Gallery Artists > Olive Rush Biography :

Olive Rush (1873 - 1966)  Artworks >>

Known as one of the early 20th-century American women to be fully dedicated as an art professional, Olive Rush said: "You must learn your own best way of living and creating. You are an individual in art as in life. Another way is not your way." (32) She has a number of credits to her professional reputation. She has been described as was one of the most competent muralists of that era, and also had much distinction as an illustrator, including being singled out as a favorite student of illustrator and teacher, Howard Pyle. She established a reputation as an easel painter, especially for portraits and figures; and was an art educator in Indiana and later in New Mexico. There her lasting influence is the encouragement she gave native people to take pride in their own traditions at a time when white culture was moving aggressively westward. She was described by art historian William Gerdts as "the first important woman artist" to settle in Santa Fe. (Gerdts 167) In that city, she established much camaraderie with the Native peoples by traveling to their pueblos and reservations on extensive camping and horseback trips, and visiting Spanish villages on barely passable roads. Her focus was to preserve the arts and crafts of these people. The career of Olive Rush was expansive, not only in subject matter, but geographically and stylistically from traditional to abstract to Oriental motifs. Her artistic output was shaped by the Quaker tenets she learned as a child: faith through good works, reverence for life, simple living and expression of inward grace. Olive Rush was born in Fairmount, Indiana, to a Quaker family with six children and raised on a farm at Rush Hill near Fairmount. She graduated from the Fairmount Academy, a Friends Academy established by her parents on their farm. Then she set out on an independent course. At age 17, she went to Richmond, Indiana, and enrolled for a year at Earlham College as a student of John Elwood Bundy, who became a key inspiration to her focus on art and love of painting. The next year she went to Washington D.C., where she studied at the Corcoran School of Art. She was the youngest person in her class, and after the first year received the prize in 1892 for the student who had shown the most progress. Unlike many of her female contemporaries, she discouraged suitors and was determined to lead an independent life as an artist. Of boys she said: "I see them once, then they are gone forever." (Newton 24) From 1894 to 1898, she was enrolled at the Art Students League in New York and studied with John Twachtman, H. Siddons Mowbray and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. She earned money as a staff artist for the New York Tribune, and in 1898, she received her first commission to illustrate a book. This job allowed her to repay debts to her parents for her education, but she also knew that her heart was more involved with painting than illustration. In 1899, she moved to Philadelphia and lived for several years with a brother and worked as a commercial artist, while continuing to do easel painting in her spare time. To improve her illustration skills, she studied in Wilmington, Delaware with Howard Pyle at the tuition-free school he operated for specially selected students. She and Pyle got along very well, and she stayed in his classes six years, beginning 1904 when she moved to Wilmington. His students called themselves the Art Colony, and she like the others admired the patience, talent and dignified manner that he showed his students. In Wilmington she also did some mural painting both with Pyle and independently such as the mural for the chancel of St. Andrew Episcopal Church. In addition, she designed a large stained-glass window for a private home, a project that included angels in four of the five panels. The people who commissioned this window were drawn to her work because they had seen angel figures in many of her illustrations.

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