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Eliza Barchus

 (1857 - 1959)
Eliza Rosanna Lamb Barchus was active/lived in Oregon, California, Kansas.  Eliza Barchus is known for mountain landscape painting.

Eliza Barchus

Biography from the Archives of askART

The following biography was written by Charles Muehleck in conjunction with "Eliza R. Barchus, A Treasured Oregon Artist", a retrospective exhibit held 5/1 10/31/02 at the Pittock Mansion, Portland Oregon. Reprinted with permission of the author.


Eliza Rosanna Lamb was born into the life of the raw Wild West in 1857. Her family generally led a nomadic life, frequently moving from town to town by wagon in search of work. For a period of time, her stepfather (her father died soon after she was born) led a colorful life as a US Deputy Marshal under "Wild Bill" Hickok. While a harsh childhood environment to be raised in, she learned the value of hard work, and which she would draw upon throughout her later life. In 1880, at the age of 22, she moved to Portland, Oregon, with her second new husband, John Barchus. Why Portland? That is unknown, but we are grateful that she did!

Settling in Portland was her first opportunity to lay down roots. It is likely that she had always dreamed of being an artist. Now, her husband likely gave her the encouragement and resources she needed to fulfill that desire. So in 1884 Barchus took what were probably her only lessons in painting. While Portland already supported several instructors of art, she chose to study under William S. Parrott, likely because she admired his work, both in subject matter - local landscape - and artistic style. She adopted many of his methods, resulting in her early work being quite similar to his. Even today, 'Barchus school' or 'Parrott school' are frequently used terms to describe paintings by turn-of-the-century Oregon artists that align with their style.

Within two years of her first lesson, Eliza commenced upon an art career that would ultimately span 50 years. In fact, by 1886 she had become an art instructor herself, advertised in The Oregonian daily newspaper that she had opened painting classes for young women, offering them at the "reduced rate of 50 cents" per lesson.

She also began submitting her work at local art fairs, including the Annual Portland Mechanics Fair held each fall. A newspaper reference of "Mrs. Barchus's (sic) specimens will be seen at the fair" indicates that she participated in the 1886 Fair. However, it was not until the next year that she hit gold earning the top prize for one of her landscape paintings!  She was justifiably proud of her accomplishment.  She later had the dime-size medal incorporated into a necklace, which can be seen in early photographs of the artist.  In 1888 she was again recognized for her entries at the Fair with a silver medal.

With back-to-back medal honors, and local encouragement, Barchus decided to submit an entry to National Academy of Design's 1890 fall show in New York City.  In route to the exhibition, Barchus had a chance encounter in Chicago with Henry Pittock (who later built the Pittock Mansion).  He gave her encouragement for her journey and wish of success. At 32 years of age and just six years after starting her career, Barchus had now exhibited at one of America's most prestigious art association.

While Barchus was establishing herself as an artist, family commitments were also growing. Two children were born in the early 1890's, which undoubtedly demanded her maternal attention. Additionally, her husband's health began to deteriorate from Brights disease (a kidney ailment), and he died in 1899. Therefore, her talent in painting soon became the sole livelihood for the family.

At a time when most women did not work, Barchus became a very adept and enterprising businesswoman. Remarkably, starting in 1891, she arranged for six homes to be built for her family in over a span of about twenty years. Construction costs were frequently paid by barter of her paintings rather than cash. Four of these southeast Portland homes are still in use today.

Her savvy was not limited to domestic activities. She was a keeper of a downtown Portland art studio during this period. Her first studio was in the prominent Dekum building and later moved to the Multnomah building. Additionally, she arranged to have examples of her work displayed at other business establishments, including the local cigar & newspaper concessionaire B.B. Rich in at the famous Portland Hotel when it opened in 1890.

With the growing need to support a family, and to assure enough supply of paintings for her flourishing tourist sales, Barchus began to produce standard sizes of popular northwest scenery in assembly-line type fashion. A collection of similarly unfinished paintings illustrate that she would work on ten or more paintings of a single scene at the same time: first painting the sky, then the background, and then moving toward the foreground with various layers of paint, likely letting each previous effort dry before beginning the next. She now reduced the detail elements that her earlier paintings had and a the "'Barchus'" style developed appeared in her work. Popular scenes included the tremendous geologic formations of the region: local mountains (Mount Hood, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Three Sisters), Multnomah Falls, Rooster Rock and Crater Lake.

At arguably the peak of her career, Portland played host to the world with the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition and Oriental Fair. Barchus obtained a concessionaire's booth to sell paintings in the fair grounds. In anticipation, she had color reproductions of her paintings printed that were offered at the fair for a seemingly high price of 75 cents (an original painting could be purchased for $3.50). These lithographs later evolved into successful postcard sales for many years afterwards. At the end of the Fair, Barchus again earned recognition by being awarded a the gold medal for the best collection of paintings of Pacific Coast scenery.

Helen Barchus was primarily a studio painter and used photographs or literary descriptions as the source of many of her compositions. However, she did enjoy to traveling and such trips tended to be for the purpose of painting. The normal output of such a trip for an artist would typically be sketches that would later be used to complete finished oils upon return to the studio. However, it does not appear that Barchus produced sketches as none have been located. Therefore, it can be assumed that she completed paintings while on these trips, which she used for subsequent paintings. (This would explain the large variety of scenery still intact in the artist's collection at the time she finally laid down her brushes and pallet in the mid 1930's.) Leaving her children behind, she traveled to New York City (1890), Glacier National Park and Yellowstone Park (1901), Alaska (1913), and Yosemite (1914), each of which resulted in fresh scenery for her to paint.

Remarkably, Barchus found time for leisurely pursuits. One was writing poetry. These covered a variety of topics, including war, friendship, and of course, nature's beauty. Many she copyrighted, sometimes using her maiden name of Rosanna Lamb as a pseudonym - Rosanna Lamb. And for some, at the cost of $24, she engaged the music publishing company, Knickerbocker Harmony Studios of New York, to have melodies composed and created for them, including such poems as "When Our Eagle Gets Bill's Goat" and "Over the Hindenburg Lane". She incorporated some of these creative writings incorporated into her advertising material that promoted the sale of paintings.

By the late 1920's Barchus was in her 70's. Her eyesight began to fail her and arthritis progressively became a problem. The quality of her paintings correspondingly suffered from crude execution of brush stroke and lack of color blending. By the mid 30's she acknowledged that her facilities would no longer enable her to continue painting. After fifty years, and literally thousands of paintings- possibly as many as 7,500, she quietly laid down her pallet and brushes. She died several years later, in 1959, at the age of 102.

With unwavering support, the artist's daughter continued to promote her mother's work. The purpose was likely two-fold. First, there was a large inventory of unsold paintings that needed to be sold. Second was her desire to honor the artistic contribution her mother made to the state. She was ultimately successful in both. In 1971 the Oregon State Legislature passed a resolution giving Eliza Barchus the honorary title of The Oregon Artist. Additionally, in 1974 she authored a biography about her mother's life. Unfortunately for Oregon, about this same time she sold, in mass, a significant portion of the unsold inventory, including some that were prize pieces and covered the span of her career, to an East Coast collector.

This current exhibit of works by Eliza Barchus is the first major show since one organized by the Oregon Society of Artists in 1971. Several paintings in this exhibit were included in that exhibit, along with an earlier one-person show at the 1931 at the Portland Merchants' Exposition. The contributors are excited to be able to bring back into the public the work of this artist and would like to think the Pittock Mansion for their interest and support in hosting this show. We hope that you enjoy the exhibit.

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born in Salt Lake City, UT on Dec. 4, 1857. Eliza Lamb married John Barchus in 1880 and settled in Portland, OR where she studied with Wm S. Parrott. Her landscapes of well-known scenic spots of Oregon, Alaska, and California, such as Mt Hood, Mt Shasta, Yosemite, Muir Glacier, and Crater Lake, brought her great renown. Having enjoyed a long painting career, she died in Portland on Dec. 31, 1959 at age 102. Exh: Portland Mechanics' Fair, 1887 (gold medal), 1888 (silver medal); NAD, 1890; Pan American Expo (Buffalo), 1901; Lewis & Clark Expo (Portland), 1905 (gold medal). In: Oregon Historical Society (Portland); Portland Museum; Bancroft Library (UC Berkeley).

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Eliza R. Barchus, The Oregon Artist; Women Artists of the American West; Oregonian, 1-1-1960, 1-5-1960 (obits).

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born Salt Lake City, UT, Dec. 4, 1857; died Portland, OR, Dec. 31, 1959. Painter, specialized in landscapes. Grew up primarily in Abilene where her 17 step-father was a deputy to Marshall "Wild Bill" Hickok. Moved to Portland, OR in 1880 and took art training with William S. Parrott. Eventually, Barchus supported her family with her art but quit painting in the 1930s due to failing eyesight.

Susan Craig, "Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945)"
Artist, 1857-1959 (Portland, OR: Binford & Mort, 1974)

This and over 1,750 other biographies can be found in Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945) compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian at University of Kansas.

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About  Eliza Barchus

Born:  1857 - Salt Lake City, Utah
Died:   1959 - Portland, Oregon
Known for:  mountain landscape painting

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Eliza Barchus