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Mount Shasta as a Visual Resource

Women Artists of Mount Shasta: 1860s-1930s

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The majority of professional artists to paint at Mount Shasta were men, and their number alone overshadows the fact that there was a significant group of women artists as well. This chapter of the book places women artists of both the 19th and early 20th centuries together in order to emphasize the fact that women artists had many opportunities in the early California art world. An essay by art historian Raymond Wilson states that:

California's women artists shared the same opportunities as did their male counterparts and accepted the same risks and rewards of that fragile profession. They attended the same art schools here and abroad; they exhibited at the same locales including that venerable all-male bastion, the Bohemian club; and they competed for the same honors where their talent was judged by the same standards.

California's women artists served as teachers and professors of art and as art-jury members at some of the most important public exhibitions in the West. Other California women performed as newspaper art critics, gallery owners, and museum administrators. There were also influential women collectors and patrons. In fact, it would be hard to name any role in California art in which women did not play a prominent part.191

Helen Tanner Brodt (1838-1908)

Helen Tanner Brodt is considered to be "One of early California's finest and earliest artists."192 She moved to Red Bluff in 1863 from New York City, where she had been trained in art at the National Academy of Design. In Red Bluff she painted landscapes, portraits, china, ranch scenes and also taught art at the public school. She climbed Mount Lassen in 1864, being the first white women to do so - Lake Helen of Mount Lassen is named after her.* She taught art in Oakland in 1867 and gave Arthur Matthews his first art lessons. Matthews later would develop what is called the California Decorative style, which dominated arts and crafts in California during the turn of the century. Mrs. Brodt exhibited her art at the Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893. Two of Mrs. Brodt's pastels of Mount Shasta are in the collection of the Bancroft library.

Mount Shasta by Helen Tanner Brodt courtesy Bancroft Library.
Helen Tanner Brodt (1838-2908).Mount Shasta Viewed through Trees
Courtesy Bancroft Library.

*The Lake Helen on Mount Lassen was named for Helen Brodt. To avoid confusion, it should be stated that the Lake Helen on Mount Shasta was named by local Mount Shasta artist and mountaineerEdward Stuhl in honor of a climb of Shasta accomplished together with the beautiful and athletic Helen Wheeler, who was his friend and the former owner of a large tract of McCloud property.

Alice Matilda Reading (1859-1939)

The artist Alice M. Reading, daughter of the most important early pioneer of Shasta County, California, grew up on the 27,000 acre rancho known as Rancho Buena Ventura. This rancho, established in 1844 by her father, Pierson B. Reading, would later become the site of the townships of Redding, Anderson, and Cottonwood. Not only was the rancho the northernmost Spanish land grant in California, but it was also on those acres that Mr. Reading discovered gold, in 1848. The news of that discovery quickly attracted thousands of Forty-Niners to the gold location which went by the name of Shasta. (Confusing as it may be, the historic town of Shasta, three miles west of Redding, was, and still is, a full sixty miles from the mountain of the same name.)

Mount Lassen by Alice Reading. Courtesy Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, California.
Lassen Peak and the Rancho Buenaventura by Alice Reading.
Courtesy Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, California.

Alice Reading was born just ten years after the Gold Rush, and she experienced a childhood full of the legacy of those early gold rush days. As a principal member of the region's most important family, she was in contact with the most educated and cultured people of the Redding region. In fact, one of the family's closest friends was the noted early California artist, Helen Tanner Brodt, who had come from New York City to reside in the nearby town of Red Bluff.

When Pierson B. Reading died in 1868, Alice Reading left the area with her mother and moved to the Atlantic Coast, to Virginia. Perhaps it was the influence of Helen Brodt, or someone else, but nonetheless Alice Reading trained to become a professional artist at two of the better art schools in the country: the Art Students League in N.Y.C. and at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.C. Miss Reading then became a noted portrait painter, and was particularly good at making portraits of historical figures from photographs. Her works include likenesses of prominent West Coast figures such as Pierson B. Reading and General John Bidwell, and of Civil War martyrs and heroes like John Brown. Her portraits can be found in California at the Redding Museum and at the Bidwell Mansion, and in Virginia at the Gallery of the Virginia Historical Society.

Around 1920, after a lapse of over forty years, Alice Reading returned to live in the area of her early home. For nearly two decades she lived in Redding, and painted scenes of Northern California. Her known works includes views of Mount Lassen, Castle Crags, Scott Valley, and other local views of unidentified buildings.

Civic-minded, she was not only present at the first ever meeting of the Shasta Historical Society, but was also instrumental in the founding of that organization. May Hazel Southern, author of the 1942 Shasta County history Our Storied Landmarks, says in the introduction:

Directly linked with the pioneer history of Shasta County, Miss Alice M. Reading, daughter of Major Pierson B. Reading, and the writer have often met and deplored the fast disappearing landmarks and historical lore with which Shasta County is so richly endowed.

In 1929, The Sacramento Regional Citizen's Council organized a History and Landmarks Committee of the State Chamber of Commerce under the title of The Trails of '49'. Miss Reading and the writer, who had been in Sacramento, decided that the Redding Chamber of Commerce was the place to go to arouse public interest in the reminders of the days of gold in Shasta County.193

Mrs. Southern and Miss Reading thus banded together with like-minded individuals and formed an organization dedicated to preserving the heritage of the Redding region.

Eleanor Lee Templeman (1906-1990)

Granddaughter of Pierson Barton Reading, she was an active artist, photographer, and writer. She moved from Shasta County in the 1940s to Virginia where she became a noted local historian. Eleanor wrote a letter to Hazel (Southern?) dated August 30, 1988 explaining her background:

I was born Nov. 18th, 1906, and lived in Redding until Sept 1st, 1928. I was a professional Commercial Artist, taking a three year commercial art course in Washington in nine months, and was employed as Staff Artist at National Headquarters of the Amer. Auto Assn., from June 1st 1929 for five years. I then went to U.S. Geological Survey as a Principal Scientific Illustrator for eleven years until I retired to raise my son. I continued to do free-lance art work for a number of years. I won a number of prizes for my tempera paintings of scenes. Part of my free-lance work was for the National Geographic.

Castle Crags by Eleanor Templeman. Courtesy Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, California.
Castle Crags by Eleanor Lee Templeman.
Courtesy Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, California.

Mabel Moores Frisbee (1883-1979)

Mabel Frisbee was one of the best known artists in Shasta County. Her formal art education was at the highly regarded College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, though undoubtedly the classical education of Latin, English Literature and Ancient History (which was taught to selected students of Shasta High School's first graduating class and of which she was a member) contributed to her success as an artist.194

She was the daughter of George and Nettie Lowdon, one of Shasta County's pioneer families. Known for her tremendous energy and determination, she worked to support her parents and daughter after the death of her first husband. Her art was mostly a hobby but she sold her work too, especially in the era after the Depression.

Mount Shasta by Mabel Frisbee courtesy Shasta College.
Mount Shasta by Mabel Frisbee.
Courtesy Shasta College.

She was a lifelong resident of the Redding area, and in 1973 the California Historical Society in San Francisco published a book devoted to her drawings of the old Shasta City. Entitled Shasta, the Queen City the text was written by her daughter, Jean Moores Beauchamp. Mrs. Frisbee's watercolors and drawings are to be found throughout Northern California, in public and private collections including those of Shasta College, the Redding Art Museum, and the Shasta State Park Historical Museum.

She lived a full life of 95 years in which she was a founding member of the Redding Museum and Art Center, an editor of the Shasta Historical Society's annual publications, a member of the Shasta County Grand Jury, and a director of the Shasta Historical Society.

Eliza Rosanna Barchus (1857-1959)

Photograph of Eliza Barchus from Agnes Barchus.  Eliza R. Barchus:  The Oregon Artist, 1857-1959.  Portland:  Binford and Mort, 1974.

In 1884 Eliza Barchus began taking art lessons from William Parrott, the foremost artist in Portland at the time. He did not let his students actually paint, they could only watch him paint, and somehow the method worked. By the turn of the century Eliza Barchus was the best known painter in the Northwest; she had won many awards, had exhibited at the National Academy in New York, and supported a large family by her efforts alone. Theodore Roosevelt placed one of her paintings in the White House, and Woodrow Wilson bought another. Throughout her career she continued to paint scenes almost exactly as she had seen William Parrott do, with the same characteristic pinkish-grey skies, and with the same delicate lakes and forests in the foreground. Mountains and waterfalls of the west were her subjects. Eliza Barchus lived to be one hundred and two years old and passed away in 1959.

In 1934 she said:

I painted and sold hundreds of hundreds of oil paintings of Mount Hood, Mount Shasta, the Three Sisters, Crater Lake, Multinomah Falls and Mount Rainier, as well as the beauty spots of Alaska, the Yellowstone, the Yosemite, and other scenes of the west. But somehow or other the business instinct does not seem to go with the artistic instinct, and while I have had the joy of creation, those who have handled my work have usually made the most of the money. I presume I have painted several thousand pictures of Mount Hood and of other beauty spots of Oregon and bring tourists here to see the originals of my paintings.195

Mount Shasta, 1912 by Eliza Barchus. From: Barchus, Agnes. Eliza R. Barchus, The Oregon Artist. Binford & Mort, 1974.
Mount Shasta, 1912 by Eliza Barchus.
20 x 30 inches.
From: Barchus, Agnes. Eliza R. Barchus, The Oregon Artist. Binford & Mort, 1974.

She meant, of course, that after seeing her paintings, people want to come and see the actual mountains themselves. Her paintings of Mount Shasta are problematic, because she was consistently inaccurate in portraying the topography of the mountain; she preferred to make it one cone with a split down its middle. Anyone who knows Mount Shasta would be puzzled by her portrayal of the mountain in this way, but after all she did sell them and was successful at it.

Grace Fountain (1857-1942)

Grace Fountain was born in Yreka, California , 30 miles north of Mount Shasta. She moved to Ashland, Oregon, while still a young girl, and began painting at age twenty-four. Later she became a professional painter in Portland, and maintainedher own studio there during the 1880s. Approximately forty of her Northwest landscape paintings have been sold in recent years by one Portland auction house alone.196

She lived in Oakland, California from 1907 until 1942, and during that time created artworks of many locales, including Crater Lake, Oregon (1927), and Mount Shasta (1934). Her work was shown in the 1920s at the Oakland Art Gallery.

Grace Fountain was 77 years old in 1934 when she painted the very large, seven foot high by six foot wide oil on canvas painting of Mount Shasta. Such huge and bold paintings like Fountain's Mount Shasta landscapes are very unusual even of younger aged women artists, and as such Mrs. Fountain must have been a remarkable woman.

Mount Shasta by Grace Fountain. Courtesy Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, California.
Mount Shasta by Grace Fountain.
Courtesy Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, California.

The method she used to compose her Mount Shasta painting is also unusual but effective. She took a small but complete view of Castle Crags and placed it directly in the middle of the painting, in front of the mountain; this made Mount Shasta seem to loom so high over all else. The Sacramento River was added to the foreground and the composite picture gives a bird's eye-view of the Mount Shasta region that inspires awe and admiration in the viewer. It is precisely that awe and admiration of Mount Shasta that is so difficult to capture and compress onto a two dimensional piece of canvas or paper. The large size of her painting goes a long way to impress upon the viewer that the real mountain is also very big.

Gertrude A. Brooks (active during the 1920s)

Very little information is available on the life of Gertrude Brooks. She lived in Alameda and Glendale, California during the 1920s and 1930s. She was a landscape painter who had exhibited at the Oakland Art Gallery in 1928. The artist Grace Fountain also exhibited in the same year at the Oakland Art Gallery. Possibly both women were part of an exhibition called 'California Women Artist' held at the Oakland Gallery in 1927 and which most likely continued on into the next year.

Mount Shasta by Gertrude Brooks. Courtesy Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, California.
Mount Shasta by Gertrude Brooks.
Courtesy Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, California.

Although probably painted in the 1920s, a small oil painting of Mount Shasta by Gertrude Brooks is reminiscent of paintings done by other artists during the California art boom of the 1870s. The composition of the scene - canyon, small horseback rider, and mountain - plus the texture and color of the paints, indicate either that the artist was influenced by an earlier generation of painters, or that the painting was done before the turn of the century.

Una Gray (? - 1930)

Una Gray was a painter of northern California landscapes who specialized in scenes of Mount Shasta. One of her paintings is titled Mount Shasta, California - The Majestic Range at Night's Fall. She was actively painting in the 1890s. No other information about her is readily available.

Marion Kavanagh Wachtel (1876-1954)

Mount Shasta by Marion Wachtel. One of the premier women artists of California in the early 20th Century, Pasadena resident Marion Kavanagh Wachtel was a watercolorist not by choice. It is generally accepted that she painted in watercolors because she did not want to compete commercially with her husband, the equally famous artist Elmer Wachtel. Whatever the reason, after her husband's death she did paint in oils. Her one known Mount Shasta oil painting, circa 1932, has written on its back: "Painted for my mother Mrs. Greer by Marion Wachtel in California. The original label said it was Mount Shasta and was painted in 1932 on the occasion of mother's 50th birthday: Mrs. Wachtel was a good friend and neighbor. Nancy Greer 1952" [Quotation on back of painting from: Ebay auction ending 10-31-01 Item # 1478091882]. Marion Wachtel was highly regarded not only because of her sensitive feeling for the land but also because of her and her husband's desire to really put in the time exploring California, by car and by foot. This intimate knowledge of the land enabled them to find and be inspired by a wealth of locales.

Mount Shasta by Marion Wachtel.
Detail of Mount Shasta painting (shown above) by Marion Kavanagh Wachtel.
From E-Bay auction ending 10-31-01. Item # 1478091882.

[191] Wilson. p. 3.

[192] Hughes. p. 64.

[193] Southern. p. 7.

[194] Biographical sketch from the program for a testimonial dinner given for Mabel Frisbie on April 22, 1970.

[195] Barchus. p. 5.

[196] Per phone conversation with O'Gallerie, Inc., a Portland auction house.


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