Georgina Wooton Roberts
Biography Essay Gallery
>Home >Essay

ESSAY

THE ARTIST
Georgina Wooton Roberts received her artistic training, worked as an artist, and taught art primarily in the western part of the United States. She lived in cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles; metropolitan areas that fueled her creativity and exposed her to ready sources of references and ideas. This essay will explore the artistic influences and geography that shaped Wooton as an artist.

Wooton created many watercolor paintings in a similar tradition to that of the California Watercolor School, which held its first exhibition in September 1921.26 Characteristics of the California Watercolor School included “an interest in the local scene as an appropriate and worthy subject matter.”27 This interest in local surroundings was considered by some “a reaction to modernism,” as modernism was “identified as foreign.”28 One must imagine that particularly in the West Coast region at this time, regional pride was prevalent as the territories were still relatively new. Also identified as a leading characteristic of California watercolors is the “expression of the spirit of the land.”29 According to an article on California watercolor artists by Gordon McClelland and Jay T. Last, these artists “painted boldly and directly, with little or no preliminary pencil sketching, while mastering the technique of allowing the white paper to show through as an additional shape or color.”30

As a member of the California Watercolor Society, Wooton’s art closely relates to that of the other painters of the school. Her landscapes are scenes from real physical places in her life, from Oklahoma plains to California lakes to the Catawba region of South Carolina. Wooton’s style is loose and free; there is no evidence of preliminary sketching. Four of her paintings were shown in the California Water Color Society’s Fourth Annual Exhibition in 1924 at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art.31

One artist believed to have had an impact on Wooton was Birger Sandzén. Sandzén immigrated to America in 1894 from Sweden, and became a professor of art in the Midwest. 32 He also participated in the California Water Color Society’s Fourth Annual Exhibition.33 While Wooton was teaching at Fort Hays State University, she brought a Sandzén exhibit to the campus.34 In fact, there is still a Sandzén original in possession of her descendents, which was said to be a painting cherished by Wooton. The fact that Wooton saw this artist’s work as important enough to acquire and pass down through the generations is, in itself, a statement of admiration for Sandzén.

According to Sandzen.org (an extension of the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery, started by Sandzén’s daughter after his death), Sandzén went through periods of various artistic styles.35In 1902 he began painting in a pointillist style, and continued with that approach until around 1911.36 The site names the year 1919 as the start of a more “vigorous brushwork technique.”37 Then in 1930, Sandzén’s manner of painting started to change to a “lighter palette” with “smaller strokes.”38 He exhibited 25 times at the Kansas City Art Institute before he died in June 1954.39 There are many similarities between the work of Sandzén and Wooton. The landscape subject matter, the Impressionistic approach to color and form, and the scale are closely related. Sandzén was an influence on Wooton, and certainly her own academic study of art would have exposed her to this more European, Impressionistic style.

Due to their close geographical proximity around the years 1916 to 1923, and the fact that they had once exhibited together, it is logical to assume that Wooton had several opportunities to see and appreciate Sandzén’s work. Also, the Impressionistic style, the subject matter, and the thick impasto-like paint technique are all visible in the paintings of both artists.

Thus, Wooton’s style is also indebted to the late 19th century European Impressionists. According to H.H. Arnason, author of the text History of Modern Art, Impressionists sought to “capture on canvas as faithfully as possible the optical realities of the natural world.”40 Arnason continues, remarking that “landscape in actuality could never be static and fixed. . .” as it is a “continuously changing panorama of light and shadow. . . ”41 The indirect way of painting landscapes with no definitive outlines, only regions of color, is visible in both the works of Wooton and the Impressionists. It is also fair to say that Wooton may have been influenced by the Post-Impressionists. Painters such as Vincent Van Gogh, with a thick impasto technique in applying paint to a canvas, may have influenced Wooton’s own paint-laden brushstrokes.

When Wooton arrived in the South, her artistic style was very different from the art being produced by female artists in the region. Jean Gordon’s scholarly article on early American women artists reports that popular subject matter for female painters around this time was portraiture, landscape, and miniature painting.42 Clara Barrett Strait, a South Carolina artist of some fame, painted mostly portraits and still life scenes, usually flowers. Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, a Charleston artist, created many miniature etchings of scenes from Charleston life. Based on numerous articles written about Strait, and a book of her own work that Verner published, as well as other examples of artists from the time, these subjects appear to be typical for painters in the South around the time of Wooton’s arrival in Rock Hill. If these other women painters were characteristic of the region, it is easy to see how Wooton’s loose, Impressionistic style might not have been readily accepted in the South in the early 20th century. Patrons and critics may have considered her works to be too avant garde for the taste of the general public.

When Wooton moved to South Carolina, she stopped painting. She also went through a period of discouragement in which she burned a lot of her work.43 Some have speculated that this sudden change was brought about because of reaction to the aforementioned avant garde nature of Wooton’s work. America was a changing, and still relatively young, country Wooton’s time. The Industrial Revolution was well underway, but modernization had not yet fully connected the country. Vast regional differences existed, in part due to lack of technology to easily spread ideas from one coast to the other; also in part due to people continuing to immigrate to America, bringing with them their customs and culture. Three points of contrast in the culture of America as a whole that would have had impacts on Wooton personally and artistically were the culture of the Deep South, differences between East and West Coasts, and cities versus rural areas.

In the early twentieth century, the South was still under the influence of Victorian culture and ideals, imported from England during the time of the rule of Queen Victoria. According to scholar Daniel Walker Howe, “the most obvious geographical subculture of American Victorianism was the South.”44 He also remarks on the durability of this particular subcategory of Victorian culture extending into the early 1900s.45 Hallmarks of Southern Victorianism included preserving the “good manners and patrician life style” that Americans perceived in the European model, as well as the idealization of women.46 This lifestyle certainly would have been a change for Wooton as a career woman, and undoubtedly had an affect on her as an artist. This theory is supported by Howe’s remark that “‘art for art’s sake’” was not a principle widely accepted among American Victorians.”47 Although Wooton stopped painting and was not allowed to teach at Winthrop, Wooton’s grandson, Walter Hardin, recalled that his grandmother designed the borders on the Winthrop yearbook, the Tatler, from the year 1925 on for several years.48 Though neither Wooton, nor any other person is credited in the yearbooks, the nature motif in the borders could logically stem from her beloved landscape subject matter.

Another important factor influencing Wooton as a female artist is the cultural difference between East and West. According to Doug Linder’s informative website, Exploring Constitutional Law, by the year 1900, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Idaho all allowed women to vote.49 In August 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment granting equal rights to women had enough states supporting the cause to be ratified. Though the amendment was instituted and observed in all states after ratification, it was not until July 1, 1969 that South Carolina officially and ceremoniously ratified the amendment.50 This perhaps highlights the extreme difference for women in the East and West. If western states were progressive enough to allow women to vote before the Constitution was amended, it is safe to assume that the West had a more liberal atmosphere and view of women’s roles at the time. The West, settled by pioneers, was a wilderness, an unforgiving territory where women had to virtually become men’s equals to survive. The East, a more urban region, was still very much influenced by the European way of life, Victorianism in particular. Thus the East had a more conservative view of women’s roles, making Wooton’s life very different as she moved from the West to the East.

The final major difference Wooton experienced in her life that may have had an impact on her art is the contrast between cities and rural areas. Since the Industrial Revolution the developed world has seen mass migrations to cities. Cities are the heart of transportation and technology. A denser, more concentrated urban population makes these environments are more conducive to technological advancements. Therefore it is understandable that rural areas may be perceived as “less developed.” Cultural trends and new ways of looking at the world may take longer to have the full force of their impact felt in out-of-the-way areas. Moving from a West Coast city like Los Angeles to an East Coast rural town such as Rock Hill, S.C., would have been a cultural shift for Wooton. The state she moved to had not even officially acknowledged her right to vote.

The cultural differences between cities and rural areas can also be seen in the North/South dynamic in Wooton’s life. The North, particularly during Wooton’s time, was more industrialized and therefore had more, and more developed, cities than the South. The South, as a more rural region, was therefore less prone to artistic experimentation than the North. As Gordon notes, “women artists like men clustered in centers where the largest number of artists were to be found.”51 It would be difficult for artists to cluster in a sparsely populated region such as the South.

Wooton made considerable achievements for a woman during her time. Her daughter, Mary Gene (Roberts) Hardin, and grandson, Walter Hardin, provided some insight into her life as an artist. Wooton’s surviving work comes mainly from an early period, about 1917 to 1922.52 After Wooton arrived in Rock Hill, S.C., it was not until her late 50s that she began painting again.53 Wooton’s later work tends to be smaller in scale. Works that survive include a few woodblock-style ink and
paint pieces and a Christmas card depicting her son-in-law and grandson. Wooton still kept the same subject matter; local scenes and landscapes around her. In a speech delivered in 1983, Roberts gave credit to his wife by noting, “She gave up a very promising career as an artist and educator in the Midwest to aid me in so many ways – artistically and socially – in my work at Winthrop.” Throughout her life, Wooton may have encountered difficulties as a woman artist in the early 20th century, but those hurdles did not change her love of art. It can be said that her legacy wasin her two passions; her teaching and those lives that she touched, and her art. Wooton’s art is the only tangible remains of that legacy.


WORKS CITED
Arnason, H.H. History of Modern Art. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, Incorporated, 2003.

The Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery. “Sandzén Chronology.” [cited 5 August 2005]. Available from
http://www.sandzen.org/chronology.htm

California Water Color Society. “Fourth Annual Exhibition.” (exhibition pamphlet).

Dominik, Janet Blake. “The California Water Color Society: Genesis of an American Style.” In American Scene Painting: California 1930s and 1940s, edited by Ruth Westphal and Janet Blake Dominik (Irvine, California: Westphal Publishing, 1991 [cited 10 July 2005]). Available from http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/3aa/3aa50.htm

Gordon, Jean. “Early American Women Artists and the Social Context in Which They Worked.” American Quarterly 30, no. 1 (1978 [cited 26 September 2005]): 54- 69. Available from JSTOR [online database], http://www.jstor.org/view/00030678/dm980760/98p0138k/0

Howe, Daniel Walker. “American Victorianism as a Culture.” American Quarterly 27, no. 5 (1975 [cited 1 September 2005]): 507-532. Available from JSTOR [online database], http://www.jstor.org/view/00030678/dm980749/98p0033q/0

Last, Jay T. and Gordon McClelland. “California Watercolors.” In The California Style, by McClelland and Last (Hillcrest Press, Incorporated, 1985 [cited 10 July 2005]). Available from http://www.calart.com/CaliforniaWatercolors.asp

Linder, Doug. “Exploring Constitutional Law.” 2005 [cited 1 September 2005].
Available from http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/nineteentham.htm

Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site Interpretive Staff. “19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site (25 October 1997 [cited 1 September 2005]). Available from http://www.nps.gov/malu/documents/amend19.htm

26. Janet Blake Dominik, “The California Water Color Society: Genesis of an American Style,” in American Scene Painting: California 1930s and 1940s, ed. Ruth Westphal and Janet Blake Dominik (Irvine, California: Westphal Publishing, 1991 [cited 10 July 2005]). Available from http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/3aa/3aa50.htm
27. Ibid.
28. Ibid.
29. Ibid.
30. Gordon McClelland and Jay T. Last, “California Watercolors,” in The California Style, by McClelland and Last (Hillcrest Press, Incorporated, 1985 [cited 10 July 2005]). Available from http://www.calart.com/CaliforniaWatercolors.asp
31. California Water Color Society, “Fourth Annual Exhibition,” (exhibition pamphlet).
32. The Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery, “Sandzén Chronology,” [cited 5 August 2005]. Available from http://www.sandzen.org/chronology.htm
33. California Water Color Society.
34. Tara Reese, unpublished data, 2005.
35. The Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery.
36. Ibid.
37. Ibid.
38. Ibid.
39. Ibid.
40. H.H. Arnason, History of Modern Art, 5th ed. (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, Incorporated, 2003), 29.
41. Ibid., 30.
42. Jean Gordon, “Early American Women Artists and the Social Context in Which They Worked,” American Quarterly 30, no. 1 (1978 [cited 26 September 2005]): 60. Available from JSTOR [online database], http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0003-0678%28197821%2930%3A1%3C54%3AEAWAAT%3E2.0.CO%3B2-W
43. Walter Hardin, personal interview by author, 8 August 2005.
44. Daniel Walker Howe, “American Victorianism as a Culture,” American Quarterly 27, no. 5, (1975 [cited 1 September 2005]): 519. Available from JSTOR [online database], http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0003-0678%28197512%2927%3A5%3C507%3AAVAAC%3E2.0.CO%3B2-F
45. Ibid., 520
46. Ibid.
47. Ibid., 527
48. Walter Hardin, personal interview by author, 8 August 2005.
49. 24. Doug Linder, “Exploring Constitutional Law,” [cited 1 August 2005]; available from http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/nineteentham.htm
50. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site Interpretive Staff, “19th Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution,” (25 October 1997 [cited 1 September 2005]); available from
http://www.nps.gov/malu/documents/amend19.htm
51. Ibid., 56.
52. Walter Hardin, personal interview by author, 8 August 2005.
53. Ibid.


Winthrop CVPA wendy wagner
Essay Gallery