|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following biographical information is from periodical articles about the artist:|
ALTA VISTA MAGAZINE, Sunday, February 23, 1992
"ELLWOOD GRAHAM: NEVER SAY DIE"
by Susan Lea Hubbard
A life of great joy and great sorrow is evident in Ellwood Graham's
80-year-old twinkling eyes and yet his paintings evoke childlike
optimism. The brilliant colors, free designs and light airiness belie
happiness and freedom, even though strong themes and archetypal
symbolism are integrated to provoke deeper scrutiny.
unique style of abstract modernism has been on the cutting edge of the
art world for years. He considers himself a "profound painter,"
comparing himself to a composer on a "musical canvas."
lives in a modest but tastefully modern home in Pebble Beach. His
studio at the back of the house features works in progress upon the
easel. Paintings are stacked in hallways and along walls. Interior
decorations include beautiful antique furnishings, a wooden nude
sculpture and various objects d'art, all aesthetically displayed.
Graham was fortunate to have success early in life, although the road
was not easy. He was forced, by circumstances related to the Great
Depression, to leave the St. Louis School of Fine Art with only enough
money to fuel his Ford to California. He left for a warmer climate -
"It was better if you had to sleep outside," he laughs. Traveling famed
Route 66, he tried to help fellow immigrants over the grade into Los
Those first years were tough. He lived in the desert
with a sleeping bag and ate the rattlesnakes that came to curl up at
night. A jaunt to Hollywood, with four small pictures, made him $16.
The first thing he bought was a day-old pumpkin pie. "I ate it all at
once, right there on the corner," he remembers. He had enough left over
for tires, gas and vegetables and a jacket. A newspaper ad brought him
to a caretaker's cabin in the San Fernando Valley - "the last house on
the way through Canoga Park."
Graham immediately enrolled in a
mural contest and won second place. The first place winner, Gordon
Kenneth Grant, hired Graham as his assistant. Later Graham's own
assistant, Barbara Stevenson, became his first wife. They had four
As a muralist, Graham is well known for his 1,400-foot egg tempera mural on the Ventura Post Office.
Graham first came to Carmel at the bequest of John Steinbeck, a friend
from days in Santa Barbara. He bought lots on Lobos Street in Monterey.
A pre-Depression residential development, the Withers Project, was
failing and the lots sold for $50 to $75 each. This area became known
as Huckleberry Hill, an artist's colony and Graham's dream.
says he always wanted to help out artists, architects, sculptors,
aesthetes. "I could tell Bruce Ariss was a dedicated artist," he muses.
"He wanted to paint as much as I did." So Graham gave two lots to
Ariss, whose wife Jean was expecting their first child.
others came to Huckleberry Hill and as graham prospered, he bought more
lots. A student of Frank Lloyd Wright, Rowan Maiden, borrowed Graham's
studio to design Nepenthe Restaurant in Big Sur.
also created in Graham's studio. He wrote Sea of Cortez while Graham
rendered his portrait. Of course he sold the painting to Steinbeck, but
"I kept some studies and sketches." 'Where is that portrait now?
"People have been calling me for years... I don't know." he says, "I
haven't seen it in over 50 years."
Then he adds, "That
portrait was very good... I hear it was bought by Burgess Meredith but
I also heard it belonged to John Huston." It was Steinbeck (one of his
greatest benefactors), who commissioned Graham to go to Mexico for the
sake of his art. Mexican and Indian cultures have had a strong
influence on Graham's compositions.
When Graham's style
developed into his "pictograph" phase, Steinbeck cried, "why are you
doing those crazy things?" But as word got around about his
"compartmentalized art," calls came from the San Francisco Museum of
Modern Art and the Chicago Art Institute, vying for his first large
work. San Francisco won out and has "My Story" in its permanent
Later, Graham built a large home for his family
and a studio for him and his wife. "I did it all with these small,
pinkish hands, he laughed. I even built the fireplaces." A
beautiful wooden nude statue graces the living room - "This was in
homage to a tree that had to be cut down on my property," he says
quietly. The figure's grace is apropos but the sensitive face of Graham
shows a devout reverence for nature.
"I love birds," he says
in awe. Many of his paintings include birds and bird symbolism. Sports,
especially tennis, are important to him. He played tennis until a leg
operation stopped him around age 70. He also likes women, animals and
music, and integrates these themes into his compositions.
second wife Nell and he had a beautifully long and loving marriage
until she died of cancer. An incredible painting, Gift of Love, is a
pictographic amalgam of their lives together, produced at the time of
The longest living member of the Carmel Art
Association, Graham lives to be "productive". He is adamant: "I
don't paint for success or fame but for personally satisfying product.
I plan to paint until I die.
From: COAST WEEKLY February 23- March 1, 1995
Feature: "PAINTING OUT LOUD"---A contemporary of John Steinbeck, the award winning Ellwood Graham is still painting, by Ted M. Taylor
He still "paints out loud" - following advice he received from his friend and mentor John Steinbeck nearly 60 years ago.
At 83, Ellwood Graham, a non-conformist painter long before he met
Steinbeck, toils daily in the studio of his Pebble Beach home. Honored
with 68 awards, Graham has received national and international acclaim
as an abstract painter and colorist.
He also received the first one man show given by the Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Graham showed artistic talent early. He
entered paintings done on cigar box lids in contests sponsored by the
St. Louis Post Dispatch and others, winning as much as $25, a
respectable sum at the time. He also sold hand painted cards, sometimes
with his own verses, often working all night and subsequently falling
asleep in school.
Graham received a tuition-free scholarship to Washington University in St. Louis. "But I paid for everything else," he said.
"It was during the Depression, and the jobs I had paid no more than 25 cents an hour."
"I was the star of the art department," Graham said, "as long as I
painted realistically. The library had no books about Picasso or any
other modernist." Graham was twice expelled, once for "creative"
painting and again for protesting a fraudulent scholarship. In each
case, he was reinstated.
Rejected by his parents who wanted
him to be an accountant, frustrated and broke at the end of his junior
year, Graham drove to Hollywood, where his sister and brother-in-law
lived. He had money only for gas for his Model A Ford. For food he had
a bag of oranges, one fruit eaten per hundred miles.
find work, Graham camped in the Mojave Desert, where he met the brother
of author Charles Nordhoff, Frank Nordhoff who showed him eatable plants
and loaned him a rifle to hunt rabbits and rattlesnakes, some of the
latter having crawled into Graham's bedroll for warmth at night.
Finally Graham sold four paintings to Hollywood Boulevard shop owners
for $16 - enough to buy new tires for his car and other essentials. He
next worked, in return for rent, as a caretaker and survived by doing
odd jobs and on windfalls from the adjoining orchard owned by actor
Then, as runner-up in the Ventura Post Office
mural competition, Graham served as assistant to the winner, Gordon
Kenneth Grant. Graham, however, finished the mural, hiring Barbara
Stevenson, his future wife whom he had met at colleg3e, as a helper.
In Santa Barbara, where the mural was completed, Graham met John
Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts, the marine biologist who, says Graham and
others, greatly influenced the author's work. Soon, Graham was
spending weekends in Monterey, which he had visited as a student
briefly during the summer of 1930.
With his earnings, Graham
bought property on Huckleberry Hill. "I got the cheapest damn lots
around," he said. "I never paid more than $75 each. There were no
utilities or streets. We first lived in a trailer I towed from Santa
Barbara, which to keep from rolling back down Prescott Avenue, I left
backed into a telephone pole until I could get help. Like Thoreau, I
desperately wanted to be creative and independent. From library books,
I learned how to build houses and install septic tanks. And Toby
Street, John's lawyer friend who inspired John's novel To a God
Unknown, helped homestead the property so I wouldn't lose it by default.
"I also wanted talented and friendly neighbors. Grateful for my
increasing success - what my friend psychologist Eric Byrne called my
'Jesus Christ complex' - I gave two lots to the late Bruce Ariss and
his wife Jean."
Graham also befriended architect Rowan Maiden,
who designed Nepenthe, and donated most of the materials for a cottage
- built in a day - to a family who had lost their home. "Later," he
said, "the outhouse door on which I had painted a pictograph, an art
form which I originated, was stolen. I heard it's now displayed in a
Washington State museum."
Of Steinbeck and Ricketts, Graham
recalled: "Each was sensitive, in fact, rather fragile. Both were shy
in large groups - but brilliant talkers among intimates. I know John when he was a voraciously hungry writer, a far better one than when
he went to New York to stay.
"Ed and John kiddingly called me
'The Painter Laureate of Cannery Row." In his novel Cannery Row,
Steinbeck included a picture by Graham among the reproductions from
famous artists pinned to Rickett's bookcases.
Steinbeck had chosen Graham to do his portrait. "John didn't want a
conventional study," Graham said. "'Paint out loud!' he often said - so
I had him come to my studio. For at least a month, he sat at a table on
a model stand, where he peculiarly gripped his pen between his index
and forefinger and wrote, from 'Ricketts' notes, The Log from the
Sea of Cortez, an account of their biological expedition to Mexico.
John, who was divorcing his wife Carol, was in turmoil. But he was
often moody, and I would have probably painted him that way
regardless." The portrait, which appeared on a Coast Weekly cover
(8/4/94) was last reported as part of director John Huston's estate.
Graham also did a portrait of Steinbeck's second wife Gwyndolyn and of
Connelly, Steinbeck's one eyed pet pig, which roamed the author's
retreat in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
And Steinbeck had
commissioned Graham to spend four months in Mexico on what the artist
called his 'Paint Out Loud' trip. ("If only purple could be limited to
painting!" Steinbeck had said regarding Graham's own literary efforts.)
During World War II, Steinbeck, as a prominent Democrat, may have
influenced Graham's appointment as a war correspondent/artist. Graham,
however, already had the distinction of being the very first man the Navy drafted. Hospitalized by an old injury and unwilling to paint
officers' portraits, Graham was transferred to New York City, where he
contacted Steinbeck, who dined with him and introduced him to
"But the comaraderie of Ed's lab wasn't there," said Graham, " though we were still friends and continued to correspond."
Concerning abstract art, Graham said, "People often become angry and
defeated. But they should give it a chance and not over analyze it." In
1952, Graham, the late Sam Colburn, and three other artists Graham
wanted to help, each painted on the wall of a destroyed building, opposite Carmel fire station. Graham was the most prominent
and unlike the others, totally abstract. "The uproar over my painting
was such," Graham said, "that Life magazine depicted it with the
caption: 'What's the matter with Carmel?'"
In his studio,
Graham, often wearing paint-splattered sweat pants, a T-shirt, and
ankle-high slippers, plans his works deliberately, doing a series of
sketches, water colors, and small oils, before completing his final
study on an easel that belonged to artist Francis McComas - always on
quality Masonite, which lasts longer than canvas.
won't do serigraphs, which he considers "a fraud." He said, " I found my
space very early, and I chose to listen to myself."
sensual and appealing to the young, Graham's works are held by the
Whitney Museum in New York City, the Art Institute of Chicago, the New
Mexico Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Santa Barbara
Museum, the de Young Museum in San Francisco, the San Francisco Museum
of Modern Art, the San Francisco Art Museum, the Oakland Museum, and the
Brazilian Embassy in Washington.
Locally, Graham's works can be seen at Beeches' Gallery in Carmel and at the Carmel Art Association.
Recently, at a supermarket, Graham, nattily dressed, explained to a
clerk why, at his age, he is still working. "Tell her what I do," he
told a friend.
"He's a painter."
"Not that! She'll think I paint houses."
"He's an artist."
"And I have thousands of children out there," said Graham, his eyes twinkling. "And all are by my immaculate conception."
Graham is approaching his 93rd birthday. He still paints everyday and
his works continue to be the highlight of many private collections; as
colorful and full of energy as ever!
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following information is from ART (unknown volume, unknown date. However, by reference to artist's age it is somewhere around 1991-2) |
Memories of a 'modernist'
Pebble Beach artist Ellwood Graham has entered his eighth decade of
painting, and recently paused to reflect on the good and bad times, the
trials and triumphs of a career that has taken him throughout the
United States, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Besides the sudden
discoveries made while painting in new and enchanting lands, over the
years, Graham has befriended numerous distinguished figures who have
filled these moments of reflection with rich memories. "I'm in my
period of anecdotage," he says with a gleam in his eye.
had an early success because I was considered -- I shouldn't have been
but I was -- the first modernists painter on the West Coast," recalls
"I arrived to stay on the Monterey Peninsula in 1937.
I was lured by John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts, who came to visit me in
L.A. and told me about Monterey. They liked my painting, and they
became good friends and benefactors.
"There weren't any
galleries here except for the Carmel Art Association which was at the
time nothing more than a room with a pot-bellied stove. I established
an area on the hill above Monterey called Huckleberry Hill. I bought
five lots; I got Bruce Ariss his lot, I helped others there with their
lots. There were mostly artists, the studios were big, it was very
baronial for me," remembers Graham with a smile.
before Graham settled on the Peninsula, there were dues to pay. He came
to California after leaving Washington University in St. Louis,
watching the gas gauge of his Ford roadster closely as he traversed
Route 66, and eating just the bag of oranges his sympathetic mother had
given him at his departure. Graham along with the people later
immortalized as "Oakies" by Steinbeck, arrived in 1933, only to
discover there were no jobs.
"I retreated to the desert,
near Victorville, and slept in a sleeping bag next to my car, ate
rattlesnakes and vegetables for food, I painted away, then went up and
down Sunset Boulevard and sold four paintings fore $4 each. I was
Before long, Graham entered a competition for a
Ventura Post Office mural. Although he came in second to Gordon Kenneth
Grant, he was quickly hired by Grant to help and the two completed,
from 1935-1936, the 1400-foot egg tempera project.
received $100 a month for the mural; and I went immediately to the bank
to deposit $25 of it and lived off the remainder," remembers Graham.
He soon parlayed these earnings and savings into his successful
Monterey real estate venture, mixing opportunity with generosity.
"A psychologist friend at the time said I had a Jesus Christ complex,
as far as helping people out, but John (Steinbeck) referred to my
helping people as my "magnificent obsession."
"modernist" painting is an elegant blend of linear elements and color
that suggests space and atmosphere while retaining the tactile presence
of pigment. Much of his painting rests on the blurry line between
non-representation and figuration. In their evocation of specific forms
and the plethora of rhythms and painterly energy, Graham's paintings
caught the eye of collectors, art show judges and curators throughout
Major museums count Graham paintings among
their collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, The
Chicago Art Institute, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the
DeYoung Museum of San Francisco, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
and the Oakland Museum.
"I am a creative painter, the grist
for the mill can come from anything at all - a love affair, a book, a
poem, a conversation, anything. I like profound painting, although I'm
not always capable of doing it, I want a painting to breathe; I like to
orchestrate color, playing with the various tones to create an amalgam
of color," reflects the artist.
One ongoing series,
"pictographs," was inspired by diverse sources, such as Mayan wall
carvings, Navajo symbology and the Rosetta Stone. These works, that at
times recall Klee, are filled with personal symbols and painterly
verve. Each image/symbol in the dense grids of these paintings has a
fresh, vital linear quality, full of the immediacy of discovery and the
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following is submitted August 2004 by Lois Kimp, whose source for the first entry is a brochure about Graham that she found. Her other sources are indicated.|
Born August 8. 1911 in St. Louis, Missouri. Advanced education. Five Years at Washington University of St. Louis. Received scholarship.
1934 --- Executed paintings for California State Buildings.
1935-36 --- Designed and executed with Gordon Kenneth Grant 1400 foot egg tempera mural for Ventura Post Office.
1937 --- Built studio home in Monterey and painted landscapes of west coast in watercolor for use in Senatorial offices in Washington D.C.
1939 --- Commissioned by group of 16 prominent citizens to travel throughout U.S.A. typifying various sections in oil.
1940 --- Commissioned by author John Steinbeck to paint his portrait while writing "Sea of Cortez" in studio
1941 --- Commissioned by John Steinbeck to create personal record in oil of the Republic of Mexico.
1945 --- Upon honorable discharge from Navy painted and had one-man show in New York City.
1946-51 --- Divided time between New Mexico and Monterey, California.
1952-53 --- Painted throughout the Caribbean.
1954-55 --- Painted in old Mexico.
1956-90 --- Lived and painted in California.
[1990 to present --- lives and paints in Oregon while maintaining ties to Carmel, California.}
Other information in this brochure:
During his career to date Graham has given 39 solo exhibitions throughout the United States and Mexico, and participated in innumerable group shows. As a result he has received over sixty awards. nine of them national in scope, sixteen of them covering various sections of the country, and the rest regional or theme in nature. As a further result the following public institutions acquired these paintings for their permanent collections:
Whitney Museum of American Arts, New York City.
Chicago Art Institute, Chicago
Los Angeles Museum of Art
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California
DeYoung Museum of San Francisco
"Cameo Caravan," oil
Museum of University of New Mexico at Albuquerque
"Crucifixion of the Artist," oil
San Francisco Museum of Art
"My Story," oil
"Spanish Lace," oil
San Francisco Art Institute Collection
Adelphi University Collection, Garden City, Long Island
"Double Ellipse," oil
Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art, Monterey, California
"Valley Bridge," oil
Brazilian Embassy of Washington, D.C.
"Alameda Way," oil
Oakland Museum of Art, Oakland, California
"Mexican Village," oil
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following is from Susan Canavarro, whose artist father was Al Need,
1911-1986 and who has special memories of Ellwood Graham. Known for his seascapes, Need exhibited his paintings at the
Pebble Beach Village Gallery during the 1950s and then had a gallery in
I grew up as a friend to the family of Bruce and Jean
Ariss, and knew, briefly, Ellwood and Barbara Graham, both painters.
Below is an excerpt from a memoir I have been writing about growing up
on the Monterey Peninsula:
"Huckleberry Hill" consisted of a
small enclave of artists-writers, painters, musicians, some lawyers,
doctors, teachers, secretaries, and other folk. The writer/artist Bruce
Ariss lived there with his wife, Jean, a writer, and their five kids;
as did the painters Ellwood and Barbara Graham; Howard Bradford,
painter; and the writers Ward and Raylin Moore. Of course many people
wrote about the area, the most famous being John Steinbeck who put
Huckleberry Hill and Raspberry Flats on the map in the minds of
millions of readers.
The Grahams built a marvelous home/studio
with redwood board and batten walls, flagstone floors and patio, with a
large open living room, kitchen, and den, and double French doors
opening out onto a patio shared with a small cottage on the same
property. As a kid visiting their place, I remember it being
outlandishly dirty and messy, the kitchen sink always crusty with old
food particles and dirty dishes, spent clothes lying everywhere on
furniture and floors, books and magazines strewn around on every
surface, stone floors gritty with dirt. The house was truly lived in.
can't remember ever living on Huckleberry Hill when I was a child,
although it was always my fantasy to live in the cute little abstract
house whose roofs looked somewhat like butterfly wings, designed by
Howard Bradford, also a painter. It was basically two buildings with
roofs sharply slanted in two directions connected by a short covered
walkway-I think one building for the adults and one for the children!
Or more likely, one was a painting studio. Sometimes this fantasy seems
so real, perhaps we actually did live there for a short while.
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
in St. Louis, Missouri, Ellwood Graham was a painter and muralist who
graduated from the School of Fine Arts at Washington University and
settled in Monterey, California in 1934. He was active with the Federal
Art Project during the Depression and painted numerous murals in state
He served in the Navy during World War II and in the 1950s
lived between Monterey, New Mexico, the Caribbean and Mexico. In 1956,
he became a resident of Pebble Beach and exhibited widely including the
San Francisco Art Association and the Carmel Art Association.
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
|** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.|