artists. She was born in 1902 near a small Czechoslovakian settlement in Prague, Oklahoma, fifty-three miles east of Oklahoma City. She considered herself a 'soddy,' that is one who was born and grew up in a sod house, a successor to the log cabin found during frontier settlement in Canada and the United States. Olinka, Czech for "Olive," was of Czechoslovakian descent. After her parents divorced, she and her mother worked a large Indian lease which is land owned by Native Americans but leased to whites for agriculture. They tilled several hundred acres on their own. She remained there until she left to attend the University of Oklahoma.

Hrdy was a talented crafts woman and earned additional money throughout high school doing embroidery, a traditional Czech art. With only fifty dollars to see her through the entirety of her schooling at the University of Oklahoma, she originally enrolled in the domestic art department, but within weeks was doing so well that she was made a student instructor. Since Hrdy became bored in a craft with which she already excelled, she decided to enroll in the art department the following year. When her instructors found that she had no funds to buy supplies or clothing and recognizing her talent, they arranged for her to work on a mural in one of their offices based on a poem entitled, "Maker of Dreams." 

Olinka Hrdy
Development of the Body
Oklahoma City University Law School
South Wall
Although Hrdy wanted to continue her studies, lack of money was a critical issue. Befriended by the faculty, another of her professors arranged again for her to work on painting a series of twenty doors measuring two by sixteen feet at the state dormitories for women at the campus of the university which covered her room and board for the year. The doors were eventually removed and relocated to a museum in Tulsa Oklahoma.

Hrdy produced murals for architect Bruce Goff's Riverside Studio in Tulsa. Goff designed the studio for his music teacher and commissioned Hrdy, a student at the University of Oklahoma,to create murals for the walls. The murals signified various forms of music: primitive, vocal, piano, symphonic, choral, string, and modern. Five feet wide and 13 feet long, the paintings decorated the studio’s recital hall, situated above the air vents and running the length of the wall until they met the ceiling. As you can see from the above image, the murals were an experiment in composition and color.
Olinka Hrdy
Painting a mural in Goff's Studio
Tulsa, Oklahoma
Architect and artist Frank Lloyd Wright was also a fan of her work and he invited her to paint murals in Taliesin East in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

A prolific artist from the 1920s to the 1960s, Hrdy is not particularly well-known in the art world today.  Few of her sketches, small paintings, and graphic design work remain, and most are held in collections by the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Norman, Oklahoma. Olinka Hrdy enjoyed a few years of acclaim before fading her renown faded. She worked as an industrial designer after World War II, diagramming blueprints for radios and radio cabinets, waste baskets, clothes hampers, and even the interior of a private airplane, but she has received little historical recognition for her work. A retrospective of her work was mounted three years ago at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum in Norman which exposed new generations to the beauty of her style. 
Catalogue for Hrdy Oklahoma Moderne Exhibition
Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art
ca. 2013
University of Oklahoma, Norman Oklahoma
In addition, Hrdy didn’t sell much work during her lifetime. The market in which she worked didn’t support her style of art, and much of it was considered decoration, rather than fine art. Her gender and being from Oklahoma also seemed to create obstacles in her work. Hrdy and Goff collaborated again in 1930 when Goff was asked to redesign the interior Tulsa’s unattractive and outdated Convention Hall—the historic structure now known as the Brady Theater. Goff asked Hrdy to design a 50-foot long asbestos fire curtain for the stage and a mural for the entrance. Both of these works have either disappeared or been destroyed, but, at the time, they solidified Hrdy’s understanding of abstraction and her position as a modern artist.
“That type of abstract art in the 1920s and ’30s was not going to play well in places like Oklahoma, nor even in Chicago, and L.A., and she spent the majority of her career in California. It isn’t until the post-WWII period that the type of abstraction she’s producing has an audience in those areas states Mark White, curator of Norman, Oklahoma's Fred Jones Jr.'s Museum of Art. 
Olinka Hrdy
Good Earth
ca. 1938
11 3/4 x 16.5 inches
Illinois State Museum Collection
The fact that Hrdy has lagged in scholarly attention has hurt her reputation as well-yet, she was innovative, creative, and forward-thinking in terms of her art and design. An in-depth exploration of her life and work will certainly expose how important the work she created, especially during her years in Oklahoma, really is.
Olinka Hrdy passed away at the age of 85 years old. She spent the last twenty years of her life back in Prague, Oklahoma, enjoying local celebrity status but creating little artwork. Tragically, few pieces of her work remain, or have yet to be brought forward if it is in the hands of private collectors, that Hrdy seems to be an enigma-waiting to be rediscovered.
Olinka HrdyDevelopment of the Mind Mural
Oklahoma City University Law School
North Wall
Olinka Hrdy
Deep Sea Magic
ca. 1939
Long Beach School District

Oral History with Olinka Hrdy, 1965, Betty Hoag, interviewer, Smithsonian Archives of American Art, http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-olinka-hrdy-12581, retrieved 9/1/16.
This Land, Lost Olinka, Holly Wall,  http://thislandpress.com/2011/09/20/lost-olinka/, retrieved 9/2/16.
Splurge Magazine, OKC, http://splurgeokc.com/olinka-hrdy/, retrieved 9/6/2016.
Design Matters, https://fsb-ae-blog.com/2014/09/16/divergent-view-3/, retrieved 9/6/16
Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, Norman Oklahoma, http://www.ou.edu/content/fjjma/visit.html

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Evelyn J. Cameron: Rugged Outdoors-woman and Photographer

Evelyn J. Cameron
ca. 1921
Terry, Montana Website
Evelyn J. Cameron was a pioneer photographer and rancher who lived in eastern Montana during the early years of the twentieth century. An rancher and rugged outdoors-woman, Cameron photographed documentary images and portraits of life, acquaintances, and family near her ranch from 1894 until her death .A witness to the end of the open range and the height of the railroad, her photographs are a highlight of Western photography and a window into life in the West during that period. 

Evelyn J. Cameron
Heading Flax
ca. 1913
Terry, Montana Website
Evelyn Jephson Flower was born August 26, 1868, near Streatham, England. The Flower family was tied to England's elite--her half brother Cyril Flower became Lord Battersea in 1892. Ewen Somerled Cameron was born in 1854 in Scotland, to a genteel, but penniless family. Evelyn married Ewen in the fall of 1889 and they spent their honeymoon in Montana. The couple relocated to the state in 1893 to breed and train polo ponies which, unfortunately, was an unsuccessful venture. She and her husband were part of small British group of colonists looking to prosper from ranch life. Cameron enjoyed the rugged Western lifestyle and its demands. Her chores included milking cows, churning butter, cooking meals, raising pet coyotes and wolves, laundry, and gardening (a potato harvest would weigh in at 2000 pounds). She broke horses, went on two-month hunting trips in the winter, butchered game, and pursued photography. 

Evelyn J. Cameron
Ewen Cameron with pet wolves
ca. 1908
In addition to the polo pony business, Ewen Cameron was interested in Montana wildlife, especially birds. He became a noted ornithologist, published several articles in various British science magazines and spent many years on a book describing birds of the western United States. Evelyn Cameron photographed wildlife and birds in addition to illustrating her husband's articles on birding and outdoor life. She photographed the badlands and bluffs of eastern Montana, but is best known for her straightforward and authentic views of ranch life. 
Evelyn J. Cameron with wolf pup
Montana Historical Society
Photography helped to relieve some of the loneliness of living on the plains. It provided much needed income, allowed Evelyn to work with Ewen on his wildlife studies and provided an opportunity for meeting and learning about her neighbors. Her photographs captured the experiences of men and women on the plains of Eastern Montana in starkly vivid and candid terms. Cowboys, women, ranchers, farmers, children, itinerant workers, sheep herders, and the stark landscape all found their way into her photos. Her work was carried in magazines throughout the country. 

Evelyn J. Cameron
1928 Diary Page
Montana Memory Project
Cameron kept a series of diaries (35 in total) that chronicle her daily life including the books she read, chores, lists of letters both written and received, local and national events, photographs taken, social activities,verbatim copies of special letters, and weather. The diaries also include minutiae that reveal not only the fabric of her own life but that of many women living in eastern Montana at the time.  For example, her diaries include bits of information such as the number of eggs gathered and chickens killed per month; notes on the amount of butter she churned; methods of skinning a coyote and  breaking a horse; accounts of money made from her photos and garden produce; lists of supplies; and Evelyn’s favorite poems and quotes. 
Evelyn J. Cameron
ca. n.d.
Terry, Montana Website
In 1914, Ewen became ill and had to be taken to Pasadena, California, to receive treatment for cancer. He died the following year and was buried in California. Evelyn, contrary to the requests of her family, returned to Fallon to run the ranch by herself where she continued her photography for the remainder of her life. She died in 1928 at age 60 following an operation for appendicitis. Evelyn Cameron is buried in Terry, Montana.

Opportunties to see more of Evelyn J. Cameron's work can be found at the Prairie County Museum and Evelyn Cameron Gallery, 101 S. Logan Ave., Terry, MT and the Evelyn Cameron Heritage Center, 204 Laundre Ave., Terry, MT 

Montana Memory Project, Evelyn Cameron Diaries, http://cdm15018.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16013coll11, retrieved June 30, 2016.
Terry, Montana, http://visitterrymt.com/website/EvelynCameronStory.htm, retrieved June 30, 2016.
Archives West: Orbis Cascade Alliance, Evelyn J. Cameron and Ewen S. Cameron Papers, 1893-1929, http://archiveswest.orbiscascade.org/ark:/80444/xv71834, retrieved June 30, 2016.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Brutons: Sisters in Art

The Bruton Sisters, Artists
Imogen Cunningham
ca 1930
Gelatin silver print
Imogen Cunningham Trust
Margaret, Helen, and Esther Bruton, San Francisco Bay Area natives, lived and worked together at home, in an old-fashioned decidedly female "refuge" with an attic studio. They exhibited together, and frequently collaborated on projects. Their modernism was a combination of tradition, innovation, and experiment that enabled them to cross boundaries with style. The sisters worked in nearly every medium: easel painting and murals, mosaics both large and small, ceramics, etchings, woodcuts, and linoleum block prints.

It isn't possible to write about one without including the others as they singly and collectively contributed to the cultural life in the Bay Area .

Margaret Bruton, the eldest daughter, is often known for her landscapes, figures, graphics and murals. Although her family had lived in San Francisco, California, Margaret was born in 1894 in Brooklyn, New York, where her mother had relatives. When she was two months old, Margaret returned to California with her mother where she and her sisters Helen and Esther attended public high school. As a young girl, Margaret showed artistic talent, which prompted her art education in 1913. She began her studies at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art in San Francisco where she learned under Frank Van Sloun. At the age of twelve she won a prize for her artwork and later earned a scholarship that enabled her to study at the Art Students League in New York City. She studied with Frank Vincent Dumond and Robert Henri.
Margaret remained in New York for four years, returning to California in 1918. Bruton worked at Letterman Hospital in San Francisco for two years until the end of the war after which she traveled south of the city to Monterey, California where she attended open-air sketching classes with Armin Hansen. By 1924, her entire family relocated to Monterey. In 1923 Bruton won a prize for a painting she exhibited at the Los Angeles Museum. In 1925 Margaret and her sisters traveled to Europe to study art and she remained in Paris, France to study at the Academie de la Grand Chaumiere for a year. When she returned to California she gave her first solo-exhibition at the Beaux Arts Gallery in San Francisco (1926). 
Margaret Bruton
Barns on Cass Street 
ca 1925
Oil on canvas
38 x 44 inches
Monterey Museum of Art
When the Beaux Arts show traveled to Bullock's Wilshire gallery in Los Angeles the following year, the critic Arthur Miller praised the women separately and as a group. "The showing consists of paintings and drawings by Margaret, decorative scenes in silver and gold, wood engravins and drypoints by Eshter and wood-block prints by Helen, and its immediate impression is on the score of the intelligence, order and clarity of style displayed in the work of each..."
Margaret Bruton
The Harmonica
ca 1930-35
Oil on canvas
40 x 34 1/2  inches
Collection of Teresa and Eric Del Piero
During 1929 she spent time in New Mexico for inspiration, discovered Native American art which led to painting Indian portraits and exhibited her works when she returned to California. She took frequent sketching trips with her mother and sisters to Nevada and Mexico. Margaret often exhibited with the California Society of Etchers, the Club Beaux Arts, the San Francisco Society of Women Artists and the San Francisco Art Association. Margaret Bruton died in California in 1983.
Bruton Sisters
Peacemaker's Mural, Court of Pacifica
ca 1939-40
Golden Gate International Exhibition
(California World's Fair)
(Anne) Esther Bruton
Esther Bruton is best known as a skilled muralist, and for her ability to work with wood and paint. Born in Alameda, California in 1896. After attending a local public high school Esther joined her older sister Margaret in New York City. From 1917 to 1918 she studied under George Bridgeman at the Art Students League in New York. She studied commercial art at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts. After her studies she took a position as an advertising illustrator at Lord and Taylor department store in New York.
After her return to the family home in Alameda, she worked for the prestigious I. Magnin department store as a fashion illustrator over the next seven years, while also traveling periodically with her family. In 1924 Esther spent four months in Tahiti where she lived with a friend in a grass-hut. She headed for Europe in 1925 with her sisters where they took classes in Paris at the Studio de la Grande Chaumiere. Esther ultimately gave up her job as a commercial artist in 1929 to concentrate on her Fine Art. On another trip with her family to Taos, New Mexico she sketched the Pueblo. When the family returned, Esther and her sisters gave a joint exhibition at the Beaux Arts Gallery in San Francisco in 1929. During the 1930s she continued to show her work within California where she gained critical praise and earned awards.
Esther Bruton
Art in Action
ca Mid twentieth century
Dry point
4.4  x 3.1  inches
de Young Museum, San Francisco, California
Each sister had unique talents and Esther’s was her ability to work with wood and paint. She made painted screens and was a skilled muralist. One of her commissions included the circus-theme murals in the cocktail lounge at the Fairmount Hotel in San Francisco. Esther was selected chairman of the jury for the fifty-seventh Annual Exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1937. She remained an active member of the California Society of Etchers and also the San Francisco Art Association in her later years.
Helen Bruton had intended to be a sculptor but turned instead to woodblock printing and engraving. She later became known for her mosaic murals. Born and raised in Alameda, California, Helen attended the University of California, Berkeley where she majored in Art.
During World War I, she worked with her sisters in occupational therapy at the Letterman Hospital in San Francisco. In 1920 she moved to New York to take classes at the Art Students League for one year under sculptors Sterling Calder and Leo Lentelli. She joined her sisters in Europe to study art, mainly in Paris.
Returning home, Helen became interested in California-Spanish architecture. She was commissioned by tile producer McBean and Company to create mosaic panels for the Mudd Memorial Library at the University of Southern California. In 1929 Helen and her mother, along with sisters Margaret and Esther, traveled to New Mexico where all three young women painted and sketched. When they returned they held a joint exhibition at the Beaux Arts Gallery in San Francisco. Helen also exhibited at the California Society of Etchers and the Progressive California Painters in 1934. She later worked with her sister Margaret on a WPA project for the Fleishacker Park in San Francisco. The sisters designed and implemented the two mosaic panels that were the first tile mosaics to be done in San Francisco by local artists. Helen later received a commission from the University of California Berkeley to create mosaic panels to adorn the University Art Gallery (1936).
Florence Swift and Helen Bruton 
Left: Music and Painting - Right: Sculpture and Dance
ca 1936
Mosaics-Byzantine Style
18  x 10 feet 
UC Berkeley Old Art Gallery
Helen Bruton died in Monterey, California in 1985.
The following murals created by the Margaret, Esther, and Helen, on the Mother’s Building at the San Francisco Zoo were projects for the WPA. 
Bruton Sisters
ca 1934
San Francisco Zoo
Detail of St. Francis Mosaic,
ca 1934
San Francisco Zoo
Individually and collectively, these three artists created a tremendous body of work that was dynamic and experimental, unconventional and intelligent. Their work remains an important contribution to the fabric of the San Francisco Bay Area .

Sources_________________________________________________________Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki Kovinick, An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1998, p. 34.Marian Wardle, ed., American Women Modernists, The Legacy of Robert Henri, 1910-1945, Rutgers University Press, New Jersey, London, 2005, pages, 47-51.WPA Murals.com, The Bruton Sisters, http://www.wpamurals.com/bruton.htm, retrieved June 6, 2016. askart.com, The Bruton Sisters, Bruton Sisters WPA Mural at the San Francisco Zoo, http://www.artandarchitecture-sf.com/bruton-sisters-wpa-mural-at-the-san-francisco-zoo.html, retrieved June 6, 2016.Helen Bruton's Tile Murals at the Golden West Hotel, http://www.artandarchitecture-sf.com/tag/tile-art, retrieved June 6, 2016.