Monday, November 7, 2016

1865-1937: Grace Carpenter Hudson, American

Grace Carpenter Hudson was the first California woman to develop a national reputation, and one of the nation's earliest commercially successful women artists. She specialized in the depiction of the Pomo Indians.

Grace Carpenter was born to well-educated pioneer parents in rural Mendocino County California, some 130 miles north of San Francisco, near the Russian River. Her mother was one of the first white school teachers educating the children of Pomo Indians, and a commercial portrait photographer in Ukiah, CA. Her father was a photographer who chronicled frontier enterprises such as logging and shipping.

Ukiah was a long way from a cultural center in the 1870s, but Grace's parents were sophisticated enough to know that an art academy had been established in the 1874—the San Francisco School of Design—and that it accepted girls as well as boys.

Grace was one of the early students at the School of Design, entering when she was 14, in 1879. She apparently took classes there for about 5 years, and won an award for a full-length self-portrait in crayon at the age of 15.

Self-portrait, age 16??
It appears that Grace began to sense the limits of her talent when she was about 19. She may have felt unable to compete with the advanced students; she may have doubted her ability to support herself. In any case, she eloped with a man 15 years older, a real estate and money broker, thereby upsetting her parents and ending her formal studies.

This marriage soon fell apart, for unstated reasons, and Grace had to return home shamefaced to live with her parents.

Grace was 20 when she returned to Ukiah. She set up a studio where she began to paint, working in various genres, including landscapes, still lifes, and portraits. She also taught classes in her studio and rendered illustrations for magazines.

Grace lived with her parents and pursued her art career for about 5 years before marrying again, at the age of 25. Her new husband, John Hudson, was a physician for the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad, which had its terminus in Ukiah. John became the hero in Grace's life. He acknowledged her talent, directed her toward a specialty that made her success, and worked on a common project with her throughout their marriage.

Grace Carpenter and John Hudson
Grace's mother had been one of the first women involved in educating the Pomo Indians who lived in the Ukiah area, and Grace had been around them since she was a child. John also had a keen interest in recording and preserving the culture of Native American culture, and he encouraged Grace to specializing in painting Pomo Indians.

In 1891 a painting of a Native American infant in a papoose—entitled National Thorn—won a major award and became very popular in prints. This painting became the first in a numbered series of oil paintings of Pomo Indians that grew to over 680 works by the time of her death in 1937.

By the time she was 30, in 1895, Grace was earning enough money that John gave up his medical practice in order to assist her in the documentation of the Pomo people.

Grace and John spent the rest of their life in Ukiah, living in a house they designed themselves and called The Sun House. The home, and 30,000 Native American Artifacts they collected—are now part of the Grace Carpenter Hudson Museum in Ukiah.

Grace favored a darker palette that gave her work an old-fashioned quality, appropriate to the subject.  Her palette, her subject matter, her working methods and techniques–all adopted at the beginning of her career–did not vary in any significant way for the rest her life.

Not surprisingly, since both her parents were photographers, Grace photographed her subject first and used that photo as a reference for her painting, an innovative method at a time when people were generally asked to pose for many hours for a portrait.

While nearly all her portraits were of Pomo peoples, Grace is also known for the 26 canvases of Japanese, Chinese, and Hawaiian natives she painted during a year's sojourn in the Hawaiian Islands in 1901, as well as sketches she produced of Pawnee Indians in Oklahoma Territory, circa 1903-04.

Though she worked primarily in oils, she also produced watercolors, pen and ink illustrations, and charcoal, pencil, and crayon drawings. Today her work enjoys renewed interest and recognition for its fine and sympathetic portrayals of native peoples.

My photos of Grace's work:

Sweethearts, 1903
Eiteljorg / Jan's photo, 2012

Indian Child and Basket, 1905
Cantor / Jan's photo, 2008

Kai-Dai, 1913
Crocker / Jan's photo, 2014

Examples from the Internet:

Baby Bunting, 1894
Grace Hudson Museum

The Seed Conjurer, 1896

Emma Square, 1901