Monday, August 15, 2011

Before She was an Artist...

A girl began her life in a small town in Minnesota at the end of the 19th century. We can tell her story because we discovered an old battered black photo album filled with antiquated photographs in the MCAD Archive. We uncovered it while we were retrieving materials for the book and film which fellow MCADians are making to commemorate our quasquicentennial (125 years). At first glance we thought the album was an odd object to have in the archive. Whose album was it? Why is it here? On its cover is the title in spidery handwritten black fountain pen ink, "Infancy to First Year at Mpls Art Institute and Following Summer".

So, here is the story of a student's life. She starts as a baby bundled on a large furry pelt. Her name was Lucile. The photographs continue with the same girl at various ages shown riding her bike, with friends, on horseback, putting on school musicals. We see what she fondly remembered: her family, Buzzie the half-dachshund dog, Patsy the cat, the kittens her father brought home. And then we see that she has become the photographer and has written in: " the cat they had after I left home for art school", "my first year roommate, Wanda Gag", "the first summer vacation home from the Art Student's League - the last time I saw my father". The album ends with two pages of art students happily posing in painter's smocks here on our campus with the massive new Minneapolis Institute of Arts building in the background.

With the help of some handwritten captions and some research I was able to figure out that this was the album of Lucile Lundquist (1895-1981). After graduating from Warren High School in 1916 she came here to the Minneapolis School of Art (MSA) which was then part of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

This was a heady time filled with life-changing inventions and new ideas, the height of the Progressive era in politics and for our school it was the time of great change too. The Minneapolis School of Art had just moved into the newly built Morrison building and our long-time director Robert Koehler had stepped back to being a lecturer while being named director emeritus - perhaps an attempt to head into a retirement that he would not live to see. He was known for his enchanting classes on the history of art with an emphasis on the humanitarian aspects of the masters. He was assisted by Gustav Goetsch, head of the school's Department of Fine Arts who would only be here for two years. Goetsch was the instructor in painting, having studied at Atelier Julien in Paris. The other two main teachers were Lauros Phoenix for drawing and illustration, who had studied at the Chicago Art Institute and with Alphonse Mucha and Howard Pyle, and Mary Mouton Cheney for design and handicraft. She had studied at the University of Minnesota and Boston Museum of Fine Arts School and was a founding member of the local Handicraft Guild. She would go on to be director of our school.

This group of teachers seems to have been able to produce artists who succeeded beyond expectations not only locally but also nationally. And from this perhaps special time of political change in the shadow of a coming war together with the interactions of these students and at least one of the faculty, Mr. Koehler, known as a labor supporter, came a group of left-leaning politically active citizens. Lucile Lundquist was one of this group.

She was from northwestern Minnesota's Red River Valley, a vast and rich agricultural area which supported the commerce of the town of Warren where her father was one of the many Scandinavians who participated in the cooperative movement ensuring workers the profits of their labor. Charles Lundquist was the manager of the People's Trading Company, a large department store in town. He had studied at the Eastman School of Business in New York after emigrating from Sweden. Lucile's mother May Barnhart from Mantorville, Minnesota had been a school principal and she liked to paint. Her paintings would be the only art that Lucile would know until coming to Minneapolis and seeing the Institute's collection.

When Lucile arrived in Minneapolis in the fall of 1916 she lived at the Woman's Christian Association Club at 1619 Stevens Ave. (where the I-94 freeway is today). Her roommate was Wanda Gag who would become her very close friend and confidant. When not doing school work they liked to play duets on the piano at their club and take in entertainments, like the Russian Ballet, operas, movies, plays, walks and picnics. Of course they also liked to talk about boys, politics and the war in Europe. Their teachers also encouraged their attending local lectures outside of school, such as those given at the Unitarian Church where Wanda heard Allen Broms speak about "free love". Lucile said about her art school friends, "There was a special feeling among us. We had a separate make-up from people who expected us to work in a store... When we got to Minneapolis, the old life seemed empty, dry, barren, and dull."

By the next school year, 1917, Wanda had left for New York; however, she stayed in touch with Lucile who was now rooming with Stella Gag, Wanda's sister. In the Fall of 1918 Lucile headed east to New York to the Art Students' League which had just given her a scholarship in addition to the one that Wanda Gag and their friend Adolphe Dehn had received the year before. They became one of the group of students who had come from the Minneapolis School of Art to join the Art Students' League in this period. Many of them would stay in close contact with each other, even eating dinners together to save money. The First World War would cause disruption to this cohesion by scattering the men as a result of enlistment or conscription but they came back together again in New York after the war ended. Through this group Lucile became involved with Arnold Blanch whom she would soon marry.

In 1920 Wanda, Lucile and Violet Karland, another MSA student who had received a scholarship to the Art Students' League in 1919 were rooming together at 218 E 17th St. in New York. They were all working - Lucile and Violet as drama painters, which probably meant painting scenic backdrops, like their friend and former classmate Harry Gottlieb who worked for the Provincetown Players. During this time both Lucile and Wanda became interested in finding out about birth control. They would exchange information about it and talk about the advantages and problems with free love. This would have been quite a risque topic at that time.

The following year the newly-married Lucile and Arnold Blanch took a long trip to Europe to study art in France and Germany. When they returned they moved to Woodstock, New York to join the art colony run by Hervey White. This would become their core home for the rest of their lives even though they both left frequently to teach at various schools across the country and would divorce in 1939.

Woodstock's history with art goes back to 1902 when Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead and Hervey White founded Byrdcliffe as an artists' colony. White split off in 1910 to found the nearby Maverick Art Colony. This was a communal society of artists who lived in primitive homes either for very low rent or for free and who shared in the proceeds from the annual Maverick Festival, an event of music, art, theatre in order to supplement their meager incomes from art. The colony was also an open-minded place that believed in "free and equal expression to the Conservative and Radical ". This is the world the Blanchs joined along with fellow MSA students, John B. Flannagan and Harry Gottlieb who also would remain integal parts of the Maverick colony for many years.

Here Lucile would create paintings and lithographs and work odd jobs to try to get enough money to sustain them. Her work came to the attention of Mrs. Juliana Force, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's assistant and she was represented in the Whitney Studio Club's 10th Annual Exhibition in 1925 and continued to be included through 1930. In 1933 both Lucile and her husband Arnold received Guggenheim Fellowships - the first time that a husband and wife had both won. They spent the following year in Europe and returned in November 1933 after which they both taught at the Art Students' League. Lucile continued to do well with art sales and shows at the newly-founded Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art.

During the Depression she worked for the Federal Arts Project painting murals at four post offices in the American South. She also taught at small colleges in the South which were more likely to hire women because they couldn't afford to hire men.

In the late 1930s she became a member of the American Artists' Congress, a group of mainly graphic artists who were opposed to fascism and took a special interest in the Loyalists fighting Franco in Spain. This work for the AAC would be brought up in the Investigation of un-Amercian Propaganda Activities Committee hearings before Congress in 1938 because some congressmen believed that the AAC was a Communist front. I don't know what Lucile thought about Communism but many artists who formed this group were Communists including her friend Harry Gottlieb. Lucile and Harry in addition to Arnold Blanch, Adolf Dehn, and Elizabeth Olds, all former MSA students of about the same age were also members of An American Group, Inc. which was a cooperative non-profit of 52 artist who put on exhibitions. In 1938 they sponsored "Roof for 40 Million - An Exhibition on Housing" in which they said "Our wish is to awaken interest in the problem of Housing among those who have grown callous to the appeal of the printed or spoken word. The works presented will be distinct cultural value and will demonstrate the fact that artists are responsive to the pressing problems of our time."

After the Second World War Lucile continued to paint but she turned more to abstraction and became less successful. She continued to live at least part of the year in the original house that Hervey White had built for her and Arnold when they had first had come to Woodstock. The rest of the year she would teach at various schools, including Converse College, the Ringling School of Art, Sarah Lawrence College, the University of Iowa, Weslyan and Mercer Universities.

In the 1970s she looked back on her life in the art world by recording an interview about her Woodstock Art Colony experiences and she donated her papers to the Smithsonian's Archive of American Art. She also donated 100 paintings to MCAD and I believe she left us her photo album to tell the story of where an artist's career began in a small Minnesota town in which her family and pets formed her deep interest in people, animals and nature so evident in her art work.

Photograph captions:
1. Lucile Lundquist's album cover
2. Charles and May Lundquist (pregnant with Lucile) in Hawley, Minn. early winter 1895
3. Warren High School musical with Lucile 3rd from right front row, her brother Byron 2nd from right behind, ca. 1912
4. a page of probable students at Minneapolis School of Art and at a lake, ca. 1916-18
5. father's buggy with the horse bought for his looks - too old to race anymore, with Lucile and her sister Bertrice and brother Byron and in rear Melgaard from Men's Clothing and Ostrand from Grocery Department both of People's Trading Company, Warren, Minn., ca. 1901
6. Unknown female student on the front steps of the Morrison Building looking southeast, ca. 1916-18
7. Lucile on left and unknown girl in front of Morrison Building looking west on 25th Street, ca. 1916-18
8. Lucile and her husband Arnold Blanch in France between 1922-29
9. Arnold Blanch, Lucile, Dorothy and Floyd Wilson at Maverick Festival, Woodstock, New York, 1922 or 1923
10. Lucile in her studio, New York while working for the WPA Federal Art Project, Oct. 31, 1940 taken by Max Yavno.

Eva Hyvarinen, Visual Resource Assistant


This the first of a series of articles based on files in the MCAD Archive featuring people associated with our school.


4 comments:

  1. wonderful to see the history of an individual artist's journey and the history of MCAD intertwined

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  2. Great story and history of a grand time period from a feminist perspective. Distinct appeal to me and perhaps other small-town- Midwestern -girls who so freely and quietly went out into the world taking with us an enduring spirit that is difficult to destroy.
    Thank you for including your discovery of Lucile's story and how it motivated the rest of your research.
    Just an Iowa girl.

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