In Olive Rush’s gar­den

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Harper’s Weekly PAINTER OLIVE RUSH New York Tri­bune.

“One lovely thing about a gar­den is the way one’s friends en­joy it. And they shout with joy at this sea­son of the year ... at the fra­grance and color not of flow­ers but of fruit,” wrote painter Olive Rush in 1943, de­scrib­ing the re­mark­able en­vi­rons of her house and stu­dio at 630 Canyon Road, which she be­queathed to the So­ci­ety of Friends. Rush (1893-1966) is called “the dean of Santa Fe women artists” by Jann Haynes Gil­more in her book, Olive Rush: Find­ing Her Place in the Santa Fe Art Colony (Mu­seum of New Mex­ico Press). A mu­ral­ist, il­lus­tra­tor, and in­flu­en­tial pi­o­neer in Na­tive Amer­i­can art ed­u­ca­tion, Rush forged a last­ing legacy in New Mex­ico through her spare mod­ernist sen­si­bil­ity and pro­gres­sive themes. On the cover is her circa-1945 paint­ing Pick­ing Fruit in Gar­den, mixed me­dia, photo James Hart, cour­tesy Mu­seum of New Mex­ico Press.

The per­sona was placed on Olive Rush as a re­tir­ing, de­mure Quaker spin­ster . ... But in her own Quaker and gen­tle way, she was a fire­ball. — Jann Haynes Gil­more

ake a look in here,” his­to­rian David Gil­trow said ex­cit­edly, swing­ing open the door to a cup­board clev­erly built into a plas­tered liv­ing room wall. We stood in the Friends Meet­ing­house at 630 Canyon Road, for­merly the stu­dio of Quaker painter Olive Rush, who died half a cen­tury ago. In­side the cup­board sat an ar­ray of care­fully la­beled vin­tage cans and jars (Granger To­bacco, MJB Cof­fee, Pond’s Cold Cream) filled with the brightly col­ored pow­dered pig­ments Rush used for her works. Gil­trow spec­u­lated that while Rush didn’t smoke pipe to­bacco, one of her dear friends in the Santa Fe art colony did — artist Gus­tave Bau­mann.

Rush — who was both the first in­de­pen­dent woman artist to make a home for her­self in Santa Fe’s early-20th-cen­tury art colony and one of the last sur­vivors of that era — left scores of these his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant traces around her house and stu­dio, which are open to vis­i­tors on Sun­days start­ing at 12:15 p.m. (af­ter worship meet­ings). The Rush res­i­dence rep­re­sents “one of the re­main­ing au­then­tic, ba­si­cally un­changed artist stu­dios in the coun­try, and re­mark­ably in the West, in the very heart of Santa Fe, on what Bau­mann called ‘the road where ev­ery artist trav­eled,’ ” ac­cord­ing to art his­to­rian and au­thor Dr. Jann Haynes Gil­more. Gil­more’s book Olive Rush: Find­ing her Place in the Santa Fe Art Colony was pub­lished in October by Mu­seum of New Mex­ico Press.

When Rush set­tled in the house on Canyon Road, she was al­ready a suc­cess­ful com­mer­cial il­lus­tra­tor. Born in 1873 in Fair­mount, In­di­ana, she stud­ied at Earl­ham Col­lege, a Quaker school, be­fore mov­ing to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to at­tend the Cor­co­ran School of Art. At the Art Stu­dents League in New York City, where she took classes on and off for a decade, she be­gan her ca­reer in il­lus­tra­tion, work­ing for and the Her next aca­demic ven­ture, at il­lus­tra­tor Howard Pyle’s school in Wilm­ing­ton, Delaware, put her in the com­pany of fel­low stu­dent N.C. Wyeth and ad­vanced her ca­reer sig­nif­i­cantly; she be­gan con­tribut­ing to na­tional pub­li­ca­tions like Scrib­ner’s, Good House­keep­ing, McClure’s, and Woman’s Home Com­pan­ion. Her suc­cess al­lowed her to travel ex­ten­sively in Europe, and in 1914, she made a trip to the South­west, stop­ping in Santa Fe with her sister Myra and mount­ing a show of her work at the Palace of the Gover­nors. Of the show, which in­cluded sev­eral new paint­ings in­spired by South­west­ern themes, the Al­bu­querque

Morn­ing Jour­nal wrote, “The pic­tures are so beau­ti­ful, so heart en­chant­ing, that it is a won­der why Miss Rush’s fame as an il­lus­tra­tor has trav­eled so much far­ther than her ge­nius as a painter of chil­dren, Madon­nas, In­di­ans and south­west­ern land­scapes.”

Rush’s affin­ity for Santa Fe stayed with her, and in 1920, she re­turned to live and paint, buy­ing a cen­tury-old adobe home­stead that had been owned by the Sena and Ro­driguez fam­ily for gen­er­a­tions. The prop­erty stretched from Canyon Road to the Ace­quía Madre and had mud-plas­tered out­door walls, on which Rush set to work paint­ing at least three fres­coes. “She moved to Santa Fe so she could paint on the ‘pink mud walls,’ ” Gil­more said. “She had be­come very in­ter­ested in fresco, true fresco — paint­ing on wet plas­ter,” and adapted the Ital­ian paint­ing tech­nique to the South­west­ern cli­mate. One of those fres­coes, The Water-bear­ers, is quite vis­i­ble to­day, fac­ing north at the en­trance to the prop­erty, the So­ci­ety of Friends hav­ing care­fully cov­ered it with Plex­i­glas to pre­serve it from the el­e­ments.

Rush joined a co­terie of bur­geon­ing and es­tab­lished artists in the city. Her mi­lieu in­cluded painters Ger­ald Cas­sidy and Shel­don Par­sons; artist Wil­liam Pen­hal­low Hender­son and his wife, poet Alice Corbin Hender­son; and artists Ran­dall Davey and John Sloan. Writer Mary Austin lived nearby, along with poet Wit­ter Byn­ner, Bau­mann, and the so­cialite sis­ters El­iz­a­beth and Martha White. The in­tel­lec­tual and artis­tic stim­u­la­tion of this com­pany fu­eled Rush’s in­spi­ra­tion, as did her fre­quent ex­ploratory trips to pueb­los for dances and cel­e­bra­tions. She had an ac­tive so­cial life, of­ten giv­ing lively gar­den par­ties wherein she hosted lo­cals and vis­i­tors from the East alike. (In a rem­i­nis­cence pub­lished in The New Mex­i­can, Bau­mann ad­mit­ted to hav­ing spiked the punch dur­ing at least one of these gath­er­ings, un­be­knownst to Rush.) She wrote to a friend of her 1924 Thanks­giv­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, “We had a turkey and a part of

half dozen or so of my artist and poet friends . ... That over, some­one in­vited us to join an auto party to Zuni, to the Sha­lako dance, the an­cient house bless­ing cer­e­mo­nial of the Zuni In­di­ans.” Of her oil paint­ing Girl

on a Turquoise Horse, which was bought by fu­ture First Lady Mrs. Her­bert (Lou) Hoover in 1924 and based on a Navajo leg­end, she wrote, “The other artists like it, and I have had a good time do­ing it. It is a pic­ture I have car­ried in my mind since we drove to Zuni last win­ter when we saw so many Nava­jos. Am aching to do a num­ber of oth­ers. But next must do a fresco on my stu­dio man­tel and chim­ney and get the house in some sort of de­cent con­di­tion . ... ”

The artist’s house re­ceived a good bit of me­dia at­ten­tion. An ar­ti­cle for the In­di­anapo­lis Sun­day Star about Rush’s idyl­lic prop­erty, il­lus­trated with pho­to­graphs of the fres­coes she had painted on the vi­gas and fire­place, de­tailed “the two-foot-thick walls, the deeply re­cessed win­dows, the doors open­ing from the por­tal from the stu­dio, and the placita where Olive grew hol­ly­hocks, zin­nias, and asters in the sum­mer,” as Gil­more writes. Her prow­ess in the dec­o­ra­tive arts led to com­mis­sions, in­clud­ing at Mary Cabot Wheel­wright’s Los Luceros ranch in Al­calde, where Rush painted fres­coes in 1927.

Be­tween jobs, she con­tin­ued her own ex­plo­rations in oil and wa­ter­col­ors, fre­quently in­spired by the Pue­blo In­dian cus­toms she ob­served. Te­na­cious and am­bi­tious in ex­pand­ing her reach and ex­per­i­ment­ing with new styles, she was ever mind­ful of the Quaker in­ner spirit she trusted as her com­pass. In a 1926 let­ter, she de­tailed this vi­sion to a friend: “For­get ev­ery­thing — re­ject ev­ery­thing we have ever been taught or heard or seen and work as though this were the first day on earth and our eyes new opened to the world. Let the spirit guide — all the time — for ev­ery move of the brush and ev­ery thought that we fol­low out.” Rush’s steadily im­prov­ing and in­creas­ingly strik­ing body of work demon­strated this phi­los­o­phy in ac­tion. At the time of her 1927 al­cove show at the Art Gallery of the Mu­seum of New Mex­ico,

El Pala­cio had taken no­tice, writ­ing, “It is ap­par­ent that she has taken a fore­most place among Amer­ica’s women painters. It is a far cry from the cov­ers she used to do for the Amer­i­can Mag­a­zine and other pub­li­ca­tions years ago. She has turned her face en­tirely to the mod­ern, not in its ex­tremes but in its more ra­tio­nal as­pects.”

Rush dab­bled so broadly in dif­fer­ent styles and medi­ums — and so ex­celled in seem­ingly ev­ery one she tried — that it can be tough to pin­point a sig­na­ture mode in re­view­ing her body of work. But her most iden­ti­fi­able hall­marks emerged af­ter she moved to Santa Fe, when her works be­gan to be char­ac­ter­ized by soft fig­u­ra­tion, gen­tly slop­ing forms, and a spare, in­creas­ingly mod­ernist sen­si­bil­ity.

In the early 1930s, Rush be­gan teach­ing mu­ral and wall dec­o­ra­tion at the Santa Fe In­dian School, hired by a Quaker su­per­in­ten­dent who had ad­mired her paint­ings on the walls of the New Mex­ico Room at La Fonda, which are now lost to his­tory. Among her stu­dents were the no­table artists Pablita Ve­larde and Pop Chalee. In 1933, she brought In­dian School stu­dents’ paint­ings to the Cen­tury of Progress In­ter­na­tional Ex­po­si­tion in Chicago, where the art pan­els were dis­played as part of the so­cial sciences ex­hi­bi­tions. Ac­cord­ing to Gil­more, her ad­vo­cacy of Na­tive Amer­i­can artists is a last­ing part of her legacy: “So many oth­ers get the credit, like Dorothy Dunn, but she was work­ing side by side with Dunn and took this work to a na­tional au­di­ence and gave these artists spring­boards for their ca­reers. … She taught stu­dents not just to paint on walls, but to paint on can­vas so that it could be rolled up and shipped. She re­ally had an­other mo­tive — get­ting it out there, teach­ing them that they could be in­de­pen­dent.”

Rush her­self did her most vis­i­ble and pro­lific mu­rals in the 1930s, well past her mid­dle age. Un­der Pres­i­dent Franklin De­lano Roo­sevelt’s Works Project Ad­min­is­tra­tion (WPA) Pub­lic Works of Art Project, she was in­vited to paint mu­rals in the Santa Fe Pub­lic Li­brary — now the Fray Angélico Chávez His­tory Li­brary at 120 Wash­ing­ton Ave. The mu­rals are view­able to­day by ap­point­ment only. Her lightly col­ored fres­coes span the en­trance wall of the door­way, show­ing the myr­iad ways in which books reached the peo­ple of New Mex­ico in the ’30s, in­clud­ing scenes of peo­ple read­ing on a ranch, at a min­ing vil­lage, and in coun­try schools. One WPA com­mis­sion led to an­other, as she un­der­took works in Colorado and else­where in New Mex­ico, con­cen­trat­ing on themes of so­cial re­al­ism and progress. In 1936, she com­pleted her most com­plex New Deal mu­rals on the bi­ol­ogy build­ing en­trance at the New Mex­ico Col­lege of Agri­cul­ture and Me­chanic Arts in Las Cruces. Three years later, she in­vited Na­tive painters Awa Tsireh, Nar­ciso Abeyta, Har­ri­son Be­gay, Chalee, and Ve­larde to help her paint mu­rals at the John Gaw Meem-de­signed Maisel’s In­dian Trad­ing Post on Cen­tral Av­enue in Al­bu­querque. Of­ten paint­ing in heels, “she lit­er­ally was on scaf­fold­ing for ten years,” Gil­more said, cit­ing one critic’s ob­ser­va­tion that at the end of the New Deal era, Rush “stepped down to her age.”

Still, she con­tin­ued to paint well into her dotage, set­tling into her sta­tus as “the dean of Santa Fe women artists,” as Gil­more calls her. “Olive Rush was the gate­keeper,” Gil­more said. “She was right there on Canyon Road. An enor­mous num­ber of very im­por­tant and sec­ondary con­trib­u­tors to so­ci­ety stepped through her gates, and [the house] is re­ally a re­mark­able record of the first half of the 20th cen­tury.” Though Rush was a well-known artist in her time, she has largely been for­got­ten by art his­to­ri­ans, some­thing Gil­more par­tially blames on “poor brand­ing. She al­lowed her­self to be pho­tographed in her ma­ter­nal grand­mother’s Quaker cloth­ing around 1918, and for decades she used that pho­to­graph for pub­lic­ity pur­poses. That set the stage for the per­sona that was placed on her as a re­tir­ing, de­mure Quaker spin­ster. … But in her own Quaker and gen­tle way, she was a fire­ball.”

To­day, Rush’s house and stu­dio are a prime ex­am­ple of an artist fully in­te­grat­ing her life and her work. Her fading hand-painted flour­ishes dec­o­rate most avail­able sur­faces: fire­places, cup­boards, coun­ters, walls, vi­gas, and clos­ets. On a fall af­ter­noon, a spot on a gar­den bench un­der the boun­ti­ful crabap­ple tree yields a splen­did view of flow­er­ing pink cos­mos. Here, it is ev­i­dent that Rush paid close at­ten­tion to the idea, as she once wrote, “of giv­ing some­thing to the world that will lift hearts to a clois­ter — a re­treat of the spirit.”

“Olive Rush: Find­ing Her Place in the Santa Fe Art Colony” by Jann Haynes Gil­more is pub­lished by Mu­seum of New Mex­ico Press.

Clock­wise from top, de­tail from Rush’s fresco in then-Santa Fe Pub­lic Li­brary, 1934, cour­tesy Han­nah Abel­beck/Palace of the Gover­nors Photo Ar­chives; wall dec­o­ra­tions for New Mex­ico Room, La Fonda, 1929, cour­tesy Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion; Rush paint­ing fresco at New Mex­ico State Univer­sity, 1936, photo Ina Sizer Cas­sidy, cour­tesy Palace of the Gover­nors Photo Ar­chives (NMHM/DCA), Neg. No. 091578

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