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 Ida May Coates  (1856 - 1929)

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Lived/Active: California/Minnesota      Known for: figure and portrait painting, Native American genre, desert landscape

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Ad Code: 4
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Woman in Prayer, 1895
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:

The following information was submitted in April of 2006 by her  great, great niece Nancy Boyarsky, gathered from official documents (census records, death certificate) as well as local art history books and other reference works:

Ida May Coates  was born Aug 18, 1856 on the family farm in Jordan, Scott County, but migrated with her family to Santa Clara County, Calif., probably sometime before 1888.  Her father was Daniel Hubbard Coates and her mother, who died when Ida May was a child, was the former Sarah Jane Keith.

According to the book, History of San Jose, by Clyde Arbuckle, Smith & McKay Printing, "In the 1890s, 'a new star had appeared in San Jose’s art firmament -- Miss Ida May Coates -- whose influence as artist and critic was unmistakable.  Born in Minnesota, Miss Coates showed a pronounced talent for portraiture almost before she was big enough to hold a crayon.  As a girl and young woman, she lost no opportunity to develop that talent.  She diligently studied the technique and style of every early and modern artist worthy of  attention.  Her studies under Italian-born Dominic Tojetti in SF gave her a classical touch not often found in Calif. artists of her day.  Two of her paintings Ideal Head and Greek Girl won wide acclaim from all who saw them at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893."

The masthead of San Jose’s cultural magazine Report listed her as art editor in Jan. 1896.  The cover featured her Mother and Child and 3 columns inside carried her comments on local art.

Miss Coates had lived in SJ in 1890, but the SF City Directory of  1891 listed her as an artist there. In Arbuckle's account, ".... Miss Coates wistfully noted conditions not obvious to the local [San Jose] citizenry: 'I wish we had a fine academy of art right here in San  Jose with a full complement of instructors, but I fear that the professors l. . . unless they were air plants, would starve to death  if the people of San Jose followed the example of other wicked  Americans and patronized foreign artists and art schools only.  It is quite surprising how many people who paint well there are in San  Jose, quite enough to furnish a flourishing art league or association if they would get together. . . .'"

Here is a description of Ida May written by her niece, Agnes Scott Wiltse, who knew her well:
"During my growing up period, I was greatly inspired by my Aunt Ida Coates, my Mother's sister, who was second oldest of seven children.  I had the privilege of being with her enough to learn to love and respect her for her spiritual quality and for her many talents. Never having married, she devoted her time to her art. She painted pictures which were exhibited at the St. Louis Exhibition (sic. -- was the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago) and at the San Francisco World's Fair.

"Loving all people as brothers, she made her home with an Indian tribe for a short time while she pictured their lives on canvas. She, in turn, was loved by all and the Indians gave her the name of "the lady with the long, long, hair."

"Her spiritual nature portrayed itself in a picture she made of Jesus-- her own conception of how he looked. She had the image in her mind twenty years before daring to put it on canvas, for the image had to be so positive that it would not vanish before the picture was completed. She did all of her art through inspiration and I was privileged to see her working on this picture. It measured approx 2.5  feet by 3 feet and was all done in sepia. The first one she finished she named His Early Manhood. This one she had copywrited and prints were made, one of which I have and prize very highly. A second picture she named The Way of the Cross. It was the same face -- a little older and instead of the conventional halo above the head, a cross like the rays of light shone through the figure. He wore a crown of thorns and the expression in the eyes was unbelievable. It so happened that she left this picture with a friend when she went to New York to study art under a famous art master, and it was stored in a damp place where it mildewed and was ruined."

Ida May Coates died of breast cancer at the age of 73 on December 12, 1929 in Inglewood, California, at the home of her sister Mrs. Eva Coates.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Scott County, Minnesota on Aug. 19, 1856.  While in Minnesota, Coates was active in St Lawrence Township. Upon coming to California, she was a resident of San Jose (1890), San Francisco (1891), Reno, Nevada (1908) and Los Angeles by 1911.
She never married, and died in Inglewood, California on December 10, 1929.  Her work includes portraits, figure studies, Native American genre, and desert landscapes.

Exhibited: World's Columbian Expo (Chicago), 1893.

Work in: San Jose Historical Museum.
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
City Directory; Census; California State Library (Sacramento); Women Artists of the American West; Artists of the American West (Doris Dawdy); News Notes of California Libraries, Jan. 1909; Death record; Inglewood Daily News, 12-7-1929 (obituary).
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.

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