Monday, August 12, 2019

Thelma Beatrice Johnson Streat: Fostered Intercultural Understanding

Thelma Johnson Streat
Thelma Johnson Streat was an African-American artist, dancer, and educator who gained renown during the 1940s. A multi-talented artist who worked in a variety of media, Streat focused on ethnic themes for her art and performance endeavors.

Born in Yakima, Washington in 1912, Streat moved with her family to Portland, Oregon where she graduated from Washington High School. She began painting at the age of seven and later, studied painting at the Museum Art School, now, the Pacific Northwest College of Art, in the mid 1930s. Streat was a frequent exhibitor and worked in tempera, oil, and watercolor.

For most of the 1930s and 40s, Streat worked for the Works Progress Administration, the WPA Federal Art Project in California. She moved to San Francisco in 1938 and was a participant in exhibitions at the De Young Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Art among others. Her painting Rabbit Man was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in 1942. She was the first African American to have a painting bought by the museum.

Thelma Beatrice Johnson Streat
Mural of Medicine and Transportation
ca 1940s
National Museum of African American History and Culture
In 1939-40, Streat worked with Diego Rivera on the Pan-American Unity Mural for the Art In Action Exhibition at Treasure Island's Golden Gate International Exposition. According to a manuscript in the Archives of the City College, Streat was the only assistant artist that Rivera trusted to paint directly on his mural. A portrait of her, along with many other friends of Rivera, can be seen at the City College of San Francisco in the Diego Rivera Theater, on Ocean Campus. Streat began working in the mural format and she developed a number of studies and maquettes (a scale model or rough draft for a sculpture) that were submitted designs for mural projects. The intensity and subject matter of her work such as Death of a Black Sailor, attracted the attention of the Ku Klux Klan, which in 1942, led to death threats. The work depicted a dying soldier's thoughts on democracy as he saw signs on defense plants stating "only white need apply," the Red Cross' refusal to accept blood donations from blacks, segregated military barracks, and restaurants' refusal to serve black servicemen.

Thelma Beatrice Johnson Streat
Wild Horse
ca 1940s
6-1/2 x 9-inches mounted to 12 x 18-inch sheet of blue construction paper
A talented singer and modern dancer, Streat gave live performances, sometimes as accompaniment to her murals at their completion. In addition, she performed at New York's Interplayer's Theater in Carnegie Hall, and before audiences in Paris, France, London, England before Queen Elizabeth, and Montreal, Canada. Her dance performances were influenced by her international travel and experiences to destinations such as Mexico, Haiti, Java, the Hawaiian Islands, and Australia.
Thelma Beatrice Johnson Streat
In 1945, Streat accepted the position of chair of a committee that sponsored murals to aid "Negro in Labor" education. Streat was also commissioned to create original fabric designs for women's sportswear manufacturer Koret in 1948. She followed with a series of canvases that depict the company's spring line.

Thelma Beatrice Johnson Streat
The Negro in Professional Life 
(Mural Study Featuring Women in the Workplace)
ca 1945
Ink, Crayon, Watercolor on Cardstock
10 x 20 inches
Streat married her husband, her manager, Edgar Kline, in 1948. A playwright, film and play producer, they shared common interests such as education and the fight against intolerance that inspired their future projects. As a couple, they created the Children's City projects in Hawaii and British Columbia.

Streat's work was powerful, both in line and color, as exemplified by the piece Black Virgin, now in the collection of Reed College in Portland. Her work is also included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Mills College in Oakland, California, the San Francisco Museum of Art, and the Honolulu Academy of the Arts.
Thelma Beatrice Johnson Streat
Black Virgin
ca 1940s
Oil on canvas
20 x 14 inches
Reed College, Portland, Oregon
In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in Streat’s art, films, textile designs, illustrations, murals, performances, and social contributions. In 1991, “Red Dots, Flying Baby & Barking Dog” was included in a group exhibit at the Kenkeleba Gallery (New York). 

Thelma Beatrice Johnson Streat
Red Dots, Flying Baby, and Barking Dog
ca 1945
Pacific Northwest College of Art
Dr. Ann Eden Gibson, associate professor of art history and associate director of the Humanities Institute at State University of New York at Stony Brook, wrote an article in 1995 for the Yale Journal of Criticism titled, Universality and Difference in Women’s Abstract Painting: Krasner, Ryan, Sekula Piper, and Streat” and published “Abstract Expressionism” (Yale University Press), which included a chapter on Streat in 1997.

Thelma Beatrice Johnson Streat with Drum
September, 1951
In 1959, Thelma Streat began to study anthropology at UCLA but died in Los Angeles that year. She was just 47. 

THE THELMA JOHNSON STREAT PROJECT was organized in 1991 to:

      (1) research Streat's life and work;
      (2) distribute information on the artist, her life and various avenues of creativity;
      (3) care for The Johnson Collection and make selected works available to museums and galleries for exhibits;
     (4) promote Streat's ideals through sharing her story with others.

Oregon Encyclopedia, Ginny Allen, Thelma Johnson Streat 1912-1959,, retrieved August 11, 2019.
Black Past, Thelma Beatrice Johnson Streat, Cherisse Jones-Branch,, retrieved August 11, 2019.
WPA Murals,, retrieved August 11, 2019.
Newslocker, Brendan Kiley, 'Bigger Than Life' Trailblazing Northwest Artist Gets New Attention at Smithsonian,, retrieved August 11, 2019.
Thelma Johnson Streat, The Thelma Johnson Streat Project,, retrieved August 12, 2019.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Dora Tse-Pe: Traditional Tewa Potter

One of the artists I explored for my dissertation was potter Maria Martinez, a Tewa Native American Puebloan who lived at the San Ildefonso Pueblo in New Mexico. She, and husband Julian, resurrected the stunning ancient local process of black on black pottery. The black ware was in marked contrast to the all-red or polychrome ware that had dominated the pueblo's creations for generations. Dora Tse-Pe is a remarkable potter and her creations were inspired by her mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, and the pottery of San Ildefonso.

Dora Tse-Pe
Dora Tse-Pe, a Tewa Native American, was born at the Zia Pueblo in 1939. She learned the basics of the art of pottery production from her mother Candelaria Gachupin, one of Zia Pueblo's most outstanding potters and her grandmother Rosalie Toribio. Dora claims "My first experience with my mother's clay was when I was about six years old. She taught me the sacredness of clay. All have spiritual significance. I treat my clay with much respect." She explained that every step of making pottery is done only after prayer and thanksgiving for our gifts of clay, water, fire, and artistic talents.

Map of the Pueblos of New Mexico along the Rio Grande

Dora married Tse-Pe, an innovative San Ildefonso potter in his own right, and moved to the San Ildefonso Pueblo where she honed her craft. Her mother-in-law, the well-known Rose Gonzales, taught her to make the traditional red and black ware in addition to learning to highly polish her work, a technique not used by the Zia potters. Dora worked with Rose for ten years, perfecting her polishing and carving methods before breaking out on her own.

Two-tone black and brown jar with a turquoise inlay
5 inches high x 3 3/4 in diameter

In addition, she was highly influenced by Popovi Da, Maria Martinez' son and his son Tony Da. Dora and Tse-Pe spent much time over the years experimenting with different clays, forms, textures, and designs. Her work is sometimes referred to as "contemporary" however, she dislikes the term and considers herself a traditionalist although she enjoys pushing at the term with her innovative work.

Kiva step rim on a red jar lightly carved with an
avanyu design plus inlaid turquoise and micaceous slip around the rim

6 1/4 in high by 4 1/2 in diameter

Her style is a blending of Zia, San Juan, and San Ildefonso traditions. Dora's work is considered to be among the best available of its kind today. A perfectionist, she executes her pieces with a high degree of precision and finish, executing a beautifully smooth burnish and exceptional black firing. Her success with the two-toned firing technique resulted in sienna accents to the black ware. Dora Tse-Pe is recognized as a master potter was awarded the title Master of Indian Market in Santa Fe.
Brown jar with fire cloud and inlaid turquoise
3 inches high by 2 1/2 inches diameter
 Lidded jar with bear handle, height 6.5 inches x diameter 4.5 inches
Vase with sgrafitto and turquoise cabochon inset, height 6 inches x diameter 4.5 inches
Bowl with 
Avanyu encircling opening; turquoise stone eye, height 4.75 inches x diameter 7.25 inches
Third quarter 20th century
Dora Tse-Pe is featured in nearly every book written on Pueblo Pottery today including Fourteen Families in Pueblo Pottery by Rick Dillingham, Southwestern Pottery from A to Z by Allan Hayes,  Lee M. Cohen's Art of Clay, Gregory Schaff's Pueblo Indian Pottery and Pottery by American Indian Women by Susan Peterson. She is also one of the few potters honored by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. For a short video on Dora Tse-Pe, follow this link:


Women Artists of the American West, Susan R. Ressler, ed., McFarland & Company Inc, 2003, page 337. 

Dora Tse Pe (San Ildefonso, b. 1939) Black and Sienna Pottery, retrieved July 15, 2019
In the Eyes of the Pot: A Journey into the World of Native American Pottery, Dora Tse-Pe,, retrieved July 15, 2019
Adobe World, Dora Tse Pe,, retrieved July 15, 2019
Maria and Julian Pottery, Dora Tse-Pe,, retrieved July 15, 2019

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Pansy Cornelia Stockton: The Art of Assemblage

Pansy Stockton
at work in her studio
This woman's vision was unique! Pansy Stockton created three-dimensional art pieces using hundreds of varieties of items from nature such as bark, moss, grass, and weeds. She called them her "sun paintings" because the botanical materials she used get their colors from the sun and, when the art pieces are finished, they resemble paintings. 

Pansy was born in El Dorado Springs, Missouri on March 31, 1895, and was raised in Eldorado Springs, Colorado where her parents ran the Grand View Hotel. Always an artist, she was just nine years old when she won her first adult competition with an oil painting however, Pansy not only worked in oil, but watercolor and acrylic as well. She studied the technique that substituted a palette knife in which artists use various tools shaped like knives, rather than brushes, to build up the paint on a canvas or other support. Pansy moved away from painting when she realized that the medium was limiting and that nature offered an endless supply of texture.

Pansy Stockton
Cero Pelon
ca n.d.
Botanical collage on board
4.5 x 3.3 inches
She created her first "sun painting" in 1916 while she was living in Durango, Colorado and sold it to the president of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. In her words, "The general effect of sun painting is much like looking out of a window rather than looking into a frame. There is a three dimensional value not found in painted pictures. I consider texture more important than color in getting my effects. All pieces are cemented to a soft paper board and pressed into service with heavy weights. When people ask,'How are your sun paintings made?' I tell them 'a lot of stuff, a little glue, considerable pressure, and a great big lot of imagination." Pansy coined the term "sun painting" because to her, it sounded primitive like sun temple or sand paintings.   

Pansy Stockton
Old Pecos MissionMixed Media Collage
ca. n.d.
11.62 x 15.62 inches
Pansy married Roscoe Stockton, poet, radio announcer, inventor, and teacher, in 1918. They settled in Denver, Colorado where Pansy became a founding member of the Denver Artists Guild in 1928. In 1936, she was adopted into the Oglala Lakota Tribe as a thank you for interceding on their behalf to help preserve their land and rights. She was often seen wearing traditional Lakota tribal wear and Pansy would participate in parades and dances. Her Lakota name, given to her by Native American dancer Charles Eagle Plume, was "Wanashta Wastaywin" (sp?) which means "Flower that Beautifies the Earth."
Pansy Stockton
In her self-made Kiva wearing traditional Lakota dress
ca 1930s
Nancy Bernhardt Collection
By the late 1930s, Pansy spent the bulk of her time in New Mexico and moved permanently to Santa Fe in 1942, where she built an adobe home with a kiva, a sacred building used for spiritual ceremonies, religious rituals and ceremonial preparations by the Pueblo Native Americans. Her substantial collection of Native American memorabilia and dolls were housed there. Pansy's home along Acequia Madre became a salon, where she gave lectures, and entertained visiting dignitaries. She was an integral part of the vibrant arts community in Santa Fe ans she sang at the Santa Fe Opera, served as a judge for the Miss New mexico pageant in 1958.  

Pansy Stockton
Down Mora Way
ca 1960
9 ¼ x 7 ¼ inches
David Cook Galleries
Pansy Stockton was quite well-known in her lifetime. In 1953 she was surprised by Ralph Edwards, host of the live television show "This is Your Life" and during the episode, the Governor Edwin Mechem of New Mexico proclaimed Pansy Stockton Sunshine day on March 31. Written on her plaque: "I hereby proclaim that of the 340 days of New Mexico sunshine each year, the sunniest of them all shall hereafter be known as Pansy Stockton Sunshine Day in New Mexico."

Her work was appreciated nationally and internationally, owned by both Eleanor Roosevelt and the Duke of Windsor. She exhibited in Paris, London, Vienna and New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Denver, and Santa Fe. Over the course of nearly sixty years, from 1916 to 1972, she created over one thousand sun paintings, most depicting scenes of her beloved New Mexico. "Ponchita," as she had become known, was an authority on Native American lore and an honorary member of the Sioux. She passed away in February of 1972. 
Pansy Stockton
with finished sun painting and holding botanical materials
Nancy Bernhardt Collection
Pansy Repass Stockton, Kat Bernhardt,, retrieved July 3, 2019
David Cook Galleries,, retrieved July 3, 2019
askART,, retrieved July 3, 2019
Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1998, p. 293.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Ruth Harriet Louise: The First Female Photographer in Hollywood

Ruth Harriet Louise
Ruth Harriet Louise was an American professional photographer and the first female photographer active in Hollywood. When Ms. Louise joined Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, dubbed the studio with "more stars than there are in heaven," she was twenty-two years old and the only woman working as a portrait photographer for the Hollywood studios.

Ruth Harriet Louise was born in New York City and raised in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She was the daughter of a rabbiLouise began to take photographs while still living at home. She gravitated to the studio of society photographer Nickolas Muray who had emigrated to New York from Europe before the outbreak of World War I. Muray was working as a color printer and photo engraver in Brooklyn when he opened his portrait studio, working from his apartment in Greenwich Village. He was getting regular work from Harper’s Bazaar  when Ruth began to apprentice for him. Muray was a well-known photographer of Babe Ruth, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Langston Hughes, among other celebrities in New York.

Louise had family who had already moved to Southern California and worked in the entertainment business, when they encouraged her to join them in Los Angeles. Her brother was director Mark Sandrich, who directed some of the great Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers musicals including Flying Down to Rio and The Gay Divorcee, and she was cousin to silent-film actress Carmel Myers, notably in Ben-HurRuth opened a small portrait studio near Hollywood and Vine, but her work was seen by Louis Mayer who hired her to set up her portrait studio at his new film company, MGM.  

Ruth Harriet Louise
Greta Garbo
ca 1920s
Film studios in the early days relied heavily on still photography. Actors were not initially sent for screen tests; they went first to the portrait studio so directors might see what image they would project in the glamour photos that would be used for promotion. This was long before quick and candid shots and the studios could tightly control the images they sent out to promote a star or a film. Fan clubs emerged, and they relied on the still photographs that could be sent to their members.

In a career that lasted just five years, from 1925 until 1930, Ms. Louise photographed all the stars, contract players, and many hopefuls who passed through the studio's front gates. It is estimated that she shot more than 100,000 photographs during her tenure at MGM. Her original photographs were circulated via newspapers and magazines to millions of moviegoers and fans while the publicity department tapped into the audience's need for sophistication and fashion during the 1920s. Ms. Louise's photographs helped set the tone for glamour photography. 

Ruth Harriet Louise
Joan Crawford
ca 1929
Ruth Harriet Louise
Buster Keaton
ca 1929
Ruth photographed the likes of Greta Garbo, Lon Chaney, John Gilbert, Joan Crawford, and Marion Davies. Ruth became Greta Garbo's personal photographer. At twenty-four years old, she was already a two-year veteran of Hollywood who had joined the community just a few months before Garbo. However, by 1930 tastes were changing. Norma Shearer selected George Hurrell to be her personal photographer as she liked the sexy glamour shots he produced. Louise’s elegant photos were not as desirable as they once were, and her contract was not renewed.

She retired from working as a photographer at MGM in 1927 to marry director Leigh Jason and had a son who died of leukemia in 1932. Tragically, Louise and her baby died in 1940 of complications from her second childbirth. 

Ruth Harriet Louise
Renee Adoree

Ruth Harriet Louise
John Gilbert
Today, Ms. Louise is considered an equal to the likes of George Hurrell, Clarence Bull, Milton Greene and Cecil Beaton. Sr. and other renowned glamour photographers of the era.

Austin Film Society,, retrieved June 27, 2019
Backlots,, retrieved June 27, 2019
Ruth Harriet Louise and Hollywood Glamour Photography, Abstract, University of California Press,, retrieved June 27, 2019
Questia, Ruth Harriet Louise and Hollywood Glamour Photography, Robert Dance and Bruce Robertson,, retrieved June 27, 2019
America Comes Alive, Ruth Harriet Louise, First Female Photographer in Hollywood,, retrieved June 27, 2019