top of page

1 Works on Paper in Collection

Elise Cavanna Seeds Armitage Welton


(1905 - 1963) United States

Elise Cavanna Seeds Armitage Welton's creative talents were rich and varied. As a young woman she studied art in her native Pennsylvania. She went on to become quite active in literary and artistic circles in New York City. Among her friends were E. E. Cummings and Ernest Hemingway. While in New York, Elise studied dance with modernist Isadora Duncan and worked for a while at the Ziegfeld Follies as W. C. Fields' comic partner. It was Fields who convinced her to move to Hollywood to work with him in the movies.

Six feet tall and described as striking with purple tinted hair, Elise was regarded as unusual as much for her presence as for her creative pursuits. Unorthodox and flamboyant, she sent collector Walter Arensberg a greeting card with three nude women dancing in a chorus line. She signed her work and was known only as "Elise." In Los Angeles Elise was exposed to surrealist, dadaist, cubist and metaphysical works held in private collections. In 1932 she began to work in printmaking and eventually gave up her acting career for the visual arts. Elise quickly earned a reputation as a lithographer and was rewarded with a number of exhibitions in both Los Angeles and New York. In 1935 she received a commission from the WPA to design a mural for the post office in Oceanside, California. Her work was also included in the 1939 World's Fair in New York.

Elise turned to abstraction in 1934, a time at which landscape painting dominated the California scene. From 1932 to about 1935 Elise worked with master printmaker Lynton Kistler. While she rarely abandoned all references to the real world, her drawing investigates the formal properties of motion, line and space in a manner that reflects the influence of modernist pioneer Wassily Kandinsky. Perhaps it is Elise's experience as a dancer that allowed her to successfully employ the power of line to convey both motion and form. In Untitled Elise defines both figure and chair with minimal use of line and shading.

In the 1950s Elise co-founded the group Functionists West with three other artists. The group exhibited together a number of times at the Los Angeles Art Association. Her later works demonstrate an interest in and knowledge of Japanese and Zen work, and are in keeping with her exploration into abstraction through line. Recognized today as one of the first artists on the West Coast to explore abstraction, Elise was posthumously honored with a retrospective exhibition of her work at the Downey Museum of Art in Los Angeles in 1964.

bottom of page