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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Clara Weaver Parrish

The art of Clara Weaver Parrish
I probably shouldn't, but I seem to allow greater latitude in appraising the careers women artists than I do male artists. I guess that's because of a certain sensitivity to the greater personal and professional hurdles which, until recent years, women have had to face in simply becoming academically trained artists, much less earning a living from their art, or in rare cases, achieving greatness, as opposed to their male counterparts. As much as 21st-century political correctness may wish it, women artists have always been different from their male colleagues, if in no other areas than marriage and motherhood. Women face a hierarchy of female roles most of which place professional competence and achievement well toward the bottom, where with men, just the opposite is true. A man who sublimates his role as a father to his art is not viewed in the same light as a mother who does so. Moreover, the further one goes back in time, the more this becomes the case. Fatherhood was often seen as incidental to the work of a male artist. That could never be said of motherhood and female artists. Add to that the fact that until around 1900, it was difficult, at best, for a woman to even attend a major art academy. The term "amateur" was, in fact, coined by the French to describe female artists.

The Flower Garden, Clara Weaver Parrish
Clara Weaver Parrish
The Alabama artist, Clara Weaver Parrish, was no amateur. I can't categorically say I would have ignored her body of work (top) had she been a man, but the fact that she wasn't certainly casts her art, her career, indeed, her entire life in a different light. Her undated The Flower Garden (above) marks her as an impressionist. It's a very small painting, a mere 4 5/8 x 7 1/8 inches. As small and simple as it appears, she didn't come by it easily. Born just before the Civil War in the heart of the Confederacy, Selma, Alabama, she was raised on her family's plantation, "Emerald Place." After the war, her parents encouraged her interest in art, allowing their twenty-year-old daughter, in 1880s to attend classes at the Art Students League in New York. In and of itself, that was an unusual situation--a young Dixie belle, alone, in the heart of the quintessential Yankee city. There she studied under some of the greatest American artists of the day, William Merritt Chase, Kenyon Cox, Henry Siddons Mowbray, and Julian Alden Weir.

Tiffany Stained Glass at St. Paul's, Selma, 1890s, Clara Weaver Parrish

Portrait of a Young African-
American Woman in a Green
Headscarf, Clara Weaver Parrish
On a trip back home, Clara Minter Weaver met her future husband, William Peck Parrish, whom she married in 1889. They had two children, both of whom died in childhood. They returned to New York where her husband found work as a stockbroker and she painted portraits while continuing her art studies. Even as she displayed her paintings (below) in major exhibitions here and abroad, Clara Parrish took up a interest in designing stained glass windows, the art for which she has become best known. Eventually she came to worked for Louis Comfort Tiffany and the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company. Besides major works in New York (St. Michael's Church, 1895), Parrish also designed windows for several churches in central Alabama including St. Paul's Episcopal Church in her hometown of Selma (above).

Romance of the Rose, Clara Weaver Parrish

Anne Goldthwaite, ca. 1900,
Clara Weaver Parrish
In 1901, on a train from Washington, D.C. back to New York, Clara Parrish's husband died suddenly, leaving her reasonably well-off, a young widow of forty-one. Having no children to tie her down, Clara Parrish took the opportunity to travel to Paris where she resumed her art studies at the Académie Colarossi, while also visiting the great churches of Europe to study their stained glass windows. She opened a studio in Paris. There she remained for some fourteen years before returning to New York, where she died in 1925 at the age of sixty-five. Her painting, The Red Lily (below) dates from her return to New York. In addition to such Art Nouveau works, Clara Parrish left behind a number of outstanding French Impressionist paintings and stained glass windows, as well as works in watercolor, mosaics, book illustrations, and murals. In her will she established a trust fund which every other year awards a scholarship to a Selma High School student.

The Red Lily, 1914, Clara Weaver Parrish


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