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 Emma Alice (Nordell) Parker  (1876 - 1958)



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Lived/Active: Massachusetts/Rhode Island      Known for: figure, genre, illustration

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Ad Code: 3
Polly Nordell
from Auction House Records.
At Play, Luxemburg Gardens
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A popular female artist who specialized in the depiction of flowers, children and landscapes in watercolor, Emma Alice Parker was born in Gardener, Massachusetts, in 1876.  She was the daughter of Thomas S. and Antoinette Parker.  After graduation from Providence, Rhode Island high school, she enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design* in 1895.  Her studies there were under Stacy Tolman, who taught anatomy, drawing and painting from life, and, beginning in 1897, from Sydney R. Burleigh, who taught watercolor.  Although she officially graduated in 1899, Miss Parker was awarded a post-graduate scholarship that allowed her to continue her attendance there part-time until 1906.  Also, having proved herself to be a capable artist, she was asked to help with instruction and in 1899 began teaching cast drawing at the school.  Parker continued her studies at the Art Students League* under Frank Dumond and Robert Henri; at the Chase School of Art* in New York City; and at the Academie de la Grand Chaumiere* in Paris where her instructors included Lucien Simon and Emile Menard.  

In February of 1910 she is noted as exhibiting with the American Woman’s Art Association of Paris.  She also began to exhibit her watercolors in major exhibitions in cities in the U.S. including Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia.  It was soon after this that she married the artist Carl Nordell, a fellow artist nine years her junior, who had been an earlier pupil of hers at the Rhode Island School of Design.  

June Miller-Spann, in her biography of Carl Nordell in 2004, commented on their relationship:  “She (Emma Alice Parker) quickly recognized Nordell’s ability as an artist and must have been allured by his talent and charm.  It is unclear exactly when the two began their courtship but based on personal letters and the Nordell scrapbooks it would appear that the couple traveled Europe together during 1911 when Carl was a Paige Scholar, studying at the Academie Julian*.  According to Nordell’s letter to Albright-Knox Museum director, Miss Sage, his marriage to Emma Parker was to take place on December 24, 1912.”

By 1913 the Nordells had returned to Boston, taking up residence at #109 Fenway Studios*, 30 Ipswich Street.  Initially, the couple began to spend summers in Gloucester, and soon after purchased a home and studio at Rocky Neck, Massachusetts that they titled Cathedral Pines.  While she continued to specialize in water colors, she was equally adept at convincing landscapes studies in oil.  In 1920 she had a solo exhibit at the Gallery-on-the-Moors, the first established outlet for the local artistic colony that had opened in Gloucester in 1916.  

Critical reviews always expressed appreciation for her work.  In 1919 one wrote: “…of Mrs. Nordell’s paintings it is not easy to say too much in praise of their intimate charm.  They are thoroughly likeable pictures, and, as the saying is, they would be pleasant to live with.  Exceedingly unpretentious as they are, much thought and study and taste has gone to the making of each canvas.”  From another in 1922:  “Rambler roses and all the favorite blooms of a summer garden appear in Mrs. Nordell’s pictures and are faithfully rendered for the artist does not rely on chance results.”  He further commented: “Several Gloucester scenes of floating piers, houses and romping children and landscape bits have been conceived with an eye to truth and yet with an admirable feeling for the pictorial.”

As for her personal life, exactly when the marriage was ended is not known, but in 1927 Carl Nordell moved to the former Vanderbilt farm “Idle Hour” at Oakdale, New York.   Recently purchased by Lucy Sawyer Pritchard Thompson, it had been turned into a living and studio area for artists.  Mrs. Nordell (by now known as Polly) was to remain at the Fenway Studios address for the remainder of her life.  She was also to continue spending summers in East Gloucester, at a residence called the Reed Studios.  

While not a national figure, the artist did exhibit frequently throughout her career.   Numerous shows were held that featured her watercolors at the Doll & Richards Gallery* in Boston, and, after becoming a member of the Boston Guild of Artists in 1940, she exhibited there as late as 1955.  She received many awards for her watercolors during her lifetime.  

In addition to the Boston Guild of Artists, Polly Nordell was also a member of the Providence Art Club, the North Shore Arts Association*, the Providence, Boston and New York Water Color Societies* and the Copley Society* in Boston.  She died at her home after a short illness on October 14, 1958.

Submitted by Edward Bentley, Art Historian, Lansing Michigan

Biographical information provided by: Miller-Spann, June.  Portrait of an American Artist, The Life and Work of Carl J. Nordell.  State University of New York, 2004;  Providence Art Club; the Boston Public Library, Fine Art Department; and the artist’s obituary. 

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

Emma Parker is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915

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