My original thoughts about heroines for THE HUACHUCA TRILOGY were to focus on a ranching woman, an artist and a writer. I started with Josephine and used her life story to relate happenings along the Arizona Territory border with Mexico. Before I could finish with Josephine, a friend of hers snuck into the story and ruined my plans, temporarily.
Over the years I’ve enjoyed the work and lives of some late 19th and early 20th century women artists: Canadian Emily Carr, Mexican Frida Kahlo and Americans Georgia O’Keefe and Grace Carpenter Hudson. I wanted my painter to share in what drove these real artists and so Maggie O’Brien depicts women at work, pursuing their daily lives in vivid color and action. She blew my plans for Book #2. My fascination with Louis Comfort Tiffany led to the jewelry work of Grace Elizabeth Pelham, the lead character in BY GRACE.
A copy of one of Grace Carpenter Hudson’s sweet picture of a Pomo Indian Baby and his dog hangs on the wall in my bedroom/office. In the 1970’s, I lived and worked in Mendocino County about 110 miles north of San Francisco and first encountered the works of the Hudsons.
Grace Carpenter Hudson was born (1865-1937) into a well-educated and talented family that settled in Potter Valley, east of Ukiah, after coming across country in covered wagons. They were abolitionists, painters, photographers, journalists, and teachers. The area was rich in wildlife and Pomo Indian history, families and culture. Grace, her twin Grant and older sister May thrived in these diversities and challenges.
Grace’s gift as an artist was apparent from an early age and by 15 she was sent off to San Francisco’s California School of Design. It was a long trek from all that nurtured and inspired her back in Mendocino County. With highwaymen like Black Bart raiding and attacking travelers, it was not a trip she could take very often.
Marked by soft pastels and sharp detail, the portraits often glow with light and life, even as a baby sleeps in his basket cradle with a pup to the side. Others show children fishing, walking the country paths or caught in the moment of discovery
Grace formed lifelong friendships and fell into an early, unsuccessful first marriage to William T. Davis, fifteen years her senior. They separated after three months and divorced in 1885 after she returned to her family.
Her early activities in San Francisco earned her awards and recognition while still a teenager. She loved fashion and created, at 16, an elaborate dress in lace, embroidery and painted roses. Her portrait in the dress greets visitors to the Grace Hudson Museum in Ukiah.
The foundations for Grace’s work can be found in the culture and lives of Pomo Indians, especially in her portraits of infants and young children. These might be classed as romantic views of native life but they won country-wide attention very quickly.
In 1889, Grace met the young physician John Hudson (1857-1936) fell in love and married him in 1890. Grace’s work exploded in volume and fame in the following years, making her the family breadwinner. John retired from medicine and devoted his life to preserving the language, culture and basketry of the Pomos. The couple traveled throughout Mendocino County as well as sojourns into Lake and Sonoma counties, recording their findings in her art and his ethnographic chronicles and collections. Both relied on photography and detailed written documentation of their work. After one of Grace’s earliest paintings (“Little Mendocino #5”) was forged, she took to copyrighting her work, one of the first artists to do so; she or her father photographed, titled, numbered, dated, named the buyer, and amount paid for each. John kept meticulous notes on his observations and collections, including botanicals. Each wrote articles for national publications, were interviewed and provided illustrations.
The Hudsons entertained family and visiting friends often, especially in the summer months. Grace and artist friends hosted landscape painting sessions in the countryside. Photos from the era show swimming, hunting and musical gatherings with much laughter and merriment. One of Grace’s best friends over the years was Charmian Kittridge London, Jack’s wife who called her “Huddy.”
By the turn of the century, John was struggling to gain recognition and acceptance of his work; he sold some 300 pieces to the Smithsonian for about $10 each and negotiated a contract with Chicago’s Field Museum to catalog his work. Meanwhile, Grace was near collapsing with exhaustion, insomnia, depression and weight loss. At barely 5’ tall she was fragile.
When John went off to Chicago, Grace went to Hawaii. She didn’t paint for the first months, made friends, rested and recovered eventually. Often referred to as “the painter lady,” she had a following and did 26 paintings of locals of varied backgrounds. Returning to the mainland, she and John reunited. She joined him over the next few years, helping to record and document collections of basketry and artifacts at the Field.
The experience at the Field Museum was not good as John was exploited, received no recognition for his writings demanded by Dr. George Dorsey. The final straw came in 1905 when Dorsey expected John to produce a
book only to have it attributed to himself. The Hudsons made plans for a European tour.
Their last thirty years led to the building of their home, Sun House with its light controlling roofline in Grace’s studio and with John’s inevitable study. They continued to write articles, sell Grace’s canvases which ultimately amounted to 684, and seek recognition for John’s work only to lead to broken promises from the Field and Smithsonian. Childless, they drew close to Grace’s nephew Mark Carpenter and his wife Melissa. The Carpenters continued the mission to get John’s collections acknowledged but also failed; they successfully turned Sun House into a museum and after them, the city of Ukiah founded the Grace Hudson Museum adjacent to their home. The museum contains some 30,000 artifacts and art works.
1. Lanson, MD, Lucienne T and Patricia L. Tetzlaff, “Grace Hudson, Artist of the Pomo Indians, A Biography,” The Donning Company Publishers, 2006
3. www.wikipedia.com,Grace Hudson
Photos: Google Images, Grace Hudson Museum