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 B. H. (Bertha Hatton) Duke  (1890 - 1971)

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Lived/Active: Indiana      Known for: landscape, marine and floral painting, teaching

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Ad Code: 4
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from Auction House Records.
Snowy Landscape
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Bertha M. Hatton Duke (American, 1890 – 1971)

The minor American artist Bertha Hatton Duke, from whose confident brush came no small number of Indiana landscapes and florals in oil on canvas during the middle of the 20th century, has remained sufficiently obscure to invite, if not license, errant speculative claims about her person.  She was not a “Brown County, Indiana artist,” unless evidence of having at least once painted there can be stretched to make it so; by no stretch whatever was she “an African American female painter…in the first part of the 20th century….”[1]

Terre Haute native Bertha M. Hatton, born 30 July 1890 as the second daughter of photographer Thomas F. Hatton (b. Kentucky) and Florence/Flora M. Hatton (b. Illinois), spent her childhood school years in Wayne Township (Fort Wayne), Allen County, Indiana.[2]  Sometime prior to 1910, the Hatton family had moved a second time to their third rented home, on New Jersey Street in Indianapolis, where her father was now engaged in “real estate”; in July of that year, the 20 year-old Bertha Hatton married Indiana native Raymond J. Duke, an office clerk. [3]  Their first child, son Richard, was born two years later, followed by a second (George) around 1915. 

Whether owing to need of resources, prudence of frugality, or choice of familial togetherness, it was an extended household of ten souls – the Hatton family of four, the family of Bertha’s married sister Hazel Hatton Berrie (husband Merton and two daughters), and parents Thomas and Florence – that in the challenging circumstances of 1920 resided together in a single dwelling on Ashland Avenue near 27th Street in Indianapolis.[4]  Doubtless the nation’s severe deflationary recession of 1920-21 affected the family; but if neither photography nor real estate proved economically viable for Bertha’s father in these years (he was now employed by a furnace manufactory), one is invited to suppose that his interest in the visual image was an encouraging influence on Bertha, who in the early 20s had begun private instruction in art from the highly regarded Indianapolis teacher and fine artist Roda Selleck.[5] 

From Selleck’s veteran guidance the younger Bertha Hatton Duke would have developed her skills in drawing and composition, but also the use of color and brushwork.  Though Selleck died in 1924, Bertha was unfaltering in her creative preoccupations, and by 1930 – still living in the crowded Ashland Avenue home – was reporting her occupation as “Artist / Independent”. 

At some point Bertha extended her studies under the Duveneck-trained Indiana painter, lecturer and teacher Edward R. Sitzman (1874-1949).[6]  “Maintaining her studio in Indianapolis, Mrs. Duke [sold] her work out of Chicago” – though one supposes that burdens of domestic obligation explain the absence of any good evidence of commercial success, or indeed of membership or exhibition activity in the established art associations of the day. 

But success has more than one measure: if Miss Selleck is remembered today as an important teacher of aspiring young artists in Indianapolis, the influence of her student Mrs. Bertha Duke will, beyond the many canvases she left, be remembered by literally scores of creative Hoosiers whose painterly talents were advanced to new levels through ongoing instructional classes that Duke led over her career.  Begun as private lessons in the mid-late ‘30s at her Indianapolis studio, Mrs. Duke’s reputation and demand as a teacher grew in the ‘40s and ‘50s to include regional classes at various smaller towns of central Indiana.[7] 

Among the clubs and painting classes for which Duke served as instructor between 1940 and 1965 were those associated with the Tipton Art Club, the Greenfield Rural Art Club, the Kokomo Art Association, the Charlottesville Art Club, and classes at Indianapolis, Muncie, Logansport and Knightstown;[8] among her many students was A. M. (Mildred) Blair of Tipton, member of the Kokomo group, who was awarded the coveted Holcomb Prize at the 1961 Hoosier Salon for her floral Climbing Roses; [9] among the exhibition venues for regional shows dedicated to paintings by her students was the H. Lieber Co. Gallery in Indianapolis (17 -30 September, 1961).[10]

Mrs. Bertha Hatton Duke died in Indianapolis at the age of 80 years in February, 1971.  Her landscape, floral still-life, and marine paintings are typically signed ‘B. Duke’ or ‘B. H. Duke’, but more rarely ‘B. Hatton’.         


[1] The first of these quoted claims, current with an Indiana gallery as of this writing (December 2011), can only strike one possessed of the facts as misleading.  The latter quoted claim, appearing and then re-appearing more than a few times between 2003 and 2010 in various internet sale descriptions of the artist’s landscapes, may owe to merely passing awareness of an unrelated burial record, for one Bertha M. Duke (b. 8 January 1888 – d. 12 October 1981), interred in the African-American Huff Cemetery of Caldwell County, TX.

[2]  Thomas F. Hatton is listed in the Chas O. Ebel & Co. Terre Haute City Directory for 1890-1891 as a photographer at 422 Ohio Street, residing at 442 N. 4th Street (p. 260); see also “Six Local Artists to Exhibit Work,” Kokomo Tribune, 1 September 1951, p. 3. For birth date and later childhood residence: see (i) Social Security Death Index, and (ii) 1900 United States Census (of 6 June 1900 for Wayne Township, Allen County, Indiana), showing Bertha Hatton, age 9, and her sister Hazel (14) “at school,” residing with their parents, one “servant”, and one boarder, on West Crighton Avenue in Fort Wayne, near the corner of West DeWald Street.  Bertha’s father Thomas, and the boarder Clara Poty, list their occupations for that year as “photographer.”  The entire household is white (Caucasian).

[3]  See (i) 1910 United States Census (of 18 April 1910 for Center Township, Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana), and (ii) the Indiana Marriage Collection, 1800-1941 (original: Marion County Clerk’s Office, Book 57, OS page 437).

[4]  1920 United States Census (of 2 January 1920, Center Township, Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana).

[5]  “Mrs. Duke took her early training as a private pupil of Rhoda Sellick” (Kokomo Tribune, 1 September 1951, p. 3).  It was Roda Selleck (1842-1924), the University of Michigan graduate, who first inspired a love of drawing in Ada Walter Shulz, another Terre Haute native.  Selleck was a highly influential teacher (chairing the art department at Shortridge High School), leader among the early Indianapolis arts and crafts movement, and successful artist in her own right – exhibiting (alongside Indiana artists T. C. Steele, William Forsyth, J. Ottis Adams, and notable eastern American artists such as W. M. Chase, J. F. Cropsey, C. Hassam, C. W. Eaton and others) in the Sixth and Seventh Annual Exhibitions of the Art Association of Indianapolis (1889 and 1890). 

Concerning Selleck (in addition to Falk’s Who’s Who in American Art), see: Brush and Pencil, vol. IV, no. 4, ed. Charles Francis Browne (Chicago: The Arts and Crafts Publishing Company, 1899), p. 215; American Art Annual VI, 1907-08, ed. Florence Levy (NY: American Federation of Arts, 1908), p. 173; Indiana Bookplates, Esther Griffin White (Richmond IN: Nicholson Press, 1910), n.p., chapter III “Indianapolis Designers”; The Arts and Crafts Metalwork of Janet Payne Bowles, by Barry Shifman, Sharon S. Darling, and W. Scott Brasnell (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1993), p. 17; and The Encyclopedia of Indiana, eds. David J. Bodenhamer and Robert G. Barrows (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1994), p. 1248.

[6] For occupation as “independent artist” and residence, see 1930 United States Census (of 2 April 1930, Indianapolis, Marion, Indiana); for studies with Sitzman see Kokomo Tribune, 1 September 1951, p. 3, from which the quoted text immediately to follow is also taken.

[7] To date the earliest published name of a student of Duke is Mrs. Brice Burkhalter of Sharpesville, whose floral still life was exhibited as the October Picture of the Month in the Tipton Library Exhibit of 1941 (see the “Library News” announcement in the Tipton Tribune of 7 October 1941: “Mrs. Burkhalter’s teacher in art is Mrs. Bertha Duke of Indianapolis”).  Ten years later Burkhalter and five others from Greentown, Kokomo, and Sharpsville were showing in a second public exhibit of paintings by Duke students, at the Martin Hotel in Kokomo IN; the following year saw them exhibiting 35 canvases in the Director’s Room of the Union Bank and Trust Company (see Kokomo Tribune, 27 October 1952, p. 11).

[8]  In addition to the Kokomo and Tipton references cited above, see also “Straughn,” National Road Traveler (Cambridge City), 1 November 1956; “Tipton Art Clubs Plan Exhibit April 11, 12,” Tipton Tribune, 5 April 1957, p. 3; “Straughn,” National Road Traveler, 9 October 1958; “Straughn,” National Road Traveler, 30 March 1961; and the citations in notes [9] and [10] below.

[9]  Blair “studied with Indianapolis instructor Miss Bertha Duke and Mrs. Ida Nash Gordon”: see the notice, “Tipton Artist is Exhibitor,” Kokomo Tribune, 31 January 1961, p. 3.

[10]  See “Local Women to Display Art,” Kokomo Morning Times, 16 September 1961, p. 6.

Researched, written and submitted by Jan. A. Cover, Researcher, Professor of Philosophy, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 

© Copyright 2011 Jan A. Cover

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