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Louis Akin

 (1868 - 1913)
Louis Benton Akin was active/lived in Arizona, Oregon.  Louis Akin is known for southwest landscape and Hopi genre painting, illustration.

Louis Akin

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Louis Akin
Born in Portland, Oregon, Louis Akin is associated with Grand Canyon views as well as scenes from Hopi Indian life. He is likely the best known of the Arizona landscape painters in the early 20th century.

His family had emigrated from Iowa to Oregon in 1852. As a young man, he worked as a sign painter and then studied in New York City with William Merritt Chase and Frank DuMond. In 1901, "Harper's Weekly" published his illustrations," and in 1903, he was sent by Santa Fe Railway personnel to paint the Hopi Indians in Oraibi, Arizona. For eighteen months, he stayed in the Hopi Pueblo of Oraibi where he rented a room for seventy-five cents a week. By 1904, he had completed a series of Hopi paintings and, given the name "Mapli," he was initiated into their secret society. He also published an article sympathetic to their cultural conflicts with Anglo society and, going to New York for several years, tried to organize a colony of artists to paint the Hopi in Arizona.

However, his main objective in going to New York was to exhibit his work, which he did in a one-man show at Clausen Gallery on Fifth Avenue. It was well received by critics who were intrigued by the subject matter but thought his painting skills needed work. Soon after the Clausen exhibit, he returned to Arizona to live permanently, having terminated a romance with a woman who found another man and having been told the Southwestern climate would be good for his tubercular condition. He rented a studio apartment in Flagstaff in 1906, and shortly after completed a painting "El Tovar" at the Grand Canyon for the Santa Fe Railroad.

His most spectacular and widely distributed painting was"El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon," of 1907. Commissioned by the Railroad, it is a panoramic view of the newly completed El Tovar Hotel on the rim of the South Canyon with Hopi figures and a Mexican rider on the road. It became one of his most famous works and one of the best known paintings of the Southwest, widely reproduced on railroad posters.

Interestingly when he returned to Arizona, he turned away from Hopi Indians as his primary subjects to landscape painting where he focused on dramatic mountain views, immense canyons, and rock formations. During this time, some of his work including "The Oraibi Plaza" and "Storm Over the Grand Canyon" was reproduced and sold to tourists at Santa Fe Railroad stations.

Akin lived the last seven years of his life in Flagstaff where he had a studio at Babbitt Bros. store and slept on the floor. He was continually troubled by debt, and tiring of him not paying his bills, the El Tovar proprietor referred to him as a "hotel beat" (Babbitt "Color and Light"). Many friends including Santa Fe Railroad personnel loaned him money, and he determined to stir more interest in Grand Canyon paintings by making them panoramic and dramatic in the style of Albert Bierstadt.

Seeking new subject matter, he returned to Portland, Oregon, which stirred his interest in the Pacific Northwest. He took painting trips into Glacier National Park and the Fraser River area of British Columbia. In 1910, he married briefly, a Philadelphia girl named Mai Ritchie, who became his art student in Flagstaff. It was a painful, unhappy time for him, and he turned his energy to a commission for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to decorate its Southwest Indian room. He did a lot of sketching at the Hopi villages for the murals of which he completed twenty paintings of Pueblo Indian genre.

The last year of his life, 1912, he revisited many Indian villages and then prepared to go to New York to show his sketches from these visits to promote exhibitions. However, a few days before Christmas he became ill and shortly thereafter died of pneumonia. He is buried in the Flagstaff cemetery facing the San Francisco Peaks.

Biography from Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery
Louis Akin grew up in Portland, Oregon, the grandson of pioneers who had come to the West by way of the Oregon Trail.  Akin studied art in New York with William Merritt Chase and Frank Dumond before traveling to Arizona to paint the Hopi in 1903. The Hopi pieces were commercially successful and were reproduced as postcards and travel posters.

The initial appeal of Arizona to Akin was its climate, which helped him recover from tuberculosis, but the land grew on him so much, he spent most of the rest of his life there.  He lived in Flagstaff, on the Hopi reservation in Oraibi, and in the El Tovar Hotel on the south rim of the Grand Canyon.   While in Arizona, he was inducted into the Hopi's secret society and given the name "Mapli" upon finishing a series of paintings of the tribe.

The pieces were well-received in New York, and Akin's one-man show at Clausen Gallery on Fifth Avenue was an economic success and praised by critics. However, upon his return to Arizona, Akin turned away from Indian subject matter in favor of what he thought was a more saleable genre, that of the romantic landscape.  One of the first and certainly the best known of these pieces was El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon, a much-reproduced painting of the El Tovar Hotel with Hopi and Mexican figures in the foreground.  This piece found its way onto railroad posters, postcards and lithographs, and marks the peak of Akin's commercial success as an artist.

Several other of Akin's pieces were used in advertisements, as well, but debt and mental depression would mark the rest of his life.  In 1907 he moved to Flagstaff, where he had a studio at Babbitt Bros. store, sleeping on the floor at night.  He borrowed money from friends and began trying to paint detailed panoramic landscapes in the style of Albert Bierstadt.  He briefly and disastrously married and, aside from a trip to Glacier National Park and the Fraser River area of British Columbia, he was unable to find happiness in his life or work.

He did receive a major commission, however: a series of paintings to decorate the Southwest Indian Room of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. After finishing twenty oil sketches for the project, Akin contracted pneumonia a few days before Christmas, and a few days after the New Year, he died, cutting short a promising career.

Louis Akin was buried in the Flagstaff, Arizona cemetery.

Biography from Braarud Fine Art
Born near Corvallis, Oregon in 1868, Louis Akin was the grandson of pioneers who took the Oregon Trail west from Iowa in 1852. Raised in the Portland area, the painter spent time observing wildlife in the Cascade mountains before traveling to New York to study with William Merritt Chase and Frank Dumond.

Best known for his paintings of Hopi Indians and the Southwestern landscape, the artist made his first trip to Arizona in 1903, renting a room in a Hopi pueblo. Within a year, his paintings of the Hopi were being reproduced on postcards and travel posters, and his oils and watercolors were being sold to serious collectors.

Akin lived and worked for most of the next ten years in Arizona. Well-known contemporary Arizonan Bruce E. Babbitt wrote the most comprehensive biographical study of the artist (Color and Light: The Southwest Canvases of Louis Akin. Flagstaff: Northland Press. 1973), and his family were among Akin's staunchest friends and patrons. The artist's studio was for a time in the Babbit Bros. store in Flagstaff.

Akin made a painting trip to the Fraser River area of British Columbia in 1909. In 1911 he was commissioned to produce paintings for the new Southwest American Indian room at the American Museum of Natural History. He had completed twenty oil sketches toward that end when he died of pneumonia in 1913.

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About  Louis Akin

Born:  1868 - Portland, Oregon
Died:   1913 - Flagstaff, Arizona
Known for:  southwest landscape and Hopi genre painting, illustration

Essays referring to
Louis Akin

Painters of Grand Canyon