Artists in the Archives – Grace Spaulding John (1890-1972)

Spaulding painting mural at MFAH, detail

Born in Michigan, Grace Spaulding John spent her childhood in Vermont; the family moved to Beaumont, Texas when Spaulding was a teenager. She studied art at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Students League of New York, the National Academy of Design in New York City, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Chester Springs, where she worked under Charles W. Hawthorne.  She became one of eight young artists in the nation who received a Tiffany Foundation Fellowship, allowing her to study for a summer at the New York home of Louis Comfort Tiffany.

In 1921 Spaulding moved to Houston and married Alfred Morgan John, with whom she had two children. In 1927, Spaulding John went to Europe, painting in France, Italy and Spain. In 1928, she made her first visit to Mexico, returning to Houston with enough paintings for a one-man show at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. During her career she travelled to New Mexico, Texas, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, California, New York, Canada, and back to Mexico and Europe to paint. Spaulding John was adept in many mediums – oil, dry-point, lithography, pastel, charcoal, pen and ink, watercolor, block print, and plexiglas. A hallmark of her work was her use of natural brown linen for her canvases, sizing it first with rabbit skin glue, a technique she learned from Hawthorne. She painted over a hundred and twenty-five portraits, among them Thomas Mann, Edgar Lee Masters, and Oveta Culp Hobby dressed in her uniform as first commander of the WAACS.

Oveta Culp Hobby

Spaulding John was deeply involved with the artist community in Houston; many of her colleagues appear in her papers at the WRC, including Chillman and McVey. She also published three books of poetry, illustrated with what she called her “living line” drawings. She died in Houston on July 22, 1972.

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