Woman in Art/Chapter 18 - Wikisource, the free online library
Wall Painting the Oldest Colorful Art. First Murals by American Women, Mary MacMonnies and Mary Cassatt In Woman's Building, 1893. Violet Oakley, Her Murals In the State House at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
"To have the sense of Creative Activity is the great happiness,
and the great proof of being alive."—Matthew Arnold.
Wall painting is the oldest colorful art known to history, but the oldest form of picture for which man is responsible, is the Word-Picture. We have a developing word-picture in the first of Genesis: An angel of light with a flaming sword standing guard at the gate of Paradise, from whose beauty and peace the shamed and grief-stricken parents of humanity had been driven out, is the powerful and thrilling story that tells us all we know of the introduction of man to this world, which he was destined to subdue and fill with countless humans.
The first picture portrays Man in Paradise, beautiful as some may dream heaven to be, from which, because of disobedience, he was driven to earth. The second picture portrays Man on the earthward side of the unknown garden, and it expresses the tragedies of human life; disobedience and its train of sins, grief, shame, disappointment, and sweating toil for daily bread. It is a moving picture, and moves on to the children of man who disagree over the tenets of their religious opinions. Uneducated, unfrocked, the differences of opinion and belief lead to murder and its train of sins. That word-picture by an ancient writer of Hebrew scripture is but a negative that has been indelibly reproduced on the sensitized minds of millions who have harked back to that primitive pair,—mural picture, it seems, on the earth side of that invisible wall that still separates mankind from that unknown Paradise, wherein is the Tree of Life, whose fruit we long for even here.
Prehistoric man by degrees discovered various colors and used them to ornament his body and his cave walls, these decorations serving also as records of kingly achievements. Through past ages various civilizations have applied a crude art to their walls, not merely as decoration, but as a sort of record. Hence our next pictures are on man-made walls of tombs and temples, when Mena was king over the most ancient Egyptians known. Again, on Babylonian walls, pictures tell us of ideas and developments of a later civilization, another conception of deity, another style of architecture, other modes of life, other sorts of men. Hence we see mural painting, an outgrowth of the dim past, has been engrafted from time to time with more modern ideas. It is a practical and harmonious application of decorative painting to architecture. It may be merely decorative, but great art will have something to say or to suggest that will be in harmony with the building or room it is to adorn. Such building or room will naturally suggest a subject appropriate to its use.
On the walls of the throne room of Queen Hatasu is a painting of her Egyptian majesty, her head supporting a two-story crown, emblem of her sovereignty over the two kingdoms, Upper and Lower Egypt.
In the period of the Renaissance, before the art of printing was discovered, scripture themes and stories painted on church and cloister walls were a means of religious education. Old and young can read pictures, and the more clear the pictures the more alert the unlettered mind.
The arts were non-essentials of life, but were very important as adornment and even aggrandizement, as were the brilliantly colored walls of Babylonian pyramidal palaces and temples.
Each civilization has expressed its progress, ideals of beauty and deity, to an extent, on its public walls. Recent explorations have added to modern knowledge concerning the antiquity of wall painting. The explorations of Sir Arthur Evans and Mr. Noal Heaton, on the Island of Crete, prove that the Minoans practiced mural painting—simple colors on plaster—three thousand or four thousand years before Christ, and it seems to have been purely decorative. Hence we infer that there must have been a school for that art, and for them it must have reached a high-water mark. Therefore, color was for them as for the Greeks a means of enrichment, the Greeks using it to add beauty to their statuary in many cases; and more often the beauty was enhanced by a colored background, or a length of soft silk draped over some piece of Parian marble.
Beauty and art, as twin sisters, have touched earth now and again through rolling ages, imbuing the spirit of mankind. Even in the study of history as writ amid the ruins, we discover those diaphanous beings alighted at Tyre, at Carthage, reflecting their glory in the clear blue of the Middle Sea; at Rome and her pleasure towns, Tivali, Baiea, Pompeii, and Herculaneum—all too near the mountain of fire—and later they made themselves at home amid the lilies by the Arno and made the fifteenth century radiant for ages to come.
It is true that the twentieth century stands upon the foundation of the first, and is appropriating, assimilating, discarding and sometimes improving; but sequence is a law of the universe.
The painted walls of Pompeiian homes, brilliant in color even now after lying under ashes and lava for nearly two millenniums, tell much of the glory of Imperial Rome, and also, on the ruined walls of the Palace of the Cæsars, they tell also of Roman use of Greek ideas and forms in the dancing maids, still maintaining their grace and beauty amid the ruins.
Beauty and art overflowed Pisa and Florence, even as light overcomes darkness, and the dawning we will ever call the Renaissance.
Five hundred years have whirled over this old world since then, and in a new world, undreamed of then, humans of this Twentieth Century, A. D., are beginning to record the progress and ideals of this wonderful epoch of development on walls of public buildings and in palatial homes. But will they be permitted to last even one century?
Mural painting is wedded to architecture, hence they are interdependent; each must be appropriate to the other. In subject and style they must harmonize. No painter should put brush to wall until he knows the wall.
In this bird's eye view down the centuries, we see more and more of proportion, harmony, color and form in the arts and architecture, in the crafts and cunning of man's handiwork. With the commercial, intellectual and religious development of a nation, the arts become more expressive of conditions, achievements and ideals.
Mural work demands a high and strong mentality in man or woman, and a rugged physique, for it entails hard work for body and brain. The advent of the Woman's Building (at the Columbian World Fair at Chicago in 1893), as the acknowledged beginning of woman's work in the field of art, should be held in high esteem because of those courageous painters in their willingness and daring to establish a precedent for other women of talent. No one woman, no ten women will ever possess all the qualifications for a perfect artist, because there is no established criterion for perfection in art, fortunately, but the many who strive for the high ideal give the variety that pleases the varying tastes of this world of humans.
Honest appreciation is as valuable as just criticism, and beginnings as important as the ultimate.
The first accomplishment of mural painting by woman, as noted in chapter fourteen, were the tympanums in the Womans' Building at the Columbian Fair. "Primitive Woman," by Mary MacMonnies, and "Modern Woman," by Mary Cassatt. Other murals were not seen till some years later.
Ella Conde Lamb is a rapid thinker and producer in her art, which has been along the line of mural decoration and designs for church windows, et cetera, in which she has been very successful.
The secret of such work is not different from other successful work—it is preparation, a thorough training. It was the method of the early masters. Nearly all the youths who were art-struck in the Renaissance period began as apprentices—"bound out," as they expressed it, for a term of years, till the actual workmanship and knowledge of the scriptures had been acquired. We were reminded of the power and plentitude of such preparation when Mrs. Lamb said that she had eight years of constant study, for she feels that the vital point for a woman, no less than for a man, is a thorough training for her trade. Such being her case, results came easily and success followed quickly.
Mrs. Lamb realizes the advance in art methods and schools, as she said, "I feel that present-day students have far more opportunities than we did back in the eighties, and take less advantage of them."
Concerning mural painting, she said, truly, yet perhaps discouragingly to youthful ambition, "It is hard work."
"Being a little woman I enjoyed covering large spaces! And after my marriage to an artist-architect, mural work was the natural outcome of my husband's need of what I could do in carrying out details of his comprehensive designs for glass mosaics or mural painting, so that inspiration and opportunity came hand in hand. It was not easy. All mural work demands many preliminary sketches, studies from models, detail drawings and color sketches, and research work, as well as physical endurance, nerve force, and determination to carry through to the final large cartoon or painting."
Mrs. Lamb was born in New York, and early became a pupil of William M. Chase, later painting with C. Y. Turner in New York. In Paris it was Collin and Courtois, both being of great help. Then a trip to Italy to study the old mosaics of the early masters of decoration. The congenial companionship in art work and home life have lightened labor and advanced the art of these wedded artists.
Strolling with a friend through the highland part of Ithaca, several summers ago, the writer halted before the beauty of a vine-clad home embowered amid flowering shrubs and beds of bloom. It was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles R. Lamb.
Some of Mrs. Lamb's most important commissions, in conjunction with her husband, are the mosaics in Sage Memorial Chapel at Cornell University, and in the Chapel at Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis; also in the Governor Flower Library in Watertown, New York.
"In my case," said Mrs. Lamb, "art has been in conjunction with housekeeping and raising a family of four children. So I come back to where I began: a hard training while young, to insure speed, facility, and knowledge when time, later on, is more precious; also the careful preservation of health, without which, all else is useless."
Ella Conde Lamb is a member of the Society of Mural Painters; of the Washington Art Club; of the National Art Crafts; she was awarded the Dodge Prize, 1889, at National Academy of Design, New York; honorable mention at the Columbian Exposition of 1893; at the Atlanta Exposition, 1895; and at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. To the above citations should be added numerous portraits from her studio, and a large number of murals and interesting windows here and there throughout the states.
As we look down the vista of the ages, mural painting has, indeed, seemed a measuring rod of human progress. The walls of Egypt, Persia, and Assyria, overlapping in the dim distance, depict our background. According to fragmented walls that remain, Greece and Rome add another aeon. The Middle Ages, like a dark valley, intervene, out of which emerges the dawn of the Renaissance, another epoch reaching to its fifteenth century height in our middle distance. Next a plateau in time, whereon we discern terrestrial warfare and struggle after land and learning, science and discovery, and walls of cathedral beauty pointing heavenward with spire and tower.
From an Island shore tidal waters wafted to westward a fragile boat laden with progress, independence, and "Liberty Spiritual." Three hundred years have come and gone, bringing seed time and harvest, seed time and harvest for the bread that perishes, and the principles that can never die.
Here we find ourselves in the foreground of the vision. It is up-to-date; we are not dealing with the future, but preparing for it.
Artists, men or women, do not appear on the arena suddenly cap-a-pie, palette and brushes in hand, awaiting an order, but the years roll by, the preparation is accomplished, and the order comes.
Some years ago three girls with art ambition arranged for a studio together. It was in a beautiful place, "The Red Rose" at Villa Nova, Pennsylvania, a fine old house surrounded by fine old trees and lovely gardens. There they fitted and furnished their studio, and engaged Mr. William Sartain to give them painting lessons. He came once in two weeks for the lessons and the valuable criticisms which they found most helpful. In time they entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, working faithfully because of their object in view. On graduation they had ready sale for their pictures, and orders came also. Perhaps the varying orders pointed to the directions which their art eventually pursued.
Miss Jessie Wilcox Smith and Miss Elizabeth Shippen Green were led into the path of designing and illustrating. Before long Violet Oakley received an order for a subject that needed a first-hand knowledge of historical places and costumes of the bygone times, so with her mother and her sketch book she visited Spain, Italy, and England, as a further preparation for her life work. Her previous study with Mr. Howard Pyle was of great benefit, for he is an illustrator who illustrates. All this preparation was unknown to the general public until a finished work (six designs of the whole number assigned to Miss Oakley) was put on exhibition in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
The Capitol Building at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, had been destroyed by fire and rebuilt on a larger and more magnificent scale. The building committee arranged to beautify the interior in a manner appropriate to the use of the building and to the honor of the state. For that purpose the committee selected a number of our best artists for the scriptural and mural decorations, namely: Edwin A. Abbey, John W. Alexander, Violet Oakley, George Gray Barnard, Harrington Fitzgerald, W. B. Van Ingen, Roland H. Perry, and Henry C. Mercer.To Violet Oakley was given the commission for thirteen panels for a frieze (of heroic figures) in the governor's Reception Room. For that series of murals she took for her subject "The Founding of the State Spiritual." They represent the triumph of the growing idea of true liberty, in the holy experiment of Pennsylvania. Six panels were first completed. First, the dawn of the idea of religious tolerance is embodied in an unequal diptych eight by thirteen feet, representing William Tyndale at Cologne printing his translation of the Bible into English, and the smuggling of the New Testament into England. The second panel portrays the burning of the books at Oxford, also the martyrdom of Tyndale, bound to the stake, and his last words, "Lord, open the eyes of the king." The third panel pictures Henry VIII signing the permission for the sale and reading of the Bible throughout England, also the horrible hypocrisy of the king, his grant for free use of the Bible being followed by persecution of all who read and began to think for themselves. This the artist exemplified by the martyrdom of Anne Askew, a type of the women who were also ready to die for the Truth. Her last words were, "Rather deathe than false to Faithe."
These panels led to a fourth, undivided, of figures of charging knights in armor who embody the spirit of civil wars. The march of enlightenment is carried onward in two small panels seven feet square; the fifth shows George Fox on his Mount of Vision; the sixth is William Penn in his study at Oxford—the college of Tyndale.
The panels were on exhibition at the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, which is Miss Oakley's Alma Mater. They won for the artist a special gold medal from the Academy.
Miss Oakley's treatment of her subjects is simple, clear, and her color scheme marks her work for enduring admiration.
We have gone into this much of description of the work of Miss Oakley because it is an inspirational work of her mind, that has delved into history of the most vital importance to our American commonwealth; a pictured history of the principles to be tested and accepted into the body politic of our nation—and ultimately of the world.
For the decoration of the Senate Chamber, Miss Oakley extended the subject of founding a state to "The Creation and Preservation of the Union." The entire frieze for the Senate Chamber comprises forty-five panels. The drawings and studies for this monumental work were on exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D. C., and in a number of our large cities. To give an idea of the thought and work on the cartoons required—not to mention the weeks and months of arduous painting on the scaffold—we cite the subjects of two or three. No. 31 impersonates Greed by the recall of the heartless Slave Driver; No. 32 shows the slave driven by Fear; No. 33 depicts the Supreme Manifestation of Enlightenment in International Unity, which seems a fulfillment of a prophecy of William Penn. And these are the words that accompany it: "He carried me away to a great and high mountain, and showed me that Great City...And He showed me a pure River of the Water of Life clear as crystal proceeding out of the Throne...And the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor into it...In the midst of the street of it and on either side of the River was there the Tree of Life...And the leaves of the Tree were for the healing of the nations."
The Constitutional Convention and the Birth of the Union, Philadelphia, 1787, pictures George Washington, Chairman of the Convention, giving his address, his words quoted: "Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair ... the event is in the hand of God."
The events of 1863 represent Abraham Lincoln closing his Gettysburg speech. The pathos of the surrounding crowd (bare heads in the foreground, and an army of bayonets to the vanishing point) culminates in the folded arms and bowed head of the Man of Destiny. His words are: "It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated ... to the unfinished work."
When the drawings and cartoons for Miss Oakley's work were on view in London, they inspired a well-known writer and critic to give the public the following account of the way in which the decorations came into existence:
"These paintings are scenes from the life of William Penn and the founding of the State of Pennsylvania. William Penn fought the great fight for religious liberty in the seventeenth century. The paintings in the Reception Room take us through various phases and scenes of those troublous times, to be crowned by Penn's first sight of the shores of Pennsylvania as he ascended the river 'from whence the air smelt as sweet as a new-blown garden,' bringing at last his words true, 'I had an opening of Joy as to these parts when a lad at Oxford.'
"The paintings in the Governor's Room are planned to deal exclusively with the founding of the state, and stop just short of recording any event within the life of the state itself—bringing William Penn in the prow of the ship 'Welcome' only within sight of his promised land. These paintings were started in 1902 and finished in 1906. Five years later, in 1911, the great American painter, Edwin Abbey, died, and Miss Oakley was commissioned to undertake that part of the contract with the state which, at the time of his death, had not even been begun. Miss Oakley was not, as has been erroneously reported, to finish any of the paintings which he had begun or planned. That was done by his assistant in his studio in England, and the panels were exhibited at the Royal Academy. And so it came about that Miss Oakley had to take up again the threads and weave the tapestry of the history of a state, symbolizing now the great structure whose foundations she had before seen in the laying.
"It was in London in the autumn of 1912 that she began to work upon the theme for the paintings in the Senate series. At this time Balkan troubles disturbed Europe, and the first panel to be painted symbolized 'International Understanding and Unity' during a period when a Federation of the World was considered by the vast majority of mankind a wild and forlorn dream of visionaries.
"Epitomizing as it does—this decorative scheme—William Penn's dream of a world free from war, it is singularly apt at the present time, when the nations are seeking to find a way out of the labyrinth of strife into the realms of peace. Twenty years has it taken the artist to execute this colossal work, and some idea of its scope, thoroughness and artistic achievement can be got from a volume called 'Holy Experiment.' This magnificent book is written and illuminated by the artist with colortype reproductions from the mural decorations themselves. It has been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese. Presentation copies have been made to two former Presidents of the United States, Mr. Taft, and Mr. Wilson, also a copy has been accepted by the League of Nations' Library, and the subscription list, geographically, represents eighteen American states, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Morocco."
The third great cycle of Violet Oakley's monumental murals began with a deal of preliminary study while she was in England in 1912. It was then laid aside until she completed the Senate Chamber paintings. She began again to do preliminary drawings in 1917, and the big canvases were started in 1921 and finished in 1927.
Not all her working time, however, was spent on that big subject, for she had a vast amount of portraiture and designing to accomplish as well. The completed decoration of the "Opening of the Book of the Law" is being placed in the Supreme Court Room of the Pennsylvania Capitol at this time (1927).
Could a more appropriate subject be found for that place? The artist, in sixteen panels, symbolizes the evolution of law beginning with "Divine Law," over the seats of the justices, the Alpha and Omega of the subject as well as of the series of murals. "The Spirit of the Law" is the two-fold one of Purification and Enlightenment, while at the right "The Scale of the Law" shows the divisions: Divine Law, Law of Nature, Revealed Law, Law of Reason, Common Law, Law of Nations and International Law.
Divine Law is symbolized by the open book at the face of Truth, half-concealed by interlacing lines of cherubim and bodies terrestrial, and a network of elongated words wherein one finds that the initial letters on the face of Truth here and there are law, and the letters somewhere, following the initials, form Love and Wisdom. An ingenious device. The Law of Nature is represented by a religious procession led by a virgin priestess who pours incense on the altar of libation. Young men follow with pipes and cymbals, patriarchs, the white bull and peacocks follow on. The clustered rays of the sun in its circles and the winged Pegasus bespeak Greek conceptions of the "Golden Age."
Moses amid the lightnings of Sinai accents "Revealed Law" as he carves the Ten Commandments on the second tables of stone. Number seven represents the "Beatitudes," the Christ surrounded by those of a meek and quiet spirit. Rich Byzantine color and detail envelop Justinian and his Code of Reason. He is seen giving thanks in the church of Santa Sophia. Common Law is an apotheosis of Blackstone seated in high dignity against a voluminous library of law books, that of All Souls' College at Oxford.
Coming to modern times, the Law of Nations represents Chief Justice Marshall in the robes of his office, seated in the chair of state; the national capitol is the background, while the sky beyond is spangled with the forty-eight stars of the Union.
The Supreme Court of the state, the Supreme Court of the United States, and the International Court of the World are all significantly portrayed in this magnificent pageant of law. In the more recent panels many portraits of participants within our knowledge give a realism to the sense that we are living in history. "The International Court at The Hague" bears an inscription quoted from Elihu Root: "The civilized world will have to decide whether International Law is to be considered a mere code of etiquette or is to be a real body of law imposing obligations much more definite and inevitable...Nor can we doubt that this will be a different world when peace comes." The painting is of twelve judges seated at the long table, forming an impressive group. The dignity and gravity of the occasion creates its own atmosphere. Above are the splendid stained-glass windows of the Palace of Peace.
The supremacy of the highest law is pictured in "Disarmament," the last of the series. The powerful figure of Christ is walking the waves, while all around him the battle ships sink. His outstretched hands still carry the mata, and the sun makes a halo in the midst of the storm. The Omega of the series is reached in the first panel, and we read with a new comprehension—"the streams of the Law running through all countries, down throughout all ages, purified by Wisdom, meet in the Sea of Light, Divine Law."
Quoting again: "Violet Oakley is, in her time, a Voice—and her work, as well as that of William Penn, can truthfully be called a 'Holy Experiment.' She has consistently maintained a high ideal of government, and endowed abstract conceptions with the breath of life, thereby immeasurably enriching the national consciousness."
By the sequence of her three cycle subjects and of the consecutive panels of each in that state capitol. Miss Oakley has interpreted history and biography in the most impressive and unforgetable manner. Children of school age will learn more from her colorful history than from books, and will imbibe a deal of art at the same time.
Violet Oakley puts deep thought into all her decorative subjects; nothing she does is merely for color decoration. Twelve medallion windows were required for the residence of Mr. Robert J. Collier, of New York. Miss Oakley selected her subjects from Dante's Divine Comedy, citing lines from the three parts which she has illustrated, showing deep appreciation of the poet's word-pictures.
She represents Virgil as earthly wisdom in his conduct of Dante through the underworld. In Purgatory an eagle conducts the poet to the entrance of the Mount of Purification, and in Paradise it is Beatrice who shows him the stairway of Contemplation, leading to the seventh heaven. And the quotation follows:
"Her beauty raineth little flames of fire
Full of spirit that inspireth love
And in our nature quickens all good thoughts."
"The Building of the House of Wisdom" is the subject for the motifs in the hall of the home of Mr. Charlton Yandall, of Philadelphia. In the center of the dome is the Head of Wisdom, around which are the words: "Wisdom hath builded her House." In the outer space the four winds are calling: East Wind, "But where shall Wisdom be found?" South Wind, "Seek." West Wind, "Ask." North Wind, "Knock." This is bordered by an outer circle of waters, above which runs the answer : "Who findeth me findeth life, for by me thy days shall be multiplied." The four pendentives represent the builders of the race:
First—Dwellers in tents—Wanderers in the desert.
Third—The dome of the Renaissance.
Fourth—The High Tower.
The three lunettes illustrate Wisdom in the Home. The Child and Tradition—upon the stairway, visible to the child only. "That which hath been, is now; and that which shall be, hath already been."
The second, Youth and the Arts, in the Upper Room: "I will sing a new song unto Thee upon an instrument of ten strings. . . That our Sons may be as plants grown up in their youth, and our Daughters, as cornerstones, polished."
The third. Upon the Housetop; a group watching Man conquering the Air.
"And what is Man ? . . .
Thou art mindful of him. . .
Thou hast crowned him with glory and honor.
Thou hast put all things under his feet."
Above the man and science is seen:
First, Communion throughout space—The Wireless Message.
Second, The Search for Light—Man between the Material and the Spiritual theory of Light.
Third, The Conquest of the Heavens—"They mount up with wings as eagles."
Above the octagon in the vault, above the child and tradition, is seen:
First, Hercules, the infant, strangling the serpents.
Second, The Choice of Hercules (at the crossways between Virtue and Voluptas).
Third, The Apotheosis of Hercules—"For Wisdom is more moving than any emotion. She passeth and goeth through all things by reason of her Pureness. She is the brightness of the Everlasting Light."
Therefore — Get Wisdom.
Let Her Not Go.
Keep Her, For
She Is Thy
The designs for the windows from the Divine Comedy received the medal of honor from the New York Architectural League in 1916.
Violet Oakley has accomplished a series of twelve panels for the Cuyahoga County Court House at Cleveland, Ohio.
Many windows and decorations from Miss Oakley's designs have enhanced the beauty and interest of other public buildings and private homes. In the Church of All Angels, West End Avenue and Eighty-First Street, New York, is a very devotional and beautiful altar piece in mosaics from the design by Miss Oakley; she also did personally the two curved sides of the chancel wall, and designed the four small stained glass windows. The beauty and execution of her work in All Angels' Church resulted in the choice of Miss Oakley for the decoration of the frieze in the Governor's Reception Room in the Harrisburg Capitol. The work in the church was finished in 1901.
The same year Miss Oakley completed another work of deep thought and great beauty—"The Great Wonder"—a vision of the Apocalypse (Revelation XII), There are seven compositions comprising the triptych: First, the seven golden candlesticks; Second, The Book sealed with seven seals; Third, The seven angels with seven trumpets; Fourth, The Great Wonder; Fifth, The Mighty Angel with the little book; Sixth, The Rider upon the white horse; Seventh, The old Serpent cast out. This most unusual art work partakes of its veiled meaning in symbolism, and is a remarkable study—the color rich and harmonious. It was presented to the Alumnae House of Vassar College in the name of the Class of 1891, "In Loving Memory of Hester Caldwell Oakley Ward."
Miss Oakley's portraits possess the same sense of life-likeness as do her murals; there is the wealth of harmonious color as accessory to the position and face of the sitter. She is too thorough an artist to impose the background of the one for the other.
A full length portrait of Mrs. H. Houston Woodward, standing, in a luxuriously furnished library, proves again the mastery the artist has of color and harmony. It is dignified and graceful as a portrait, and abundantly satisfying as a picture.
One of her most striking portraits is of Henry Howard Houston Woodward, of the Lafayette Escadrille, winner of the Croix de Guerre with Palm. Killed in France, 1918. It is a masterful piece of work. The hair blown back from the brow, the eyes clear and penetrating, the face full of character and determination, the hands indicative of strength and refinement. What a sacrifice was there! This portrait is now in the Academy of Fine Arts at Philadelphia.
Miss Oakley was born in New York; she was a pupil of the Art Students' League, also of the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. In Paris her studies continued under Aman Jean, Collin and Lazar. She is an associate member of the National Academy of Design, a member of the Water Color Club of New York, also of the Water Color Club of Philadelphia, of the National Society of Mural Painters, the Art Alliance of Philadelphia, Fellow of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Society of Illustrators, and honorary member of the Institute of Architects. The degree of LL.D. was conferred upon her by Delaware College in 1918. She was awarded the gold medal of honor by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1905, also the gold medal of honor at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition at San Francisco, 1915.
We realize that American Art has progressed somewhat when we find industrial, mechanical and structural subjects of the present day laid upon our walls by masterly hands, pointing the two-fold message, art in labor and labor in art. This has been done by a few men. We recall the stupendous, hazardous engineering feat of the Panama Canal construction work, paintings by Jonas Lie, who thus earned the sobriquet of "The Panama Painter"; also the murals blazing the genius of the Pittsburgh Mills and of the artist, John W. Alexander.
But who would think of engaging a slender little woman for such heroic work? A few years ago the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Ohio, wanted a large decoration for their new building, symbolizing the chief industry of the Cleveland District, and the architects gave the commission to Miss Cora Millet Holden, resident of their city.
Not long after the war, Miss Holden painted a memorial decoration for the Goodyear Hall in Akron, Ohio, a two-fold subject, "Separation, and Return," in which was mingled the spirit of heroism and pathos. The figures were nearly life size, and the color scheme brilliant as it had need to be in the lobby. Her work there was counted a success, and a greater success was pronounced concerning "Steel Production." For the latter work, the artist made studies in color and in charcoal, working in the mills, to the surprise and admiration of the giants of the molten metal. The huge machinery about and above, men half clad (the human part of the great industry)— all reflected the lurid light from the great cauldrons of fluid metal, and below, against dark retainers, were seen spurts and fountains of red hot spray.
"Her sketches for this rather daring venture into a field seldom invaded by artists of her sex were made from direct observation of the process of "Steel Production," as she calls her painting. She watched the drama of man's mastery over iron in the work of the Bourne-Fuller Company of Cleveland, and her record of what she witnessed is accurate and convincing enough to satisfy a lifelong steel-worker, provided that he shall have a sense of decorative values and some consciousness of the victory of mind over matter, which is impressively set forth in Miss Holden's painting. For her rendering of the tremendous scene, which is so constantly enacted and so seldom witnessed by any eyes but those of the workers in the mills, is essentially the depicting of a triumph of the human brain. Brawny men stand watching the outpouring of molten metal from the great container above the molds to be filled. One is impressed with the tremendous forces visibly chained in the service of man, but the whole scene is one which shows mind reigning over matter, where immense weight and power dominate the processes of creative industry. Indeed, so easily does the intelligence of man rule the gigantic mechanism of his devising that this big picture is almost serene in its mastery.
"Miss Holden's strong painting fits into the warm browns and yellows of the wall that arches above it so that it suggests a temple of fire, power, and steel, instead of a bank decoration. With admirable restraint, for which Walker & Weeks, architects of the bank, may no doubt be given much credit, this big mural painting stands alone, the one picture on the walls of a noble room."
The next step Miss Holden takes to find an appropriate subject for another mural decoration leads her thought and study to ancient Greece and its mythical nobility. It is the Allen Memorial Medical Library of Western Reserve University, Cleveland, that calls for her next work. The subject is the life of Asklepios, the mythical Greek doctor, who became a god. He was a son of Apollo and the nuyph Coronis, and Apollo did very well by his offspring; he had him educated in an exclusive school, which Cheiron the Centaur conducted in a grotto in Thessaly. Jason, Achilles and Theseus were educated in the same school. Asklepios became a great and beloved doctor, and later a god, and his son Machaon became a famous surgeon and took care of Menelaus when he was struck by an arrow.
All this is told by Miss Holden with freedom and vigor in her murals. From her hands Cheiron the Centaur has emerged with wisdom and kindness in his bearing, and Asklepios becomes a Greek god.
The first of the series of four panels is already in place, and the second is nearly finished. Asklepios wears orange draperies which contrast finely with the blue sky and deep green cypress background. A youth in leopard skins stands at the left of Apollo's great son, Asklepios. The murals have a beautiful setting in the warm-toned walls. The third panel represents Machaon, his surgeon son, ministering to the wounded Menelaus, and the fourth is the deification of the first physician.
Cora Millet Holden is of New England stock, although her birthplace was Alexandria, Virginia, in 1895. She is the only artist of the family, and it is singular that she is not a doctor, with her grandmother, grandfather and her mother all physicians; but art was in the family and has already spoken twice, Frank D. Millet having spoken first in this generation.
Cora Holden is a mural painter and a portrait painter, many of the latter being in Boston and Cleveland. She has some bewitching portraits of children to her credit, and of adults her art has produced fine characterizations.
She studied with Joseph De Camp and Cyrus Dallin, and graduated from Massachusetts School of Art, where she has been teaching. She also spent a year in special study abroad and in travel. While in Paris she received the commission for the murals now under way, and made the figure studies from models there. The four murals are the gift of Mrs. Walter H. Merriam as a memorial to her husband, the late Dr. Merriam.
Cora Holden is a pioneer in this part of the country, as an artist of her sex who undertakes and carries through handsomely big strong mural paintings of a nature long considered only for men, and she certainly scores heavily in the hall of the splendid new Allen Library of Western Reserve University.
Jessie Arms Botke is a mid-west artist by birth. She was a student at the Chicago Art Institute and did some of her best work in that city. Her painting is decorative in style and is a very natural combination of the feather creation and flowers. Both are subjects requiring careful study and technique, and Mrs. Botke has given a full meed of study to each. A corner of an old-fashioned garden on some of her canvases is as refreshing as if one had stepped into her grandmother's garden of long ago. She uses colors as pure as seen in the flowers themselves: calendula, giving the pure orange, the varying shades of cobalt and cerulean represented by masses of larkspur, while perennial phlox and the stately hollyhocks, in all their gamut of shades, give the reds, pinks, lavendar and purple. In the midst of such riotous color (for the gate had been left open) waddle the dignified, snow-white geese, the leader with neck craned, eye alert, proudly surveying his flock and their environment. Expressive of his enjoyment and freedom, the uplifted wings fluff the down beneath, so exquisitely accomplished you forget all about paint.
Any and all water-fowl or birds of gorgeous plumage tempt the brush of this artist, as do the unusual white peacocks, painted with consummate skill. Perhaps these subjects come more to her notice since making her home in California.
The art of Mrs. Botke just naturally led her to mural painting, and one of her most ambitious murals she has called "The Masque of Youth." It lines the long entertainment or dancing hall in the "Ida Noyes Hall," the building erected to her memory by her husband, LaVergne Noyes, on the campus of Chicago University, for the exclusive use of the university women. It is a magnificent structure finished and furnished in the dark wood and carving of the seventeenth century in England, and into this rich interior Jessie Arms Botke introduced young life in its various vivacious moods, from fairy-like little folk to the veiled bride. In groups they are linked with ribbons and garlands of flowers, tripping the light fantastic on the flowery greensward. The figures are graceful, the colors soft and harmonious, a pleasing contrast to the structural beauty of the hall.
A group of younger mural painters are working their way toward broader and more significant conceptions for mural decoration. Realizing that fact, we mention a few names that give promise of fuller knowledge and preferment in coming years.
Caroline Haywood has composed a most unusual design for a mural in the Manayunk National Bank, Philadelphia—a central square with a long narrow panel on either side. The central panel is an authentic map of Manayunk and vicinity, showing the Schuylkill river, canal, and Wissahickon creek and Fairmount Park. Superimposed on the map is a drawing based on an old photograph of the present site of the Bank. The side panels represent scenes from the little old settlement on the canal. It is of local interest and unique as a decoration.
Edith Emerson is another of our younger mural workers, already accomplishing attractive subjects in many public buildings. Her preparation has been of the best. Hers was the good fortune to be born in a state that has furnished the country with many noteworthy characters—Oxford, Ohio. Her first art studies were at the Chicago Art Institute, and later were continued at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and finally under instruction of Violet Oakley, with whom she has continued as an assistant. Her first successes were portraits, and it was but natural that, working with the most important mural painter among women, her own inclination should be fostered and developed guided by such a mind and technique as that possessed by Miss Oakley.
The first order of importance Miss Emerson received was for decorative murals in the Little Theatre in Philadelphia. Then came an order for two Memorial Windows in the new Keneseth Israel Synagogue in Philadelphia: The Roosevelt Window and one to John Hay, both successfully filled.
Miss Emerson is represented in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Her illustrations in "Asia" and "The Country" are such as one likes to see, because appropriate and artistic.
A summer in Spain with Miss Oakley was not only a pleasure, but profitable to both artists for scene and subject for the future.