Monday, December 31, 2018

Alice Brown Hamlin Chittenden: California Botanicals

To close out 2018, a year of change and upheaval for many of us, I've chosen a painter who created lovely portraits and landscapes, but who was best known for her spectacular collection of paintings depicting California wildflowers. 

Alice Brown Chittenden
October 14, 1859-October 13, 1944
Alice Chittenden was born in 1859 in Brockport, New York and moved with her family as an infant to San Francisco where her father became a prosperous miner. Alice was encouraged to study art and was one of the early women in San Francisco to study at the School of Design (the first school of art in the City) where she was a student of Virgil Williams three years after it was established in 1877. She began a long affiliation with the school as she became an art instructor and taught at the School of Design for 43 years. She was married briefly to Charles Overton in 1886, had one daughter, and never remarried. With the exception of trips to New York, Italy and France to study and to exhibit her work, Chittenden lived in San Francisco for the rest of her life until her death in 1944. She maintained a studio on the 4th floor of the Phelan Building and had a long and prolific career exhibiting her work for over 60 years. 
Phelan Building
San Francisco, California
ca 1888
Reminiscent of the Flatiron Building in NYC
The status of women's art in Nineteenth Century San Francisco was unique. As the seat of culture in the emerging West, the City attracted and supported a vigorous art community. The California School of Design, predecessor to today's San Francisco Art Institute, welcomed both men and women as students and instructors. California and Alaska Gold Rush dollars, Nevada Silver strikes and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, all contributed to affluence of the upper class and their desire to cultivate and collect art.
Women artists were studying and exhibiting art in San Francisco. The first class at the School of Design in 1874 had 46 women students out of a total of 60 (Wilson, 1983). When Alice Chittenden was appointed to the faculty in 1897 she was assigned to teach still-life drawing and painting. She became one of a few California artists who are known primarily for their work in still life paintings. Chittenden exhibited and received favorable reviews in what is thought to be the first major all-women’s art exhibition in the United States in 1885 sponsored by the San Francisco Art Association. She became the first woman juror for the Association’s art shows. Alice Chittenden and another female artist Maren Froelich were the first to break the all-male barrier at the Bohemian Club’s annual art exhibition in 1898. Chittenden was one of the charter members to organize the Women’s Sketch Club in 1906. Tragically, the 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed the headquarters of the Sketch Club along with most artists’ studios in San Francisco.
Alice Brown Chittenden
A Foothill Landscape
Oil on canvas board
ca n.d.
7 x 9 inches
Alice Chittenden was recognized as a prolific painter who is best-known for her paintings of over 350 varieties of California wildflowers. 
Alice Brown Chittenden
ca 1903
Oil on board
8 x 15 inches
Chittenden also painted numerous landscapes, mostly of Marin County, (see Mt. Tamalpais below) and portraits done primarily in pastel.
Alice Brown Chittenden
Mount Tamalpais
ca 1920s
Oil on canvas board
8 x 10 inches
In 1895 an East Coast newspaper declared her the “leading flower painter of America” (Lekisch:95). In addition, she studied botany, discovering and collecting  rare species of wildflowers on her  excursions by stage and horseback in the Sierras and other wilderness areas which saw her sketching and painting wildflowers. Alice Chittenden exhibited in group shows including those of San Francisco Art Association, Mechanics Institute Fairs, First Annual Exhibition of Lady Artists of San Francisco, California Midwinter International Exposition, Bohemian Club, Sketch Club, golden Gate Memorial Museum and California Building all in San Francisco; California State Fair, Sacramento, California Building,World's Columbia Exposition, Chicago; California Building, Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, Portland, OR and solo expositions at the Schussler Gallery in San Francisco (1908), Stanford Art Gallery, Palo Alto (1918, 1922).
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Alice Brown Chittenden
Garden Scene
ca n.d.
Oil on canvas
20 x 24 inches
AskArt-Art Database,
Hughes, Edan Milton. 2002. Artists in California 1786-1940. Third Edition. Sacramento: Crocker Art Museum. 
Lekisch, Barbara, Embracing Scens about Lakes Tahoe and Donner, Great West Books, 2003.
Silver, Mae, Shaping San Francisco Digital Archive @Found San Francisco,  1884 Midwinter Fair: Women Artists, An Appreciation, 1994. Retrieved December 31, 2018.
Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki Kovinick, An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1998, p 46.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Doris Totten Chase: Experimental Artist in Motion

Doris Chase
April 1923-December 2008
Doris Totten Chase was an American artist whose career spanned 55 years of innovation and experimentation, using a wide array of media that included painting, sculpture, printmaking, video, film, and computer-generated prints. Chase produced and directed over 70 films.

Doris Chase was a member of the Northwest School, an art movement established in the Seattle area that was the first time there was national recognition of artists in the Pacific Northwest beyond traditional Native American art forms. 
Chase studied architecture at the University of Washington, but dropped out of college to marry Elmo Chase, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. After the birth of her first child, Chase became seriously ill, a victim of postpartum depression (not recognized as such at the time) and it became clear that her issue stemmed from"doing everything except what I wanted to do, which was to paint." She began to work again, studied oil painting and took a class with Northwest artist Mark Tobey. In 1948, one of her paintings was accepted into the Northwest Annual Exhibition.
Several years later, pregnant with their second child, her husband contracted polio and became almost completely paralyzed while they were in the process of building a house. (Chase was the architect). To support the family, Doris Chase taught painting and design at Edison Technical School and was accepted into Women Painters of Washington in 1951, where Chase remained a member until the mid-1960s. 
Doris Chase
ca 1964
Ink and watercolor on paper
18 x 12.5 inches

Doris Chase's early work was primarily paintings of Northwest landscapes and figures, often musicians in blocks of color built up in some cases with sand to achieve a heavy, coarse, texture. She claimed her inspiration was the structured designs of Northwest Coast Native American basketry and carving. Her first solo exhibition at the Otto Seligman Gallery in 1956 was a success with reviews in the Seattle Times declaring her "a serious and talented young painter." Other shows and exhibits followed in New York and Tokyo. In addition, she was accepted into the Huntington Hartford Foundation's artist's colony for a month's opportunity to create in Pacific Palisades, California in the years 1965, '66, and '69. 

Doris Chase
To See, To Feel, To Love
ca 1966
Oak and paint
19 x 5.5 x 3 inches
Her work evolved from wash drawings into a series of cement painting meant to be installed outdoors and inscribed with faces and included words such as "joy" and "love." Chase also experimented with shaped canvases and painting on wood, some inset with hinged sections which, when opened, revealed an additional painted area.
Chase's sculptures grew. Pieces became large and kinetic. Many of her forms invited views to interact and rearrange modules that had the black-stained look that resembled the Northwest Coast Native American Art she had seen at the Alaska-Yukon_Pacific Exposition of 1919 that were on the University of Washington campus during her student days.
In 1968, dancer Mary Staton used a set of Chase's large wooden circles within a choreographed dance. Dancers wheeled across the stage of the Seattle Opera house, spread-eagled like spokes inside enormous wooden wheels. 
Doris Chase
Dancers in Hoops
Choreographed piece by Mary Staton
In collaboration with Boeing, Chase produced Circles, a computer film based on spinning hoops and King Screen made a film of the dance/sculpture collaboration. Chase requested and received footage edited out of the King Screen film and created her own film, Circles II with help from professionals Bob Brown and Frank Olvey. 
Doris Chase
Jonathan and Circles
ca 1977
Video Still

Color separations showed the dancers and sculpture as color forms, time lapse made trails of light that followed the wake of the dancers' arms and legs. The film was recognized at the 1973 American Film Festival in New York where it was compared to Matisse's Dance painting. While Circles II was in production, Doris Chase built prototypes of large, colorful kinetic sculptures for children designed for kids to help them with equilibrium and body awareness.

Doris Chase
Changing Form
ca 1971
Kerry Park, Seattle, Washington
Photo by David Wilma
Sculpture has stereotypically been considered a "man's" work. Throughout history, there have been few women working in the discipline because of the weight of the materials or the upper body strength needed to lift, chip, polish, and generally work on heavy, large-scale pieces. In the 1960s, Chase proved that women could successfully create in the medium and one of her early steel sculptures, the 15 foot tall Changing Form was commissioned for Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill, which became one of Seattle's most endearing and regarded public sculptures.

In the early 1970s, at the front of the avant-garde movement, Chase began working in video using computer imaging, inspired by Nam June Paik, the Korean artist who is said to be the founder of video art. During 1973-74, she participated in the Experimental Television Center's Residency program and began to integrate her sculptures with interactive dancers, using special effects to create dream-like pieces. Check them out here:

As a video artist, and under the the auspices of the U.S. Information Agency, Chase lectured and showed her work in India, Europe, Australia, South America, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. Using her favorite pale blue light as her medium, the dancers were integrated into a fluid, sensual choreography that explored movement in the context of abstract architecture. Long divorced, Chase's professional relationship became intimate with composer George Keinsinger, music composer of twelve of her videos.

In the 1980s, Chase achieved a breakthrough into mainstream television with a series of 30 minute videos entitled the By Herself series in which she introduced the subject matter of older women in society to a wide audience. One video, entitled Glass Curtain (1983), explored actress Jennie Ventriss' anguish over her mother's deterioration due to Alzheimer's disease. Table for One (1985) starring actress Gerladine Page in a voice over monologue of a woman uneasy about dining alone, and Dear Papa (1986), starring Anne Jackson and her daughter Roberta Wallach followed by A Dancer (1987) were powerful voices for women during that time. Dear Papa won First Prize at the 1986 Women's International Film Festival in Paris.
Parke Godwin's novel, A Truce with Time (1988, Bantam Books) is a fictionalized version of Chase's life during her time in New York. While he was writing the book, Chase made her own film about their relationship called Still Frame, produced at the American Film Institute. Art Historian Patricia Failing wrote a book about Chase entitled Doris Chase, Artist in Motion: From Painting and Sculpture to Video Art (1991, University of Washington Press). In 1989, Chase returned to Seattle, dividing her time between East and West working in video in New York and sculpture in Seattle. Ever experimenting, she began works in glass, sometimes in combination with steel.

Doris Chase
Late Autumn
ca 1997
14.75 x 20 x 2 inches
Whatcom Museum, Bellingham, Washington
In 1993, Doris Chase produced a documentary about her home, the Chelsea Hotel which was originally conceived as New York's first major cooperative apartment building, owned by a consortium of wealthy families in 1883. The building became an apartment in 1905. Her video honored the building's 110th anniversary and those who called it home. 

Doris Chase
Moon Gates
ca 1999
17 x 9 feet
In 1999, Chase's four piece bronze sculpture, Moon Gates, was installed at Seattle Center in Washington. Her complete works of video and film was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. 

 In 1999, her four-piece bronze sculpture Moon Gates, 17 feet high, was installed at Seattle Center. New York's MoMA acquired her complete video and film works. The Seattle Art Museum has only one Chase work in its collection: a 1950s oil painting. Chase's work won honors and awards at 21 film and video festivals. Her work has a permanent place in the archives of New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). It is collected by major museums and art centers in several countries.

Doris Totten Chase died in December of 2008 from a series of strokes and the effect of Alzheimer's disease. "She died in her own apartment with a good smile and a good attitude right up to the last," said her son Randy Chase. "She was always able to make the best of what she had...I always told her, 'hey, you did a great job,' and she did."

Archives West: Orbis Cascade Alliance,, retrieved December 4, 2018
Artistltrust,, retrieved November 28, 2018
Abmeyer + Wood Fine Art,
Northwest Women Artists 1880-2010, retrieved November 28, 2018

Whatcom Museum, Colton Redfeldt,, retrieved, December 4, 2018

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Eliza Barchus: Northwest American Landscape Painter

Eliza R. Barchus
It's been a while since my last post-I retired from teaching and moved to Portland, Oregon for a year of adventure and exploration so, meet Eliza Barchus, a native Oregonian and landscape painter. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, December 4, 1857, Barchus relocated to Oregon with her second husband, John, in 1880. While she was raising a family, she began to study art with William Parrott, joined the Mutual Art Association, and began to exhibit at early industrial fairs. Barchus sold her first painting in 1885 and drew national attention in 1890 when one of her large paintings of Mount Hood, a 40 x 60 inch canvas, was displayed at the National Academy of Design in New York City. She created a number of paintings of the mountain such as the one below.
Eliza R. Barchus
Mt. Hood
Oil on Art Board   
4 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches
Widowed in 1899, Barchus became the sole support of her family. In addition to managing a thriving art studio, she sold and traded many artworks in order to make ends meet. In 1905 she won a gold medal at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition for her paintings and is also credited with the introduction of color postcards in the United States made from six of her landscapes at the exposition.

This lithograph was offered for sale at 50 cents during the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition. The lithographs of Mt. Hood at Sunset and Mt. Rainier at Noonday (large size) were a little more – 75 cents. Unsold inventory after the Fair generated income for the family for years afterwards.

This sign was created on sheet metal, painted black with white lettering. It measures approximately 20″ by 14.” A December 22, 1901 mention in the Oregonian newspaper announced that: Mrs. E. R. Barchus, artist, painter of mountain scenery, offers her beautiful picture of Mount Hood for the holidays. Small sizes. Low prices. Room 1 Multnomah block.
The reference to “Room 1” on both the sign and in the article link the sign to her time in that studio.

Eliza Barchus was quite the innovative artist and businesswoman. She produced thousands of artworks, often employing an assembly-line system, painting several canvases at once. She painted almost exclusively in oil with just a few watercolor sketches that were most likely done as preliminary pieces for the larger works. Barchus advertised in catalogs and had a thriving business through the mail. For those familiar with local history, Eliza Barchus sold paintings at the B.B. Rich Cigar and Concession at the Portland Hotel where Portland's "Living Room" now exists: Pioneer Square.

Eliza R. Barchus
Wilson River (?) Oregon
Oil on Art Board   
4 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches
Eliza Barchus was an artist of considerable talent and a business woman quite ahead of her time. Her painting career ended in 1935 due to arthritis and failing eyesight, but she lived until she was 102 years old. She is one of Oregon's most popular pioneer artists and, several years after her death, Barchus was named "The Oregon Artist" by the Oregon Legislative Assembly. Eleanor Roosevelt honored Eliza Barchus' 100th birthday in her syndicated column, "My Day."

Eliza R. Barchus
Multnoma Falls
Oil on canvas
12.25 x 22 inches

The Oregon Encyclopedia, Ginny Allen,, retrieved November 18, 2018
Elizabeth R. Barchus, Oregon Artist, Research Site,

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Abby Tyler Oakes: One of the First!

Artwork by Abigail Tyler Oakes, ACROSS THE VALLEY, Made of oil on canvas
Abby Tyler Oaks
Across the Valley
c 1854
Oil on canvas
17 3/4 x 24 inches

According to a simply marvelous book entitled "An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West" by Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, artists have been inspired by the American West for more than 150 years, producing works of art as varied as the region itself and distinctive for their power and imagination. Early artists from the Hudson River School such as Albert Bierstadt and Edwin Church, and Abby Tyler Oakes, painted landscapes from uncultivated areas of the Hudson River valley in New York. They headed west, to capture and depict America's panoramic landscape views which explored the individual's and country's relationship to the land. In other words, what identifying qualities rendered America's history and geography, unique?

Abby Tyler Oaks
Western Mountain Landscape with Waterfall
Oil on canvas
23 x 44 inches

Early female artists played a major role in the development and growth of art communities through their participation in art schools, art associations, art colonies and public art exhibitions. California, San Francisco in particular, became the first mecca for women artists in the West. A boom town as a result of the discovery of gold in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, San Francisco exploded into a financial and cultural center almost overnight. Those original female artists to arrive in the 1850s, sailing via Cape Horn or the Isthmus of Panama, were typical of the many who were to follow. The migrants who settled in to stay, or visited other centers in the West in subsequent years were the wives, daughters, or sisters of business, religious, and professional men; many connected with people of at least moderate means. Some were self-taught as artists, not surprising for a woman at that time; a number, had substantial art study and training while many were teachers.

Abby Tyler Oaks
 Mountain Vista
Oil on canvas
18 x 24 inches

Born in New York state, Abby Oakes shares with Mary Park Seavy Benton credit for being California's first professional woman artist.  According to her birth certificate, Abby was born and raised in Charleston, Massachusetts. In 1845, at age 19, she married Bostonian William Harrison Oakes, a music engraver and printer of newspapers. The couple had two sons, one who did not survive infancy. In 1856, she left Boston and joined her husband in San Francisco, where he was working for the San Francisco Bulletin. Abby was active for several years in the Bay Area as an artist, including exhibiting at the Mechanics Institute in 1857. During her stay in California, she received high praise from local newspapers for her studies of Yosemite and other Sierra Nevada scenes.

Abby Tyler Oaks
Croton, New York
Oil on canvas
no size given

Abby Tyler Oaks
Hudson River Boating Scene
c 1859
Oil on canvas
23 x 44 inches

Abby Oakes settled with her husband in New York City where she continued her art career and did dramatic writing and William, who lived until 1890, formed his own engraving business.  From 1865 to 1886, she exhibited at the National Academy of Design, and in 1868, studied in France with Emile Charles Lambinet.  Oakes lived in the city until about 1891 when it is thought that she returned to Charleston where she died in about 1898, however, that date is undocumented.

Her painting subjects in New York state include Hudson River locations, and among the titles of her work were The Clove and Catskill Mountains.  In France and England, she also did landscapes such as On the Marne, France and Near Hampton, England.  California titles include View of Mission Dolores, Great Yosemite Falls, California, and Ocean Beach, San Francisco.

Although her western experience was brief, Abby Tyler Oakes was one of the first women and certainly among the most capable to paint the state of California during the 1850s. A prize winner and exhibitor, her work is in the collection of the California Historical Society. 

An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West, Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, Univeristy of Tesas Press, Austin, 1998, p. 234. 
Yesterday and Tomorrow: California Women Artists, Sylvia Moore, ed. Midmarch Arts Press, New York, 1989, p. 64.
Artwork from various websites including Mutual Art, askArt, and invaluable, retrieved April 24, 2018.