Editor's note: The following essaya was reprinted in Resource Library on November 19, 2009 with the permission of the Pasadena Museum of California Art. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the Pasadena Museum of California Art directly through either this phone number or web address:


Behold the Day: The Color Block Prints of Frances Gearhart

By Susan Futterman

David Kiehl, Curator of Prints, Whitney Museum of American Art, lamented at his recent lecture at the Huntington Library, Printmaking Now: Cycles of Tradition, Innovation, and Change, "We know far too little of the print making which occurred west of the Mississippi between the two world wars. These stories need to be told before we can piece together the quilt of print making in America." Frances Gearhart is one of these critical untold stories - distinctly American and extraordinarily strong in subject matter, strength of image and balance of color. Her work is a vibrant, celebration of the western landscape.

Frances Gearhart (1869-1959) was the most important Southern California color block print artist of the first part of the twentieth century. Behold the Day: The Color Block Prints of Frances Gearhart at The Pasadena Museum of California Art examines her remarkable contributions in the first full retrospective of her work. She lived with her sisters May and Edna in Pasadena, and all taught in the Los Angeles Public Schools. They also all studied art: Frances with Charles H. Woodbury and Henry R. Poore, and her sisters with Arthur Wesley Dow. Although Frances was by far the most gifted and the best known, the Gearhart sisters all became artists in their own right. Their Pasadena home and gallery became a meeting place for the Print Makers Society of California. These meetings were regular informal gatherings of the Los Angeles printmaking community and a destination for artists such as Bertha Jaques from the Chicago Society of Printmakers to publicly dialogue about the national printmaking scene. The gallery was devoted to color woodcuts of national known print artists.

Gearhart began as a water colorist. She had three critically successful exhibitions in the medium. After seeing her work, Los Angeles Times critic Antony Anderson stated: "she bids fair to develop into one of the strongest of California's landscape painters." He astutely added, "I have come to the conclusion that she is enamored of color -- that she loses her head, so to speak -- under the impact of its many beauties -- and that she is really a colorist who has not yet found herself."

In 1916, Gearhart turned her artistic talents to color block printing, which was growing in popularity in America and particularly in California. She remained devoted to color printing for the rest of her artistic life. In was in this medium she truly found herself as an artist. She joined the Print Makers of Los Angeles in 1919, working closely with founders and brothers, Benjamin and Howell Brown. That year she exhibited seven linoleum prints at the society's fifth annual exhibition. By 1920 she had been commissioned to make the first Gift Print for the Print Makers Society of California society, On the Salinas River. In 1923, she had a solo exhibition of her color prints in Los Angeles, and her work continued to be in strong demand. Over the next decade she exhibited in solo and group exhibitions all over the country, including solos shows at the Grand Central Art Galleries in New York City, at the Brooklyn Museum and the Smithsonian. The well-known print dealer Elizabeth Whitmore of The Print Corner in Hingham, Massachusetts, held solo exhibitions of her work represented Gearhart on the East Coast.

As a Pasadena artist in the first quarter of the 20th century, Gearhart was embedded in the time and place of the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement. Her work personifies a handcrafted aesthetic; it conveys a sense of directness, immediacy, and has a strong visual impact while depicting a clearly ideal, Californian subject matter. To date, there has been only one museum exhibition of her work, Frances H. Gearhart: California Block Prints, at the Cheney Cowles Museum in Spokane, Washington in 1990.

The current exhibition includes over 70 prints and watercolors, many of which have never before been exhibited. There is also a formerly unpublished manuscript, Let's Play, which Gearhart did in collaboration with her sisters Edna who wrote the poems, and May, who assisted with the images. The entire original artwork for the book will also be part of the exhibition along with mock up owned by the Cotsen Childrens Library at Princeton University. The book, now published is finally available.

About the exhibtion Behold the Day: The Color Block Prints of Frances Gearhart

Behold the Day: The Color Block Prints of Frances Gearhart is on exhibit at the Pasadena Museum of California Art from October 4, 2009 through January 31, 2010. This exhibition is organized by the Pasadena Museum of California Art and curated by Susan Futterman and Roger Genser.


About the author

Susan Futterman is guest co-curator of Behold the Day: The Color Block Prints of Frances Gearhart.


Images of selected objects in the exhibition


(above: Frances Gearhart, Glimpse of Big Bear Lake (Autumn Brocade), Color Block Print, 1931, 12 x 9 1/4 inches, Private Collection)


(above: Frances Gearhart, Cuyama Country, 1935, Color Block Print, 12 x 9 inches, Private Collection)


(above: Frances Gearhart, Untroubled Waters, 1931, Color Block Print10 1/2 x 9 inches, Collection of Jonathan and Thim Scheer)


(above: Frances Gearhart, Glacial Majesty (In Glacial Majesty), Color Block Print, 1935, 14 1/2 x 11 inches, Private Collection, Courtesy of JMW Gallery)


(above: Frances Gearhart, The Lost  Balloon, 1928, Color Block Print, 8 1/2" x 10", Collection of Cricket and Robert Oldham)          


Resource Library editor's note:

The above essay was reprinted in Resource Library on November 19, 2009 with the permission of the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Emma Jacobson-Sive of the Pasadena Museum of California Art for her help concerning permission for reprinting the above text.

Readers may also enjoy:

Also see the biography of Frances H. Gearhart from Jennie V. Cannon: The Untold History of the Carmel and Berkeley Art Colonies, vol. one, East Bay Heritage Project, Oakland, 2012 by Robert W. Edwards

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Pasadena Museum of California Art in Resource Library.

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