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 Sara Shewell Hayden  (1862 - 1939)

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Lived/Active: Nebraska/Illinois      Known for: portrait, figure and genre painting, teaching

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Ad Code: 3
Sara Shewell Hayden
from Auction House Records.
Meadow Creek
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Sheldon Museum of Art:
Sara Shewell Hayden (1862 – 1939)

With Cora Parker’s departure from the University of Nebraska in 1899, W. R. French, Director of the Chicago Art Institute, recommended that one of his students, a talented silver medal recipient, Sara Shewell Hayden, inquire about the art department director position. She applied and was offered the post in 1899.

Born in Chicago on February 8, 1862, Hayden graduated with honors from the Art Institute in 1890 before moving to Cincinnati to teach at Mount Auburn Young Ladies Institute. She returned the following year to accept a position at Grant Collegiate Institute where she taught for four years. This prestigious prep school, formerly called Misses Grant’s Seminary for Young Ladies, trained women for Vassar College. During this time, she entered her work in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Hayden left her teaching positions to travel abroad in 1896 and spent two winters in Paris. She worked in several painters’ studios including American Charles C. Lasar (1856-1936), who while living there opened his atelier to English speaking women including famed painter Cecilia Beaux. Although few women were included in the Paris Salon in the late 19th century, Hayden’s art was accepted there in 1898. Her work was also exhibited widely in the United States in venues including New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and St. Louis.

During her years in Lincoln Hayden taught drawing and painting and also conducted art classes for the public on Saturdays. One of her students, Creta Warner Filley of Roca, Nebraska was her model for Girl in Green (1899), now housed at the Sheldon Museum of Art. A few years later Hayden was commissioned by the class of 1902 to paint a portrait of Ellen Smith, the university’s first female faculty member and registrar, who had died after many years of service. The portrait was presented as a gift to the university’s art collection and remains in the Sheldon Museum of Art. Although portrait commissions would have been more lucrative, Hayden seems to have enjoyed experimenting with her subject matter. In the still life titled Tulips, now in the Museum of Nebraska Art, Kearney, Hayden paints with watercolor but the dark, rich hues and velvety background resemble oil painting. Hayden placed the vase off center allowing the expressive flowers to bend toward the middle of the painting. Not unlike her mentors Frank Duveneck and William Merritt Chase, Hayden’s painting possesses dark, romantic qualities with visible brush strokes and reflective light and shadows that reveal their source. Two other untitled paintings in the Sheldon collection are a landscape and a boat at harbor scene. Both were purchased from a Lincoln patron and later given to the museum.

In 1905 Hayden notified the university that she was taking a one-year leave of absence to accept an invitation from William Merritt Chase to paint and study in Spain and revisit Paris and London on her own. The trip would include landscape painting, studying from living models and masterpieces of the Prado museum. Her letter to the Chancellor and Board or Regents emphasized Chase’s reputation as an artist and the prestige this would bring to the University. She continued: “I feel sure that the benefits resulting to the University from renewed personal vigor and the accumulation of desirable material for lecture purposes will offset any feasible disadvantage.” For her replacement she strategically wrote that the Director of the Chicago Art Institute William M.R. French, another esteemed figure, could recommend a substitute. Also on the trip was notable artist Charles Sheeler, one of the founders of American modernism.

Records such as this one and others suggest that Hayden possessed a degree of confidence. The number of works still in existence would also indicate that Hayden was quite productive and experimental. Her seventeen-year tenure at the University would also point to a degree of satisfaction with her position in Lincoln. However, in response to an inquiry from Clarissa Bucklin for the book, Nebraska Art and Artists, in 1930, Hayden obviously felt some discontent as well. She described the University of Nebraska art department as small with fees too high for “the opportunities offered.” But despite the art department’s slow progress, the art community in Nebraska was beginning to flourish. The Haydon Art Club had become the Nebraska Art Association (NAA) the year after her arrival, and this helped to bolster the art climate. The tradition of hosting exhibitions of East Coast art that Hayden’s predecessor Cora Parker began was becoming well established. NAA, according to Hayden, had hosted several exhibitions and had guaranteed the safe arrival and return of the artwork. From these exhibitions the NAA purchased pieces for its collection, and as artists learned of these prospective sales and the NAA’s record of safe delivery, they more willingly sent works to Nebraska.

Hayden was fifty-four when she resigned from the university in 1916 and returned to Chicago. A search for exhibition records brings up little evidence of art activity after she left Nebraska. In her letter to Bucklin she spoke of being a “shut-in” for the previous ten years and said that she was not well enough to “stand much excitement.” She died in 1939.

Sources:
1) W.B. Conkey Company, official publisher to the Columbian Exposition, 1893, 54
2) Letter to Chancellor Maclean, June 23, 1899, University Archives/Special Collections-University of Nebraska-Lincoln
3) Letter to Chancellor (Andrews) and Board of Regents, April 8, 1905, Archives/Special Collections-University of Nebraska-Lincoln
4) Letter to Clarissa Bucklin, November, 1930, Sheldon Museum of Art, artist file.
5) Ibid.
6) Ibid

Researched and written by Sharon Kennedy, Director of Education, Sheldon Museum of Art

Biography from Museum of Nebraska Art:
Sara Shewell Hayden (1862-1939)

Born in Chicago, Illinois on February 8, 1862, Sara Shewell Hayden graduated with honors in 1890 from The Art Institute of Chicago before moving to Cincinnati, Ohio to teach at Mount Auburn Young Ladies Institute. She returned to Illinois the following year to accept a position at Grant Collegiate Institute where she taught for four years. This prestigious prep school, formerly called Misses Grant’s Seminary for Young Ladies, trained women for Vassar College in New York.

During this time, she had three watercolors accepted in Chicago’s 1893 Woman’s Illinois Exposition at the World’s Columbian Exposition. Hayden left her teaching positions to travel abroad in 1896 and spent two winters in Paris. She worked in several painters’ studios including that of American Charles C. Lasar (1856-1936) who opened his atelier to English-speaking women including famed painter Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942). Although few women were included in the Paris Salon in the late 19th century, Hayden’s art was the exception in 1898. Her work was also exhibited widely in the United States at venues in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and St. Louis.

In 1899 the position of Art Department director at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln became open with the departure of Cora Parker. William M. R. French, Director of The Art Institute of Chicago, recommended that Hayden, one of his students and a talented silver medal recipient, inquire about the position. Hayden applied and was offered the post the same year.

During her years in Lincoln, Hayden taught drawing and painting and also conducted art classes for the public on Saturdays. A few years later, the artist was commissioned by the class of 1902 to paint a portrait of Ellen Smith, the University’s first female faculty member and registrar, who had died after many years of service. Although portrait commissions would have been more lucrative, Hayden also painted other subjects. In the Museum of Nebraska Art’s still life titled Tulips, Hayden used watercolor, however the dark, rich hues and velvety background resemble oil painting. Hayden placed the vase off center allowing the expressive flowers to bend toward the middle of the painting. Not unlike her mentors Frank Duveneck (1848-1919) and William Merritt Chase (1849-1916), Hayden’s painting possesses dark romantic qualities with visible brush strokes and reflective light and shadows that reveal their source. Hayden captured the elegance of the flowers and established a dark, brooding mood in her work through color, light, and composition.

In 1905 Hayden notified the University that she was taking a one-year leave of absence to accept an invitation from Chase to paint and study in Spain and revisit Paris and London on her own. The trip would include landscape painting, studying from living models and masterpieces at Spain’s Prado Museum. Her letter to the Chancellor and Board or Regents emphasized Chase’s reputation as an artist and the prestige this would bring to the University. She continued: “I feel sure that the benefits resulting to the University from renewed personal vigor and the accumulation of desirable material for lecture purposes will offset any feasible disadvantage.” For her replacement, she strategically wrote that Director French of The Art Institute could recommend a substitute. Records such as this as well as painting commissions and sales indicate that Hayden enjoyed autonomy during her 17-year stay in Nebraska

Hayden arrived when the art community in Nebraska was beginning to flourish. The Haydon Art Club, established in 1888 and one of the first arts organizations in Lincoln, had become the Nebraska Art Association (NAA) the year after Hayden’s arrival, and its activities helped to bolster the art climate. The tradition of hosting exhibitions of East Coast art that Hayden’s predecessor Cora Parker began was becoming well established. The NAA, according to Hayden, had hosted several exhibitions and had guaranteed the safe arrival and return of the artwork. From these exhibitions, the NAA purchased pieces for its collection and, as artists learned of these practices, they were more willing to send their works to Nebraska.

Hayden was 54 when she resigned from the University in 1916 and returned to Chicago. A search for an exhibition record brings up little evidence of art activity after she left Nebraska. In a letter to Clarissa Bucklin for Nebraska Art and Artists in 1930, she spoke of being a “shut-in” for the previous 10 years and that she was not well enough to “stand much excitement.” She died in 1939 in Park Ridge, Illinois.

The Museum of Nebraska Art has one work by Sara Shewell Hayden.

Researched and written by Sharon L. Kennedy, 2000, now Director of Education, Sheldon Museum of Art. Revised, 2013, a project of MONA’s Bison Society.

Sources:
W. B. Conkey Company, Official Catalogue of the Illinois World’s Exposition Board, 1893 https://archive.org/stream/officialcatalogu00illi#page/n11/mode/2up, 54.

Information in a letter to Chancellor and Board of Regents from Sara Hayden, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, April 8, 1905.

Information in a letter to Clarissa Bucklin from Sara Hayden, Chicago, Illinois, November, 1930.

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