|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|An impressionist landscape painter, carver, etcher and teacher, George Demont Otis maintained studios in Chicago, Colorado and California, living most of his career on the West Coast. |
Otis was born in Memphis, Tennessee where he was orphaned at age six and was raised by his grandmother in Chicago. By age fourteen, he was enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago and showed early talent, especially with meticulous architectural drawings of Chicago buildings. One of the teachers was so impressed with his talent that she arranged for him to meet a United States Senator, who in turn provided Otis with a full scholarship to the Institute.
After finishing at the Institute, Otis enrolled in the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts with John Vanderpoel. He also trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and in New York City at Cooper Union, the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design. In addition, he took private lessons with John Carlson and William Merritt Chase for landscape, Izra Winters and Wellington Reynolds for figure and Robert Henri for still life.
To earn money, Otis played professional baseball and became recognized for his pitching for two seasons in the Southern Association. "He was the first in the league to use an outcurve pitch". (Starr 11) During the time he was in the South, often in Tennessee, he did many drawings in grease pencil, gouache, pen and ink, watercolors and pastels.
Early in the century, he had a studio in Chicago and also taught at the Art Institute. Otis was an energetic, robust man who frequently journeyed to wilderness areas to paint. He also established a studio near Estes Park Colorado, and in 1900, first visited California where he was intrigued by the "quality of light and the clearness of the air." (Starr 11)
In 1919, Otis moved to Los Angeles and worked for movie studios while painting scenes of the desert, mountains, beaches, trees, valleys and mountains. His painting skills had attracted the attention of Louis B. Mayer of MGM Studios in Hollywood, and Mayer hired Otis to design movie sets and oversee set-painting crews.
Otis also took his easel to Indian Reservations in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. On canvas he portrayed the customs, arts and religions of the Hopi, Navajo, Yuma, Isleta, Acoma, Taos and Pima tribes. During this time, Otis was Chairman for the American Artists Professional League, west of the Mississippi, and he lectured widely to members as well as other persons on the importance of preserving the land and being conscious of maintaining the environment.
In 1930, Otis moved to San Francisco and lived with an enclave of artists on Montgomery Street and then in the studio of Arthur Putnam near Golden Gate Park. A year later, he married Clara Van Tine, a San Francisco business woman. In 1934 he and Clara opened a studio and gallery in Kentfield in Marin County, and this became a showcase for paintings by Otis as well as carvings, stained-glass windows and etchings. Operating this studio-gallery combination was in keeping with the artist's commitment to selling his own work and not working with dealers.
Otis enjoyed socializing, and people came from all over to visit and to take classes from him. Among his friends were John Steinbeck, Jack London and Brother Cornelius. "Over five-hundred of Otis' students became professional artists. He encouraged them to develop diverse styles, forming the school of Western Impressionism early in the twentieth century." (Starr 6)
Affiliations included the Chicago Society of Art, Laguna Beach Art Association, Palette and Chisel Club of Chicago and the Marin Society of Artists.
Dr. Kevin Starr, foreward, "California Collection, Sonoma County Museum
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"
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George Otis is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Taos Pre 1940
Painters of Grand Canyon