Edmund Yaghjian 1905–1997
Edmund Yaghjian was born in Harpoot, Armenia in 1905 and died in South Carolina in 1997. He immigrated with his family to Providence, Rhode Island in 1907. At an early age, he knew he wanted to be an artist. In 1926, Edmund won a scholarship to study at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he graduated with a BFA in 1930.
Upon graduation in 1930, Yaghjian moved to New York and enrolled at the Art Students League. At the league, Yaghjian studied with John Sloan and Stuart Davis. Like Sloan and other artists of the Ashcan school, Yaghjian concentrated on naturalistic depictions of the city, emphasizing commonplace activity as well as the vitality and distinctiveness of urban life in the 30's.
Yaghjian left the Art Students League to briefly teach at the University of Missouri. In 1945, he was hired by the University of South Carolina in 1945 as head of the Department of Fine Arts. He was instrumental, with teachers Augusta Witkowsky and Catherine Rembert, in bringing a level of professionalism to the department and encouraging the development of the arts in the community and across the region. As in New York, he fell in love with the real life scenes of Columbia, and was drawn to scenes of everyday, vernacular life in his paintings. Yaghjian served in that position until 1966, when he was named USC’s first artist-in-residence. Among his students are Jasper Johns and the well-known mural artist, Blue Sky, as well as Bill Poulos of Rice University.
"I call myself a painter, only time will tell if I am an artist".
Yaghjian's distinguished career was filled with notable awards and exhibitions. Among the museums that showed his work are the Metropolitan and the Whitney in New York, the Corcoran and the National Gallery in Washington, DC, the Butler Institute of Art in Cleveland, OH, and the Pennsylvania Academy in Philadelphia. He has had one-man shows at the Kraushaar Gallery in New York City; Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC; Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, SC; Telfair Academy, Savannah, GA; and the Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, SC, among others. He was the catalyst behind the foundation of the Artists Guild of Columbia and the Guild of South Carolina Artists.
"Mr. Yaghjian has employed the local scene and his paintings furnish interesting examples of familiar subject matter with original approach and treatment. He achieves an unusual combination of primitive and sophisticated technique. The trees, for instance, are all reduced to the geometric forms, especially in the handling of buildings. "Humor invades the whole show and a lively interest in folk customs and characteristics. There are a number of abstractions, but we feel that the artist is primarily interested in interpreting the scene around him and its adaptation to contemporary expression."
March 1953, Savannah Morning News: Exhibition Telfair Academy, Savannah, GA