Orrin Sheldon Parsons was born in Rochester, New York, and studied at the National Academy of Design with William Merritt Chase, Edgar Ward and Will Low. He was married to noted photographer Caroline Reed Parsons.
He won much recognition for his autumn scenes of the countryside of Westchester County and, around the turn of the century, was much sought after in New York as a portrait painter. His subjects included such personages as President McKinley and Susan B. Anthony.
In 1913, suffering from tuberculosis and his wife’s death, Parsons gave up his successful career in New York to move to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he became one of the earliest resident artists. There, he became known as a painter of local residents, plaza scenes and landscapes.
The more he painted there, the looser his style became, and his impressionist landscape paintings became popular. They were exhibited at the Palace of the Governors and the new Museum of New Mexico, both in Santa Fe. In fact, Parsons was the first director, in 1918, of the Museum of New Mexico, and the collection still holds a number of his paintings.