Nell Brooker Mayhew Biography

Eucalyptus Grove, c. 1915

30 x 14 inches  |  etched monotype ("color etching")

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.

Videos

5:07 | Narrated by Jeremy Tessmer | Released for NELL BROOKER MAYHEW, In Quiet Communion, 2009

3:34 | Narrated by Susan Bush | Released for Nell Brooker Mayhew, A Delicate Resilience, 2011

3:15 | Narated by Jeremy Tessmer | Released for Nell Brooker Mayhew, 2016, 2016

2:15  |  Narrated by Jeremy Tessmer  |  Released for L.A. in S.B., 2016

2:46  |  Narrated by Jeremy Tessmer  |  Released for The Declarations of Independents, 2015

3:33  |  Narrated by Jeremy Tessmer  |  Released for Celebrating 30 Years of Art, 2014

2:45  |  Narrated by Jeremy Tessmer  |  Released for Collecting California, 2013

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ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK

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. 

 

AWARDS & AFFILIATIONS

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

 

COLLECTIONS

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

 

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.

 

CALIFORNIA COLOR ETCHINGS PERIOD (1910-1937)

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.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Hughes, Edan Milton. Artists in California, 1786-1940, II, p. 325. San Francisco: Hughes Publishing Company, 1989.
2. U.S. Census, Birth Date, Marriage Dates, Children, Death Date. Accessed through RootsWeb.com
3. Danely, Nellie. Alumni Record, Northwestern University, Library, Archives, 1895-1941.
4. Danely, Nellie. Northwestern University Record of Alumni Accomplishments, 2 pp., Undated, circa 1920.
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. Falk, Peter, et al. Who Was Who In American Art. CT: Sound View Press, 1999, 3724 pp.
7. Optiz, Glenn, ed. Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters.... Poughkeepsie: Apollo, 1986, Second Edition, p. 597
8. Dawdy, Doris Ostrander, Artists Of The American West, A Biographical Dictionary, Volume Two. Chicago: Sage Books, 1981, 188 pp.
9. Mallett, Daniel Trowbridge, Mallett's Index of Artists, International - Biographical. New York: Peter Smith, 1948, 283 pp.
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. Excerpts from the book Nell Brooker Mayhew: Paintings on Paper by Alissa J. Anderson, 2003. (to be published March, 2004)

EXHIBITIONS

2014  "Nell Brooker Mayhew: Paintings from the Estate", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA

2011  "Nell Brooker Mayhew: Delicate Resilience", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA

2009  "Nell Brooker Mayhew: In Quiet Communion", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA

2007  "Nell Brooker Mayhew: Selections from the Back Room", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA

2003  "Mission Paintings: By Nell Brooker Mahew", Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, CA

1935  National Gallery of Art (Smithsonian American Art Museum), Washington DC

1934  Women Painters of the West, Los Angeles

1931  Pasadena Art Institute, Pasadena, California

1930  California Art Club, Group Exhibition, LA, CA

1928  Pacific Southwest Exposition, Long Beach, California

1926  The Society of Independent Artists, New York, NY

1926  The National Arts Club, Exhibition of Living American Etchers, New York

1925  MacDowell Club, Los Angeles, CA

1924  Barker Brothers, Solo Exhibition LA, CA

1924  Donaldson Studio, Solo Exhibition, LA, CA

1923  Residence of W.C. Royer, 801 W. Oregon St, Urbana,IL

1922  22 oils & 22 color-etchings - Franklin Galleries, Hollywood, CA

1921 108 color etchings - Ambassador Hotel, New York

1921  94 color etchings - Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles

1921  Hollywood Art Shop, Solo Exhibition, Hollwwood, CA

1920  Pasadena Public Library, Solo Exhibition, Pasadena, CA

1919  Chicago Society of Etchers, Art Institute of Chicago

1916  Long Beach Memorial Library, Solo Exhibition, LB, CA

1915  Blanchard Gallery, Solo Exhibition, LA, CA

1913  Anderson Art Company, Chicago, IL

1912  Daniell Gallery, Solo Exhibition, LA, CA

1912  Blanchard Gallery, Solo Exhibition, LA, CA

1912  College of Fine Arts, USC, Los Angeles, California

1911  University of Southern California, Solo Exh., LA, CA

1910  University of Southern California, Solo Exh., LA, CA

1909  Medal Winner, Alaska-Yukon Expositon, Seattle, WA

1908  Blanchard Gallery, Solo Exhibition, LA, CA

1906  W.C. Pluck, Decatur, IL

1892  Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
 

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