Louis Oscar Griffith
Rediscovering a Texas Printmaker
Published by Valley House Gallery, Inc., 2004
Rebecca E. Lawton
Associate Curator, Prints and Drawings
Amon Carter Museum
The true etcher wanders here and yon in search of beauty – He does not ply his needle every day – like a tradesman – but rather reserves his material for the occasional supreme moment of inspiration….1
In 1860, Dallas, Texas, was a frontier trading post, home to a few families living in log cabins on the banks of the Trinity River. With the arrival of the railroads in the early 1870s, the town emerged swiftly from the economic deprivations of the Civil War. “Almost like magic she sprang from a village to a city of almost metropolitan proportions.”2 The “unpretentious country town” that “knew nothing of the beauties and conveniences of graded streets, gutters and sidewalks, street lamps, waterworks, etc.,” became a boomtown of cotton-seed oil plants, flour mills, iron foundries, brick kilns, and even a factory for putting barbs on wire fencing.3 Meandering Indian and buffalo trails turned into paved streets. By 1888, the city was supporting five daily newspapers, thirty-four churches, and twenty-eight schools. Civic leaders boasted: “We see only a brilliant future for the proud young bluff city with its energetic, enterprising, liberal, peaceful, law-abiding citizens.” 4 Such optimism beckoned scores of new settlers to Dallas; men like Elias Griffith, a farmer and Civil War veteran, who moved there with his wife and three young children from Putnam County, Indiana, around 1880.5
Throughout the next decade, Dallas prospered, but the Griffith family did not. Elias proved an unreliable husband and an inattentive father. At the age of thirteen, his youngest son, Louis Oscar, was on his own, supporting himself, as well as his mother.6 His first job was herding sheep “on the toughest ranch anywhere around Dallas,” a place of “drinking, gambling and occasional bear fight shows.”7 Given the adversities of his childhood, it is remarkable that Louis Oscar Griffith became an artist, and yet, against the odds, he did.
Louis Oscar Griffith (1875–1956) — commonly referred to by his first two initials — might not have become an artist, however, had Frank Reaugh (1860–1945) not recognized his potential. Their fortuitous meeting occurred around 1890. At the time, Reaugh was one of the city’s leading artists — the other was Robert Jenkins Onderdonk (1852–1917) — and Griffith was a young clerk in the check room at Dallas’ finest hotel, the Grand Windsor.8 Reaugh had recently moved to Oak Cliff, a suburb west of the city across the Trinity River, and was offering art classes at his Dallas studio on Elm Street. He became Griffith’s first art teacher and Griffith became his star pupil. After Griffith had left Dallas to further his art studies in St. Louis and Chicago, Reaugh admonished him, “Be sure to keep me posted as to where you go and what you do. You are about the best boy I have & I want to keep up with you.”9 At Reaugh’s urging Griffith returned to Texas for brief periods, but he never, despite his pleas, resettled there.
Griffith became a painter of impressionistic landscapes and an accomplished printmaker, who approached the medium with a passion for exploration. He discovered the charm of Brown County, Indiana, in the early years of the twentieth century, and settled there permanently in 1922, establishing a home and studio in Nashville, not far from his birthplace in Greencastle.
Although much remains to be learned about the man and his work, the focus of the current exhibition is on the prints he made of Texas. By tracing the trajectory of his career, it is possible to see that his importance as a Texas printmaker lies in the intimate associations he developed with the Lone Star State. These associations began in his childhood during an era when young boys hunted game in east Dallas. His sporadic visits back to Texas, starting in 1905, were welcome signs of the state’s cultural vitality and his own growing maturity as an artist. With Reaugh, he made sketch trips through the sparsely inhabited counties of West Texas, etched plates of its vast plains in his Chicago studio, and produced the first color intaglios of the region. In 1926, he set up a winter studio in Dallas and returned there annually for several seasons. He made a suite of etchings of Dallas, creating one of the first graphic records of its transformation from a provincial town into a sophisticated city of industry and commerce. These prints were evidence that Dallas itself had become a subject worthy of an artist. And they found a receptive audience, eager to view signs of the city’s growing cosmopolitanism.
The fame he earned in Texas faded steadily after his death in 1956. While Griffith made it a habit to sign his prints in pencil below the plate, only occasionally did he inscribe them with titles and dates. Apparently he made no effort to record his oeuvre, register sales, or keep a log of exhibitions, thus making it difficult to determine the extent of his printmaking.10 With the exception of one letter written to Reaugh in 1922, now in the archives of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, in Canyon, Texas, none of his correspondence is known to have survived. Until recently, his name meant next to nothing outside the collectors who owned his work, and even they possess little knowledge of the full breadth of his career. Oddly enough, in 1926, a Dallas art critic predicted that Griffith would emerge from obscurity, “several generations hence future Dallasites will be retrieving from the dusty oblivion of old garrets the etchings that L. O. Griffith, noted Chicago etcher, a former Dallas man, is now making of our skyline and historic landmarks.”11
The Early Years.
As a child, Griffith “drew everywhere, and on every available surface. At school he wanted every day to be a rainy day, for then the teacher permitted him to remain in the school room and draw on the black board.”12 His youthful enthusiasm for art included drawing caricatures and illustrations. A glimpse of his raw talent is evident in two surviving pen-and-ink drawings of architectural subjects, both dated 1892, which remain in family hands. His figures are awkward but the architectural details are meticulously rendered and demonstrate a rigorous attention to perspective. These efforts were rewarded when one of the drawings won the “First Premium” prize in 1892 at the Texas State Fair. In terms of Griffith’s development, the drawings reveal a strong emphasis on linear precision, suggesting that at this early stage he may have envisioned a career as a commercial artist or possibly as an architectural draftsman. His clear appreciation for the power of line and his use of pen-and-ink presages his interest in printmaking.
Griffith left Dallas in 1893 to continue his studies at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts, which Reaugh had attended for a brief period nearly ten years before. Virtually nothing is known of his activities in St. Louis between 1893 and 1895, when he moved to Chicago. His years in Chicago, however, were of enormous importance to his development as a painter and printmaker. Though he arrived in the city after the great Exposition of 1893, he encountered the energetic arts community that followed in its wake. He earned his living as a commercial artist and enrolled in evening classes at the Art Institute. School records show Griffith in attendance from 1895 to 1897.13 After 1897, he worked for several years at the Barnes-Crosby Engraving Company, mostly likely as an illustrator. It is clear that his ambition to become an artist never wavered. He preferred to spend his days off on sketching trips rather than at ball games.14 He continued to seek Reaugh’s advice, sending him sketches to critique and later etchings to admire. Reaugh responses were encouraging, “Keep up your practice. I am satisfied you have a future before you that it is well worth your while to practice for.”15
Griffith’s foray into printmaking has not been easy to document. It is provocative to consider how and when he began working with the etcher’s needle. A tantalizing clue to the commencement of his activity appears in a letter from Reaugh, dated 25 July 1897, in which Reaugh writes of his plan to open an art school in Oak Cliff. He asks Griffith: “How would you like to fill the ‘chair of Etching’ a little later?”16 Although the letter offers no further details, it is the earliest indication of Griffith’s possible interest in printmaking. A year and a half later, Reaugh writes to him, “Am sorry of course about that burglar especially as he has interfered with the etching project. I have an idea you will make a success of that. I have been trying some monotypes. Have you?”17 By early 1901, Griffith had mailed a batch of his etchings to Reaugh, who delighted in showing them to George B. Dealey, publisher of the Dallas Morning News.18
Reaugh’s letters intimate that Griffith is etching, but they do not offer proof. And they are vexing, particularly in light of a later letter, dated 16 April 1907, in which Reaugh wrote, “Am especially glad to hear that you are still hard at work & that you have taken up etching….I hope to see some samples of your work. It seems to me you ought to do well with it. You have a good deal of the etcher feeling about your work.”19 What is clear from Reaugh’s letters is that Griffith was experimenting with etching at a time when only a handful of artists in Chicago were making fine art prints. Unfortunately, until Griffith’s work is fully documented, the questions of when and how he began etching cannot be fully answered.
In 1926, Griffith told a Dallas reporter that his work at the Barnes-Crosby Engraving Company had given him the incentive to learn printmaking.20 Since the Art Institute did not begin offering an etching class until 1902, it is highly likely that Griffith was self-taught, and that the Chicago artists who were etching at the same time were unaware of his activity until several years later.21 He owned a copy of Philip G. Hamerton’s Etching & Etchers, published in 1886, and may have used Hamerton’s The Etcher’s Handbook, published in 1871, for guidance.22 Like many budding American printmakers, he could have read Maxime Lalanne’s, A Treatise on Etching, published in an English translation in Boston in 1880, although the copy from his library bearing his signature is inscribed 1927.
In 1902, the Barnes-Crosby Engraving Company sent Griffith to New York. Again, virtually nothing is presently known about his time there. Reaugh’s feelings about Griffith’s move to the city were divided: “And now about your being in N.Y. I don’t know whether I am glad or sorry. I am glad Barnes Crosby’s recognizing your ability & if you can study so as to better yourself it will be a good thing for you and I am certainly glad.”23 The duration of his stay in New York and what he did and saw there, are intriguing questions that remain to be answered.
If Griffith’s earliest years in Chicago and New York were solitary ones, the situation changed significantly in the fall of 1903, when he made his exhibition debut at the Art Institute’s American Paintings and Sculpture 16th Annual, with a canvas titled, Along the North Shore. That same year, he joined the Palette & Chisel Club, which had been established in 1895 by a group of evening students at the Art Institute. Its members were commercial artists and worked — as Griffith probably did — six days a week. They met in the evenings and on Sundays in Lorado Taft’s vast sculpture studio in the Athenaeum Building. The club offered its members a place to work from the model under natural light, space to exhibit their art, and a good deal of camaraderie. Decidedly bohemian in character, the club was once described as “a place with atmosphere, something akin to the Latin Quarter of Paris or Washington Square, New York. It is the home of all the young artists in the city, men who are struggling upward, inspired by the courage and ambition of youth.”24 The description was an apt one for Griffith, and he fit in perfectly among its membership.
Griffith was active in Palette & Chisel affairs until his move to Nashville in 1922. He served on various committees, became its secretary in 1906, and its president in 1911. Writing under the name “Old Spave,” he penned a humorous column for The Cow Bell, the club’s folksy newsletter, and he performed in its madcap theatricals. The club provided Griffith with the fellowship of other artists, such as the printmaker Gustave Baumann (1881–1971), who joined in 1907, as well as the painter Robert W. Grafton (1876-1936), whom he accompanied to New Orleans in 1916. He also met Wilson. H. Irvine (1869–1936) and Harry L. Engle (1870–after 1940), there, and with them began making trips to Brown County in 1907 to paint landscapes.
Griffith first exhibited at the Palette & Chisel’s Third Annual, held in December 1904. Of the five works he submitted, at least two were Texas subjects and all, as gleaned from the titles, were landscapes. Griffith’s choice to focus on nature reflects his romantic sensibility as much as it underscores Reaugh’s influence. Trained as a landscape painter, Reaugh described his philosophy thus: “I am a great believer in earnest and honest work from nature; in the study of beauty as God in His wisdom and goodness created, and I believe such careful study necessary before creditable, broad handling is possible.”25
Griffith’s affiliation with the club undoubtedly boosted his confidence. So too did his involvement with the Chicago Society of Etchers, which launched its ambitious agenda to revive etching in America in 1910. He was among the sixteen promising candidates recruited by the Society’s founders to become charter members. Through its various educational programs and its series of traveling exhibitions, the CSE disseminated widespread interest in printmaking and attracted critical attention for its members. As the CSE became increasingly active, Griffith soon realized that he had aligned himself with the most prestigious print organization in America. Beginning with the first exhibition, held in April 1910, he participated in CSE exhibitions nearly every year until his death in 1956.
Return to Texas.
In April 1905, Reaugh sent Griffith, whom he referred to as Oscar, the first of many invitations to accompany him on his now legendary sketching expeditions through West Texas:
Oscar, I have a great scheme to propose which I hope will strike you agreeably. It is for you and I and my uncle and possible one or two others to organize a stock company, buy up some old horses and a wagon, and travel over west Texas this summer. … We could start along in June or July and put in 8 or 10 weeks very profitably I think; and as for pleasure, Oscar, I doubt if you have ever had enough of such travel to really know what good healthy enjoyment is. I hope you can arrange for it. I had rather have you on such a trip than any body I know of.26
Reaugh had begun making extended sketch tours of West Texas in the early 1880s, traveling by ox cart to isolated regions and residing with cowboys and ranch hands.27 He discovered that his most compelling subject lay in portraying the cattle industry when the herds grazed openly, a time which he referred to as the era of “free grass.” Having tutored his star pupil in the fundamentals of drawing and encouraged his training in art academies in St. Louis and Chicago, it was time to advance Griffith’s understanding of landscape painting. It was also time for Reaugh to disseminate his views on the environment and wildlife conservation, two subjects he was passionate about.
Reaugh’s sketch trips, including those taken in later years by automobile, were not for the faint of heart. Even he, a seasoned veteran, described the early trips with Griffith as “hard and adventurous.”28 At a later date, Griffith developed a slide presentation about them, which he cheerfully delivered on occasions when he exhibited his Texas subjects. He showed photographs, caricatures, and images of his works, and he spoke of the obstacles they endured, such as washed-out roads, quicksand, storms, and sick horses, as well as the more amusing moments, such as the time a feral cat stole their cheese.29 For him, such arduous travel in search of beautiful scenery was a vital and necessary part of being a landscape painter.
Their first trip took place in September and October, rather than June and July, as Reaugh had initially proposed. He engaged his uncle to look after the horses, but had not convinced other artists to join them. The three men traveled for nearly eight weeks “with pastels and easels, a guitar, a Bible and a gun in a wagon decorated with deer horns and snake skins.”30 And they took along a camera to document the trip and provide photographic aids for later use in the studio. They began by heading west to Young County, then following the Brazos River to Buzzard’s Peak in King County. Next, they trekked north to Vernon, near the Red River, before turning east to return to Dallas.
After the trip had ended, Griffith told the Dallas press, “I have had a great time in West Texas. I was surprised at the magnificent scenery and some of it I have tried to take away with me on canvass [sic].”31 Despite its hazards, the trip was productive in terms of painting and an enjoyable one for both men. Their former relationship of student and teacher developed into a close, collegial one of shared interests and a true love for painting out-of-doors in one another’s company. Reaugh was eager to have Griffith return the following year for another sketch trip, assuring him a new route with “none of the hardships of the tramp to the Brazos.”32 Griffith was happy to comply.
Their second expedition, which began in September 1906, took a more south westerly route to Sutton County and circled north through Schleicher, Tom Green, Runnels, Callahan, and into Stephens County, before heading east through Palo Pinto, Parker, Tarrant and Dallas counties. At least one etching, titled West Texas [cat. 14.], can be securely attributed to the second trip. It is known in two versions, though printed from the same plate; one impression printed in black ink, the other in dark green. Griffith’s delight in the etched line is apparent in his handling of the landscape elements. Deeply-bitten linear work conveys the effect of the wind rustling through the trees, brush, and tall grass. The soft tonal effect appears to have been achieved by manipulating the ink on the plate surface during printing. The thin film of ink adds warmth to the sky and density to the landscape, rendering the cow nearly impossible to perceive. Measuring approximately 4 x 6 inches, it is among the smallest of his Texas prints, and yet manages to suggest the vast scale of the landscape. By comparing the two versions, it is easy to sense Griffith’s urge to be experimental. By changing the color of the ink, he creates a different quality of light in each impression, shifting the atmosphere from one of coolness to warmth. In retrospect, one can view his choice of green ink as a precursor to his color aquatints.
Griffith did not participate in a third sketch trip until 1909. Much to Reaugh’s dismay, in October 1907 Griffith decided to explore Maine’s coastal regions rather than venture out west. Having discovered the nearly impassable roads of rural Brown County in the late winter of 1907, he may have had his fill of roughing-it that year. He disappointed Reaugh again in 1908 by taking a long-desired trip to Europe, where he visited France and England.33 Like many American etchers in the early years of the twentieth century, Griffith’s travel abroad may have been undertaken to perfect his printmaking skills. His incipient interest in color intaglio, a method which had attained considerable success in Europe and particularly in France, may also have been a contributing factor.
Griffith’s willingness to learn the complexities of color intaglio owes as much to his experimental nature as it does to his patient demeanor. It is possible that Griffith learned with or from Gustave Baumann, who is known to have experimented with color intaglio early in his career. In later years, Griffith told a newspaper reporter that he “had worked out his own technique independently in 1908.”34 Untitled (Trees at Sunset) [cat. 1], measuring 2 ¾ x 3 ½ inches, is likely an early example of his experiments in color aquatint. He employed two plates to achieve the image, dabbing on color à la poupée, by using a rag on the end of his finger. After printing the color plate, he inked a second one, which held the image of the trees and brush using black ink. The scene, possibly a Texas landscape, recalls the stylized motifs found on art pottery of the period.
Upon his return from Europe, Griffith produced several strikingly beautiful color aquatints of places he had visited in France. When he displayed them in a joint exhibition with Baumann at the Palette & Chisel Club in May 1913, one critic remarked upon their “high degree of refinement and beauty,”35 The color woodcuts that Baumann exhibited were much admired for their “distinctly new and individual style and color,” and both men were congratulated for “exquisite craftsmanship and unaffected charm in the choosing of their subjects.”36 One of the largest of the color aquatints is Old Mill at Pont Aven, France (private collection), measuring 18 x 24 inches. It is a testament of Griffith’s skill and a virtuosic demonstration of technique. Its scale and broad, flat tints of color may have been intended to rival the effects of painting.
Griffith sent two Texas landscapes to the Annual Exhibition of Work by Artists of Chicago & Vicinity, held at the Art Institute in February 1909. It was the first time his Texas subjects had been shown at such a prestigious venue. Perhaps the success of these works encouraged him to make another trip to Texas for new material. Or perhaps a letter from Reaugh, written a few months before the Art Institute’s show, had already rekindled his interest in returning there. Griffith’s decision to forego the 1907 and 1908 sketch trips had Reaugh still smarting: “I think there will be quite a party of us to go next season…. and I want you to sure go. I believe you will find it of more real benefit to you than any trip east or to Europe.”37 Reaugh’s words proved remarkably prescient since the images Griffith produced during and after the 1909 trip are some of his most beautiful and accomplished works. While many of these views of West Texas have yet to be located, those that are known are as much a reflection of Griffith’s clear admiration for Reaugh as they are his own response to the spectacular scenery.
Griffith probably developed Texas Mill [cat. 15], from a sketch he made during the 1909 trip. A combination of etching and soft ground, he printed the plate with extensive use of retroussage, a method by which ink is lifted out of the lines to enrich the surface tones. Tucked into the river bank, the mill provided an exceedingly picturesque site for sketching. Griffith exploited the full potential of soft ground to achieve the watery reflections and the lush forms of the landscape. The mill may be the Donnell flour mill in Eliasville in Young County, which was considered a local landmark until it was destroyed by fire in 1927. Griffith’s slide show mentions stopping at “Donald’s mill,” suggesting the possibility that he may have forgotten its correct name.
A suite of color intaglios dated 1909 of an unspecified landscape with a mesa in the distance and two cows in the foreground at left, brilliantly demonstrates his experimental approach to printmaking [Untitled Landscape] [cats. 2-8]. Although printed from the same plate, the prints vary radically from impression to impression. That no two are completely alike suggests that working and reworking the color scheme for an image was one way for Griffith to achieve what he wanted without losing the sense of immediacy or diminishing the play of light across the landscape. They are among the most painterly of his color aquatints. Instead of laying down broad flat areas of aquatint, his treatment is more delicate, dabbing and scraping to yield an effect more akin to pastel. Color schemes range from vivid sequences of soft pinks and oranges redolent of the morning’s sunrise to blazing yellows and blues that tell of the afternoon’s searing heat, to those with more somber reds and dusty, muted tones conveying the final glow of the evening’s sunset.
In West Texas, 1910 [cats. 10-11], Griffith again plays with the color scheme, creating at least two distinctly different prints from the same plate. Most noticeable is the change in the color of the sky; in one version it is light blue, in the other it is creamy yellow. In the foreground at right, a single longhorn stands on a bluff, surveying the broad plain before him. The image is exceedingly spare and more carefully composed than the print discussed above. The longhorn appears as a majestic creature separated from the herd dotting the distance. Like Reaugh’s images of stoic cattle, the print carries an intrinsic nostalgic appeal. The poignant image of the lone longhorn represents a kind of longing for an earlier, simpler time. Interestingly, the Art Institute held an exhibition in December 1909 of paintings by Reaugh, as well as works by Charles P. Bock, a Chicago artist who had accompanied him on the 1908 sketch trip. If Griffith also participated, as one reviewer later recalled, his name did not appear in the exhibition catalogue.38
Griffith exhibited Texas subjects at the Palette & Chisel Club in early 1915. Most of the works on view were small landscapes in pastel, but oils, etchings, and watercolors were also included. His friend, Harry Engle, wrote effusively about Griffith’s “dainty, jewel-like notes” in The Cow Bell, and concluded: “To miss seeing them is to throw away an unpunched ocular meal ticket.”39 Another review was equally enthusiastic:
At the Palette and Chisel Club, L. O. Griffith, who long since won his place among local painters in exhibitions at the Art Institute, has hung half a hundred small landscapes in pastels or in oils that everyone should see. They are pictures out of the ordinary of refined technique selective composition and a delightful use of color. Each small picture is a tone poem of sunrise, sunset, or other rare hours of beauty. The hills, wandering cattle or wide silent plains of Texas are enchanted in atmospheric mystery.40
Griffith’s spirits received an additional boost that year, when the group of color aquatints he had submitted to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition earned him a Bronze medal. Oddly enough, the group included none of his Texas prints. Near the end of the fair, the director-elect of the recently completed Oakland Public Museum (now the Oakland Museum of California), wrote to Griffith, expressing interest in acquiring his print, The Weaver, to help build its print collection.41 Within only days of receiving the letter, Griffith had agreed to donate the print.
By 1917, Griffith’s work in color aquatint had earned him a high degree of respect within Chicago’s art circles. His show that year at the Robert Friedel Gallery led one reviewer to comment: “The color plates speak for themselves, revealing a charm that must bring honors to the brotherhood of etchers and engravers in America.”42 The reviewer also indicated that through Griffith’s exhibitions at the Palette & Chisel and with the Chicago Society of Etchers, he had built a strong following of admirers who “began to look for the name of Mr. Griffith and to rejoice when they found him.”43
After the success of the 1909 trip, Griffith may not have returned to Texas until January 1926. He had become a freelance commercial artist and used his spare time to paint closer to home in Brown County. In early 1916, he traveled with his Chicago colleague Robert W. Grafton to New Orleans to search for new subject matter within the city’s historic quarters. Reaugh tried unsuccessfully to entice him to return to Texas in 1918 with news that the etching press belonging to Margaret Ann Scruggs Carruth (1892-1988), a local artist who had studied printmaking in New York, had been moved to his studio.44 In 1920, he married Carolyn Maulsby, who evidently shared his love of painting out-of-doors. Shortly after, or possibly during their courtship, he painted her portrait, portraying her as an artist, seated before an easel set within a sun-lit field of flowers (private collection). Their son, Richmond, was born in 1921. The following year, the family moved to Nashville, Indiana, where Griffith rented an old creamery and remodeled it into a home and studio. He told Reaugh that the move had been made for economic reasons: “If I can make a living here I want to stay for sometime. My expenses are not so much here and I feel that we all are better off by living in the country.”45 His move to Nashville marked a shift away from a livelihood that had depended upon commercial art to one in which he would increasingly support himself and his family by painting and printmaking. Griffith embraced his new status as a professional artist by devoting the winter months to printmaking and using the other seasons for painting. As Nashville blossomed into an artist’s colony, he participated in the activities of local groups, such as the Brown County Art Gallery Association and the Brown County Art Guild.
If the family’s living quarters in the creamery were primitive, Griffith’s studio, measuring approximately 25 x 26 feet, was impressive and occupied much of the building. As reported in The Indianapolis News, the “living room furniture adds a homelike touch to the studio.”46 Griffith made no apologies; he had reconfigured the creamery as a well-equipped studio, with north-facing windows for painting and printmaking. Evidently, the family’s living quarters in the creamery proved less than satisfactory. Within two years, the Griffiths had moved into a new home next door to his good friend, the artist Will Vawter (1871-1941). His new studio there was as notable as his old one in the creamery. So outstanding, in fact, that Frederick Polley, an Indianapolis writer and printmaker, drew an illustration of the studio for the Indianapolis Sunday Star. Its key feature was Griffith’s press,[ill. below] said to be the largest of its kind in the middle West, with a coal oil lantern swung underneath to warm the “bed” for winter printing.47
“Magician of the Needle.”
Reaugh’s letter of 6 September 1925 to Griffith included this passage:
Dallas is getting to be a picture buying town & there are only a few artists here. I find a market right here from my studio for all & paint. There is sure a fine opening for a good teacher here. It should bring you $10.00 or more per hour. The Highland Park Gallery is a fine place for a show of your work.”…I had a talk with Mrs. Bailey & she said she would be glad to arrange for you.48
Griffith was keen on the idea of a show of his work in his old hometown. The prospect of income from teaching an etching class must have provided an added incentive to visit Dallas. By December, Elizabeth H. Bailey, the president of the Highland Park Society of Arts, had arranged an exhibition of Griffith’s work at the Society’s gallery in the Highland Park Town Hall on Drexel Drive for early January 1926. The show featured oil paintings, as well as etchings and color aquatints. Included were impressions of The Weaver and Winter, two of the color aquatints shown in San Francisco at the Panama Pacific Exposition, and several prints from Griffith’s New Orleans series, such as St. Louis Cathedral, Banana Toters, Street Gossip, and Madame Begue’s. [ill. below] Idelea Andrews Hunt, the art critic for the Dallas Morning News, was unabashedly effusive in her praise of Griffith’s talent. She called his etchings “exquisite” and noted that “as pleasing and as meritorious as [his] canvasses are, it is through the medium of the etcher’s needle that his genius is most masterfully expressed — for he is essentially a great etcher.”49 In her estimate:
Mr. Griffith has become a veritable magician with the needle, compassing in his multitudinous and surprisingly varied plates both an exceptional power — in the virile handling of architectural masses — and a magic charm in delineating landscapes of poetic beauty, delicacy and refinement; in capturing the very spirit of picturesque building, nooks, corners and vistas of city streets.50
After the show closed in Highland Park, it reopened on 1 February, in Oak Cliff under the auspices of the Oak Cliff Society of Fine Arts, where it was on view for two weeks.
Griffith traveled to Dallas in early January for an extended visit to coincide with the show and, ostensibly, to teach an etching class. Reaugh had promised him use of Carruth’s press, which had been returned to her, but continued to be used by him and his students “to press our mats and grind our chalk”51 Shortly after his arrival, Hunt heralded his presence in Dallas, proclaiming him “one of America’s greatest etchers.” Interestingly, according to Hunt, he was already at work on a project “to give [Dallas] through the medium of his needle, graphic evidence of the civic beauty of this southwestern metropolis.”52 She paraphrased Reaugh, who thoughtfully placed Griffith’s new enterprise in a proper historical context:
That Griffith has discovered Dallas assures to it the fame that came to New York when found by the late C.F. W. Mielatz, its master etcher, and Childe Hassam, whose etchings and canvases also proclaim Gotham’s civic beauty, and to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia through the famous prints of Joseph Pennell.53
As an artist of national repute, Griffith’s appearance in Dallas was newsworthy. His suite of etchings of the city would provide graphic evidence of the city’s beauty and physical growth to the world at large. They would also act like a mirror, reflecting a newly-formed civic identity. In Hunt’s words, “Dallas can glow with well-warranted pride that [Griffith] is enamored of its skyline and the architectural beauty of its buildings.”54 The confluence of cultural activity that occurred in Dallas in the late 1920s was a remarkable sign of the city’s vitality and progress. At the same time as Griffith’s show, the Highland Park Society of Arts sponsored an exhibition of paintings and sculptures from the city’s private collections. Also in January 1926, the Dallas Art Association announced a campaign to raise $300,000 to build a museum in the city, and the Art Institute of Dallas announced its plan to expand to meet an increasing demand for more art classes. In Oak Cliff, the Commercial Association unveiled a design by the architect James Cheek for a fine arts center that would include both an art gallery and a studio-home for Reaugh. Griffith’s exhibitions and his suite of etchings of Dallas should be considered as part of an energetic mix of cultural events.
Dallas attracted Griffith in a way he had not envisioned. As he stood before the Houston Street viaduct in Oak Cliff, he marveled at the complete change of scene. His time away had not dimmed his memory of the “struggling, awkward town” he knew as a boy, but that a “great and bustling city” had replaced it, “truly amazed him.”55 If Griffith’s fellow etchers had laid claim to other cities, in Dallas he discovered virgin territory, a city not yet tramped upon by other printmakers. Possibly, he recalled Thomas Wood Stevens’ brief treatise, The Etching of Cities, which the Chicago Society of Etchers had published with their presentation print in 1913. Stevens’ words, written from the perspective of someone clearly enamored with intaglio processes, had advised, “[the etcher] finds no hunting ground richer than the streets, the windows, the roofs — new-world springing into steel or old-world mouldering in century-weathered stone — of the cities.”56 These were words that Griffith took to heart as he observed Dallas’ new buildings, weathered old neighborhoods, and the movement of human activity.
Just as he had traveled throughout West Texas with Reaugh in search of interesting vistas to paint in oil and pastel, he spent his time in Dallas roaming the city with a sketchbook to discover new, man-made vistas for his etching plates. Dallas’ famed skyline offered a compelling subject, but what fascinated him most were the signs of the city transforming itself into an urban center of commerce and industry. He told a reporter, “Dallas today is perhaps more picturesque than it will be in another decade. The contrast between the old landmarks continually vanishing and the new examples of architecture present to the artist a most interesting point of view.”57
Griffith returned to Nashville in March with a number of sketches and detailed drawings which he used to develop the Dallas etchings by transferring them directly to his plates. As work on the etchings progressed, he sometimes changed the arrangement of figures or added new ones to act as linear elements. The figures show his keen awareness of the shapes, spaces, and rhythms of people as they moved along the sidewalks or stood posed before buildings. In nearly every print, Griffith included people to provide the narrative content, with each figure contributing in his or her own way to the story of Dallas’ city life.
Griffith’s etched views of Dallas, most of which were executed on plates measuring approximately 9 x 11 inches, cover the range of his virtuosity. He focuses on the monumental city, with its lively mix of pedestrian and vehicular traffic in prints, such as Santa Fe Building, a view looking east from Commerce Street, [cat. 22], and Downtown Dallas, a view pointing to the northwest [cat. 21]. In the three prints, Wood and St. Paul Streets, Medical Arts Building – Dallas, and The Old and the New [cats. 20,18,19], he calls attention to the striking effects created by the contrast of ramshackle homes with towering new office buildings and elaborately ornamented hotels, such as the Adolphus. In each of these prints, Griffith includes the telling signs of change: workmen demolishing dilapidated homes to make way for new construction; the old world of horse-drawn carts opposing the new one of flashy automobiles. As Griffith makes clear, it is not hard to imagine that these untouched places would soon be a thing of the past. In City Temple [cat. 23], and Scottish Rite Cathedral [cat. 17], he uses the precision of the etcher’s needle to describe the character and texture of these massive architectural forms. Both etchings are carefully composed studies of light and shadow. Traders at Pearl Street [cat. 24], portrays a junk shop that had once been the stately mansion known as the “Gibson Place.”58 Within the clutter and sidewalk spillage is a touching vignette of a downhearted couple selling off their belongings, demonstrating Griffith’s intention to deepen the print’s meaning.
By choosing to develop his Dallas plates entirely in the linear etching processes, Griffith was following in the tradition of Lalanne and Hamerton. One suspects too, that Thomas Wood Stevens’ conviction in the power of the etched line to delineate the urban landscape was also a determining factor: “The work requires a medium suited to swift or deliberate statement, linear precision, powerful contrast and angular pattern; such a medium is etching.”59 In most of the plates, Griffith concentrates the design at its center, allowing the edges of the composition to fall away. A typical example of his technique is found in Medical Arts Building – Dallas. Here, he frames the building within a web of dark and light passages from which the nineteen-story tower rises in a seemingly mystical fashion, its massiveness defined by planes of sunlight and shadow. In nearly every image, the sky is filled with great stacks of billowing clouds that activate the atmospheric sensation of light pouring into the cavernous streets and illuminating the facades of buildings.
Griffith must have worked intensely on the plates for the Dallas series after his return to Nashville in March, since by late June, the first eight proofs were in Reaugh’s hands, and within days they were on display at the University Club on the roof of the Santa Fe Building. Hunt reported: “This is their premiere exhibition before they are sent to the international exhibition of the Philadelphia Print Club and the Sesquicentenial [sic] Exposition.”60 Although Hunt mentions a forthcoming exhibition of the prints at a more public Dallas venue, it appears that they were not exhibited again in the city until a much later date. Griffith displayed them in his Nashville studio, where, he told Hunt: “All visitors, upon observing the Dallas etchings are frankly surprised to find how metropolitan Dallas looks and many have expressed a desire to go there.”61
Accompanying Hunt’s June feature was a photograph of Griffith’s print, The Skyline [cat. 16], a panoramic view of downtown from the Houston Street viaduct in Oak Cliff. The image caught the attention of officers at the Dallas Gas Company, but not for its artistic merit. In their eyes, Griffith had erred grievously by portraying one of the chimneys emitting soot instead of clean-burning natural gas. Unwittingly, Griffith had provided the company with a creative advertising ploy. The ad featured the print, with copy announcing, “Mr. Griffith Makes Imitation Smoke.” It proclaimed his use of artistic license and reminded readers that natural gas protected the city’s “famous blue skyline which Mr. Griffith admits is one of the nicest things about this town.”62
The Dallas etchings were on display at the Highland Park Town Hall when the sculptor Lorado Taft visited Dallas in the late 1920s. Through his tireless activity promoting the beautification of American cities, Taft had become even more renowned throughout the country than when Griffith had frequented his Chicago studio in the early years of his membership in the Palette & Chisel Club. Taft praised Griffith’s etchings in an interview with Idalea Hunt: “I trust your citizens realize [the] great service he has rendered in these prints that will proclaim to the world Dallas’ metropolitanism.”63 Hunt responded to the Dallas series with genuine admiration. She wrote: “At heart he is a lyricist — one of the greatest of American lyric etchers working today.”64
Griffith received considerable attention from the Dallas community. His greatest advocate was Reaugh, who was extremely proud of his achievement. Idelea Hunt’s support was key as well. She was instrumental in winning him patrons by promoting him regularly in her Dallas Morning News columns. Griffith expressed his appreciation by sending her an impression of the color aquatint, Highland Park Town Hall, 1926 [cat. 12], which he had issued as a Christmas greeting. She was delighted by the gift and commented upon it in her weekly column, “Keeping up with the Artists.”65
In January 1927, Griffith returned to Dallas to set up a winter studio. In February, he took a brief trip to San Antonio to undertake a series of etchings of the old Spanish missions. Four etchings in the exhibition, the Alamo, Texas; Mission Concepcion, La Purisima; Mission San Jose, and Deep South, San Antonio, Texas [cats. 28-31], document his trip there. That Griffith signed the San Antonio etchings in various states, is an indication of his experimental approach to printmaking. He continuously worked and reworked his plates, adding small details with drypoint and working with plate tone to achieve atmospheric effects and give greater solidity to the architectural forms. During this trip, it is probable that he also ventured to Menard, Texas to see another historic site: the ruins of the Presidio San Sabá. He composed a delicately drawn image of the San Gabriel River, which he later developed into the etching The San Sabá [cat. 32 ].
During Griffith’s visit to San Antonio in February 1927, he encountered the first of the Texas Wildflower Competitive Exhibitions sponsored by Edgar B. Davis and organized by the San Antonio Art League.66 The competition, which was heavily advertised nationally, offered the largest cash awards for painting in America at the time. Griffith could not have failed to take notice of it, especially since Dallas artists Edward G. Eisenlohr (1872–1961) and Alexandre Hogue (1898–1994), had entered paintings. Although, Griffith had not entered the 1927 show, he submitted paintings to the 1928 and 1929 competitions and was awarded prizes both years.
Griffith may have etched El Fenix Café [cat. 25], during his residence in Dallas in 1927. The print, which he worked through various states, is an impressive demonstration of his ability to evoke the rustic charm of local scenery. It is one of the few instances where Griffith drew directly on the plate with the scene before him, rather than developing the image from a drawing. His effort to record the details quickly left no time to reverse the scene, so the commercial signs read backwards. Early impressions are cleanly printed, while later ones show the addition of plate tone and drypoint. The most noticeable change between states is the added motif of the donkey and cart at left in an area that Griffith resolved only by proofing the plate. El Fenix Café was located at 1608 McKinney Avenue in the section of Dallas called Little Mexico. According to guidebooks, in the late 1920s, it was one of the city’s popular night spots, catering more to tourists than the neighborhood’s residents.67 The restaurant featured Mexican music and dancing, as well as native cuisine. Two other prints in the exhibition, Untitled (Street Scene) [cat. 26], and Untitled (Rural Scene) [cat. 27], may also be views of Little Mexico. Untitled (Street Scene) is an especially lovely use of the graininess of soft ground to achieve richness of tone and evoke the sense of a dry, dusty street on a hot summer day.
Griffith returned to his winter studio in Dallas in January 1930. The Highland Park Society of Art organized a joint exhibition of works by Griffith and Adele Laure Brunet (1879-1965), an Austin-born artist who had moved to Dallas in 1927. Much of Griffith’s show was devoted to oil paintings, but he also hung his prints of Indiana, San Antonio, and New Orleans, while the etchings of Dallas could be viewed in a portfolio. It is not surprising that the show garnered little notice from the press; by 1930, the Dallas art scene had become a lively one, with a sizable number of local artists competing for recognition and space to exhibit their work. Griffith’s status as Dallas’ leading printmaker was being eclipsed by younger artists, such as Reveau Bassett (1897–1981), who was also a Reaugh protégé. After studying with the printmaker Joseph Pennell in New York, Bassett had returned to Dallas. In 1928, he joined the faculty of the Dallas Art Institute as an etching instructor.
Throughout the 1930s and ‘40s, Griffith exhibited his prints, but mostly in shows held in Indiana. The H. Lieber Company in Indianapolis showed his work regularly and organized an important retrospective in September 1943. The Division of Graphic Arts at the Smithsonian Institution mounted a show of his prints in the spring of 1945. It was a broad survey of his activity as a printmaker. Griffith made the selection himself and included several prints of Texas. In a letter to the Smithsonian’s curator, R. P. Tolman, he wrote: “In making a plate, sometimes I think that I go thru [sic] more agony than any one else trying to do it. So have spoiled a lot of good copper & paper.”68 Thirty-five prints were displayed and two found buyers; one of them, Morning Chores, sold for six dollars. An image of a young man herding cattle, it is possibly based on a scene from Griffith’s childhood on the ranch near Dallas.
Print sales provided Griffith with a steady income to support his family and sustain his career as a landscape painter. Whether by temperament or inclination, he worked within a traditional style of printmaking. He was a perfectionist who cared deeply about matters of quality and craftsmanship. Griffith’s son Richmond, whom he taught to make prints, described watching his father at work:
Printing the color plates was probably as close to drudgery as any phase of his work. Three or four good prints a day was about the limit. Lots of things could go wrong, even with his skill and expertise. He never compromised on quality, and more than once I have seen two or three hours work go in the trash can.69
Griffith was philosophical about printmaking, especially the capricious art of printing color intaglios. After the intensive labor of creating the design, biting, inking, and printing the plate, inevitably, the result would be either “a thing to be destroyed or of lasting beauty.”70
Rebecca E. Lawton
Associate Curator, Prints and Drawings
Amon Carter Museum
1Attributed to L. O. Griffith, Griffith papers, private collection. Hereafter cited as Griffith papers.
2Morrison & Fourmy’s General Directory of the City of Dallas for 1880-81 (Dallas, Texas: Herald Steam Job Printing House), 10. Microfilm, Special Collections, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries, Arlington, Texas.
5In interviews, Griffith recalled that his family had moved to Dallas when he was four or five years old. The 1880 United States Federal Census lists the family living in the town of Madison, Putnam County, Indiana, indicating that the move to Dallas occurred after the census was taken.
6Notice of Griffith’s mother’s death appeared in The Cow Bell 4 (1 March 1915), n. p. “With the death in January of Mrs. Martha J. Griffith, mother of L. O. Griffith, ended a remarkable companionship between mother and son. Since the age of thirteen, “Grif” has taken an active part in providing for the home.”
7Frank Reaugh described Griffith’s boyhood home as “not a pleasant one.” Typescript. Frank Reaugh Papers, 1864-1986, Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas at Austin. Hereafter cited as Reaugh Papers.
8Reaugh’s recollection of meeting Griffith, whom he called Oscar, appears in a fragment from an unpublished autobiography, dated 19 April [?]: “…when I first knew him, he and another boy had charge of the check room, each on half the day and half the night. Oscar used his half day to go to school.” Reaugh and Griffith maintained a close friendship until Reaugh’s death in 1945.Typescript. Reaugh Papers.
9Reaugh to Griffith, 26 April 1904, Reaugh Papers.
10Griffith produced an estimated 300 prints. See Lyn Letsinger-Miller, The Artists of Brown County, (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), 94.
11Idalea Andrews Hunt, “Old Prints Often Have Great Value,” Dallas Morning News (7 February 1926), sec. 5.
12“Etcher to Exhibit Work at Highland Park Art Gallery Is Pupil of Frank Reaugh.” Clipping, Griffith Scrapbook, private collection. Hereafter cited as Griffith Scrapbook.
13Student Records. Archives, Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.
14“In Memory of a Hoosier Painter,” Indianapolis Star Magazine (29 September 1957). Clipping, Artists’ Files, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Indiana.
15Reaugh to Griffith, 6 September 1896, Griffith papers.
16Reaugh to Griffith, 27 July 1897, Griffith papers.
17Reaugh to Griffith, 22 January 1899, Griffith papers.
18Reaugh to Griffith, 6 February 1901, Griffith papers.
19Reaugh to Griffith, 16 April 1907, Griffith papers.
20“Etcher to Exhibit Work at Highland Park Art Gallery Is Pupil of Frank Reaugh,” Clipping, Griffith Scrapbook.
21For an excellent history of the Chicago Society of Etchers see Joby Patterson, Bertha E. Jaques and the Chicago Society of Etchers (Madison, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickenson University Press, 2002). Bertha E. Jaques’s unpublished survey of etching in Chicago, which begins in 1893, does not mention Griffith among the early etchers. See [Bertha E. Jaques] “Etching in Illinois,” ca. 1931, Archives, Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, Art Institute of Chicago.
22Griffith’s library, private collection.
23Reaugh to Griffith, 6 October 1902, Griffith papers.
24Excerpt from Evelyn Marie Stuart, “Shoppers’ Blue Book,” May 1920, reprinted in “Ten years Ago, Our Annual of 1930,” The Palette & Chisel 7(October 1930).
25Idalea Andrews Hunt, “Cliff Studio Designed to Honor Reaugh,” Dallas Morning News (24 January 1926), sec. 5.
26Reaugh to Griffith, 2 April 1905. Griffith papers.
27Maurine Osburn, “Reaugh Group Recalls Many Expeditions,” Dallas Morning News (19 January 1930), 7. For information on Reaugh’s sketch trips see Robert Reitz and Gardner Smith, In Considerable Style: The Sketch Trips of Frank Reaugh (Stephenville, Texas: Moccasin Rock Press, 2003); and Virginia Howard, ed., Virginia Goerner: A Sketch in Time, a Young Girl’s Diary of the 1920, Frank Reaugh Sketch Trip to the Grand Canyon (Stephenville, Texas: Moccasin Rock Press, 2003).
28Reaugh as quoted in Virginia Goerner:A Sketch in Time, 43.
29Typescript, n. d., Griffith papers.
30Osburn, Dallas Morning News (19 January 1930), 7.
31“Chicago Artist Here,” Clipping, Griffith Scrapbook.
32Reaugh to Griffith, 7 May 1905, Griffith papers.
33Reaugh’s letter stated: “Your good letter of Nov. 17th received. You don’t go into details about that trip across. I was much surprised to hear from you in Europe, and have been interested to know the why and wherefore of it. Was it simply for pleasure or partly business? Or was it just to get the thing over with?” Reaugh to Griffith, 2 December 1908, Griffith Papers.
34F. M. Hohenberger, “Nashville Etcher Makes Color Prints from One Plate Using Own System,” Clipping, Griffith Scrapbook.
35The Cow Bell 2 (1 May 1913), n .p.
37Reaugh to Griffith, 2 December 1908, Griffith papers.
38“Among the Dealers,” Chicago Evening Post (16 October 1917), Clipping,
39H[arry] L. E[ngle], “Griffith’s Exhibit,” The Cow Bell 4 (1 March 1915), n. p.
40Unidentified newspaper clipping dated 18 February 1915, Griffith Scrapbook.
41Robert B. Harshe to Griffith, 18 November 1915, Griffith papers.
42“Among the Dealers,” Chicago Evening Post (16 October 1917), Clipping,
44Reaugh to Griffith, 29 June 1918, Griffith papers.
45Griffith to Reaugh, 25 June 1922, Frank Reaugh Papers, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas.
46“Brown County Artist Makes an Unusual Studio and Home of Nashville Creamery,” Indianapolis News (26 October 1922). Clipping, Artists’ Files, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Indiana.
47Frederick Polly, “Studio of Famous Hoosier Etcher,” Indianapolis Sunday Star (12 July 1936). Clipping, Griffith Scrapbook.
48Reaugh to Griffith, 6 September 1925, Griffith papers.
49Idalea Andrews Hunt, “Old Prints Often Have Great Value,” Dallas Morning News (7 February 1926), sec. 5.
50“Noted Etcher Locates Here,” Dallas Morning News, n.d. Clipping, Griffith Scrapbook.
51Reaugh to Griffith, 6 September 1925.
52“Noted Etcher Locates Here,” Dallas Morning News, n.d. Clipping, Griffith Scrapbook.
54Idalea Andrews Hunt, “Highland Park Members Show Art Specimens,” Dallas Morning News (10 January 1926), sec.1.
55“Noted Etcher Locates Here,” Dallas Morning News, n.d. Clipping, Griffith Scrapbook.
56Thomas Wood Stevens, The Etching of Cities (Chicago: The Ralph Fletcher Seymour Company, 1913), 21. Griffith’s copy of The Etching of Cities, courtesy Amon Carter Museum Library, Fort Worth, Texas.
57Kathryn Jefferson, “L. O. Griffith, Etcher Sees Fertile Field for Imagination in Million-Dollar Skyline, Dallas Times-Herald (6 February 1927). Clipping, Dallas Public Library, Dallas Texas.
58Frances Battaile Fisk, A History of Texas Artists and Sculptors (Abilene, Texas: F. B. Fisk, 1928), 98.
59Stevens, The Etching of Cities, 51.
60Idalea Andrews Hunt, “Noted Etcher, Who Was Once Dallas Bell Hop, Sketches Striking Contrasts of City,” Dallas Morning News, n. d. Clipping, Griffith Scrapbook, p. 23. Griffith’s prints of Dallas were not exhibited at the Sesqui-Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
61[Idelea Andrews Hunt], “Keeping up with the Artists,” Dallas Morning News (19 September 1926), sec. 5.
62“Mr. Griffith Makes Imitation Smoke,” n. d. Clipping, Griffith Scrapbook..
63Idalea Andrews Hunt, “Former Dallas Boy Returns to Show Beauties of New City in Fine Collection of Etchings,” Dallas Morning News, n.d. Clipping, Griffith Scrapbook.
65[Idelea Andrews Hunt] “Keeping up with the Artists,” Dallas Morning News (2 January 1927), sec. 5.
66I want to thank Kevin Vogel for bringing the Davis Competitions to my attention and suggesting that Griffith’s trip to San Antonio in 1927 may have inspired him to enter the competition the following year. For information on the Davis Competitions see William E. Reaves, Jr., Texas Art and a Wildcatter’s Dream: Edgar B. Davis and the San Antonio Art League (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1998).
67Maxine Holmes and Gerald D. Saxon, eds., The WPA Dallas Guide and History (Dallas: Dallas Public Library, 1992), 308.
68Griffith to R. P. Tolman, 16 April 1943. Special Exhibitions Files, Graphic Arts Collection, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.
69Hand-written note by Richmond Griffith, ca. 1977, Griffith papers.
70Louis Oscar Griffith, “An Etcher’s Aquatints,” Christian Science Monitor (2 July 1927). Clipping, Griffith Scrap Book.
Chronology for the exhibition catalogue:
1875 Born Louis Oscar Griffith in Greencastle, Indiana on 10 October.
c. 1880 Family moves to Dallas.
c. 1887 Employed by the Grand Windsor Hotel, Dallas, as a bell hop and clerk in the cloak room.
c. 1890 Begins taking art classes with Frank Reaugh.
1892 Drawing awarded “First Premium” at Texas State Fair and Dallas Exposition.
1893 Moves to St. Louis, Missouri to attend St. Louis School of Fine Arts; school records do not confirm his enrollment as a registered student.
1895 Moves to Chicago. Attends evening classes at the Art Institute in 1895/96 and 1896/97.
1897 Begins working for the Barnes-Crosby Engraving Company, Chicago.
1902-03 The Barnes-Crosby Engraving Company sends Griffith to New York, where he may have attended classes at the National Academy of Design; school records do not confirm his enrollment as a registered student.
1903 Exhibits painting, Along the North Shore, at Art Institute of Chicago. Thereafter, exhibits regularly at the Art Institute until 1924. Joins Palette & Chisel Club, Chicago.
1904 Exhibits at the Palette & Chisel Club’s Third Annual Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, 5–17 December. Thereafter, exhibits at the club regularly until 1921.
1905 Takes first sketch trip with Reaugh in September and October.
1906 Takes second sketch trip with Reaugh in September and October.
1907 Takes sketch trip to Maine in fall.
1908 Travels to Europe, visits England and France in fall.
1909 Takes third sketch trip with Reaugh in August and September.
1910 Present at first meeting of the Chicago Society of Etchers on 28 January.
1913 Joint exhibition of prints with Gustave Baumann at the Palette & Chisel Club in April.
1915 Mother dies in January. Solo exhibition at the Palette & Chisel Club in February. Exhibits six prints at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco; awarded Bronze medal. Donates print, The Weaver, to Oakland Public Museum (now Oakland Museum of California).
1916 Spends winter painting in New Orleans with Robert W. Grafton. Joint exhibition of works by Griffith and Grafton at the Isaac Delgado Museum, New Orleans (now the New Orleans Museum of Art) in November.
1917 Solo exhibition at the Robert Friedel Gallery in Garland Building, Chicago in October.
1920 Marries Carolyn Maulsby.
1921 Son, Richmond Maulsby Griffith is born.
1922 Moves to Nashville, Indiana in spring; rents former creamery.
1924 Moves into new home and studio in Nashville.
1925 Exhibits two paintings at the Hoosier Salon, Indianapolis, Indiana. Thereafter, exhibits regularly at the Hoosier Salons until 1957.
1926 Spends winter in Dallas. Solo exhibition at Highland Park Town Hall, sponsored by the Highland Park Society of Arts, 3–17 January. Exhibition reinstalled in Oak Cliff, under the auspices of the Oak Cliff Society of Fine Arts, 1-14 FebruaryExhibits eleven prints at the Sesqui-Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Exhibits suite of Dallas etchings at the University Club in the Santa Fe Building in Dallas in June. Helps establish Brown County Art Gallery Association in September.
1927 Spends winter in Dallas. Travels to San Antonio in February. Solo exhibition at the Cliff Hotel in Oak Cliff, sponsored by the Oak Cliff Society of Fine Arts, 1-14 February. Solo exhibition, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1-22 May. Print included in Second International Exhibition of Modern Engravings, Florence, Italy, sponsored by the American Federation of Arts in May.
1928 Travels with Will Vawter to Big Bend area to paint landscapes in the late winter.
Exhibits painting, Spring’s Enchantment at the Edgar B. Davis Texas Wildflower Competition sponsored by the San Antonio Art League; awarded purchase prize.
1929 Exhibits paintings, Fertile Fields and Tranquil Afternoon at the Edgar B. Davis Texas Wildflower Competition sponsored by the San Antonio Art League; Tranquil Afternoon awarded $1,250 purchase prize.
1930 Joint exhibition with Adele Laure Brunet at Highland Park Town Hall, sponsored by Highland Park Society of Arts, 19 February – 9 March. Painting, Hills of Kelp, wins John C. Shaffer prize of $500 for the outstanding picture at the Sixth Annual Hoosier Salon. Solo exhibition, Fort Worth Museum of Art, 6 March – 6 April.
1932 Travels to Texas and Mexico.
1934 Solo exhibition at H. Lieber Company, Indianapolis in October.
1942 Solo exhibition at H. Lieber Company, Indianapolis in September.
1943 Solo exhibition at H. Lieber Company, Indianapolis in September.
1945 Solo exhibition, Division of Graphic Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, 7 May–3 June.
1949 Print, Faith awarded first prize at 39th Annual Exhibition, Chicago Society of Etchers.
1956 Griffith dies in Franklin, Indiana on 13 November.