Several months ago I did a post on Great-grandma Hattie Shurr who homesteaded here on the Farm. After retirement around 1900 she had more free time and started to paint. She shared many of those pictures with friends and family, but none of these works of art are signed or dated. It’s mainly family tradition that preserves the memory. Most of the pictures are landscapes in oil, watercolors, and pastels and most of the landscapes have trees and buildings. That leads to speculation that she was probably recalling her upbringing in upstate New York, rather than painting the prairie that she lived in.
After putting that post together, we figured out that she also did do this seascape because the fiberboard label on the back matches one her other paintings. It’s a real contrast to her other landscapes. AND, in response to the post two cousins told us that they each had two of Hattie’s pictures. The Montana cousin even sent photos of his two and one of them clearly uses the wooded landscape motif.
However, the other painting is of a pair of lions. His nicely framed picture is in better shape than our slightly damaged version. But, both show the same sleeping lioness “guarded by her ever-vigilant male companion”. There are some differences, however. The damaged painting has a gray background with a dark rock in the lower left corner. The framed one has a brown background and no rock in the corner.
Although the lions are a departure from Hattie’s preference for landscapes, they’re not the only animals that she painted. I’ve never cared for either of these two pictures because they seem to be flat and lack the depth of her landscapes….kind of a “Grandma Moses” primitive feel. But, family tradition says that Hattie painted these animals as well as lots of landscapes. The count on her landscapes is now up to more than a dozen and the hunt goes on.
Hattie Shurr was not the only woman creating art just after the turn of the twentieth century. The bucolic scene on the left was painted by Lora Adams (my Grandma Bell) at about the time that she married in 1915. The darker painting on the right was done by her future sister-in-law, Olive Bertleson, around the same time. Lora was 20 years old and Olive was in her late teens. So, Lora and Olive were much younger than Hattie who probably didn’t start to paint until she was in her 60s and 70s. And, the two younger woman didn’t live near Lone Tree Farm; they lived on the banks of Plum Creek near Walnut Grove, Minnesota.
So, why were these women of different ages in three separate families doing art? Was it the “genteel” thing for a lady to do back at the beginning of the twentieth century? Or, maybe it was an activity that kept them out of trouble during this time when the suffragettes were raising hell? Or, maybe it was an uncontrolled opportunity for self-expression that was more socially acceptable than agitating for the vote?
Here’s another question related to woman doing art at this time: are there other families that have these treasures preserved but lost in attics and closets? Those paintings are probably also unsigned and undated and their origin is probably only known because the family traditions remember who did the art. It would be really cool if the hunt for these art treasures expanded out beyond the three families described in this post! And, what if there were enough of these discoveries that could be shared and displayed in local museums or history centers or art galleries? That would be real grass roots affirmation of the historical significance of the art created by these women.
Once again Margaret, the woman who I live with, deserves thanks for the photographs and for the organization that helped to preserve Great-grandma Hattie’s artistic legacy.