Jul 312017
 

Watercolorist, etcher and illustrator Elbridge Gerry Peirce Jr., more usually known simply as Gerry Peirce, was born in Jamestown, New York on 3 June 1900 and died in Tucson, Arizona, on 16 March 1969.

Peirce visited Ajijic in the mid-1940s, and may have been there more than once since he is known to have made several trips to Mexico. His visit to Ajijic, believed to be in 1945, was recorded by American author Neill James who had settled in the village a year or two previously: “Gary Pierce [sic], director of an art school in New Mexico, visited our village and executed many delicate water colors and engravings.” (Modern Mexico, October 1945). Despite the misspelling, and the fact that the art school that he directed was actually in Arizona, there is absolutely no doubt that James was writing about Gerry Peirce. Sadly, the whereabouts of his paintings and engravings of Ajijic remain a mystery.

Peirce graduated from the Cleveland School of Art (now the Cleveland Institute of Art) in 1925, and also studied at the Art Student’s League in New York City. He married his childhood sweetheart, Priscilla, and the couple moved to Nova Scotia, Canada, where Peirce began to execute etchings and engravings.

Gerry Peirce. Desert Rock. Undated.

Gerry Peirce. Desert Rock. Undated.

After Canada, Peirce and his wife lived and worked in New Orleans. His time in New Orleans is particularly noteworthy because he was one of the co-organizers and charter members of the New Orleans Art League in December 1929. The other organizers were Harry Armstrong Nolan (1891-1929), Gideon Townsend Stanton (1885-1964), William Weeks Hall (1895-1958) and Henry Costello. By coincidence, Gideon Townsend Stanton also had close family links to Chapala: his maternal grandparents had a holiday home there for several years at the very end of the nineteenth century.

This early dry point, The Cat, is one of several dry points gifted by Peirce to the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1934:

Gerry Peirce. The Cat. 1932. Credit: Cleveland Museum of Art.

Gerry Peirce. The Cat. 1932. Credit: Cleveland Museum of Art.

In the early 1930s, during the Great Depression, Peirce and his wife lived in various places, including Florida, Cuba, Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, where Peirce established a commercial art studio, producing cards for Cartier and Tiffany & Co. Later, the Peirces moved to Colorado and began to spend winters in Arizona, eventually making their home in Tucson, Arizona, in the mid-1930s. Peirce opened an atelier (“The Print Room”) in Tucson in 1934 and continued to produce wonderful dry point engravings. He also turned his hand to books.

Writing as “Percival Stutters”, Peirce wrote and illustrated at least two children’s books: How Percival Caught the Tiger (1936) and How Percival Caught the Python (1937), both published by Holiday House. Peirce also drew the black and white illustrations for Plants of Sun and Sand: The Desert Growth of Arizona, which had short texts by Stanford Stevens and was published by The Print Room, Tucson, in 1939. The original edition of that particular book is highly distinctive since it had a plywood cover.

Gerry Peirce. Untitled watercolor. Unknown date.

Gerry Peirce. Untitled watercolor. Unknown date.

At about this time, a sketching trip with Stevens turned out to have a momentous impact on Peirce’s subsequent art career. As Peirce later recalled:

One day I was looking at a scene Stan was doing and wondered why he had picked out that particular spot. Why paint that I asked? His reply, “Because it has such a beautiful color,” jolted me right out of everything I’d been doing for the past twelve years. I realized that I was no longer seeing a landscape with its colors, but in terms of the black and white of etchings. I saw that even my etchings were becoming flat no longer suggesting the color of things.”

Though he never stopped producing his exquisite engravings, after Peirce picked up a brush and watercolors, he never looked back. He soon gained recognition as one of the country’s leading watercolorists. He was also a fine teacher and his studio-classroom attracted students from all across the country. In 1947, the Tucson Watercolor Guild was organized to provide a permanent studio and classroom space for Peirce to continue his work. His teaching career was curtailed by a heart attach in 1967.

In later life, Peirce wrote two non-fiction works: Creative You (The Print Room, 1954) and Painting the southwest landscape in watercolor (Reinhold Pub. Corp., 1961).

Peirce’s timeless portrayals of the Arizona desert and his tireless efforts to help others see the beauty he saw helped shape Tucson into the artistic center of Arizona.

From Arizona, Peirce made several sorties into Mexico. The wonderful collection of prints, published by The Print Room in 1969 as The drawings of Mexico, included images of San Miguel de Allende; Marfil and La Valenciana (both in Guanajuato); and of Tzintzuntzan (Michoacán). By this time, Peirce was no longer completing watercolors en plein air but was making quick pencil sketches or rapid watercolor impressions in the field to serve as memory aids for his final paintings done back in the studio.

A contemporary reviewer described the collection as “a portfolio of reproductions of pencil drawings made by Gerry Peirce in Mexico, a country he visits frequently and understands. This understanding and his affection for the country and its people are reflected in every sensitive line and shading of these outstanding drawings.”

Gerry Peirce. Nogales hillside. Undated.

Gerry Peirce. Nogales hillside. Undated.

Peirce was a frequent exhibitor wherever he lived and a member of the Society of American Etchers, the Chicago Society of Etchers, and the California Print Makers. Note that the oft-repeated claim in contemporary newspaper accounts that Peirce had been awarded an honorary doctorate in art by “St. Andrews University College in London” can not be substantiated since there is no record of any institution of that name, though it is possible that Peirce was granted an honorary degree by St. Andrew’s University in Scotland.

Peirce’s work is in numerous museums including The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Harvard’s Fogg Museum; the Boston Museum of Fine Art; the Library of Congress; Joslyn Museum, Omaha, Nebraska; the J.P. Speed Memorial Museum (now Speed Art Museum) in Louisville, Kentucky; Denver Art Museum; Arizona Museum of Art; Tucson Museum of Art; the Mobile Museum of Art; Cleveland Museum of Art; University of Arizona Art Museum; and the New Mexico Museum of Art.

In 1980, more than a decade after Peirce’s death, a retrospective exhibition of his watercolors and etchings was held at the Kay Bonfoey Studio and Gallery in Tucson. Bonfoey, one of his former students, had purchased the adobe-and-redwood building that had formerly been Peirce’s studio and classroom space after his death to run her own gallery, and to continue the legacy of the Tucson Watercolor Guild. Interviewed at the time, Bonfoey said that Peirce was:

… a unique human being. He wasn’t just a teacher of art, he was a philosopher, a thinker. No two classes were ever the same, the explorations were always different, always … well, awesome. He constantly looked into the relationship between nature and art. Nature was the base for everything he saw in his paintings, in other people’s work, in life around him.”

A fitting tribute to one of America’s great twentieth-century watercolorists.

Sources:

  • Arizona Highways Magazine. 1945. “Gerry Peirce”. Volume 21, 1945.
  • Art Life magazine. “Biography of Gerry Peirce”. Art Life magazine.
  • Arnold Elliott. 1951. Tucson Festival of the Arts, Exhibition Catalogue, March 25-April 8, 1951.
  • Judith H. Bonner. 2011. “New Orleans Art League.” Article dated 23 May 2011 in Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. (Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities).
  • Peter H. Falk (ed). 1985. Who was who in American art, 1564-1975.
  • Neill James. 1945. “I live in Ajijic”, in Modern Mexico, October 1945.
  • John Peck. 1980. “Late artist Peirce comes home.” Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), 11 May 1980, p 75.
  • Peggy and Harold Samuels. 1985. Encyclopedia of Artists of The American West. Castle Books.
  • Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona). 15 October 1960, p 12; 1 September 1965, p 15; 13 August 1966, p 29; 17 March 1969, p 22 (obituary).
  • Warren Times Mirror (Warren, Pennsylvania), 11 December 1934, p 5; 11 March 1939, p 2; 1 August 1939, p 8; 16 March 1949, p 4.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Oct 202016
 

Richard D. Yip is included in the large group of artists associated with Lake Chapala on the strength of a painting entitled “Facade, Chapala, Mexico” which he exhibited in the All Southern California Art Exhibit in Long Beach, California in 1952. Sadly, beyond that, I have managed to find nothing more relating to his visit or visits to Lake Chapala.

Yip was born in Canton, China, in 1919. He emigrated from China to the U.S. in 1931. After completing high school, he studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. After serving as a gunner and radioman on a B-24 in the U.S. Air Force during the second world war, he returned to California and settled in Stockton, where he studied at the College (later University) of the Pacific in Stockton for his B.A. and at the University of California at Berkeley for his Masters degree. Yip was the first Chinese person to receive American citizenship because of military service.

Richard Yip. San Rafael. 1944.

Richard Yip. San Rafael. 1944.

By early 1947, Yip was living and working with fellow artist Craig Sharp on a yacht, the Lassen, in Sausalito harbor. Yip was already working in watercolors and held solo shows which attracted positive reviews. Later that year he left California to return to China to see his family and study art there. He visited various cities and amassed a body of work that he brought back to California with him in 1948.

While in China, Yip married a girl named Lae. The couple’s first child, daughter Pak Mui (“White Blossom”), named after a boat Yip had admired in Sausalito harbor, was born aboard ship en route back to San Francisco. Perhaps not surprisingly, U.S. immigration officials initially denied entry to the mother, who spoke no English, and daughter, but they were eventually allowed to remain and were able to join Yip and other members of his family in Stockton.

Yip hoped to show some of his work at the state fair in Sacramento in September 1948.

Presumably, it is at this stage of his career that Yip spent some time in Mexico, including a visit to Chapala where he painted “Facade, Chapala, Mexico”.

Yip taught art at the University of the Pacific in Stockton for many years and led many plein air painting workshops. By 1955, the promotional material for one of these workshops describes Yip, the instructor, as a “California watercolorist who has studied, painted and exhibited throughout the United States, Mexico, Europe and China.”

Yip maintained links to Sausalito and spent many summers painting in Marin, where he was a member of, and gave talks to, the Marin Society of Artists. He was also a long-time member of the California Water Color Society.

By 1961, the build-up to a talk by Yip on “some of the trends in contemporary art” says that Yip “has conducted painting classes at the College of the Pacific, Stockton College, the annual Monterery Peninsula Painting Tours, Death Valley Tours, Marin County, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, the East Bay, Phoenix, Arizona, Sacramento, San Jose and other places for the past 12 years.” By that time, his work had appeared in several national publications, and his watercolors had won various national and international awards. Yip was also elected a Life Member of the International Institute of Arts and Letters of Switzerland.

It appears that Yip retired from college teaching at about this time, though he continued to lead painting tours, including at least one to Mexico in 1963. (In January 1964, another Stockton artist, Marjorie Tanner, gave a talk to Lodi Art Club about the tour, led by Richard Yip, she had undertaken in Mexico.

Richard Yip died in 1981. Several works by Yip have been sold at auction in recent years, including ‘The Red Church’ sold at Bonhams, Los Angeles, in 2011.

Sources:

  • Independent Press-Telegram, Long Beach, California, 9 March 1952, Page 8.
  • Gordon T. McClelland and Jay T. Last. “California Watercolors 1850-1970”.
  • CalART.com. Richard D. Yip (Biography from CalART.com), based on interview with Roy Yip, 1985.
  • Daily Independent Journal, San Rafael, California, 21 February 1955, Page 8
  • Sausalito News, 3 June 1948; 11 May 1957
  • Lodi News-Sentinel, 11 Feb 1961; 13 Jan 1964

Other Sausalito artists associated with Lake Chapala:

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

May 262016
 

Catalan artist and writer Avel-lí Artís-Gener, who often signed his art simply “Tisner”, left Spain for exile in Mexico following the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). He lived in Mexico for 25 years, and visited and painted Lake Chapala in the early 1940s.

Tisner was born in Barcelona, Spain, on 28 May 1912 and died in that city on 7 May 2000.

Tisner. 1953.

Tisner. Untitled. 1953.

Artís-Gener exhibited numerous times in Mexico City. His work was included in a group show for the 4th National Floriculture Exhibition in May 1945, and a painting entitled “Chapala” featured in his third solo exhibit in Mexico City in the first half of September 1946, in the vestibule of the Cine Mageriti.

Artís-Gener has another interesting link to Chapala. One of his students for watercolor classes was Conrado Contreras, who has since produced, among other works of art, numerous fine watercolors of the Lake Chapala area. Contreras and his wife (poet, writer and educator Zaida Cristina Reynoso) moved to Chapala with their two young children in 1975, and have lived here ever since.

As a young man in Spain, Tisner had articles and cartoons published in a variety of media, including El Be Negre, Mercantil, l’Opinió, La Rambla, Esport i ciutadania and La Publicitat.

At the start of the Spanish Civil War, Tisner received death threats and fled to Paris. Soon after, he joined the Republican Army and returned to fight. During the war, Tisner edited Meridià, Amic and Vèncer, magazines written for the combatants.

During his time in Mexico (from 1940), Tisner worked as a journalist, cartoonist and scenery designer for Mexico City’s Channel 4, as well as working in publicity and as an editor. He retained close links with other exiles from the Catalan community. His cartoons appeared in Full Català, Quaderns de l’Exili, Revista de Refugiats d’Amèrica, Lletres, Pont Blau, Tele-revista, La Nostra Revista (founded by his father), and its successor La Nova Revista, founded by the artist himself.

Tisner took particular interest in Mexico’s pre-Hispanic past, which was the motivation behind his best known book, Paraules d’Opòton el Vell (1968). Other works written by Tisner (he almost always wrote in Catalan), include 556 Brigada Mixta (1945); Prohibida l’evasió (1969); L’Enquesta del Canal 4 (1973); Les nostres coses (1978); Els gossos d’Acteó (1983); and Ciris trencats (La Campana.

tisner-portraitIn 1965, Tisner returned to Catalonia, where he worked initially as a journalist for the daily El Correo Catalán, and later became deputy director of the Catalan weekly Tele/Estel. In 1970 he translated Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad into Catalan. During his later years, he worked for a large number of different newspapers and magazines, including Avui, El Periódico, Catalunya Informació, L’Avenç, Serra d’Or, Canigó, Cultura, El Triangle, El Món, Presència, and Espais mediterranis.

Tisner was politically active in the 1980s, and in 1988 received the Creu de Sant Jordi, one of the highest civil distinctions awarded in Catalonia. He also won a City of Barcelona prize for Catalan prose. He was a founding member of the Association of Catalan Language Writers, and the group’s president from 1990 to 1994.

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

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