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 Standish Backus Jr  (1910 - 1989)

About: Standish Backus Jr


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Lived/Active: California/Michigan      Known for: landscape, marine genre and mural painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Standish Backus Jr
1910 (Detroit, Michigan)
1989 (Santa Barbara, California)


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Often Known For
landscape, marine genre and mural painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Detroit, Michigan to a wealthy family, Standish Backus studied watercolor while an architecture student at Princeton and at the University of Munich.   His formal art training was limited to a brief period of study with Eliot O'Hara.

In 1935, he moved to Santa Barbara, California and became active with the California Water Color Society.  During World War II, he was a combat artist* for the Navy in the Pacific, and in 1955 participated in Admiral Byrd's expedition to the South Pole.

In 1967, he designed the Pacific War Memorial mosaic mural for Corregidor Island in Manila Bay.  He was a California scene painter and member of the American Watercolor Society*.

He died in Santa Barbara.

Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Gordon McClelland and Jay Last, California Watercolors 1850-1970

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from California Watercolor:
Born in Detroit in 1910, Standish Backus graduated form Princeton University in 1933 with a degree in architecture.  He studied painting the following year at the University of Munich, and later took instruction with a watercolorist in Maine.  After his return from Europe, he settled in Santa Barbara, California, and worked full-time as an artist, developing in the style of the California watercolorists who were receiving national acclaim in the 1930s.

After being commissioned as an Ensign in the inactive Naval Reserve in 1940, Standish Backus became an active duty officer in 1941. During most of the war he was assigned to the Net and Boom Defenses, first in the South Pacific and then in Washington D.C.  In 1945 he was transferred to the Bureau of Naval Personnel to assist in establishing a special Graphic Presentation Unit.  Late in the War Standish Backus was assigned to cover operations in the Pacific as a Combat Artist. Backus received promotions throughout the war, attaining the rank of Commander before returning to civilian life in May 1946.

Returning to active duty, Backus accompanied Admiral Byrd to the Antarctica for four months in 1955-56 to record images of the exploration.  Labeled "Operation Deepfreeze", this expedition did preliminary work for the one in July 1956, which widely explored the Antarctic in commemoration of the Geophysical Year.

During the original exhibition of paintings from Operation Deepfreeze, Backus discussed why the Navy sends artist to cover Naval activities. "The Navy appreciates that the artist, in reporting his experiences, has the opportunity to convey to his audience a large sense of realization of a subject, the artist is obliged to contemplate the subject reflectively, seeking to penetrate beyond the surface of factual representation, in order to present the true nature of the experience."

After his work for the Navy was completed Backus returned to California and continued painting while also teaching at the University of California. As a dedicated member of his community, he served on the boards of several civic and arts organizations.  He died in Santa Barbara in 1989.

There are 72 works by Standish Backus in the collection whose source is the Naval Historical Center of the Department of the Navy.

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