Profiles of the five women artists
"In Her Own Right: Minnesota's First Generation of Women Artists," showcases more than 75 works by five important Minnesota artists: Frances Cranmer Greenman, Alice Hugy, Clara Mairs, Josephine Lutz Rollins and Ada Wolfe. All born before 1900, these artists enjoyed lengthy careers, some lasting many decades, and contributed greatly to the history of art making in Minnesota. Here are their biographies.
Ada Wolfe (1878-1945)
Ada Augusta Wolfe was born in Oakland, Calif. on May 7, 1878. When she was 11 years old, her family moved to Minneapolis where she would later study at the Minneapolis School of Art. Wolfe continued her artistic training at the Art Students League in New York.
In addition to numerous awards throughout her career, she was honored with a special show at the Minnesota State Fair in 1941.
Wolfe is perhaps the most enigmatic artist in this exhibition. Due to her early death in 1945, most of her work was dispersed throughout private collections and has been unavailable to historical interpretation.
Wolfe's artistic philosophy was highlighted in a lengthy interview published in the Minneapolis Tribune on April 2, 1916, in which she said,
"I hate sentiment in art. Art, above everything else, needs absolute freedom for its growth. ... If you want to be a painter, then first be a rebel against anything which has a tendency to enslave you. Your attitude of mind is what counts in the long run. Commercialism of any kind kills art."
Wolfe embraced the lessons of noted American Impressionist painter and teacher William Merritt Chase, with whom she studied prior to 1916.
Early in her career, Wolfe used short, broken brushstrokes and, at times, thickly applied paint. In her later work, she painted with bold fluid lines; these paintings seem to dissolve in a swirl of color.
While several of the artists in this exhibition have been called Impressionists, Wolfe can truly lay claim to that title.
Wolfe died on Oct. 4, 1945, at the age of 67.
Alice Hugy (1876-1971)
Alice Hugy was born in Switzerland on Jan. 2, 1876. In 1882 she moved with her uncle and his family to St. Paul, Minnesota. She began her studies in art as a teenager, and pursued further training in New York where she lived for five years.
During her career, Hugy established the first art gallery in St. Paul, was involved with the St. Paul art colony, and associated with artists Paul Manship, Edward Brewer and Clement Haupers.
Having spent nearly her entire life in St. Paul, Hugy is a perennial favorite among St. Paul residents.
Her joyful and colorful still lifes celebrate the beauty of nature, while her modest landscapes of Lake Phalen and those overlooking the Mississippi River record scenes familiar to this day.
Hugy's philosophy of art was quoted in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on March 5, 1967.
"There is no delight greater than the delight of creating something -- something all your own which expresses you, apart from every other human being ... this satisfaction is what art does for the artist ... the expression of beauty in art is as important to a human experience as any other. ... Art is the response to the beauty and wonders of the world in which we live."
As a woman of the early 20th century, Hugy also enjoyed an unusually successful career as a commercial artist, producing work for companies such as the William Banning Agency, the New England Furniture Co., Hamm's and Grain Belt Beer breweries, as well as the Monarch Bicycle Manufacturing Co. of Chicago.
Hugy died on January 24, 1971, at the age of 95.
Clara Mairs (1878-1963)
Clara Gardner Mairs was born in Hastings, Minnesota, on Jan. 5, 1878. She received her training at the St. Paul Institute, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and in Paris at the Academies Julian, Colorossi and Montparnasse.
She was highly regarded as an artist and her work received a number of awards. Mairs frequently participated in both group exhibitions and one-person shows including venues such as the New York World's Fair, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Library of Congress and the St. Paul Gallery and School of Art.
Today, her works can be found in institutions and private collections throughout the United States.
Mairs's figurative work possesses an emotional impact unmatched by most artists of her generation. These paintings often go beyond the mere rendering of a sitter's likeness by suggesting a narrative that is not completely understood by the viewer.
It has often been noted that Mairs loved children. In her commissioned pieces, she portrayed children as idiosyncratically charming with forced smiles and self-conscious postures.
In her later work, however, these children assume a more menacing quality with wild-eyed expressions and mischievous smiles -- often accompanied by a discarded, broken doll.
In the late 1950s, as Mairs was turning 80, she embarked on a series of monumental paintings that are arguably her strongest work. Many of these paintings were exhibited in 1961 at the St. Paul Gallery and School of Art (now the Minnesota Museum of American Art) and are included in this exhibit.
Mairs died on May 24, 1963, at the age of 85.
Frances Cranmer Greenman (1890-1981)
Frances Willard Cranmer was born in Aberdeen, South Dakota, on June 28, 1890, and was named after Frances E. Willard, the founder of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Greenman's mother was president of the South Dakota chapters of the WCTU and the Equal Suffrage Association before the family moved to Minneapolis.
Knowing from an early age that she wanted to be an artist, Greenman began her art training at age 15 at the Wisconsin Academy of Art. Her studies continued with four years at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.C., and briefly at the Minneapolis School of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and in Paris at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere.
In the early 1900s, Greenman also studied in New York with William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri. In 1917, she married John Wolcott Greenman, a liberal-minded man who was supportive of her career ambitions.
Greenman was a masterful portrait painter. With simple brushstrokes of color and line, she skillfully captured both the likeness and personality of the sitter.
In evaluating her work, it is helpful to distinguish between those portraits which were commissioned and those which were not. In her non-commissioned work, Greenman allowed for more artistic expression; in portraits of her family and friends, there exists a level of informality and dynamism.
In her 1954 autobiography, "Higher than the Sky," Greenman summarized her artistic philosophy.
"They say art is eternal. What's so eternal about art as it is today? ... Styles are changing faster in art than in hats. ... The portrait at present is decidedly declasse. But I believe in portraits ... because the highest thing a man knows -- the thing he likes the best and always will -- is himself. People!"
Greenman died on May 24, 1981, at the age of 92.
Josephine Lutz Rollins (1896-1989)
Josephine Shella Lutz was born in Sherburn, Minnesota, on July 21, 1896. She attended Cornell College and the University of Minnesota, and pursued artistic training at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.C. and the Minneapolis School of Art.
Rollins credited well-known Minnesota artist and teacher Cameron Booth as an important influence. Rollins also spent a year studying with Hans Hofmann in Munich, Germany, in 1930. Rollins was an art instructor at the University of Minnesota from 1927 to 1965. In 1933, she was a founding member of the Stillwater Art Colony that operated until 1950.
Shortly before retiring in 1965, she co-founded the West Lake Gallery in Minneapolis, a women's art collective that was active for 20 years.
In 1945, she married Dick Rollins. In working to balance her life as a married person and an independent artist, Rollins professed, "Women have to fight harder for a place in the art world; households and families often fragment them."
Due to her professional determination, Rollins enjoyed a lengthy career. Her artwork has been widely exhibited in the Twin Cities and can be found in numerous collections throughout Minnesota.
The St. Croix River Valley was among Rollins's favorite subjects to paint, but she also created watercolors of northern Minnesota and several locations throughout Europe, California and Mexico.
Rollins preferred painting outdoors, rather than in the studio, and switched exclusively to watercolors in the 1960s to better accommodate this passion. Her oil paintings employ unique colors and application. Rollins often used a palette knife to apply paint directly to the surface, while her watercolors convey the immediacy of direct observation.
Rollins's most enduring legacy, however, is her teaching career of more than 40 years, as well as the establishment of the Stillwater Art Colony and the West Lake Gallery.
Through her dedication as an advocate and teacher, Rollins influenced and supported hundreds of artists in the Twin Cities, many of whom are still making art to this day.
Rollins died on March 29, 1989, at the age of 92.
(Source: Minnesota Museum of American Art)
- Morning Edition, 07/20/2007, 7:55 a.m.