Grace Spaulding John

Grace Spaulding John


Grace Spaulding John was born February 10, 1890, in Battle Creek, Michigan, at the home of her maternal grandmother. The first thirteen years of her life were spent in Vermont where her father was a newspaper editor and publisher. The family moved to Beaumont, Texas, where Grace received her first art lessons from Penelope Lingham, a trained artist, who recognizing her talent, recommended that after finishing high school, Grace be sent to the St. Louis School of Fine Arts, in St. Louis Missouri. Grace would go on to study at the Chicago Art Institute, the Art Students League in New York City, 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, who proposed her name for a Tiffany Foundation Fellowship. The result was that she was one of the eight young artists, chosen nationally, to reside and study at "Laurelton Hall," the beautiful home of Louis Comfort Tiffany, on Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York an entire summer.

In 1921 she went to Houston, Texas, to live, and there she married Alfred Morgan John, a prominent Houston attorney, the great-grandson of General Sam Houston. In 1927, Spaulding went to Europe, where she painted 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. A hallmark of her work was her use of natural brown linen for her canvases, sizing it first with rabbit skin glue, a technique taught to her by Hawthorne. In 193l, she traveled to New Mexico, where the earth colored pueblos and turquoise skies lured her back time and again. She had two children, a boy and a girl. Her husband died in 1937, in Houston. A fine portrait painter, she executed over a hundred and twenty-five portraits, all done from life, among them Thomas Mann, Edgar Lee Masters, and Oveta Culp Hobby dressed in her uniform as first commander of the WAACS which is now in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Spaulding was adept in any medium - oil, dry-point, lithography (on stone), pastel, conté, charcoal, pen and ink, watercolor, block print, and plexiglas. She was given a one-man show of her small plexiglas carvings at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, and while Spaulding's early murals were done in true fresco, she was the first to use the newly developed medium of plexiglas for her large panels on which, using special tools, she carved her designs. She traveled constantly, and among her canvases are scenes of Texas, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, California, New York, Canada, and, of course, New Mexico, Mexico and Europe. During her career, she had twenty-seven one-man shows. She was a recognized poet, and three books of her poetry, illustrated with what she called her "living line" drawings, were published. There is also a prize winning novel, Black Son, White Son, to her credit. The Archives of American Arts has microfilm of her papers, and color slides of her paintings. Examples of her work are to be found in the principle museums, libraries, and universities in the United States. Her last studio was in Houston at 1503 Banks Street. Only the week before she died, she gave a reading of her poetry to a large audience at Houston's Galleria. She died on July 22, 1972.

Selected Biographical and Career Highlights 

  • 1890, Born in Battle Creek, Michigan
  • 1903, Moves to Beaumont, Texas
  • 1910, Studies at School of Fine Arts, Washington University, St. Louis
  • 1912, Studies at the Art Institute of Chicago
  • 1921-22, Studies at the National Academy of Design, New York, at the Parsons School of Design, New York, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
  • 1923, Studies at the Art Students League of New York
  • 1931, Studies with Emil Bisttram in Taos, New Mexico
  • 1972, Dies in Houston

Selected Exhibitions

  • 1921, 1964, 1965, Rice Institute, Houston
  • 1922, 1936, 1953, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
  • 1924, American Federation of Arts, New York
  • 1925-28, 1930-31, 1933-36, 1938-39, Annual Houston Artists Exhibition
  • 1926, Texas Artists Exhibition, San Antonio Art League
  • 1933, Century of Progress Exposition, Chicago
  • 1935, 1938, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • 1940, Texas General Exhibition

Selected Public Collections

  • Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin
  • Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon
  • Rosenberg Library, Galveston
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
  • Rice University, Houston
  • Sam Houston State University, Huntsville
  • Princeton University
  • National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.
  • National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
  • National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
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