|Abby Tyler Oaks|
Across the Valley
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?
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.
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
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.