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 Worth Dickman Griffin  (1893 - 1981)

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Lived/Active: Washington/Indiana      Known for: landscape-coastal, figure-genre painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:

The following biographical information has been provided by Dave Fitzsimmons, cousin of the artists 2nd wife.

Worth Dickman Griffin was born in Sheridan, Indiana on December 15, 1892.  He graduated from high school in 1910 and then attended Oklahoma Christian University in Enid, Oklahoma from 1910 to 1913.  He then was a student at the School of the Chicago Art Institute from 1914 to 1918.  In 1920 he studied under Charles Hawthorne and George Bellows of Ashcan school fame.  Before coming to the Northwest, Griffin served as head of the art department for Radford Publications Co. 1917-18; head of the art department for Callender Sullivan Press, 1919-22; and as staff illustrator for Redbook magazine, 1922-24.  All of these positions were based in Chicago.  He joined the staff of the School of Music and Fine Arts at Washington State College in Pullman in 1924.  In 1933, he became Chairman of the Fine Arts Department at WSC (now WSU) and continued in that position until retirement in 1958.

Worth Griffin produced many oil paintings, watercolors, and sketches.  Griffin spent three years (1933-36) roaming the countryside in the Northwest painting the area’s attractions—elderly males of some prominence in the Inland Northwest, Indians, and landscapes—or spending brief stints in New York and Mexico under the tutelage of master portraitist Wayman Adams.  In August 1934, Griffin went to New York to study under Wayman Adams, primarily in the private studio of the teacher.  On the same trip, he also managed to join Clyfford Still at the posh Saratoga Springs artists’ retreat known as Yaddo as he too had been admitted to this exclusive seminar.  His works include more than 50 portraits of well known publishers, industrialist, educators, agriculturalists, elected state officials, etc. in Eastern Washington.  These were works commissioned by WSC.

In December 1934, Griffin was granted a leave from WSC to visit Mexico and study portraiture and landscape again with Wayman Adams.  The group occupied a 200 year old palace in Taxco about 100 miles south of Mexico City. Griffin traveled to other locations under supervision of the Mexican government doing landscape work but also continued his rigorous schedule of portraiture with Adams.  He amassed nearly fifty portraits of Mexicans in native costume that were exhibited at various locations throughout Washington.  According to Griffin, he made thirty sketches of street scenes and other bits of Mexican life…made a collection of 150 representative pieces of Mexican pottery and collected pictures of Native crafts.

In 1936-37, Griffin was granted an extension of time (plus salary and expenses) by WSC to paint prominent Indians in the Northwest and he completed nearly 50 of these portraits.  Part of his agreement with WSC was that these pictures became the property of the college.  They are now stored in the Fine Arts vault at WSU.  Some of his art can also be found at the Northwest Museum in Spokane, WA.  It was strange that he decided to stay at WSC since “his early exposure to the modern art movement and due to his portrait work already being favorably recognized on the Pacific Coast”. (Quote from Indian Summers by JJ Creighton, WSU Press 2000)

Worth Griffin cofounded the Nespelem Art Colony in 1937 with artist Clyfford Still.  Both men were working at Wash. State College, Pullman Wa. on the staff of the School of Music and Fine Arts at the time.  The colony taught interested students during the summers of 1937 through 1941.   Most of the works created were portraits and landscapes of the Indians of the Colville Indian Reservation and some of Grand Coulee City or scenes about the Grand Coulee Dam.  Both Worth Griffin and Clyfford Still were instructors at the colony.

After retirement, Griffin accepted a position in the Display Advertising Department of the Lewiston Morning Tribune.  In 1961 his collection of Indian Portraits was exhibited at the Rocky Reach hydro project in the Wenatchee area. In a pamphlet prepared for Portraits of Northwest Indians, Griffin was lauded for going beyond the simpler recording of visual facts to produce paintings that include both documentary and inherent creative values.  Quote from Indian Summers, “looking at the portraits today, one can detect these styles and understand Griffin’s meaning.”  Most of the works of this artist are at the WSU Museum of Fine Arts.  A few went to other museums and fewer still, given to friends.  All remaining ones belong to the family. I am making a list of these.

Worth Griffin lived in Clarkston, WA during his retirement.  He produced some art after 1941 but this was primarily landscapes around Pomeroy, WA where his wife, Vivian was raised.  Sometime after 1934, he divorced and then married Vivian Kidwell in 1940.  She had been an instructor at the Nespelem Art Colony. Griffin preferred to be called Griff and he loved to spend time hunting upland birds on his wife’s family farm near Pomeroy.  He also took great pleasure in stream fishing for trout.  Griff did some sketches of boats on the Snake River around Clarkston and spent a little time back on the WSU campus in 1976.  There he completed several charcoal portraits, one titled titled Coed and another Teacher.

 He died in 1981 and is buried at Pomeroy, Washington.  Worth Griffin had no children and neither did either of his wives.  He had no other relatives so far as was known by the family members of his second wife.  Griff never mentioned nor visited nor corresponded in any way with anyone from his past after his divorce.  He spent all holidays and other recreation time with only the members of his second wife’s family after marrying her in 1940.  His second wife, Vivian Kidwell Griffin, was an only child.  Vivian’s mother had several siblings and these also produced offspring which are Vivian’s cousins.  For various reasons, Vivian was more emotionally attached to the two children of her Aunt Agnes Graham McCarty.  One of these cousins is my mother.  Many art works left from the estate of Vivian Griffin (she died in 1996) became the property of my mother or her sister. 

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