Strokes of Brilliance – Women Artists of the West by Charlene Sands

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.




artist-4 Eliza Barchus


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. 

Helen Tanner Brodt (1838-1908) – Mount Shasta Viewed through Trees

Mount Shasta by Helen Tanner Brodt courtesy Bancroft Library.


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?



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22 thoughts on “Strokes of Brilliance – Women Artists of the West by Charlene Sands”

  1. Thank you so much for the info. I’m not that well acquainted with female artists. I enjoyed all the paintings but felt a connection to the landscapes. Have a great day.

  2. It always floors me how men thought of women in the past as inferior beings whose place was in the home. Honestly, they revered women in that role as wife and mother, but at the same time if they ventured out of that role, they were not treated well – and we’re still fighting equal pay for equal work today.
    So yeah – women of the west continue to amaze me as I learn about them.

  3. Awesome paintings! Those women had amazing talent. I’d love to have seen them hard at work on them. I envision them sitting in front of a log cabin with their canvas and paints in front of them. And maybe have a passel of kids playing at their feet. It just shows that creative passion can be indulged in no matter the circumstances.

    Thanks for the beautiful post!

  4. Hi Charlene, what a fabulous, informative post and gorgeous examples. I actually studied art and had no idea! Grrrrrrrrr. I remember the profs saying stuff like “Cassett is a great female artist” as if there has to be a separation.

    This is about another form of art…music. Mozart’s sister was supposedly as talented as he, but their father concentrated on the boy. Grrrrrrrr again.

    Back to your question: I do love O’Keeffe. And she’s definitely not everybody’s taste, but I do like Frida Kahlo. She had such tortured life events.

    I will look more into these artists you feature today–fascinating!


  5. Oh my gosh, Stacey -those prints are amazing. He really captures the spirit of the cowboy! I can see many of those as book covers!

    Hi Colleen! Thanks for stopping by.

    So many of you love Georgia O’Keefe. I’ll have to check out her work again. I’m forgetting what her work looks like, but I remember seeing so many books about her at the bookstore and library!

  6. Thanks so much for this information. As I work with the art teacher at our school (she is also the special education teacher) I will have to discuss this with her. She has intoduced me to so many more artists than I was ever aware of. My favorite artist si whatever catches my eye at the moment. Most of the art in my home was done by my children and now grandchildren.

  7. Enjoyed reading about the women artists.
    My favorites are Donna Howell-Sickles, Darcie Peet, and Sarah Rogers.
    The male artist that really captures the essence of the cowboy is Nelson Boren yet none of his paintings shows the faces of the cowboys. Check him out.
    The various western women artists all in one place are featured at here in Wickenburg, AZ

  8. Hi Connie,
    I like your attitude. I think I’m more open to things now that I’m older. I look forward to the day, my grandkids (don’t have any yet) paint or color something for me. 🙂

  9. Lovely paintings. I especially like Eliza Barchus. Don’t have any real favorite artist. Can appreciate someone’s work, man or woman. Too bad that wasn’t the case in the past. Think of all those talented ladies who weren’t allowed to show what they were capable of or had to use a man’s name or let a man take credit for their work if they wanted to show it.

  10. Gorgeous artwork!

    I agree with Patricia B. about appreciating the
    work whether it is by a man or a woman!

    I do feel called to the artwork featuring children!

    Pat Cochran

  11. Hi Patricia,
    I agree with you about the plight women had back then, no matter what they tried to do outside the norm of what was considered female work.

    Hi Pat C
    I picked my favorite of Hudson’s work with children. The paintings seemed so honest.

    Hi Abi!

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