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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Dulah Marie Evans Krehbiel

Orange Umbrellas at the Beach, ca. 1920, Dulah Marie Evans
When writers discuss the art, life, and times of well-known artists, if they mention that artist's spouse, it's only in passing unless the spouse has posed for paintings, or was in some other way influential in the artist's work. Yet the fact is, very few husbands or wives of artists are not in some way influential, even if it's behind the scene. I know this from both personal experience and from writing about other artists. If something doesn't look right, my wife is not the least bit hesitant to tell me so. Moreover I've learned that she's seldom wrong. In writing about other artists I'm probably as guilty of anyone in not emphasizing the presence and impact of a spouse in this role. At times, I've completely omitted the fact that an artist was even married, or in doing so, been negligent in mentioning the spouse by name.
Dulah Krehbiel, ca. 1906
That was the case a little over two years ago when I wrote a biographical piece on the American impressionist and art educator, Albert Henry Krehbiel. Even though his wife, Dulah Marie (Evans) Krehbiel, was an accomplished artist with extensive academic credentials, I neglected to even mention their marriage or her name. Dulah Marie Evans was born in 1875 and married Albert Krehbiel in June of 1906, shortly after he returned from Europe and accepted a teaching position at the Art Institute of Chicago. The couple settled in suburban Park Ridge, Illinois, the home of several important artists and designers. Dulah assisted her husband with his most important commission: a series of allegorical murals for the interior of the new Illinois Supreme Court Building in Springfield. She designed and sewed the classical draperies in which she posed for many of the figures. She also worked on several of the paintings. A few years later, Dulah established her own studio business, The Ridge Crafts, which produced illustrated greeting cards and bookplates from her designs, some featuring verses by her sister, Mayetta, which were hand-tinted with watercolors.

Dulah Evans Krehbiel Christmas card,
The Ridge Crafts, Park Ridge, Illinois, 1911
Golden Curls, 1915,
Dulah Marie Evans
In April 1914, Dulah gave birth to their only child, Evans Llan Krehbiel, who soon became a model for several of her paintings as seen in her Golden Curls (right) from 1915. The challenges of running a household and raising her son coincided with growing market challenges to cottage industries in graphic design. She was obliged to close The Ridge Crafts in 1915. Two years later, the Krehbiel family, accompanied by Mayetta Evans, moved to Southern California for a three-year stay interrupted by return visits to Chicago, where Albert was still on the faculty of the Art Institute.

Though untitled (insofar as I could determine) this
painting by Dulah Evans likely dates from around 1920.
They rented a bungalow in Santa Monica. Family responsibilities were undoubtedly one cause of the apparent hiatus in Dulah’s career between the years 1917 and 1919. However, around 1920, she returned to painting with a new intensity. She completed several impressionist figural landscapes showing Mayetta and Evans in Santa Monica. A painting of three women before an open window is her only work in a public collection (National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.). It may have been completed in Park Ridge following the family’s return there from California.

Three Ladies at an Open Window, 1920, Dulah Marie Evans
In 1925, Dulah's sister, Mayetta, purchased a separate Park Ridge home, dubbed Studio Place, for herself, Dulah, and Dulah's now teenaged son, Evans. Dulah actively promoted her son’s burgeoning artistic efforts while virtually cutting him off from all contact with his father. Later, in 1930, an attempt to reestablish a successful career by moving to the New York City suburb of Scarsdale, failed. She was forced to return to Park Ridge and her husband's financial support.

Waterfalls, Dulah Marie Evans
Throughout the following decade Dulah exhibited her paintings in the annual members’ shows at the Arts Club. She became known as the “Park Ridge modernist,” as she continued to paint fantastic landscapes filled with female figures while also completing several portraits, notably of Evans, in a contrastingly straight-forward, realistic style. In the early 1940s, Dulah exhibited her last works, paintings depicting still-life arrangements of seashells and flowers. In her final show, in 1945, she was represented by a painting from 1920 listing herself under her married name. only a few weeks later Albert Krehbiel died suddenly. By then, arthritis and a series of strokes had forced Dulah to abandon her career. Dulah Marie Evans Krehbiel died in 1951 at the age of seventy-six.

Mountain of the Blue Moon, 1934, Dulah Marie Evans (Krehbiel)
Dulah’s career of more than fifty years was a determined effort to make a place for herself in the contemporary American art world. She tried a wide range of media and genres, including painting, drawing, etching, and photography, repeatedly moving off in unprecedented directions, learning new techniques, and absorbing the influences that surrounded her. Over the years, as she struggled for financial independence through her art, she created some of her most striking works, such as the fantastic figural landscapes of the 1920s and 1930s (above), all deeply personal statements of female self-identity and aspiration. They also collectively constitute Dulah’s greatest claim for renewed attention as an artist with an important place in American Modernism.
Evan's Poinsettia, 1920,
Dulah Marie Evans

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