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by Frank Goss

A tireless painter, California Expressionist Grace Libby Vollmer studied at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles and completed further training under Hans Hoffman. Throughout her career, she went on to exhibit regularly in Pasadena, Laguna Beach and Santa Barbara. Sullivan Goss is pleased to present the Estate of the Artist.

Table Of Contents


Grace Libby was born on September 12, 1884 in Hopkinton, Massachusetts to Ann-Lauri Young and Edgar Libby. At an early age, she insisted that she would be an artist. She persuaded her parents to send her to a private school for girls, Quincy Manse in Providence, Massachusetts, starting in 1899.

Quincy Manse was a finishing school which specialized in instruction in painting. Both Grace and her sister attended. There are several examples of Grace Libby's early work and it is evident that she was a very competent drafter in the expressive style of Tissot.

After the family's 1901 move from Massachusetts to Lewiston, Idaho, Grace's father apparently changed professions from publisher to engineer. In that capacity, he designed at least one bridge. In 1906, Grace met and on April 26th married Ralston Vollmer. It was said of Vollmer that he owned half the state of Idaho. Later that year, she moved with her new husband to Lewiston, Idaho and had two children, John and Ann. For the next nineteen years she devoted herself to her family.

At right is a magnificent painting, a 1999 acquisition for the collection of the Bacara Hotel in Santa Barbara, California. It is on display in the Spa Restaurant. It is 40" x 30" and is a superb example of Vollmer's wildest expressive work.

In order to restart her art career, Vollmer convinced her husband to relocate to Los Angeles. In 1925 she resumed her formal art career with two years of study at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles.

Vollmer's teachers include Edward Vysekal, Roscoe Shrader, Alfred Ramos Martinez, and Clarence Hinkle. Immediately after the conclusion of her studies, she joined the artists represented at the famed Cannell & Chaffin art gallery in Los Angeles. In late 1926, she had her first one-person exhibition with Cannell & Chaffin, a show of 142 works. No catalogue of this exhibition survives.

Above left is a study of Hoffman by Vollmer. Hoffman's influence on Vollmer was early in his career before he left Europe and while he was still considered a representational painter. Vollmer often remarked that she did not care for Hoffman's abstract work, the work for which the world knows him today. (Private collection)


Vollmer's style was fully mature by the time of the 1936 Olympic exhibition. She had been painting in La Jolla, and had been submitting her work for juried exhibitions for some time. Herman Reuter, in a review which appeared in the March 20, 1937 issue of the Hollywood Citizen News, expounded on a painting he had seen in the Laguna Beach Art Association exhibit that year.

He noted that the painting was "unsigned and incorrectly numbered" but that it "took rank as the most refreshing" in the show. He had previously seen one or two paintings by the same artist in Los Angeles shows, and immediately recognized this painting as the work of Grace Vollmer. He went further to rank Vollmer with "painters of high talent and conviction" who "make their work solely their own." And he added further that

"the spirit of canvases done by such purposeful painters gets into you, so that ever after you can recognize their other work, even if unsigned."

Reuter used his insight even futher when he discussed the specific painting:

The picture has to do with a few cattails and several odds and ends of leaves and grasses in a bowl. Simple as that. And yet, it is real painting, because Mrs. Vollmer had a harmony in her head before she started to paint, and she did not set out to do a mere portrait of cattails and grasses in a bowl, but to suggest these things as they could best be suggested while creating something which stood on its own feet in pigment.

c. 1930s
30" x 24"
Oil on canvas
Private Collection
To the right is one of Vollmer's most remarkable portraits. She refined her style throughout her life, but the exaggerated texture, muted tones, bold brush strokes, passionate compositions and determined expressiveness remain in almost all her mature paintings. The painting Completely Lost contains the furthest expression of her emotive style. A fractured composition, swirling energy, spirited brushwork and a beating sense of rhythm together make this one of her most powerful pieces.


It is easy to see what Ralston Vollmer saw in this talented young woman. Known to be bright, effervescent and at ease in social situations, Grace took her vocation as an artist seriously. The only time she stopped her productivity as an artist was during the years she raised her children and following the illnesses that lead to the death of one child and her husband Ralston.

She and her husband lived in Lewiston, Idaho, an important shipping and cultural center for the interior Northwest. In the accompanying photo she is wearing a high collered, fashionable blouse, a tailered skirt and matching cape.

Once she had moved to Santa Barbara, Vollmer concentrated on still life paintings. The work pictured to the right is an excellent example of her work from the mid 1940's.

According to those who knew her, Vollmer maintained a sense of style throughout her life. In paintings as in dress, her work remained vibrant throughout her career. The still life on her easel is as forceful as the work she produced in her days at Otis in the 1920s, even though almost fifty years had come between.


  • 1884 Born on September 12, in Hopkinton, Massachusetts
  • 1899 Receives art training at Quincy Manse, Providence, MA
  • 1901 Moves to Lewiston, Idaho
  • 1906 Marries Ralston Vollmer
  • 1925 - 1927 Trains at Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles, CA.
  • 1926 Representated by Cannell & Chaffin, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1926 1st one-person show, Cannell & Chaffin, 142 works
  • 1928 Takes one of several trips to paint in Europe
  • 1930 Moves to La Jolla, joins Laguna Beach Art Assoc.
  • 1930 Studies for six weeks with Hans Hoffman
  • 1932 Moves to Taos, NM and meets Georgia O'Keeffe
  • 1934 Moves to Avenue 64, near Pasadena
  • 1936 Studies a second time with Hoffman in Berkeley
  • 1938 Travels to Mexico
  • 1939 Moves to 181 Middle Road in Montecito, California
  • 1940 Death of her child John
  • 1945 Death of her child Ann
  • 1948 Death of her husband Ralston
  • 1970 Gives up painting because of respiratory trouble
  • 1975 Moves to home on Valerio Rd. in Santa Barbara
  • 1977 Dies on November 25 in Santa Barbara, California


  • Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, Calif.
  • Sullivan Goss, Permanent Collection, Santa Barbara, Calif.
  • Museum of Art at Brigham Young University, Provo , UT
  • Springville Museum of Art, Springville, UT

  • 1926 Honorable Mention, Life Drawing, Otis Art Institute
  • 1927 Honorable Mention, Orange County Fair
  • 1935 Honorable Mention, Laguna Beach Art Assoc., St. Joseph
  • 1936 1st Award, Laguna Beach Art Assoc., Zinnias & Brocade
  • 1951 Premium Award, (purchase prize), California State Fair
  • 1952 Third Prize, California State Fair
  • 1955 Purchase Prize, Santa Paula Art Show

  • Art Guild of the Fine Arts Society of San Diego
  • Laguna Beach Art Association
  • Society of Western Artists
  • Santa Barbara Art Association

  • 1926 Debut Exhibition at Cannell & Chaffin, Los Angeles
  • 1931 Pasadena Art Institute, Pasadena, California, 4th Annual Exhibition by California Artists, paintings titled Sub-Division and Unemployed
  • 1932 Pasadena Art Institute, Pasadena, California, 5th Annual Exhibition of California Artists, painting titled Unemployed
  • 1933 2nd Annual Exhibition, Progressive Painters of Southern California, Laguna Beach, California, painting titled Still Life
  • 1934 Los Angeles Museum, Exposition Park, Los Angeles, 15th Annual Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, painting titled Chop House
  • 1934 Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, Balboa Park, San Diego, California, 8th Annual Exhibition of Southern California Art, painting titled Fisherman's Cove
  • 1935 Laguna Beach Art Association, Laguna Beach, California, December-January 1935-1936 Exhibit, painting titled St. Joseph
  • 1937 Laguna Beach Art Association, March Exhibition, Laguna Beach, California, painting titled, Autumn
  • 1937 One-person Exhibition of drawings at Santa Ana Public Library, Santa Barbara, Caliornia
  • 1937 One-person show of drawings at Manker Studio, Padua Hills, Claremont, California
  • 1938 Tuscon Fine Arts Association, Tucson, Arizona, 1938-1939 Season, Temple of Music and Fine Arts Gallery, painting
  • titled Autumn
  • 1938 Fine Arts Society of San Diego, 10th Annual Southern California Art Exhibition
  • 1939 Santa Barbara Artists, Faulkner Memorial Art Library, Santa Barbara, California, 9th Summer Exhibition,
  • painting titled Sombras Pasadoroa, Taos
  • 1951 15th Annual Art Exhibit, Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce, painting titled Girl and Flowers
  • 1951 Society of Western Artists, 12th Annual Exhibit, San Francisco, CA
  • 1952 One-person Exhibition, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California
  • 1953 California State Fair (by invitation), Sacramento, CA
  • 1954 Santa Barbara Art Association, Faulkner Memorial Library, Santa Barbara,California 10th Annual Exhibit, painting titled Green Mansion
  • 1955 Santa Paula Art Show, painting titled Still Life
  • 1955 One-person Exhibition in Ojai, California
  • 1958 One-person Exhibition, Art & Frame Shop,
  • 1984 One-person Exhibition, Arlington Gallery, Santa Barbara, California
  • 2000 One-person Exhibit, Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, California

    In the event that you have works by Grace Libby, Grace Vollmer or Grace Libby Vollmer which you would like included in the Catalogue Raisonne or which you would like reviewed for authentication, contact Sullivan Goss for submission requirements. The Catalogue Raisonne, (or The Complete Work of Grace Libby Vollmer) is being assembled as part of this page. The catalogue will include paintings in oil and drawings.

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