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1 Work on Paper in Collection

Frances Hammel Gearhart


(1969 - 1958) United States

Works in Select Public Collections

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada; Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, R.I.; Wichita Art Museum, Kansas; Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.; Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Spokane, WA; Worchester Art Museum, MA

Selected Recent Exhibitions

Behold the Day: The Color Block Prints of Frances Gearhart, Pasadena Museum of California Art, 2009

Women Artists in the Modernist Tradition, Boise Art Museum, ID, 2002

Tatoosa Vista Included

Uncovered and Recovered: Women Artists in the Modernist Tradition, Sun Valley Museum of Art, Ketchum, ID, 1999

Tatoosa Vista Included

Frances H. Gearhart: California Block Prints, Cheney Cowles Museum of Art (now Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture), Spokane, WA, 1990


Frances H. Gearhart: California Block Prints, Cheney Cowles Museum of Art, exhibition catalog, 


Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000 by Stephanie Barron, Sherri Bernstein and I. S. Fort, with essays by Stephanie Barron, Sherri Bernstein, M. Dear, Howard N. Fox and Richard Rodriguez, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and University of California Press, Berkeley, 2000.

Other Resources

Essay by Susan Futterman on the occasion of Gearhart’s retrospective at the Pasadena Museum of California Art,    :

Born 1869 Sagetown (now Gladstone), IL
Died 1958 Pasadena, CA

Frances Gearhart was one of the most important and influential American printmakers working during the early part of the twentieth century. She is celebrated for her vibrantly colored block prints of the Western United States including Yosemite, the Rockies, and the Sonora Desert. Printing with rice paste and watercolor, in the Japanese tradition, Gearhart captured the magnificence and drama of the west’s coasts and mountains.

Gearhart grew up in the midwest but her family moved to California when she was not yet 20. All three of the Gearhart children studied art—Frances with Charles Woodbury and Henry R. Poore, both painters who were educated in Paris at the end of the 19th century, and her sisters Edna and May with famed teacher Arthur Wesley Dow.

Frances was a watercolor painter for the first half of her life. She was the most talented of the siblings but each shared their knowledge with the others. None of the women married and they lived together in Pasadena for most of their lives. All of them also taught in Los Angeles public schools.

In 1911 Frances and her sister May had an exhibition of watercolors at the Walker Theater Gallery in Los Angeles. The show included some thirty plus of Frances’ paintings. Los Angeles Times critic Antony Anderson commented that her watercolors were “full of movement” and that she was likely “to develop into one of the strongest of California’s landscape painters.” In 1914 Frances help found the Print Makers Society of Los Angeles which was later renamed the California Printmakers Society. The Society organized an annual juried exhibition which traveled throughout the country. Frances served as the group’s secretary from 1921-1928 and the Gearhart home in Pasadena was the club’s meeting place.

Gearhart’s sisters May and Edna had learned how to block print from Arthur Wesley Dow at his school in Massachusetts. They shared their knowledge with Frances and by 1919 color block printing became Frances’ medium of choice. It is estimated that between her 50th year, when she began block printing, and her death Frances created some 250 different prints in editions of 20–50, each of which was printed by hand. Gearhart made prints in a traditional Japanese manner that meant creating a separate block for each color in the print. Critics notice an affinity between her woodcuts and those of Japanese artist Hiroshi Yoshida, a painter and printmaker in the Occidental style who visited the United States and made a number of prints of the Western landscape.

Gearhart's unusual manner of printing the key block (or the foundation color) in blue instead of black ink enhanced the atmospheric mood she sought to convey. The light blue in the work in the Wolfson Collection, Tatoosa Vista, not only serves as mountain sky but also accentuates the depth and drama of the snowy peaks. Brushstrokes visible in the sky indicate that Gearhart applied the ink to the wooden blocks with a dry brush, a technique borrowed from the Japanese. The vertical nature of this work is also typical of Gearhart who frequently stacked elements, one behind the other. Here she enhances the drama of the scene by provided a upward perspective from the valley of Mt. Rainier National Park looking skyward toward the mountains. The dark blue patch in the bottom right of the image adds to the sense of dramatic space.

In 1923 Frances had an exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art (now LACMA) where twenty-seven of her woodcuts were displayed. In 1930 the American Federation of the Arts organized a traveling exhibition of Frances’ works and in 1933 she had a solo exhibition at Grand Central Galleries in New York. Her prints were in demand and sales from galleries on both coasts enabled her to quit her teaching job. Her artwork was also included in exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum and the Smithsonian.

As an artist working and living in Pasadena, California in the first quarter of the 20th century, Gearhart had deep exposure to the approach and ideals of the American Arts and Crafts movement. Her manner of working embraced the movement’s handcrafted aesthetic. As curator Susan Futterman notes Gearhart’s art “conveys a sense of directness, immediacy, and has a strong visual impact while depicting a clearly ideal, Californian subject matter.” This was a moment when California personified the American ideals of freedom, beauty and abundance and Gearhart’s vibrant images reinforced the notions of California as a promised land.

There have been two recent museum exhibitions of Gerhart’s work, Frances H. Gearhart: California Block Prints, at the Cheney Cowles Museum in Spokane, Washington in 1990 and Behold the Day: The Color Block Prints of Frances Gearhart at the Pasadena Museum of California Art in 2009, but further scholarship needs to be done on this remarkable artist who captured the beauty and light of America’s western coast.

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