|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|From Utah, Waldo Midgley became an accomplished etcher, watercolorist
and illustrator, and his paintings were landscapes of New York and the
Northeast and harbor scenes. As an etcher he did animals and
He went to New York in 1907 and became a student of
Robert Henri whom he credited as the most important artist to influence
his life. He became closely associated with the Henri circle
including John Sloan, George Bellows and Walt Kuhn.
he worked as a sign painter, muralist, and then illustrator designer
for companies including the Mannheimer Company and Conde Nast
Publications. He was a member of the Salmagundi Club and lived
Midgley was a direct descendant of Thomas Midgley, a Utah Pioneer, who helped found the Mormon Church.
|Biography from Anthony's Fine Art:|
|Waldo Midgley: An Introduction |
By Donna L. Poulton
York City at the turn of the 20th Century was a testament to the
greatness of American ingenuity, vitality and spirit. Innovations in
construction prompted the building of higher skyscrapers, longer
bridges and wider and deeper subway tunnels than anywhere in the world.
Merchants, construction workers, financiers, immigrants and factory
workers were pouring into the city, and they needed an infrastructure
to accommodate them.
It was this dynamic milieu of frenetic and creative energy that
greeted eighteen-year-old Waldo Midgley and seventeen-year-old Hal
Burrows when they arrived in New York City in the autumn of 1907.
The promising young artists from Salt Lake City, Utah, were hoping to
further hone their craft. Their first stop was the widely reputed
Arts Students League, but it did not offer the type of experience they
were looking for. Fortunately they walked up 80th Street, where
they found the New York School of Art, in which the charismatic Robert
Henri was instructing. Waldo remembered the students were “laughing,
talking, arguing and working. …Portraits [were still hanging] on the
locker doors of students; painted by Bellows, Ireland and others. …The
place bubbling like the Hot Pots at Heber. We signed for the day
Time, chance and formidable talent had positioned Midgley and
Burrows squarely in the heart of one of the most original and exciting
groups in American Art History: "The Eight,” a name created by the
press to refer to the eight artists that would later become known as
the Ashcan School. Founded by Robert Henri (1865-1929), the Eight had
rejected the constrained conservatism of the National Academy of Design
in favor of art that expressed forceful themes and rich subject matter
and that captured the excitement of New York scenes and people.
Besides Robert Henri, the Eight also included Arthur Davies, William
Glackens, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Pendergast, John Sloan, George Luks
and Everett Shinn. In 1908, within six months of Midgley's arrival, the
Eight would launch a controversial exhibition that convincingly set
them apart from the more traditional art in America.
Midgley wrote in his journal that, “Mahonri Young taught me to
draw and Robert Henri taught me to paint.” Henri urged his students to
record the immediacy and reality of life around them in an adventurous
style and to search for the potential in familiar images. The brushwork
was freer and quicker; the strokes perceptible and impassioned. The
palette was restrained, with dark tones and rich impasto, reflecting
the shades of the urban realist environment.
Between 1907-1913, Midgle y studied with Henri at the New York
School of Art and at The Henri School of Art. This was punctuated by
trips to Utah and his studies with Bellows, Sloan, and Walt Kuhn.
After seeing the historic 1913 Armory Show, Midgley returned to Salt
Lake City to work, and in 1914 he met and married Lucille Van
Schoonhoven. The newlyweds relocated to the Windy City, where he
studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts for one year.
By the early twenties both Midgley and Burrows were back in New
York City, along with John Held Jr. and Mahonri Young. The advertising
agency where Waldo was working, Black and Ross, sponsored an exhibition
in which Waldo sold seventeen paintings and won a fifty-dollar prize.
The judge observed that Waldo’s work followed the Hamridge Theory of
Design, which was based on the Greek theory of Dynamic Symmetry: "a
series of geometric formulae governing the relationship of squares and
rectangles within a composition.” The judge did not know that the
sophisticated compositions were a result of Waldo’s innate
understanding and intuitive use of the principles of the “Golden Mean.”
By now, the core group of Mahonri Young’s Utah students had become
successful in their own right. Hal Burrows was the art director at MGM
in New York City, John Held Jr. was busy with his enormously popular
flapper series and Midgley had joined the staff of Conde Nast
Publications. Over the next decade Midgley’s paintings and design would
be featured in such upscale magazines as Vogue, Vanity Fair and House and Garden. His work graced the cover of first three issues of American Golfer magazine.
In the early 1930s Midgley had an exhibition of watercolors in
Scarsdale, New York. Mahonri Young, who had become a member of the
National Academy of Design, wrote of Midgley’s exhibition:
there is the series done around New York. Here again are the same
qualities of unexpectedness, coupled with assured workmanship; but, how
different the sentiment. …Whereas, in the Bronx River series, it is
nature surprised in all her sweet intimacy, here it is nature, still,
but with man’s work everywhere. An artist’s vision of our modern world
in iron and steel and electricity.”
Though New York City
became his adopted home, Midgley repeatedly returned to Salt Lake City
for stays ranging from a few weeks to several years. Besides
visiting family and friends he worked on a public art project with Lee
Greene Richards, held an exhibition at the Art Barn and taught
classes. Midgley’s nostalgia for his home state was evident when
he wrote that there is no “place that can touch the color and
atmosphere of Utah. Even in the winter it is poignant to the
artist. I love Utah’s gorgeous mountains, her cool mountain
streams and stately poplar trees, the sagebrush, the farm land, the
Great Salt Lake and the unsurpassed sunsets.”
Waldo Midgley was the grandson of Joshua Midgley, an early Mormon
pioneer who played cello for the theatre at night and painted signs
during the day. Waldo could never really break with Utah; it was
in his blood. But the old adage that “you can’t go home” seemed
to haunt him or at least his art career. Utah was a difficult art
market at the time and it was challenging to develop a loyal customer
base. During his trips home, he also missed some opportunities in
New York City. Perhaps the most significant was Robert Henri’s
“Exhibition of Independent Artists” in 1910. The show was comprised of
one hundred artists and nearly five hundred works. Most of the
entrants were former students of Henri. As Robert
Olpin exclaimed, “And Waldo Park Midgley wasn’t even in town! How very
sad, because every indication points toward probable Midgley inclusion
in the show."
By 1939 Waldo and his second wife, Nell, had moved to New York to
stay for the next forty-plus years. Midgley was energized by
their return. Nell Midgley told Robert Olpin that Waldo returned
to the haunts of his early days, “Grand Central, the Harlem River, and
the Hudson and Bronx Rivers.”
During the war years he taught at the Cavanaugh School of Art and later
at the Jean Morgan School of Art. He continued to paint and
exhibit, and he worked in graphic design and printmaking. He also
worked at lettering, which brought him a commission from Mahonri Young
to do the lettering for This is The Place Monument in 1947.
In 1951 Midgley was invited to join the prestigious and rarified
Salmagundi Club. The club roster included such personalities as: Childe
Hassam, William M. Chase, N.C. Wyeth, George Inness, J. Francis Murphy,
Howard Pyle, Henry Ranger, Louis C. Tiffany, Stanford White, Anders
Zorn, just to name a few. Midgley juried several of the major art
exhibits held at the club. After the war Midgely taught painting
at the Pratt Institute, considered to be one of the leading art schools
in the United States. He continued to paint and to exhibit,
winning perhaps the most prestigious award that can be given to a
watercolorist, the “Winsor and Newton Prize,” given by the famous arts
materials company from Britain.
By the 1960s he could often be found painting at the Bronx Zoo and
was given a life-time pass to enter and paint whenever he
pleased. Midgley remembered, “The old animal houses were pleasant
to work in; good daylight. One could see the animals clearly.” Benny
Goodman bought Midgley’s paintings, including some from the zoo series.
Goodman would continue to do so into the mid 1970s as they became good
friends, often seeing each other for dinner.
By the late 1970s Midgley’s health began to decline and he chose
to spend his final years in Utah. By this time there were art
historians and art lovers in general that came to understand the
magnitude of his contribution and oeuvre. At age ninety-four he
was honored with a major art retrospective. The exhibit featured
works from different eras and a wide variety of images. The early
lesson that he had learned from Henri, “to paint what you see in your
environment,” had guided his thematic choices for the remainder of his
career. Midgley described his subject matter best when he wrote
in his journal that:
“…painting contains within itself all the
things that nature produces or which result from the actions of men,
and in short, whatever can be comprehended by the eyes, it would seem
to me that he is but a poor master who only makes a single figure well.
For do you not see how many different kind of animals there are, and
also of trees and plants and flowers? What variety of hilly and
level places, of springs, rivers, cities, public and private buildings,
of instruments fitted for man’s use?”
The exhibition toured
Utah in 1984 starting in the north with a showcase of his work at the
Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art in Logan, then moving to the Utah
Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City, and concluding at the
Springville Museum of Art in Springville. Robert S. Olpin wrote an
exhibition catalogue and history for the retrospective.
Waldo Midgley died in 1986, but his work survives and continues to thrill art collectors, museums and galleries.
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