Monday, May 8, 2017

Ethel Magafan: American Muralist and Painter of Abstract Western Landscapes

Jenne (left) and Ethel (right) Magafan
ca. n.d.
Ethel Magafan and her sister Jenne were identical twins, born in Chicago, Illinois in 1915 to Petros Magafan, a Greek immigrant father and Julia (Bronick) their Polish mother. Due to their father's health concerns, the family moved to Colorado, where the landscape reminded Petros of his native village in Greece. The family lived in Colorado Springs and then in Denver from 1931-1934. The twins both wanted to become artists and were supported by both teachers and family members. Unfortunately, Petros died suddenly in 1932, a tragic loss for both of the girls. 
The twins attended East High School in Denver, where they found a mentor in their art teacher Helen Perry. She had studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and her background made her uniquely qualified to help the girls in their pursuit of an art career.
 In 1936, Jenne won the Carter Memorial Art Scholarship and shared it with her sister so that they both could attend the Broadmoor Art Academy in Colorado Springs. Once they ran out of money, Mechau, now teaching there, hired them as assistants. Through their involvement at the Academy, the twins entered into careers as muralists, working at first with Mechau and then with Peppino Mangravite.
From 1937 to 1943, Ethel was commissioned to paint her first of seven government sponsored murals. Located in the US Post Office in Auburn, Nebraska, this commission made Ethel (at age 26) the youngest artist in America to receive such an honor. Denver Art Museum director Donald J. Bear once commented that "[Ethel and Jenne's] study of local detail makes them appear as little Bruegels of ranch genre - natural and unforced."
Ethel Magafan
Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, January 8, 1814
Recorder of Deeds Building, Washington, D.C.
Other New Deal Works Progress Adminstration (WPA) murals included the US Senate Chamber, the Recorder Deeds Building, and the Social Security Building in Washington, D.C. which Ethel painted with her sister. One of her earliest submissions to the Treasury Department Section of Fine Arts was a study of The Lawrence Massacre for the Post Office of Fort Scott, Kansas. The subject was a tragic event in the town but was not accepted as a design at the time. Magafan realized that she needed to work with government bureaucracy in order to have her ideas accepted and focused her subjects on local agriculture and industry. She included subtle references that pushed against the limitations of subject matter in her work such as including Black workers depicted in a noble light during a period of segregation in the South for a mural in the Wynne Post Office in Arkansas.
Ethel Magafan
The Cotton Pickers
ca. 1940
Oil on Canvas
Post Office, Wynne, Arkansas
During the World War II era, the sisters would frequently drive across the country together in their station wagon to research and complete art assignments. They were thrifty as they saved gas coupons and used re-treaded tires in order to secure their work.
Ethel Magafan at Palisades Reservoir, Minidoka Project, Idaho.
As mural painting commissions diminished, Ethel began to do more easel painting for which she used a palette knife and tempera paints to great effect. Ethel earned her first solo exhibition in 1940 at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in New York. She and her sister collaborated to create seven joint exhibits during the course of their careers. While working together, yet maintaining their own artistic styles, the sisters were able to avoid the competitive nature of business and respect each other's abilities.
Phil Fitzpatrick, Ethel Magafan, Bruce Currie, Cecile Forman.
Photograph by Adrian Siegel.
Courtesy of WAAM Archives.
After living in Los Angeles, California for five years and briefly in Wyoming, the twins relocated to the art colony at Woodstock, New York in 1945, where the sisters lived and worked apart for the first time. Ethel began working in a style that evolved from the literal to the semi abstract and from figurative studies to landscapes. She met fellow artist Bruce Currie at an artist's party, and the two were married in 1946.
Ethel Magafan
Corralled Horse
ca. 1947
Etching, pencil signed and titled, lower margin
10 x 14 inches
Both sisters were awarded Fullbright Scholarships and Tiffany Foundation Awards which allowed Ethel to go to Greece and Jenne to Italy.In 1952, almost immediately upon their return to the U.S., Jenne died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage, a loss that Ethel would mourn deeply. With her sister gone, her landscapes became much more abstract, as she sought out the feeling of the scene rather than an exact representation. She ignored the rules for color and explored simplicity and open space in her work.
Ethel Magafan
Canyon Cascade
Tempera on canvas
96.5 inches highx48.5 inches wide
In 1956, Ethel gave birth to a daughter, Jenne Magafan Currie, named after her sister. During the mid-fifties, Ethel began to make annual trips to Colorado to sketch and find inspiration. She was elected an Academician of the National Academy of Design in 1968 and taught art throughout the 1970s at both the University of Georgia and Syracuse University in New York. Her stature within the art world was solidified in 1971 when the United States Department of Interior requested that Ethel tour and draw sketches throughout the Western U.S. These sketches were later exhibited at the National Gallery in Washington and then sent on a national tour by the Smithsonian Institution.
Ethel's last mural "Grant in the Wilderness" was installed at the Chancellorsville Visitor's Center at the Fredericksburg National Military Park, Virginia, in 1979. From 1962 until her death in 1993, she had an impressive 19 solo gallery shows. Ethel Magafan died at her home in Woodstock from a series of strokes in 1993. In a later Woodstock Times interview, her husband stated "if there was one word for Ethel, it would be warmth, because there was never a person or an animal with a broken wing or broken heart she didn't try to help."
Ethel Magafan
Gibson Dam on the Sun River Project, Montana
ca. n.d.
27 x 53 inches
Ethel Magafan was a member of the American Watercolor Society, Audubon Artists Incorporated, the National Academy of Design, Woodstock Artists Association and the WPA/Federal Arts Project.The recipient of a number of awards including the Fullbright Grant, Tiffany Fellowship, Hallmark and Ranger Awards, Purchase and Altman Prize, the Audubon Artists Medal of Honor and the Childe Hassam Purchase Award. Her work is included, but not limited to collections in the Denver Art Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, Museum of Modern Art, NY, National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C., Oklahoma Museum of Art, and the United States Department of the Interior. 
An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West, Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, University of Texas Press: Austin, 1998, p. 199-200. 
Sullivan Goss, An American Gallery, Ethel Magafan (1916-1993), Alish Patrick,, retrieved May 8, 2017.
David Cook Galleries, Ethel Magafan Ethel Magafan (1916- 1993), retrieved May 8, 2017.
Ask Art, Ethel (Currie) Magafan,, retrieved May 8, 2017.
New York Times Obituaries, Ethel Magafan, Dead, Published April 29, 1993,, retrieved May 8, 2017.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Una Hanbury: Sculptress Extraordinaire

Una Hanbury
Lioness and Cubs
ca. 1984
Rio Grande Zoo
Albuquerque Public Art Program
Albuquerque, New Mexico
After a long and unintended break from exploring talented women artists in history, let's check out sculptor Una Hanbury (1904-1990). I connect with her because, as I have done, Hanbury had several careers and even lived in Washington, D.C. before she ended up out an artist.

Una Hanbury
Phoenix Rising from Ashes
ca. n.d.
Hanbury was born Una Rawnsley in Middlesex, England in 1904, and grew up primarily in Kent County, UK. Her grandfather was Hardwicke Rawnsley, a Church of England clergyman, poet, hymn writer, local politician, and conservationist. He was also one of the founders of the National Trust. 

Hanbury exhibited artistic talent when she was quite young and received instruction from animal artist Frank Calderon. When she reached fourteen years old, she attended the London Polytechnic School of Art after which she studied for three years at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Sir Jacob Epstein, an American sculptor who championed many concepts central to the modernist sculpture movement was her most influential teacher. During this period, Hanbury learned the art of stone cutting on the Italian island of Capri.

Una Hanbury married her first husband, Anthony H.R.C. Hanbury, a stockbroker, in 1926, and retired from her art career to raise a family. She later divorced Hanbury, left England with the children at the outbreak of World War II, and settled in Bermuda in 1940. Hanbury relocated to Washington D.C. in 1944 to work for the British Embassy. After the war she became a real estate broker and general contractor until she married again in 1957 to Alan Cotsworth Brown. 

Una Hanbury
Lying Horse Foal
ca. n.d.
After some time in Canada, she resumed her artistic endeavors and studied painting at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, Academie Julian, and L'Atelier de Vieux, located in Paris. Her interest in sculpture was stimulated by a piece she created while using her youngest stepdaughter as a model. When she returned to Washington in 1961, she had to address personal and professional issues before exploring sculpture as her medium of choice. 

Beginning in the mid-1960s until 1982 or '83, Hanbury produced an impressive body of work in bronze, cast aluminum, stone, terracotta, and marble. 
Image result for una hanbury
Georgia O'Keeffe posing for Una Hanbury
ca. 1967
Unidentified Photographer
Una Hanbury
Bust of Rachel Carson
ca. 1965
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D.C.
Hanbury resumed her sculpting career, completing a number of large-scale commissions for public buildings such as the Medical Examiners Building, Baltimore, and St. Mark's Lutheran Church, Springfield, Virginia. She developed a fine reputation as a portrait sculptor, and commissions included busts of Rachel Carson, Enrico Fermi, Buckminster Fuller, Laura Gilpin, Richard Neutra, Georgia O'Keeffe, Robert Oppenheimer, S. Dillon Ripley, and Andrés Segovia. In addition, animals--particularly horses--were a favorite subject since childhood; sculptures were commissioned by several zoos, and horse portraits often were commissioned by owners. She had solo exhibitions at the Folger Shakespeare Library and National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. in 1971.

Una Hanbury
Circle of Three Lamas
ca. 1970
Potomac School, Washington, D.C.
In 1970, Una Hanbury relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she continued working well into old age and became a significant force in the art life of that region. Her western themes included animals, both domestic and wild and Native Americans.

Una Hanbury
Navajo Land
ca. n.d.
Hanbury exhibited in shows at the Royal Academy, London; Salon d'Automne, Paris; Religious Art Commission, Washington, D.C.; Mostra d'Arte Moderna, Camaiore, Italy; NAD; National Arts Club, New York; and National Cowboy Hall of Fame, Oklahoma City. Her papers are in the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West, Phil Kovinick and Marion Yoshiki-Kovinick, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1998, p. 125.
The Potomac School,, retrieved March 16, 2017.
Public Art Archive,, retrieved March 16, 2017.

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 ingénue 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 soufflé, 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., retrieved December 2, 2016
2. Colette, Californian Elegance, February 2011,, retrieved December 2, 2016
3., retrieved December 2, 2016
Vintage Style Files, The California Elegance of Irene Lentz, January 2014, 4., retrieved December 2, 2016
5. The Hollywood Reporter Remembers Irene, Mary Hall, 2013,, 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, National Park Service Women's History Month entry. 
San Diego Reader, Pioneering Women Architects of the Wild West,  Ruth Newell, June 7, 2011,, accessed November 2, 2016.
Curbed, Meet Mary Colter The Architect Who Conjured the Romance of the American West, Jeff Book,, July 29, 2015, accessed November 2, 2016.
Friends of BNSF Railway Company,, 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,, retrieved 9/1/16.
This Land, Lost Olinka, Holly Wall,, retrieved 9/2/16.
Splurge Magazine, OKC,, retrieved 9/6/2016.
Design Matters,, retrieved 9/6/16
Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, Norman Oklahoma,