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 Abby Rhoda Williams Hill  (1861 - 1943)

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Lived/Active: Washington/California/Iowa / Canada      Known for: mountain landscape and Indian figure painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born and raised in Grinnell, Iowa, Abby Hill became a widely traveled artist who is best known for Indian portraits and National Park landscapes, intended to stir preservation instincts in people towards the land.  She was encouraged with her art talents by her parents and received instruction from an aunt, Ruth Hubbard.

Hill studied at the Art Institute of Chicago with Henry Spread, taught at a girl's seminary in Quebec from 1884 to 1886, returned briefly to Grinnell, and from 1888 to 1889, enrolled at the Art Students League in New York where her teacher was William Merritt Chase.  He was highly praising of her talents, and she adopted his bold, vigorous brush work and plein-air method of painting as well as his philosophy that nature reveals its true beauty through artists.  She also studied with Herman Haase in Munich from 1896 to 1897, and in 1905 at the Corcoran Gallery School in Washington DC.

In 1888, she married Dr. Frank Hill, and they had one son of their own and three adopted daughters who were home schooled by their mother.  Until 1910, they lived in Tacoma, Washington as well as nearby Vashon Island, and Hill was a successful doctor, meaning his wife, Abby, could have settled into a domestic life of ease.

But she chose otherwise and with her children, traveled and painted.  It was during this time that she became known for her landscapes and depictions of Native Americans including members of Flathead, Nez Pierce, and Yakimas.  Much of her painting was commission work for scenes along the routes of the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railways.  Her assignments took her to rugged areas in Washington, Idaho, Montana, and other remote locations west of the Cascade Mountains.  Some of her resulting paintings were exhibited at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904.

In mid-August of 1905, she, accompanied by her children, first painted in Yellowstone Park at the request of the Northern Pacific Railroad.  She prepared for this assignment by spending six months at the Corcoran School in Washington DC. There she made a copy of Mount Corcoran by Albert Bierstadt, something that helped prepare her "to face the challenges of Yellowstones' novel and daunting scenery". (Hassrick, 154)

In Yellowstone, which she visited two successive summers, she focused on the waterfalls because the railroads found that people were most interested in this dramatic subject matter.  Working en plein air, she painted in 1905 a canvas titled Yellowstone Falls, which is in the collection of the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington.  While she was working on the painting, the wind became so strong that it blew the painting into a crevice 100 feet deep.  One of the men at the nearby camp finally rescued the painting, which amazingly was undamaged.

In 1911, because of her husband's illness, the couple left Washington and lived itinerantly with their four children in California, Arkansas, Canada, and Arizona, often spending winters in Tucson.  From 1911 to 1922, the family lived in Laguna Beach, California, and her husband was a patient at various hospitals.  From 1931 until her death in 1943, she lived in San Diego, where her husband was confined much of the time to Patton Hospital.

Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki Kovinick, Women Artists of the American West
Peter Hassrick, Drawn to Yellowstone

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Grinnell, Iowa on Sept. 25, 1861, Abby Williams Hill began her art studies at the Art Institute of Chicago followed by two years (1888-90) at the Art Students League in New York City under Beckwith, Clinedinst, and Chase, and later with Herman Haase in Munich.

After her marriage to Dr. Frank Hill in 1888, she settled in Tacoma, Washington. Her early fame came from commissions by the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroads to do a series of paintings of scenes along their routes.  Due to her husband's health they left Tacoma in 1909 and moved to California, living at first in San Diego and then in Laguna Beach where they were based for eight years.

During the following years the couple led an itinerant existence.  They were in Tacoma (1922-23), Hot Springs (AR), the Canadian Rockies; winters were often spent in Tucson with summers on the road.  Returning to San Diego in 1931, they bought a home at 1610 Plumosa Road where she remained until her death on May 14, 1943.

Best known for her depictions of the U.S. National Parks, she also painted floral still lifes as well as portraits of the Sioux, Flathead and Yakima tribes.

Boston Art Club; San Diego Art Association; Laguna Beach Art Association.

California State Fair, 1876; World's Columbian Expo (Chicago), 1893; Louisiana Purchase Expo (St Louis), 1904; Lewis & Clark Expo (Portland), 1905; Jamestown (VA) Centennial Expo, 1907; Alaska-Yukon Expo (Seattle), 1909 (gold medals); Univ. of Puget Sound, 1964.

University of Puget Sound; Ames (IA) College; Grinnell College.
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Who's Who on the Pacific Coast 1913; Artists of the American West (Samuels); American Art Annual 1933; Who's Who in American Art 1936-39; Woman Artist in the American West; Women Artists of the American West; San Diego Union, 5-16-1943 (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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