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 Harriet Morton Holmes  (1876 - 1967)

About: Harriet Morton Holmes


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Lived/Active: Arizona/California/Maine      Known for: landscape and Indian painting, etching, illustration

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Portland, Maine, Harriet Holmes was active in Arizona as an artist as early as 1914.  She first worked primarily in graphics as an etcher, engraver and block printer, and then in 1920, working with Leon Gaspard during a summer spent in Taos, she added oil painting.

Holmes was raised in Maine, and in the late 19th century, she moved to California and studied in San Francisco.  Later she taught at the San Diego State Normal School, now California State University in San Diego. 

She married John Garnett Holmes, an engineer, in Los Angeles in 1903.  In 1910, she moved to Arizona and remained a resident of the Phoenix area.  She taught at Tempe Normal School, now Phoenix Union High School.  In addition to painting, she also did illustration including pen and ink drawings of historic places and events for Boyle Workman's 1935 publication, Los Angeles-The City That Grew.

Her exhibitions include the Arizona State Fair (1928), Chicago Art Institute with the Society of Chicago Etchers, Printmakers of Los Angeles, Santa Fe Fiesta of 1924, and Phoenix and Tucson Fine Art Associations.  She was a member of the Prairie Printmakers of Los Angeles, California Society of Etchers and the Phoenix Art Association.

Harriet Holmes died in Phoenix on August 25, 1967.

Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, Women Artists of the American West
Peter Hasting Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

Biography from Arizona Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts:
By Jean Wootton Stewart-Ruth

In 1914, my father, Edgar Wootton after leaving Kansas, his home state, had obtained a job at the Holmes Ranch, located north and south of Buckeye Road, between 91st and 99th Avenue.  Although he was hired as a lowly irrigator, before long, he was managing the Snake Ranch while Garnett Holmes managed the financing and business part. Garnett's brothers Fred (a doctor) and Carl, one-time Corporation Commissioner, also had interests in the Holmes Wootton Ranch & Co.

Garnett was married to Harriet Morton and they had a little girl named Norah who died about the age of 4 years. Harriet's family lived in Indiana where her grandfather had been Governor of the state during the Civil War.  We heard that her father was an envoy to some South American country. Harriet was born July 14, 1876 and died August 1967.  Harriet had graduated from Stanford University and became an art teacher for Arizona State Teacher's College before she married Garnett.  She had the artistic personality, concentrating on her art, vague about details such as home making, cooking, etc.  She depended on meals from the "cookhouse".

The cookhouse was managed by a man who was tired of cooking, and said to be an alcoholic.  He wanted to leave.  Garnett advertised for a cook and two young ladies answered the ad.  They had been working at Donofrio's Candy, making chocolates, and thought it would be "romantic" to work on a ranch, even though they didn't know how to cook very well.

When they moved to the Snake Ranch, they met Harriet.  She interested one of the girls, Burnice McDonald (my mother) in painting, and they became friends.  Burnice, a teacher, had come to Arizona to nurse her tubercular sister.  Inevitably, Burnice and Edgar were married in 1915 and became life long friends of Garnett and Harriet. After the economic collapse after World War I, Garnett and Harriet moved to Central Avenue in Phoenix, while the Woottons moved to Buckeye areas.

Garnett died some time after 1927 ?? and Harriet was alone.  At one time she moved to Taos, New Mexico which had become an Artist's Colony.  She kept daily diaries, but some of those I read were rather boring, with weather reports and scathing comments on the other artists.  She apparently studied from other artists there, gaining one technique called the "whirling rectangle" as part of composition.  She did pen and ink drawings, copper plate etchings, oil painting.

When she returned to Phoenix, she had a small desert cabin built north of Northern Avenue, just north of Camelback Mountain.  There were other artists living in that area, and Harriet spent her time painting, etching and joined an artist organization of that time.

My family visited her often, and saw her sweeping a rattlesnake out of the house at one time.  She also had the dangerous habit of throwing kerosene into the wood stove to start the fire.  She had a screened area built on the top of the cabin and spent hours observing the desert day or night.  She gathered rocks and built walls for a porch.  They worried about her driving her Model T ford.  Apparently she had various accidents due to driving. But she was extremely careful.  My Dad observed her stopping at a dirt lane and looking carefully around (no one for miles around and unobstructed view) before slowly proceeding onto the dirt road.

She lived with us at our small farm 5 miles west of Goodyear for some time. We had a tent out in back of the house. She had my dad build some cat cages and tried to breed blue eyed white angora cats. She also had a weird little ugly dog who hated everybody and her beloved elf owl who had lived with her when Garnett was still alive.

At one time she lived on Indian School Road and about 3rd street.  I was a hopeful young artist and stayed with her for a week or so.  She used to talk to herself (out loud). "I wonder what she would like for dinner? How do I know" Maybe she'd like lamb chops!"  Then when she asked me what I'd like for dinner, I would respond "Lamb chops would be great".  When she said "Why doesn't she ever get out of this place and go somewhere so I could be alone", I would take the trolley downtown and wander around.

As an artist I don't remember exactly what I learned from her, but even staying with her for a short time was memorable.

At one time, she must have been low on funds.  Garnett's brother ,Carl Holmes, had kept possession of the Snake Ranch, which had cabins for workers.  He encouraged her to stay there.  They grew broccoli as one crop, and I remember visiting where she was using dried broccoli stalks as fuel for the wood stove.  Her explanation was that she was trying to embarrass Carl into providing her with proper fuel for the stove.

Eventually Harriet went into a nursing home in Phoenix where I visited her occasionally.  She still puttered with her art.  Somehow, our family ended up with most of her remaining art pieces, etchings, oil paintings, poetry, because the Holmes part of the family apparently thought her a bit "dotty".  During her life, she illustrated a book about Stanford University, one called Birds of the Arizona Desert, showed in local shows and was apparently well respected as an accomplished artist, albeit rather eccentric.

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Harriet Holmes is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Taos Pre 1940

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