- Edgar Alwin Payne
Payne was born in Washburn,
Barry County, Missouri, in the heart of the Ozarks. Washburn is in southwest Missouri, only nine miles from the Arkansasborder. But that wouldn’t stop this turn-of-the-century Missouri teenager from seeing the world. Before Edgar was done he would crisscross the United States, travel to Mexico, Canada, and Europe, and even spend the summer in the Alps. But, like John Muirbefore him, and Ansel Adamsafter, it was the American West that most appealed to his heart.
Leaving home at age 19, he would paint houses, signs, portraits, murals, and local theatre stage sets, to pay his way. First traveling through the Ozarks, then around the Southeast and Midwest of the U.S., and then onto Mexico, he would finally wind up in
Chicago, and enroll to study portrait art at the Art Institute of Chicago. He did not stay long at the institute, just two weeks, finding it too structured, he preferring instead to be self-taught, relying on practice and his own sense of direction.
Struggling at first, he would soon exhibit at the Palette and Chisel Club, landscape works that had been painted on a small easel. During this period he would also obtain the occasional mural work to supplement his income.
He would make his way to
Californiafor the first time at the age of 26, in 1909. He would spend several months painting at Laguna Beach, then head on to San Francisco. In San Francisco he would meet other artist, among them was commercial artist, Elsie Palmer (1884-1971), whom he would marry three years later, back in Chicago. He would return to California for a second time, two years later, in 1911. When he returned to Illinois that fall, he found that Elsie had taken a job as commercial artist in Chicago. This cemented their already growing interest in each other. On the morning of their wedding day about a year later, 9 November 1912, Edgar noticing that the light was "“perfect", had Elsie postpone the ceremony until the afternoon. Luckily the artist in her gave her some understanding.
As a couple they become well known in Chicago’s art circle, she would help him with his mural work, and soon he had an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. Arguably their greatest collaborative effort happened in 1914 with the arrival of their daughter, Evelyn.
The following spring they took Evelyn to see her maternal grandparents in San Francisco. They would also attend the
Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The following year Edgar would make his first trip to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This trip would again be a big moment in his life, and he would return again and again to paint the beauty of the unspoiled Sierra, these paintings would be one of his hallmarks.
He earned his first major commission in 1917. In a bid to attract tourist, the
Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroadasked him to paint the Southwest, along the railroads' trek from Albuquerqueto California. This commission would solidify, not only his reputation as an artist, but it would also forever link him to Western America. Although he would paint in Europe, he is most remembered for his work from the Four Corners area, on the Navajo Nation Reservation, to that of Yosemite, and the California coast. That year He and Elsie would spend four months painting, exploring, and taking in Canyon de Chelly. This area, from Taos, New Mexicoto the Grand Canyon, would become one of Payne's two main inspirations for the next twenty years.
The Santa Fe Railroad commissions were the turn of the century brainchild of William H. Simpson, chief of the railway's advertising department. Starting in 1892, with
Thomas Moran, Simpson would exchange travel on the train, along with lodging at railroad hotels and meals at railroad restaurants, and even sometimes cash, for paintings, photographs, pottery, and jewelry. This endeavor would last for decades, make the Santa Fe one of the largest collectors of southwestern fine art, and most importantly, give America a valuable lasting treasure.
When the Santa Fe commission expired the couple returned to San Francisco. Edgar received a commission from the Congress Hotel in Chicago for a mural of 11,000 square yards of
muslin. The mural would cover several floors of the hallways of the hotel. He would need to rent a warehouse in Glendale, California, and hire other artist to help him, including Elsie, to complete the work.
In 1918, Edgar and Elsie would make their home, with studio in Laguna Beach. He would organize a local art association, the Laguna Beach Art Association, and become its first president. They would spend the next four years painting their way throughout the southwest, and to places like
Canadian Rockiesin British Columbia, and Alberta, Canada, and then exhibiting in the Los Angelesarea. Sometimes their trips would be hiking into the backcountry, looking for undisturbed places of raw, and rare beauty, to paint, sometimes for weeks. After finding success during this period, the trio took a two-year “painting tour” of Europe, 1922-1924. Painting in Brittany, Paris, Provence, Switzerland, and Venice. Of course his favorite place in Europe was the Alps, painting "The Great White Peak" of Mont Blanc, which in the spring of 1923, the Paris Salongave "an honorable mention".
Upon returning the U.S. in the fall of 1924, they first stayed in Chicago, then back to Laguna Beach, and then on to
New York Cityin 1926. Always on the go, they would move and paint in Arizona, California, the California Sierras, Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, and Utah. They would spend the summers crossing the country, painting as they went. They returned to Europe to paint the harbors of Brittany, and Chioggia, in 1928. The following summer they painted Lake Louise, Alberta.
After the financial collapse of 1929, and the subsequent
Great Depression, commissions didn’t come as easily, so the Paynes returned to Southern Californiaon a more permanent basis, purchasing a new Los Angeles, studio-home, in 1932. During this time, Evelyn would marry, and Edgar and Elsie would become separated that same year. Edgar moved to Hollywood, to a small studio-home on Seward Street. However, he would spend a great deal of his time in the California Sierra Nevada Mountains, painting his favorite subject.
His lifelong obsession with the Sierras would lead him to produce a documentary film, "“Sierra Journey”". He wrote, "“Composition of Outdoor Painting”", a comprehensive landscape painting techniques handbook, in 1941, the sixth edition printing of the work was done in 1995 (Publisher: Derus Fine Arts; ISBN 0-944699-02-2).
After a 14-year separation, Elsie returned to help Edgar in 1946, upon learning that he had cancer. She stayed with him until he died,
8 April, 1946.
There is a bronze relief sculptor of Edgar at the Laguna Beach Art Museum, done by Elsie in 1952. She championed his work until her own health, and degradation of eyesight, caused her to stop in 1959. She moved in with Evelyn and her husband, in 1969, in
Minneapolis. Elsie died peacefully 17 June 1971.
You can find works of Payne's that are of Italian harbors, the Alps, landscapes of Laguna, but Edgar Alwin Payne is most remembered for his work of American Indians of the Four Corners area, and, of course, the paintings of his beloved Sierras. In the Sierras, high up in Humphrey's Basin, you will find the lake named for him, Payne Lake.
His work was an influence on
Bill Wrayand other painters.
Galleries and collections with Payne's works:
*Chicago Art Museum
*University of Nebraska Galleries
*Fleischer Museum (
*John Herron Art Institute of Indianapolis
* [http://www.lagunaartmuseum.org/ Laguna Art Museum, California]
*National Academy of Design Collection
*National Collection of Fine Arts, Senate Building (
*Pasadena Art Institute
* [http://www.pmcaonline.org/ Pasadena Museum of California Art]
*Southwest Museum of Los Angeles
Springville Museum of Art( Springville, Utah)
*Allied Art Association
*American Artists Professional League
California Art Club( [http://www.californiaartclub.org/ President, 1926] )
*Carmel Art Association
*Chicago Society of Artists
*International Society Art League
*Laguna Beach Art Association
* [http://www.paletteandchisel.org/ Palette and Chisel Club]
*Salmagundi Club (NYC)
*Ten Painters of Los Angeles
*Stern, Jean. [http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/5aa/5aa267c.htm Edgar "Artists in Santa Catalina Island Before 1945; Impressionism in Southern California"] . Director of The Irvine Museum in Irvine, California. (c/o Traditional Fine Arts Organization)
*Hughes, Edan Milton. "Artists in California, 1786-1940". San Francisco, California:
Hughes Publishing Company. 1989. ISBN 0961611219
* [http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/payne_edgar_alwin.html Edgar Alwin Payne] - at Artcyclopedia
* [http://www.californiaartclub.org/home/history_cacpresidents_payne.shtml Edgar Alwin Payne biography] at California Art Club
* [http://americanart.si.edu/images/1957/1957.10.6_1b.jpg“Fifth Lake” ca. 1928] - at
Smithsonian American Art Museum
* [http://www.askart.com/askart/artist.aspx?artist=1126 Edgar Payne] - on AskART.com
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