Sullivan Goss
AN AMERICAN GALLERY
Celebrating 27 Years of 19th, 20th and 21st Century American Art
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Maxine Albro

(1903-1966)

PAINTER, MURALIST, LITHOGRAPHER & SCULPTOR

By Sandra Arteaga

As one of the first women artists to be part of the WPA and FWAP, Maxine Albro painted a fresco at the famous Coit Tower in San Francisco. The mural is still on display to this day— a testament to Albro’s talent.




Table of Contents

I. BIOGRAPHY

Maxine Albro was born on January 20th, 1903 in Iowa. Her family was from a Spanish background. Albro did not live in Iowa for long and moved to Los Angeles with her family while she was still very young. As a result, most of her upbringing took place in California. Moreover, in 1920, Maxine Albro graduated from high school and moved to San Francisco, CA.

While in San Francisco, Albro worked as a commercial artist in order to raise money for her formal art training. After saving sufficient funds, Albro enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco from 1923 to 1925. The following year, Albro spent one winter at the Art Student League in New York. Her studies did not end there, in fact, shortly after she completed her schooling in New York, Albro studied for a year at the Ecole de la Grand Chaumière in Paris in 1927.

After completing her formal art education, Albro took a trip to Mexico where she learned how to paint frescos. Although Albro did not study directly with Diego Rivera, she later painted several murals in San Francisco by his side. Nevertheless, Albro was exposed to his work in Tehuantepec, Mexico and was influenced by his stylized figures. In addition, Albro received individual instruction from one of Diego Rivera’s assistant, Paul O’Higgins.

While being influenced by Diego Rivera’s work, Albro also began to exhibit her work. In 1925, Albro exhibited some of her oil paintings at the San Francisco Art Association, and in 1931, at Delphic Studios in New York.

Throughout the 1930s, Maxine Albro executed many commissions under programs of the New Deal such as the Federal Works of Art Project and the Works Progress Administration. She was one of the first women artists to be hired as a muralist for this national project. Due to the high rate of unemployment during the Great Depression, these art programs were required to hire a large portion of women artists, making this period the first time in history in which women were hired without discrimination.

Furthermore, the most significant commission Albro executed in her career was a mural at Coit Tower in San Francisco. On December 8, 1933, she began to paint her fresco at the newly completed tower on Telegraph Hill. By June 30, 1934, Albro had completed her work. Shortly after this major commission, she was commissioned to execute a mosaic at San Francisco State College.

In 1938, Maxine Albro married Parker Hall, an artist who worked under the PWAP as well. After getting married, Albro moved to Carmel, CA. During the 1940’s, Albro and Parker traveled throughout Mexico, particularly, Mexico City and Guadalajara. As a result, most of her work consisted of Mexican subject matter, which she was best known for. Moreover, throughout her career she joined several institutions such as the Carmel Art Association, California Society of Mural Artists, Congress of American Artists, and the California Art Club. On July 19, 1966, Maxine Albro died in Los Angeles, CA.

II. AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK

Throughout her career, Maxine Albro produced frescos, mosaics, oil paintings, and lithographs. Yet, she is most recognized for her frescos and her characteristic treatment of Mexican and Spanish subject matter in her work. Her style can be characterized as having simplistic and stoutly figures which is clearly an influence of Diego Rivera’s work. In fact, Albro was exposed to Diego Rivera’s work in Mexico and in California as she painted murals with him in San Francisco in the early 1930s. Although she recalls speaking to Diego Rivera for only a short time, she remembers that his assistant, Paul O’Higgins was a great help to her. For instance, he took Albro into his studio where he demonstrated the process of fresco painting. When Albro later returned to the United States, she was well experienced in fresco painting and was offered large commissions.

In 1933, Albro was contacted by the Federal Works of Art Project and was offered her first major commission under a New Deal program at Coit Tower in San Francisco. She was also one of the first people to be hired since her skills in fresco painting proved to be exquisite and suitable for the project. At Coit Tower, she executed a fresco titled, California Agriculture (10ft x 42ft), which depicted farm workers gathering oranges as well as flowers. In addition, the figures in this mural are rendered in a short and thick manner, similarly to Rivera’s style. Furthermore, the subject matter in this mural emphasizes a social realist view by depicting a scene that shows the struggles of farm worker’s during the Great Depression. Nevertheless, Albro was different from other social realist artists, as one art historian noted, “Albro’s pastoral handling of subject matter made her stand out from other social realist painting at that time” (Cummings Belle and Loach 104). The strong influence of Mexican art on her ultimately distinguished her from other American painters that worked within the same genre.

In addition to being contracted to paint frescos, Maxine Albro was also contracted by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to execute a mosaic for the entrance of the Hall of Natural Science at the San Francisco State College. Because mosaic was a medium that Albro was not familiar with, the WPA contracted an Italian mosaic setter to instruct Albro and other artists working on the project. He taught them how to cut Italian marble into pieces. Although the design for this project was a simple floral design with animals and not related to Mexican motifs, Albro fondly recalls the project, as she stated, “It was really, I think, one of the most fascinating things I ever did. Learning how to do the mosaic and then getting the pattern all made in marble and then later helping to put it up” (“Oral History Interview with Maxine Albro and Parker Hall”). The mosaic project took the whole winter of 1937 to be completed.

However, not all of Albro’s work was accepted and highly respected. For instance, in 1935, Albro executed a private commission for the Ebbell Women’s Club in Los Angeles which was considered controversial. Albro depicted four nude Roman sybils in the mural which the women of the club found offensive. Due to the conservative nature of the Los Angeles art scene at the time, the nudity of the sybils were considered obscene. In fact, the controversy surrounding the Roman sybils, consequently led to the destruction of the mural.

Throughout her career, Albro also produced several lithographs, a technique that she learned while studying in New York. Her lithographs consisted of Indian subject matter, an influence from her many travels to Mexico. Similarly, her oil paintings such as Skipping (1940), which portrays a girl with pigtails playing with her jump rope, is an example of her extensive representation of Mexican subjects in her work.

III. CHRONOLOGY

  • 1903 Born on January 20, in Iowa
  • 1920 Graduates from high school
  • 1923-25 Studies at the California School of Fine Arts, CA
  • 1925 Exhibits at the San Francisco Art Association, CA
  • 1926 Studies at Art Student League, NY
  • 1927 Studies at the École de la Grand Chaumière in Paris, France
  • 1931 Exhibits at Delphic Studios, NY
  • 1932 Paints mural at Vallejo high school
  • 1933-34 Paints fresco at Coit Tower under FWAP
  • 1935 Paints mural at the Ebbell Women’s Club
  • 1938 Marries Parker Hall
  • 1940s Travels to Mexico
  • 1966 Dies on July 19 in Los Angeles, CA
  • IV. COLLECTIONS

  • Allied Arts Guild, Menlo Park
  • Biltmore Hotel, Santa Barbara, CA
  • Coit Tower, San Francisco, CA
  • De Young Museum, San Francisco, CA
  • Hofsas House, Carmel, CA
  • Mills College, CA
  • San Francisco State Teachers College, CA
  • Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA
  • University of Arizona Museum of Art, AZ
  • Vallejo High School, CA
  • V. EXHIBITIONS

  • 1925 San Francisco Art Association, CA
  • 1930 Beaux Art Club, San Francisco, CA
  • 1931 Delphic Studios, NY
  • 1932-34 Gump’s San Francisco, CA
  • 1934 Berkeley Women’s City Club, CA
  • 1936 The California Palace of the Legion Honor, San Francisco, CA
  • 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, CA
  • VI. MEMBERSHIPS

  • Carmel Art Association
  • California Art Club
  • California Society of Mural Artists
  • American Artists Congress
  • San Francisco Art Association
  • VII. BIBLIOGRAPHY

    1. 1. Albright, T. (1985). Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-1980: an illustrated history. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
    2. 2. AskArt.com
    3. 3. Heller, J., & Heller, N.G. (Eds.) (1995). North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Garland.
    4. 4. Hughes, E.M. (1989). Artist’s in California, 1786-1940. San Francisco, CA: Hughes Publishing Company.
    5. 5. Moore, S. (Ed.). (1989). California Women Artists. New York, NY: Midmarch Arts Press.
    6. 6. “Oral history interview with Maxine Albro and Parker Hall.” (1964). Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
    7. 7. Rubinstein, C.S. (1982). American Women Artists from early times to the present. New York, NY: G.K. Hall.

    VIII. WORKS FOR SALE BY THIS ARTIST