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Nell Brooker Mayhew


Painter & Master Of The Color Etching

by Alissa Anderson

Recognized for her boldly colored "paintings on paper," Nell Brooker Mayhew (born Nell Cole Danely) brought an innovative approach to painting and printmaking to Southern California in 1908. Having trained at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Northwestern University and the University of Illionis at Urbana-Champaign, Mayhew was fluent in the aesthetics of French Impressionism, Japanese woodblocks, Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau and Symbolism. She combined these cutting edge ideas and won acclaim, showing along side such artists as William Wendt , Edgar Payne, and Hanson Puthuff. Sullivan Goss is pleased to present the Estate of the artist.

Table of Contents

FAIRY BOOK by Adelaide D. Royer:
Although her drafting style would have been apporpriate for illustration, this 1925 children's book is the only example of the artist's illustrative work. Published privately in Urbana, the author, Royer is the sister of the artist. Two of the principal characters are Mary Jane and Nell, the daughters of the artist. Copies of the book are rare.


Born in Astoria, Illinois in 1875, Mayhew trained as a painter and muralist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Northwestern University. Taking only three years to graduate, she received a B.S. in 1897. Soon after, she began her post-graduate work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Moving to Los Angeles in 1908 as a single woman she became a faculty member at the University of Southern California’s School of Fine Arts. Exhibiting alongside major local aritsts Hanson Puthuff, Elmer Wachtel, and Edgar Payne – she established herself in a circle of nationally renouned artists.

Heralded by Los Angeles art critics, Mayhew became recognized for her provacative use of color and unrefined lines. Critics were engaged by the vitality and life of her pieces -- whether it be the simplistic but vivacious lines of a tree or the delicate outline of a flower. With a distinctly lyrical quality, her ‘paintings on paper’ radiated a somewhat spiritual nature.

Heavily influenced by Japonisme – Mayhew was known to imitate the traditional Japanese columnar style. Printing her etchings on vertical paper, Mayhew depicts scenes of nature with high horizon lines– a style exemplary of the Japanese printmaking aesthetic.

As a divorced, single parent working during the Depression, and a woman in an art world established by men, Nell Brooker Mayhew faced numerous difficulties. She somehow overcame such challenges, establishing herself as a remarkable artist of extraordinary character. She did not live the life of most women -- moving across the country to support herself as an artist. She became a faculty member at a prominent university, divorced her husband, and raised two children as a single parent. With her innovative color etching technique and extensive formal training, her work came to symbolize a specific period of artistic evolution in California. Mayhew became a progressive woman artist in the Los Angeles art community.

II. SGTV Video

"Nell Brooker Mayhew"
Produced and Narrated by Jeremy Tessmer

This video was created to provide background for the exhibit, Nell Brooker Mayhew: In Quiet Communion, on display from April 2nd through June 28th, 2009. The video provides a short history of Mayhew's life and demonstrates her unique approach to her craft.

Click on the image to watch the video


Mayhew's paintings on paper as they have been called, evoke a distinct luminosity. With her bold use of color and unrefined lines, critics were engaged by the vitality and life of her pieces. Mayhew's monotype etchings infuse the same luminosity revered by color-field painters thirty years later. Although a much more traditional subject matter and process than the Modernists would adopt, Mayhew's light and color achieve a visual effect glowing with color and effervescence. Her art captures the energy and swirling momentum of life.

Mayhew defied the artistic traditions around her -- advocating a new process of printmaking and a new style of painting. She embraced color, freedom of brushstroke, and above all, nature. Nell Brooker Mayhew embodied a bold and innovative approach to art -- challenging artistic practices of those around her.

SAN JUAN BAUTISTA:This magnificent color etching by Mayhew measures 11" x 23.5", and is the largest of her California Mission Series. It is signed lower left below the plate. Circa 1918. This particular impression is in a private collection in San Diego, California. Photo courtesy of the owner.

IV. ARTS & CRAFTS PERIOD (1898-1908)

Heavily influenced by the "art for arts sake" philosophy of John Ruskin and William Morris, Nell Brooker Mayhew is often associated with the Arts and Crafts movement. Printmakers like Arthur Wesley Dow were concentrated on the neccessity of handmade craftsmanship, simplistic decoration, and high quality materials. The movement insisted upon a correlation between beautiful objects and quality of life -- suggesting beauty could bring inspiration to anyone who encountered it.

Mayhew's process of color etchings was firmly rooted in such a philosophy. Each print represented the delicate abundance of beauty in a simple scene of nature. The artist would personally draw each image, hand etch the drawing, and then print and frame the final piece. She would often go so far as to personally install the art work in the collectors home. The Arts and Crafts idealist believed that the artist must be personally involved in every element of art production.


Mayhew embraced color themes and styles from a variety of artistic movements. Some of her pieces are associated with the Symbolist movement. In a piece like "California Poppies" the objects have a subtle atmospheric effect -- captured in a whimsical, almost lyrical manner. In this instance the artist's palatte shifts to a more muted, tonalist approach like that of principle Symbolists Odilon Redon.


Many women artists of this period were known as printmakers. Artists like Bertha Lum, Lilian May Miller, and Helen Hyde were well known for their neatly rendered figurative images. But, these prints were often conventional reproductions -- lacking the variation or individual nuaces of Mayhew's color etchings. Helen Hyde, bronze medal winner at the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exhibition, was known for her circular prints depicting idyllic scenes. Each rendition remainded much the same in coloration and detail -- following the traditional Japanese woodblock philosophy.

Mayhew was much more experimental in her printmaking style. She embraced individual expression, reflection, and interpretation in each piece -- resisting the element of uniformity.


  • Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC
  • Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles (100 color etchings)
  • Ambassador Hotel, New York (100 color etchings)
  • Architectural Club of Illinois, Chicago, IL
  • California State Library, Sacramento, CA
  • Civic Clinic for Children, Chicago, IL
  • Ebell Club, Highland Park, CA
  • Galerie Bremen, Basel, Switzerland
  • Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Los Angeles, CA
  • Good Humor Ice Cream Company, Los Angeles, CA
  • Hotel Shoreman, Los Angeles, CA
  • Maryland Hotel, Kidston Apartment, Pasadena, CA
  • Memorial Library, Ashton, IL (Mural)
  • Mr. & Mrs. Robert Duffy, Los Angeles, CA
  • National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, DC
  • Oregon State Museum, Salem, OR
  • Pasadena Public Library, Pasadena, CA (11 color etchings)
  • Roger Genser, Santa Monica, CA
  • Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA (7 color etchings)
  • Sullivan Goss Private Collection, Santa Barbara, CA
  • Women's Club, San Bernardino, CA

  • Photographs of the Artist

    NELLIE DANELY LATER TO BECOME NELL BROOKER AND EVENTUALLY N. BROOKER MAYHEW: Attired in a beautiful white dress, which may be the wedding gown for the artists marriage to Sydney Brooker, a young publisher from Quincy, Illinois.


    Mayhew was profoundly influenced by Japanese wood block prints. This influence can be seen in almost all of her color etchings and some of her paintings. In this circa 1925 photograph she wears an oriental dress and places herself in the setting fall sunlight which itself is reminicient of the pictorial school of Japanese photography. The artist was just over 5' tall and it is said that the wheel of her press would tower over her and that it took all her strength to make the impressions for her monotypes.


  • 1892 Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
  • 1906 W.C. Pluck, Decatur, IL
  • 1908 Blanchard Gallery, Solo Exhibition, LA, CA
  • 1909 Medal Winner, Alaska-Yukon Expositon, Seattle, WA
  • 1910 University of Southern California, Solo Exh., LA, CA
  • 1911 University of Southern California, Solo Exh., LA, CA
  • 1912 College of Fine Arts, USC, Los Angeles, California
  • 1912 Blanchard Gallery, Solo Exhibition, LA, CA
  • 1912 Daniell Gallery, Solo Exhibition, LA, CA
  • 1913 Anderson Art Company, Chicago, IL
  • 1915 Blanchard Gallery, Solo Exhibition, LA, CA
  • 1916 Long Beach Memorial Library, Solo Exhibition, LB, CA
  • 1919 Chicago Society of Etchers, Art Institute of Chicago
  • 1920 Pasadena Public Library, Solo Exhibition, Pasadena, CA
  • 1921 Hollywood Art Shop, Solo Exhibition, Hollwwood, CA
  • 1921 94 color etchings - Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles
  • 1921 108 color etchings - Ambassador Hotel, New York
  • 1922 22 oils & 22 color-etchings - Franklin Galleries, Hollywood, CA
  • 1923 Residence of W.C. Royer, 801 W. Oregon St, Urbana,IL
  • 1924 Donaldson Studio, Solo Exhibition, LA, CA
  • 1924 Barker Brothers, Solo Exhibition LA, CA
  • 1925 MacDowell Club, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1926 The National Arts Club, Exhibition of Living American Etchers, New York
  • 1926 The Society of Independent Artists, New York, NY
  • 1928 Pacific Southwest Exposition, Long Beach, California
  • 1930 California Art Club, Group Exhibition, LA, CA
  • 1931 Pasadena Art Institute, Pasadena, California
  • 1934 Women Painters of the West, Los Angeles
  • 1935 National Gallery of Art (Smithsonian American Art Museum), Washington DC
  • 2003 "Mission Paintings: By Nell Brooker Mahew", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 2007 "Nell Brooker Mayhew: Selections from the Back Room", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 2009 "Nell Brooker Mayhew: In Quiet Communion", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 2011 "Nell Brooker Mayhew: Delicate Resilience", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA
  • 2014 "Nell Brooker Mayhew: Paintings from the Estate", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA

  • Northwestern University, Bachelor of Science degree
  • University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign , student
  • The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, student
  • College of Fine Arts, USC, instructor
  • Los Angeles Art Association, Vice Chairman of Water Color Committee
  • California Art Club, Vice President
  • Society of Print Makers of California, Treasurer
  • West Coast Art Club, member
  • Laguna Beach Art Association, member
  • Highland Park Ebell Club, member
  • Ruskin Art Club of Los Angeles, member
  • Southern California Society of Arts and Crafts, member
  • Women Painters of the West, member

    The full monograph catalogue, Nell Brooker Mayhew:Paintings on Paper (published by Balcony Press, 2005) is now available.

    The estate of the artist was held by Mayhew's daughters, Mary Jane and Nell, for over 60 years. The sisters, now in their senior years, had kept personal collections of Mayhew's work since the artist's death in 1940. The monograph is primarily composed of pieces which Sullivan Goss acquired from the two daughters in 2000. The Gallery now represents the Nell Brooker Mayhew estate.


    In the event that you have works by this artist which you would like included in this catalogue, contact Sullivan Goss for submission requirements.

    Part of the difficulty in gathering material for a catalogue of this artist's work is in her name and signature. At various times in her career she could have been known, or her work signed, as:

  • a) Nell or Nellie Danely;
  • b) Nell D. Brooker or Nell Brooker or N. Brooker or a monogram composed of a compressed DNB (see example);
  • c) Nell Brooker Mahyew or N. Brooker Mayhew; or with the monogram NDB.
  • Some of her works are signed, some initialed, some dated, and some have notes in the artist's hand. She often signed her works by using a color employed in the painting, often making identification difficult.


    1. 1. Hughes, Edan Milton. Artists in California, 1786-1940, II, p. 325. San Francisco: Hughes Publishing Company, 1989.
    2. 2. U.S. Census, Birth Date, Marriage Dates, Children, Death Date. Accessed through
    3. 3. Danely, Nellie. Alumni Record, Northwestern University, Library, Archives, 1895-1941.
    4. 4. Danely, Nellie. Northwestern University Record of Alumni Accomplishments, 2 pp., Undated, circa 1920.
    5. 5. Turner, Steve and Victoria Dailey, Nell Brooker Mayhew: Color Etchings and Paintings. Los Angeles, CA: Turner Dailey Fine & Applied Arts, 1989. 16 pp.
    6. 6. Falk, Peter, et al. Who Was Who In American Art. CT: Sound View Press, 1999, 3724 pp.
    7. 7. Optiz, Glenn, ed. Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters.... Poughkeepsie: Apollo, 1986, Second Edition, p. 597
    8. 8. Dawdy, Doris Ostrander, Artists Of The American West, A Biographical Dictionary, Volume Two. Chicago: Sage Books, 1981, 188 pp.
    9. 9. Mallett, Daniel Trowbridge, Mallett's Index of Artists, International - Biographical. New York: Peter Smith, 1948, 283 pp.
    10. 10. Hikada, Susan, Assistan Archivist, University of Southern California, Archival Research Center, Specialized Libraries and Archival Collections, University Archives, East Library 227, Los Angeles, California 90089-0189, by email and interview, February, 2003.
    11. 11. Excerpts from the book Nell Brooker Mayhew: Paintings on Paper by Alissa J. Anderson, 2003. (to be published March, 2004)

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