Artist Elizabeth Campbell (1893 – 1978)

Almost UBI (unknown by internet) but no longer. Her entry in Fielding's American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers (NY 1987) reads: Elizabeth Campbell. Born in 1893 in Iowa Falls...Studied with Alexander Nepote at Marian Hartwells School of Design, San Fran; and San.Fran Art Inst., ...Taught privately. Received grant from Montalva foundation, Cal. Exhibited at Cal. Palace, San Fran; Louis Terah Haggin Mem. Galleries, Stockton; and SF Museum of Art. Living in San Francisco in 1965. This painting is presented (on the rear of the canvas) to American composer Lou Harrison and his partner Bill Colvig from whose estate it was acquired in 2007. It has no title but always reminds me of a street grid. The painting came with some ephemera about her, a handout from the Maggie Kress gallery in Taos, a press cutting 'Beyond the Third Dimension' about her painting showing at San Francisco Museum of Art (undated but the 64th Annual Exhibition.) Also this artists' statement:

"I am intuitively aware that space-time-form - the expression of reality - is in the process of becoming; the three-in-one appearing in an act of simultaneity. Realizing this, I sought for an objective structure  that could express new plastic relations in other than the then employed dimensions, and which could in turn, express the spontaneity I experienced in this process. Musical forms - and their relation to time elements and spatial structure - have been of special significance and inspiration to me in painting."

Lou Harrison's papers on ELIZABETH M. CAMPBELL from MAGGIE KRESS GALLERY Post Office Box 2241, Taos, New Mexico 87571 (505) 758-9514 Elizabeth Morgan Campbell was born in Iowa Falls, Iowa in 1893. Her early studies were in the natural sciences and piano and violin at the Ellsworth Conservatory of Music. In Iowa, she and her husband ran a dairy farm. When they moved to Wyoming she was the high school teacher in a one room country school. In 1926 they moved to northern California to caretake a 4,000 acre ranch near Bodega Bay. At this time she began painting classes with Alexander Nepote in Santa Rosa, and Earl Rowland, the artist-director of the Stockton Museum. During W.W. II she was involved with the W.P.A. (painting rare fungi), and at the same time studied airplane design and lofting (blue-print making for ships.) During the last year of the war she was the only woman production-illustrationist in the engineering department of the Kaiser Shipyards. From 1941 to 1943 she attended Marian Hartwell's School of Design in San Francisco. This was followed by a one year scholarship at the School of Fine Arts (now the S.F. Art Institute), where she studied with James McCray, Clay Spone, and the sculptor Sygmund Sazevich. It was in 1945 during a fellowship at the Montalvo Foundation in Sarasota, California that she developed the basic forms with which she worked for the rest of her life. Concerning her work at this time, she says: "I had developed an intuitive sense of line and color as significant realities in themselves - their essences as it were. Therefore their relation to the dynamics of space was, to me, of the nature of reality itself. It was in this awareness that inspiration and creativity found free expression in my paintings. Back in my studio I came under the influence of the architectural concepts of Frank Lloyd Wright, Corbusier and others. My studies from the primitives, through the Old Masters up to the moderns cleared the way for me toward a synthesizing of the traditional aesthetic and the modern idea in my own work." For 35 years she painted and taught from her studios in San Francisco. Her first studio at Hotelling Place in Chinatown was frequented by Morris Graves, Tobey and many of the early "moderns" of the Bay area. She was also regularly involved at this time with a Vedantist Society. Later her studios were located in the Fillmore district - in the heart of the ghetto. Her work was shown in the private "salon" of her friend Olive Cowell, and at the Cabrillo Music Festivals in Los Altos, through the efforts of her composer friend and collector Lou Harrison. In 1953 she had a one-woman show at the Stockton Museum, and another at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco in 1965 but mostly her work was seen and collected by a small group of friends. In 1974 she moved to Taos, New Mexico - where 10 years earlier she had begun the Fugue series, and come under the influence of the American Indian symbolism that recurred throughout the rest of her career. Three years later she went to live with her doctor son in Nogales, Arizona - where she died on December 13, 1979. ELIZABETH M. CAMPBELL Ms Campbell worked in series, and most of her paintings involved numerous studies. In 1965 she began a series based on the Fugue form in music. This related to her early background in music, and musical forms were a continuing inspiration in her work. The "Galaxies" or "Aerial Volumes" related to astronomical ideas - and, in particular, the theory that the universe is ever-expanding. The "Scintillatings" were based on the idea of "pure light" - its scintillation, and how we experience light, as opposed to how we see it as it falls on an object.

A symbol which she often used was the "helix" - a swastika like symbol used in many cultures to express infinity. For the American Indian it was a pattern for the "path of God" - which moves back and forth in between the lines in both directions simultaneously. She used this symbol for an early painting based on the Zuni Shalako dance "Indian Chant"). It was the central pattern for a group of paintings called "Helix", and later it was the faint, barely decipherable background of the "Scintillating" series. The "Joy Fugue" was the last work that she completed (in Taos the summer before her death.) It was a return to the "Fugue" series from 15 years earlier. About it, she says: "I called this painting the "Joy Fugue" for I had such a tremendous sense of elation while painting it - and after finishing it I knew I had completed the full expression of my feeling." She then made a group of studies for a series to be called "Sea Wave" - the portrayal of the movement of a wave in the ocean, the dissection ' of a wave, of its swelling and ebb. The first painting was only-just begun before she passed away.

10 thoughts on “Artist Elizabeth Campbell (1893 – 1978)

  1. Aura Dez

    I am SO very happy to see information about Elizabeth (Lou) I called her often…The painting you are showing here is one that she worked on in San Francisco in her studio on Paige St….definitely called “Fugue” or from her “Fugue” series …
    My husband and I sublet that studio for a year in 1967 while she went to Taos to study constellations..
    I study privately with her starting in her Sacramento St. studio from 1965- to her Paige St. studio 1970 .
    After my first child was born and studying jewelry making with Laurel Burch, I was forced to drop my studies with Elizabeth….she was very sad when I did.
    We lost touch after that….I guess that is when she moved to Taos for a while.
    I know that I had heard that her son had come for her when she became ill.
    She was honored as the first abstract woman painter on the West Coast….The critics were SO hard on her after her show at the Legion of Honor…It truly upset her… Being a woman artist even in the 60’s was hard, Still competing with men in the profession .
    She studied Carl Jung and went regularly to the Buddhist Temple in San Francisco.
    I feel SO blessed to have been her student and friend…She was a great artist.
    Here I am now living for the past 17 years in Santa Fe, not knowing that her last days were in NM painting…
    I am 72 and that is the age she was when I first met her and began our studies and friendship.
    I paint here in my studio in Santa Fe and like “Lou” light is ever present in everything I do….
    The Spiral as well….We were kindred spirits and kindred artists.
    Please, if you have access to anymore of her pieces to see I would love to see them….

    1. Jot 101 Post author

      Thanks so much. Sadly this is the only painting of hers that I possess. It is very fine. I feel one day before long her time will come. There is a sort of genius about her work.

  2. Aura Dez

    I studied with Elizabeth privately from 1965-1970
    I sublet her studio on Paige St. in 1967 for one year when she went to Taos to study constellations.
    I lost touch after giving birth to my first child in 1970.
    Would love to find more about her and her later works.
    I am in NM for the last 17 years now.

  3. Jot 101 Post author

    Many thanks Aura. I just have this work which I bought from Lou Harrison’s Aptos home. Somewhere I still have some of the publicity material from Kress Gallery about her. I love the dynamic of this painting and I am surprised she is not better known or valued.

    1. Sarah Campbell Phillips

      Thank you for this lovely tribute to my Grandmother, Lou! Elizabeth M Campbell. I have 4 of Lou’s studies, 2 of which I inherited from my mother. My sister gifted two to me in 2010 .

      I am so grateful for your information about her. As one of her younger grandchildren, I knew very little of her history , her studies and shows and students. The Maggie Kress Gallery was so gracious in helping the family obtain some of her beautiful work.

      I know I speak for all of her descendants in thanking all of you for your admiration of her work and celebrating her friendship.

  4. Michael Ward

    I have a large possibly pencil or ink piece of art here in Australia which shows dates and a little sketch of ballet shoes on legs and a tutu and each picture of this is in a little square or rectangle to correspond with dates and venues relating to Anna Pavlova. It is signed bottom rhs in pencil Elizabeth Campbell.,Just wondering if you have any knowledge of this, thanks, Michael Ward.

  5. Judy Campbell

    Elizabeth, Lu as we called her, is my Grandmother. All of us, 5, have paintings she has done. I am so blessed to see this article!! She was amazing.

  6. Aura Dez

    Elizabeth ‘Lou” referred to her work as Architectonic…it always reminded me of Mondrian…
    She would explain that her creating transparency in the overlapping rectangles were the movement & rythm within the painting… ( more memories from my time studying in her studio)


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