Editor's note: The Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery and Cori Sherman North provided permission for Resource Library to publish the following essay for the exhibition From Chanute to Phoenix, Paintings by Ralph Goltry (1884-1971). If you have questions or comments regarding the essay and associated materials, please contact Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery directly through either this phone number or web address:
From Chanute to Phoenix, Paintings by Ralph Goltry (1884-1971)
by Cori Sherman North
Landscape artist Ralph E. Goltry was born in Chanute, Kansas, to Albert Goltry (1841-1939) and Oella Hamilton Goltry (1848-1933) on October 22, 1884. Caught up in the Civil War, Albert had fought with the Union army infantry, enlisting at age 20 and participating in General Sherman's "march to the sea" through southern Confederate states. After the war was won, Albert married Oella and the couple settled into farming first in Kentland, Indiana, and then in Chanute in 1876. There, the Goltrys had four children and spent the remainder of their lives in that Kansas community.
According to contemporary sources, young Ralph Goltry attended both a local Chanute business college and the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI), graduating with art credentials in 1904. His first job that year was with Trainmaster, where presumably he got his start in a long commercial art career. Often called a "sign painter" in later years, Goltry made a living designing advertisements, and often painted his landscapes on the back of used illustration board. Several works of the twenty paintings in this exhibition are painted on the verso of Goltry's images of diving women and hand-lettered superlatives.
In Chanute, Goltry married Esta L. Kessinger (1886-1979) and had the first of two children in 1906. The local Chanute newspaper noted that Ralph Goltry had a case of the measles in January of 1910, and that his family took a two-week trip to Bartlesville, Oklahoma in 1914. But by 1920, the artist began exploring the American Southwest and is listed in that year's census as living in San Jose, California. The final choice of residence for the Goltry family was Phoenix, Arizona, where they bought a home and settled in 1922. They lived in the downtown area in a two-story house where Ralph set up a studio on a second floor porch where he continued to practice commercial art along with painting landscape oils in his free time.
Goltry was very active in the greater Phoenix area arts community. He was a founding member of the Arizona Artists Guild (1928) as well as the Phoenix Fine Arts Association. Through ensuing decades he chaired the hanging committee for both organizations' annual exhibitions and consistently garnered praise for his entries. An example, an Arizona Independent Republic review the Guild's exhibition of February, 1939, displayed at the Phoenix Federal Art Center for a fortnight notes Ralph Goltry was "always graphic in his interpretation of the countryside and its moods" and sees there "is always a harmony and relationship of color and rhythm in form, a fact that nature never forgets but that desert painters seldom remember."
Goltry is best known for his views of the Superstition Mountains, a range in the almost 160,000 acres of the Tonto National Forest, which is only about fifty miles east of Phoenix. Most of the twenty paintings in this exhibition loaned from a private collection offer glimpses of the artist's favorite place, and its desert environment of saguaro cactus, smoke tree, and occasional ponderosa pine vegetation. The Superstitions rise from the Arizona desert to 5,000 feet elevation, displaying dramatic volcanic peaks with sheer-sided crags and ridges, and punctuated with boulder-strewn canyons. Goltry's painting Afternoon Haze, Self Portrait offers a glimpse of the artist with his easel, canvas, and palette of colors, working plein air in front of the easily recognizable Superstition Mountain range. His untitled study of a gnarled saguaro cactus shows the artist's concern for even the singular element of his environment, as Goltry noted on the back of the painting, "The cactus facing is from rib of the giant after it had fallen." The artist harvested the cactus material to create a unique frame facing for the painting.
In February of 1940, the annual Arizona Artists Guild exhibition was celebrated with a Fun Fest evening, "the one time in the year when the artist members lay aside all serious consideration of media and satirize each other and their ideas" with light-hearted art programme presentations. The morning paper reported, "Mr. Goltry explained what a commercial artist believes to be Post Impressionism" as he diagnosed other guild members art difficulties from that modernist perspective.
1940 proved to be an interesting year. In March, Kansas native John Steuart Curry (1897-1946) visited Arizona for the first time in his adult life, and began a friendship with Goltry as the two artists toured scenic landmarks and sketched together. The Arizona Independent Republic published a lengthy story on the famous Regionalist and his plans to establish a winter home in the area, as his parents had done for almost three decades. Margaret and Smith Curry had kept a winter home in Scottsdale, Arizona, from 1908 together with their ranch near Dunavant, Kansas. Scottsdale was an early artist colony, located just about ten miles east of Phoenix and nearer to the Superstition Range. The Curry's artist son had only spent part of that first winter in the new Scottsdale residence when he was 13 years old, spending subsequent academic years, September through June, attending Kansas schools and graduating from Winchester High School in 1916.
In September of 1916, Curry enrolled in the Kansas City Art Institute where he studied only one month with Charles A. Wilimovsky (1885-1974), who had just accepted the position of art professor the previous year. Wilimovsky kept Curry "drawing everything in sight" for the time he was in Kansas City, but the the fledgling artist transferred to the Art Institute of Chicago. During the early 1930s John Steuart Curry became nationally famous, featured in Time magazine December of 1934 along with Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) and Grant Wood (1892-1942). Some of Margaret Steuart Curry's letters to her son are in the Curry Papers at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art and reveal her ongoing concern for Curry's health and wellbeing. A letter of November 10, 1938, encourages a visit Scottsdale, "You must plan a visit next winter. You will love it." Then in an undated letter that must have followed Curry's 1940 visit, Margaret writes a motherly reminder: "Mrs. Goltry's name is Esta. They have the print of the stallion. They came out Sabbath P.M. bringing back the pictures. He said he was glad you came when you did for he is tied up with work now. He seems to have enjoyed the trips with you." Another undated letter mentioned, "The Goltrys came today for a few days in the [mountains]," indicating an ongoing friendship between the two families.
Ralph Goltry continued to work, paint, and exhibit in Phoenix until his death in March of 1971. Esta Goltry followed just a few years later, dying at the age of 92 in March of 1979.
About the author
Cori Sherman North is Curator at the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery. Ms. North curated the exhibition From Chanute to Phoenix, Paintings by Ralph Goltry (1884-1971), held August 1 through October 18, 2015 at the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery.
(above: Ralph Goltry (1884-1971), Afternoon Haze, Self-Portrait, Oil on canvas; frame 26 3/4 x 32 3/4 inches. Loaned from a Private Collection)
(above: Ralph Goltry (1884-1971), Near Campgrounds in Santa Fe, 1922, Oil on canvas; frame 17 x 23 inches. Loaned from a Private Collection)
Checklist of works from a private collection
Resource Library editor's notes:
The above essay was published in Resource Library on August 8, 2015 with permission of the author and Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery, which was granted to TFAO on August 7, 2015. Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Cori Sherman North for her help concerning permission for publishing the above essay.
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