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 Clara Gunnison Force  (1852 - 1939)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania/California      Known for: miniature portrait painting

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Biography from Erie Art Museum:
Born in 1852, Clara Gunnison Force was one of five children born to Jonas and Charlotte A. Spafford Gunnison.  The Gunnison family ancestors had emigrated from Sweden in 1631.  Her father, educated as an attorney and admitted to the bar in 1849, practiced law in Erie, Pennsylvania for a time.  He was active in local political circles, serving on the Mayor’s Select Council and also as a representative to the Pennsylvania General Assembly. He later held state committee posts for the Republican Party.  Clara’s brother Frank went on to become a judge of the Erie County Courts.

Completing her schooling locally, she enrolled at Vassar College.  Following her father’s death in 1872, she and her mother traveled to Europe, and in 1873 and 1874, she studied art in Paris and Rome.  Upon return, she took additional instruction with William Merritt Chase in New York City, and locally in Erie under Lovisa O. Card.  She was also known to attend summer sessions at Woodstock, New York, and in Provincetown, Cape Cod.

Clara Gunnison was acknowledged as a painter by the time of the 1884 Exposition of Amateur Art in Erie, Pennsylvania.  She submitted four works to the show.  In May of 1885 she married Joseph M. Force, son of an attorney and descendant of a pioneer family that originally settled in North East Township in Erie County. Admitted to the bar in 1879, Force entered private law practice in Erie.

In 1898 Mrs. Force attended an organizational meeting for the Art Club of Erie and became its founding vice president.  She held other offices in later years.  

Although the artist completed numerous works of flower and nature studies, her strength seemed to be in miniatures.  The Women’s Club of Erie, of which she was a member, has a collection of six, all portraits of local women.  

Around 1922, the couple decided to relocate to California.  Shortly thereafter Joseph Force died of unknown causes in Monrovia, California.  Clara, then living with her sister, built a home and lived in Pasadena.  There she belonged to the Pasadena Art Institute and the Society of Miniature Painters of California.  In 1923, the Art Club mounted a one-woman show featuring 52 works by the artist that included miniatures plus florals and landscapes.  

Well into her 80’s, Clara Gunnison Force painted, exhibited and knew demand for her work.  In the spring of 1939 she fell while at home and broke her hip.  As a result of the shock she died on Easter Sunday, April 8, 1939 at the age of 86.  She was buried in the family plot at Erie Cemetery. 


Submitted by Edward P. Bentley, Art Researcher from Lansing, Michigan


Biography excerpted from the unpublished manuscript by Dr. Kirk W. Steehler, Erie Artists – A History of Heroes.  Courtesy of Erie Art Museum.


Biography from Crocker Art Museum Store:
A miniature painter, Clara Gunnison Force was born in Erie, PA on Nov. 30, 1852. Force was a pupil of Lucia Fuller, Alice Beckington, John Carlson, Frank V. DuMond, Leopold Seyffert and Charles Hawthorne.

She moved from Erie to Pasadena about 1925, and was active there until her death on April 8, 1939.

Member:
California Society of Miniature Painters; Pasadena Society of Art; California Art Club; Erie Women's Club.

Exhibitions
Pasadena Art Institute, 1928, 1931; EbelI Club (LA), 1928; Golden Gate International Exposition, 1939.

Collection:
Erie Public Library; Erie Women's Club.

Literature:
AAA 1907-33; WWAA 1936-39; AAW; SCA; CA&A; Ben.
Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
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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