Talent equals talent, great art equals great art, whether done by a male or female, right? But that wasn’t always the case. As late as 1905, an art dealer refused to believe the work of art in front of him was painted by a woman. That woman was Eliza Barchus and below you’ll see some of her brilliant paintings. A widow and a mother with young children, she supported her family by painting and teaching.
She is known in the art world now as the “The Oregon Artist” for her depictions of the territory. By the turn of the century Eliza Barchus was the best known painter in the Northwest; she had won many awards and had exhibited at the National Academy in New York. Theodore Roosevelt placed one of her paintings in the White House, and Woodrow Wilson bought another. Eliza Barchus lived to be one hundred and two years old and passed away in 1959.
By 1890 there were over 1,100 woman artists and art teachers in the West. Whether inborn talent or applying techniques of formal art training, women didn’t have an easy road. Their work wasn’t appreciated in the art world. Many pioneer women nurtured their talent even after a hard day of household chores, others braved the frontier on their own and some ventured into subzero temperatures to gain inspiration. These female artists needed plenty of courage and determination to create and compete in a field so dominated by men. Yet, I find their paintings inspiring and honest.
Helen Tanner Brodt was the first white woman to climb Mount Lassen in 1864. Lake Helen in the Mount Lassen area is named after her. She trained in New City City at the National Academy of Design then moved to Red Bluff in 1863. In Red Bluff she painted landscapes, portraits, china, and ranch scenes, and also at the public school. She taught art in Oakland in 1867 and later exhibited her art at the Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893. Two of Mrs. Brodt’s pastels of Mount Shasta are in the collection of the Bancroft library at the University of California at Berkeley.
Grace Carpenter Hudson was born in Potter Valley near Ukiah, in California in 1865. She showed great art skill at an early age and enrolled in a local school of design. She married Dr. John Hudson in 1890 and their home on South Main, now the Grace Carpenter Hudson Museum is marked with a totem pole and is known as the “Sun House.” She felt a kinship and great compassion for the Pomo Indians and was known by them as “Painter Lady.” Her painting of Little Mendocino (the unhappy papoose) caused a great sensation at the 1893 World’s Fair and she focused her attention on painting the Pomos, capturing their pride and culture. As you can see most of her subjects were babies and children. She spent some time later in life to paint Native children in Hawaii and when she returned she earned a commission to paint the Pawnee in 1904.
I’ve always loved VanGoghs, but until now, I’d never realized how truly talented women artists were. I think I love the Grace Carpenter Hudson’s depictions the best so far. They show the humanity and innocence of the Pomo children. There were so many other female artists I’d learned about while doing this research that it would be impossible to post it all. Maybe next time. Do you have a favorite artist? How about a favorite artist of the west? Any other women artists that you’d care to share? What do you think of these incredible paintings?