Susan Ricker Knox (1874 - 1959)
By Deborah M. Child and Jane D. Kaufmann
In 1928 Knox's love of painting outdoors led her to abandon her New York winter studio to pursue painting in the strong sunlight of Arizona. Although she continued to execute portrait commissions, on her own, she also began to paint the Indians of the area. Their native dress provided her with further opportunities to explore color, and in addition she explained that her work at Ellis Island had given her "such a love of 'character stuff'... Hence the lure of the Indian of the Southwest." Industry and Indolence shows a Pima Indian woman hard at work on a basket, while another with a baby sits quietly nearby. The basketmaker is concentrating on her work in the sun-bathed atmosphere rich with color.
Knox was also a skillful landscape painter. An early small harbor scene, probably New England, is strongly colored. The ripples in the bright blue water are formed by a heavy impasto. In contrast, the orange Arizona cliffs are robustly painted, monumental in their weighty bulk, standing out against the contrasting blue of the sky. Untitled (Superstition Mountain) is a quieter landscape with its dark green mountain in the background. The two turkeys feeding by an almost dry stream in the foreground give life and humor to the painting.
In 1935 Knox began to spend the winters in Mexico and had her studio in the ancient and beautiful little city of Taxco. In Abuela y Nieta she again uses deep, vibrant color to paint the Mexican woman and child, but here the mood is somber. The woman's woeful expression is amplified by the darkness of her shawl. Another portrait of a Mexican boy in profile, demonstrates how skillfully Knox worked in watercolor.
Her work was greatly appreciated by the Mexicans, and was exhibited in 1940 at the Mexican Pavilion at the New York World's Fair. In 1943 the Mexican government honored her with an exhibition at the Palacio de Bellas Artes.
Because to date no letters or journals of Knox have been found, information about her life and work comes from magazine and newspaper articles written during her lifetime, from interviews with the remaining few people who knew or sat for her, and from her work itself. A hint of her thoughts about the art world is given in an 1927 article published in All Arts magazine, which quotes her as saying that for the future of American art, Americans should patronize their own artists, rather than foreign painters who come here and "paint pictures for which Americans pay big sums while there are painters in our own country who could give them such superior work and yet they do not appreciate it or realize it."
Knox was a truly modern woman, choosing to make her way in a field in which women were only beginning to be accepted. Her work does not fit into any particular school. In her painting she was herself. She loved color, and her palette was deep and warm. Knox seems to have been a good business woman, sensing where the people were with the money to pay her commissions. She had at least thirty solo exhibitions of her work throughout the country, and she was a member of many art associations, including The National Association of Woman Painters and Sculptors, the Pen and Brush Club, Chicago Galleries Association, Phoenix Art Association, the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, and the Ogunquit Arts Association. Susan Ricker Knox is one of many fine women artists whose efforts have been overlooked or forgotten, and should not be. It is expected that much of the best of her work has yet to surface.
1. Haryot Holt Dey, "An Artist Who Changed Immigration Laws," Arts and Decoration, August 1923, p.29.
2. Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Office of Student Information and Records. Class registration Susie Ricker Knox, September 1896 - February 1899.
3. Chris Petteys, Dictionary of Women Artists, p.402.
4. Alice Lawson, "Susan Ricker Knox, Painter of Portraits All the Way Across the Continent, Discusses Portraiture." Boston Sunday Post, September 10, 1933, p. B8.
5. William H. Gerdts, American Impressionism, fig. 73, p. 79.
6. Dey, pg. 29.
7. Lawton, Boston Sunday Post.
8. Portsmouth Public Library, scrapbook, typed transcript of part of an article from The Literary Digest, September 24, 1932.
9. Guillermo Rivas, "Susan Ricker Knox," Mexican Life, June, 1943.
11. J. Frederick Lowes, "Susan Ricker Knox," All Arts, January - February, 1927.
12. Portsmouth Public Library, scrapbook.
The authors would like to thank RMIP / Richard Haynes, Jr. for the photography.
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