Seminal Artists of Wichita (2008 exhibit)

This exhibit examines the artwork and achievements of eight notable Wichita Artists working between the years of 1880 and 1940. This period produced enormously talented and dynamic artists in spite of the lack of dedicated arts organizations and venues.

During the early years of Wichita, visual art was largely limited to the public artwork on buildings and in cemeteries. Some art sold privately through photography studios and painting supply stores. Occasionally, in the years before the 1939 opening of the Wichita Art Museum, art exhibitions were staged at the city library and other temporary venues.

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Robert Aitchison:

Born December 5, 1887 in Columbus, Kansas. Died May 4, 1964 in Wichita

Founding member of the Wichita Art Association, founding member of the Wichita Artists Guild, founding member of the Wichita Bibliophiles.

Attended the Academy of Fine Art in Chicago.

Illustrator for the Chicago Tribune and cartoonist for the San Antonio Express.

After moving to Wichita in 1920, he established the creative department for the McCormick Armstrong Company, a printing company. He worked at McCormick Armstrong for 40 years.

He served as the president of the Kansas State Historical Society. 

Edmund L. Davison: no photo

Born February 1877 in Wapello, Iowa. Moved to Kansas with his family in 1887. Died July 7, 1944 in Wichita

Founding member of the Wichita Art Association, founding member of the Wichita Artists Guild.

Attended Wichita High School (1895?)

Attended Chicago Art Institute where he focused on drawing. After three years, he returned to Wichita and began work in his father’s business, the Commercial Bank, the only privately owned bank in Kansas.

Studied with Birger Sandzen who inspired his paintings.

His paintings were exhibited for the first time in 1920 in at the Institute of Fine Arts in Kansas City, where his work was compared to Sandzen. In an interview about the exhibit, Davison praised the work of Elizabeth Sprague and John Noble.

During the 1920s Ed and his wife Faye visited Taos, New Mexico often, where they met many other artists.

Exhibited in the Cincinnati Museum Association, Wichita Artists Guild, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Detroit Art Institute and the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 1933 he closed the Commercial Bank and retired from banking to focus on his art.

Stephen A. Hesse: no photo

Born February 25, 1858 in Germany.

Died February 7, 1934 in Wichita, buried in Martinsburg, MO  

Bruce Moore:

Objects: bronze sculpture of a duck, Ducking Seated/Butch Asleep, produced during his time in Rome, 1937-1939

Born August 5, 1905 near Bern, Kansas. Moved with family to Wichita in 1905 or 1906.

Died January 24, 1980

Attended Wichita Art Association (now the Wichita Center for the Arts) and the Kansas City Art Institute.

Graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Winner of the Guggenheim Scholarship and the Widener gold medal for sculpture at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, M.R. Cromwell Fellowship, American Academy at Rome, and the Helen Foster Barnett prize.

Instructor at Fairmount College, University of Wichita, Wichita Center for the Arts, New York School of Applied Design, Rinehart School of Sculpture, Baltimore, Corcoran School of Art, Washington, D.C.

Works exhibited at the Wichita Art Association, Wichita Art Museum, Whitney Museum of Art, National Academy of Design, Brooklyn Museum, Metropolitan Museum, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Franz Bader Gallery.

Served in the United States Army 1943-1945 and arranged an Army hospital art exhibit in 1945. 

John Noble:

Objects: Brittany Canal by John Noble, 1926 at Quimpere, Brittany

Gift of Mildred Graves Weir

Provenance: sold by Milch Galleries to Gilbert S. Rubens of New York, 1935. Reacquired from Reubens estate in 1968.

Exhibitions: One man exhibition of John Noble at the Milch Galleries 1927.

Riverside Museum in New York, 1953

Hammer Galleries 1959

Art Institute of Chicago1981

Wichita Art Museum 1982 

Born March 15, 1874 in Wichita.,

Died January 6, 1934 in New York City of an overdose of paraldehyde, a drug then used to treat alcoholism.

Buried in Highland Cemetery, Wichita.

Founding member of the Wichita Art Association

Opened a photography studio with Harry Pottenger in the late 1890s, “Noble and Pottenger, Photographers.” Noble created pastel portraits based on the photographs.

He worked as an artist for the Wichita Eagle, illustrating stories about the Old West.

He quit school after the 8th grade, but studied art at the Cincinnati Academy of Fine Arts and the Academy Beaux Arts of Paris.

His pastel painting of a nude, Cleopatra at the Bath, was damaged by a rock-throwing Carry Nation on December 27, 1900. Attempts to find the painting have been unsuccessful and its whereabouts is unknown.

Motivated by the Carry Nation’s destruction of his painting, he sought a more appreciative audience and eventually moved to Paris in 1903. He spent much of his time painting in Brittany and Picardy, and it was those scenes that secured his reputation as a painter. He often compared the sea to the plains he knew as a boy in Kansas. “There’s not much difference between the prairie and the ocean – that is, the prairie I used to know. I began to feel that vastness, the bulk, the overwhelming power of the prairie is the same in its immensity as the sea – only the sea is changeless, and the plains, as I knew, were passing.”

He developed a boisterous persona “Wichita Bill” that captured the wild image of the West to Europeans and the American art community. He had a reputation as a wonderful and inventive story teller, and he was a colorful figure at home and abroad.

While in France he married Amelia Peiche. They had 2 children, including John A. Noble, a noted maritime artist and the namesake of the Noble Maritime Collection museum in Staten Island New York.

Irving Stone’s novel The Passionate Journey was inspired by the life of John Noble.

Noble was elected to the National Academy of Design, and was a member of the American Artists Association, the Allied Artists, the Decorative Society of London, and the Independent Society of Paris. He was the Director of the Provincetown Art Association from 1920-1922.

Noble’s paintings were highly praised by the critics of the day, and he received many awards, including prizes from the Corcoran Gallery and the National Academy of Design. His paintings are in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Wichita Art Museum, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art.

He lived in Paris, London, Provincetown, Massachusetts, and New York City, but he often returned to Wichita where he visited family and showed his work.

Brittany Canal by John Noble, 1926 at Quimpere, Brittany

Gift of Mildred Graves Weir

Provenance: sold by Milch Galleries to Gilbert S. Rubens of New York, 1935. Reacquired from Reubens estate in 1968.

Exhibitions: One man exhibition of John Noble at the Milch Galleries 1927.

Riverside Museum in New York, 1953

Hammer Galleries 1959

Art Institute of Chicago1981

Wichita Art Museum 1982

C.A. Seward:

Born March 4, 1884 in Chase, Kansas. Died January 31, 1939 in Wichita

Attended Washburn College, Topeka and Bethany College, Lindsborg

Manager of Capper Engraving Co., 1910-1919, Art Director Southwest Advertising 1920-1923, Art Director Western Lithograph Company 1926-1939.

Founding member of the Wichita Art Association, founding member of the Wichita Artists Guild. 

Elizabeth Sprague:

Born June 14, 1862 in Harvard, Massachusetts. Died June 1, 1936 in Wichita.

Attended Massachusetts School of Art

Instructor at Fairmount College, where she established the Fine Art department, and taught Bruce Moore. Fairmount later became the University of Wichita, where she continued to teach until 1934.

She received an honorary Master of Arts degree from Fairmount and was awarded the degree of Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts in 1920.

She did not like to show her work, which was rarely signed. When it was signed, she used her initials ES in one corner.

Her motto was “We strive for beauty and hope for perfection.”

Fred Wassall:

Born April 21, 1904 in Birmingham, England. Died April 28, 1970 in Wichita

Studied at the Slade Academy of Fine Arts, London, and the Brighton Art School, claimed he was expelled for daring to depict modernism instead of classical art.

Greatly interested in Mexico and Mexican art, especially the art of his friend Diego Rivera.

Exhibited at the Wichita Art Museum, Wichita Art Association, Southwestern College, Winfield, Weeks Gallery, Washington D.C., and the Nelson Art Gallery, Kansas City