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 Clara Stroud  (1890 - 1984)

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Lived/Active: New Jersey/Louisiana      Known for: animals, circus scene, landscape

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Ad Code: 4
Clara Stroud
from Auction House Records.
Nantucket Boats
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Clara Stroud settled in Herbertsville, New Jersey and became a painter, craftsperson, designer, teacher, and writer. She, along with her mother, Ida Stroud, became a leading promoter of watercolor.

Stroud studied at the Pratt Institute, earning a BA in 1912, and an MA in 1915. She was also a student of Gustave Cimiotti, Winold Reiss, Jay Hambidge, Ralph Johonnot, and studied at the Ringling School in Sarasota, Florida with Hilton Leech.

She exhibited extensively including with the Brooklyn Society of Artists, the Society of Independent Artists, and the Salons of America.

Stroud was a critic for the Keramic Studio News, and illustrator for Every Day Art and Craftsman Magazine, and created Christmas cards for Raphael Tuck and Company. She taught at East Orange, New Jersey high school, at Pratt Institute, the Traphagen School, and the Newark Art School.

"Who Was Who in American Art" by Peter Falk

by Peter Hastings Falk


Ida Wells Stroud

Mother and daughter, Ida and Clara Stroud were at the forefront of a nationwide movement that established watercolor as a medium uniquely suited to the spirit of American artists. Throughout their long careers, both were highly influential art teachers, and both achieved long exhibition records with many awards. They were staunch believers in painting for pleasure; they spread their enthusiasm, skills, and vision to hundreds of students who came to study with them not only from New Jersey, but from all over the United States. Less important to them were their many prizes, awarded by the American Watercolor Society, the American Artists Professional League, and many other art organizations. Yet today their names live on in two important annual awards they endowed the Ida & Clara Stroud Award given by the American Watercolor Society and the American Artists Professional League.

Mother and daughter were also highly skilled members of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Right up to the middle of the twentieth century, both of these artists continued to play dynamic and influential roles in the development of art and art education in New Jersey. Today, their rich legacy lives on in the thousands of art students who have benefited from their promotion of art education.

When Clara Stroud passed away in 1984, she left a tidy home behind. Upon her desk, she had placed a notebook that would be easily found by her niece and sole heir. The book was a record of the lives of two artists her mother, Ida Wells Stroud, and herself portrayed just as she wanted to be remembered. It contained their long exhibition records, a chronology, notes about their views on art, plus letters and magazine excerpts. She even left some cash nearby just so that her niece would not be inconvenienced by any out-of-pocket expenses. She wrote, "A place for everything, and everything has its place."

On the first page she placed a farewell poem, "L'Envoi" (or, "When Earth's Last Picture is Painted," by Rudyard Kipling:

When Earth's last picture is painted
And the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colors have faded and
The youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and faith we shall need
It may lie down for an eon or two,
Till the Master of all good workmen
Shall put us to work anew.

And those who were good shall be
Happy: they shall sit in a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten league
Canvas with brushes of comet's hair.
They shall find real Saints to draw
From Magdalen, Peter, and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a
Sitting and never be tired at all.

And only the Master shall praise us,
And only the Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money,
And no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of working
And each in his separate star
Shall draw the thing as he sees it,
For the God of things as they are.

The Early Years

The story of this intriguing mother-daughter pair begins in New Orleans where Ida Wells Stroud was born in 1869. After graduating from the Temple Grove Seminary in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1886, she returned to New Orleans and married George Stroud. She soon became an active exhibitor at the New Orleans Art Association. Clara was born in 1890, but tragedy struck the young family around 1894 when George Stroud died. Ida, determined to forge her art career, moved to Brooklyn, New York, with a daughter and son in tow. Fortunately, her mother, Clara A. Wells, accompanied them and helped take care of the children so that Ida could attend classes under William M. Chase and the Art Students' League.

The desire to study with Chase likely came from the urging of Ida's friends, Marie Seebold Molinary [b.1876] and her husband, Andrés Molinary [1847-1915], who were among New Orlean's distinguished portrait painters. Ida's determination to succeed and her mother's role in helping her were later noted by an art critic: "A watercolorist with a delicate and accurate touch, she left two small children to begin her career. Fortunately, the then youthful student had a modern-minded mother who took care of her boy and girl." After studying with Chase, Ida continued her training under Arthur Wesley Dow at the Pratt Institute, graduating in 1903, and earning her masters degree in 1905. For the next two years, she continued at Pratt as a teacher and at the same time taught in Newark at the Public Drawing School, or Free Drawing School, during the evenings. (1)

In 1905, Ida and her family moved to East Orange, New Jersey, to be near the art school. For the next four decades, she was an energetic and devoted instructor of numerous students, many of whom went on to become very successful artists. Despite being an accomplished watercolorist, Ida considered art education her life vocation and concentrated on teaching color, design, figure drawing, oil, and watercolor painting. A former student once wrote of her: "A loving, unselfish, noble character. That does more to describe the painter and her work than all the artistic adjectives another painter could use."

Clara, meanwhile, graduated from East Orange High School in 1909. The caption under her yearbook picture described her as an honor student "noted for her brilliancy." Following her mother, she went on to the Pratt Institute, graduating in 1912. That year, a critic commented upon one of her works at the New York Watercolor Club: "There are other pleasant bits in the N.Y. Watercolor Club exhibition. Clara Stroud paints a perfectly good bottle, a flowered china platter, an orange, a lemon, and a fingerbowl, with a daring and decorative feeling that savor suspiciously of a new school that shall be nameless." (2)

In 1913, Clara became an art teacher at her old high school while attending the graduate program at the Pratt Institute. After earning her graduate degree in 1915, she continued to teach at the high school until 1918, when she married Charles H. Colvin, a pioneering inventor of aviation instruments. The couple lived in Brooklyn. Like her mother, Clara also returned to teach at the Pratt Institute, and the two remained close. In the summer of 1918, they were painting in East Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Ogunquit, Maine. The next summer, they returned to the art colony at Ogunquit as well as that in Woodstock, New York. In the summer of 1920, they made a painting excursion to Canada. In addition to her teaching at Pratt, Clara also taught classes in Newark and Plainfield.

Both Clara and Ida were also very active participants and catalysts as teachers in the Arts & Crafts movement. Even as a student, Clara exhibited a diverse number of hand-made objects, ranging from an illuminated manuscript page to a silk handbag, a beaded purse, a teapot cover, a table runner, a "flapper" hat, a lacquer serving tray, a woven silk shawl, and various ceramic pieces. She also produced greeting cards for Raphael Tuck Co., London, and printed and sold her own cards through Brentano's and Hartman's in New York. Her illustrations also appeared as covers for Craftsman magazine.

Ida was especially drawn to ceramics. From 1921 to 1924, she spent her summers as Professor of Design at Syracuse University's College of Fine Arts. Here, she became a close friend and student of the master ceramicist, Adelaide Robineau. Although Ida's ceramics are very rare today, many are documented because she often used them as elements in the compositions of her watercolors.

Both mother and daughter were active exhibiting members of the National Association of Women Artists, the American Watercolor Society, and other organizations. During the 1910s, both artists were active in painting and exhibiting oils on canvas, but their concentration upon watercolors was growing. Ida was especially known for her floral watercolors, for which she won a number of awards at the exhibitions of the American Watercolor Society from 1907 through the 1930s. In 1921, she won second prize in an exhibition sponsored by The Sartorius Quarterly (Jane Peterson won first prize). Clara, too, was a talented watercolorist, exhibiting during her early years (the 1910s-1920s) with the Society of Independent Artists, the Brooklyn Society of Artists, the Brooklyn Watercolor Club, the Brooklyn Museum, the Salons of America, and many other venues.

From 1921-22, Clara studied privately in New York with Ralph H. Johonnot, the author of Dynamic Symmetry. Johonnot's stylized forms and dynamic color schemes combined the spirit of Arthur Wesley Dow and the Arts & Crafts movement with the emergence of Art Deco. Clara quickly grasped and applied these methods in producing a series of notable paintings, many painted on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts, where she also conducted summer classes at her "Barnsite Studios."

Both Ida and Clara also figured prominently in the women's suffrage movement in New Jersey. Clara designed a large poster for the movement as well as a stamp. Ida, who continuously promoted the worth of women becoming professional artists, arranged one of the earliest all-women art exhibitions in New Jersey, in 1915, at the Lefevre Studios in Newark. All of the exhibitors, including Clara, were Ida's former students.

A New Life in the Country

During the 1920s, just as Ida and Clara were helping to usher in a bold new era for women artists and women's rights, they also found themselves in the midst of a new stage in their own lives. In 1922, Clara and her husband purchased a beautiful sixty-acre farm in the village of Herbertsville, New Jersey, located about five miles inland from the seashore town of Point Pleasant. The fields provided Charles Colvin with ample landing space for his airplane. He ran a company called Pioneer Instruments, and later became rich after designing the altimeter for Charles Lindbergh's "Spirit of Saint Louis." Although the townsfolk referred to their home as the "Herbert-Colvin House," Clara called their large tract "Five Miles Out" and "Riverwood Fields," for it stretched out over fields, woodlands, ponds, and meadows. It was bounded by the southern bank of the Manasquan River, just before it swells into a much wider river. The property had a farmhouse built in 1838, plus a carriage house and a water well.

In the autobiographical notebook, Clara prepared for her niece, she chose to assume the third person. Inviting the reader into her home of sixty years, she wrote:

Come, step inside her home. See the wooden floors, scrubby clean. Braided rugs round and oval, and hooked ones, too, are made by the hands of Clara Stroud. They are from old clothes. Her friends say, "I suppose you bought that bright blue coat because you want it in a rug some day" and that is the truth! . . . Over the stove hangs a watercolor Strawberries and Sugar that is how they serve them there. Strawberries freshly picked from the garden, washed, and dipped into powdered sugar. The painting is one of Mrs. Stroud's finest. Her mother, an artist also . . . Across a grassy stretch is the Barn, with its short and long slanting roof. Upstairs has become the gallery . . . it has become known as one of the pleasant things to do at the seashore to drive out to Clara Stroud's Studio . . . Visitors like to view the pictures in the Barn Studio, roam thru the garden, walk around the ponds, and drink from the well.

In 1929, possibly owing to the crash of the stock market, Charles Colvin unexpectedly left Clara and divorce ensued. Yet Clara, who had clearly inherited her mother's resourcefulness and indomitable spirit, quickly adapted to maintaining the farm and gardens by herself. Immediately, she invited her mother to move in with her. During the summer, their world centered around the gardens, of which they kept several types. Visitors would first be welcomed by terraced formal flower gardens leading to a small waterfall and two surrounding ponds. There were also two large rock gardens and a sunken garden. Clara even kept a cranberry bog which she harvested to produce her own sauces. Further from the house, the wildflower gardens were bordered by stone walls and the banks of a small brook. Finally, more than twenty of the acres were fertile fields, sloping toward the river. These fields which extended to the Manasquan river yielded crops of alfalfa and wheat, and sections were dedicated to potatoes and apples. Clara also became widely known for her award-winning crops of strawberries. She wrote, "Many people know me more for my strawberries than for my watercolors."3

The farm was their haven. Clara always called her gardens "God's Gardens," and she referred to herself as one of "God's Gardeners." Visitors were welcomed by lines of verse tacked to her studio door, written by her friend, Myrtle B. Klarman:

Dear little house with blinds of blue,
Surrounded by flowers of every hue,
Hidden far from the public eye,
On a carpet of grass on a hill-top high.

Stately old tree, their ages unknown,
Scarred by the storms and winds that have blown,
Stand as sentinels about the place,
Scattering shadows like delicate lace.

Tranquil the gardens
Of things old and rare,
Each planted and nurtured
With the tenderest of care.

Stones, placed by hands
Both delicate and fond,
Form the terraces,
That lead to the pond.

Venerable the box-wood,
Nestled close to the well,
Bordered by baby-ones
Oh, too numerous to tell.

The quaint old barn and wood-house too
Were transformed by those who truly knew
Art, as few folks do.

All thru the days, and far into the night,
Visions of your loveliness dim the sight.

Gardening was as important as painting. Clara and Ida painted everything they grew. They were also very active conducting outdoor watercolor classes at the Stroud Studio (also called the "Barn Studio.") which attracted students from all over the country, but especially from the towns bordering on the Manasquan River. Although the farm was their primary site, they also held classes along the shore in the Herbertsville vicinity. By 1939, with this group of budding artists under her wing, Clara founded the Manasquan River Group of Artists. (4)

During the decade of the Great Depression, Ida spent her winters in a small apartment in Newark in order to be near the Fawcett School. It was Clara's practice, however, to spend the winters traveling and painting in the south largely because her home had no heating system. Throughout the 1930s, she enjoyed taking classes at the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Florida, with a number of different instructors. (5) She spent eleven winters in Florida where she loved painting circus scenes and the local landscape.

In 1938,she was given a solo exhibition for her southern watercolors at the Argent Galleries in New York. A critic wrote: "In contrast we give you Clara Stroud showing watercolors she made in Florida, at the Argent Galleries. Miss Stroud's colorings are obviously natural, too. But she has organized and edited them into compositions which are vigorous, direct, and powerful as well as brightly decorative. They bespeak the mystery and glamour of the tropics, and something of that sinister quality which somehow seems part of the locale. But more important, they are complete pictures having their own life as artistic organisms apart from their subject." (6)

In 1939, working through the American Artists Professional League, Clara initiated the first "Art Week" exhibition in New Jersey to attract greater attention to the state's artists. Her program was so successful that every state followed in recognizing the first week of November as "Art Week" each year.

With the advent of World War II, enrollment in the Fawcett School became lean. By 1943, Ida resigned from the school, not because of the lack of students, but because she was weakened by a cancer that had been discovered around 1925. Ever-stoic, persevering, and of strong faith, Ida had discovered strength in converting to Christian Science and lived with the disease for many years.

After her mother's passing, Clara traveled even further south, spending the winters of 1944 through 1946 in Mexico. In 1946, she was in Taxco, visiting William Spratling, one of the most influential silver jewelry designers of the 20th century. (7) Each winter, until the mid 1950s, she found a new area to discover and paint, returning to Mexico, but also traveling to Guatemala, the Virgin Islands, throughout the southern United States, and even to Pasadena, California.

For decades, Clara had been promoting watercolor, with its freshness and vigor, as the medium most indicative of American painting. In 1951, a critic for the Parisian publication, "La Revue Modèrne" commented on the brilliancy of Clara's travel pictures and her leading role in American watercolor painting: "The solidity and luminosity of her watercolors, in which she shows a virtuosity for utilizing the white of the paper, underlines her personality which is counted in the forefront of watercolor painting in the United States." (8) Clara's watercolors of Mexico were also illustrated in the Mexican magazine, Social Review.

From the late 1930s through the early 1960s, Clara had been most active in the American Watercolor Society and American Artists Professional League, exhibiting and winning numerous awards, year after year. In 1950, she was the honorary speaker at the American Watercolor Society's annual awards dinner held at the National Arts Club in New York. She spoke about the success of her Barn Studio summer exhibitions and announced that Ida had requested that all the money she (Ida) had made from her watercolors be donated to the American Watercolor Society to establish an annual prize to the best woman watercolorist. In 1954, the other organization dear to Clara the American Artists Professional League honored her with an award for inspiring leadership in the art interests of New Jersey.

It is a tragic irony that, despite the professional accolades lauded upon the woman who had done more than any other for art in New Jersey, in 1972 the New Jersey Fish, Game, and Wildlife Commission made a formal claim to seize her farm as part of the Department of Environmental Protection's "Green Acres" program. Although she was granted a life tenancy, she still had to pay rent! Clara carried on as if nothing had changed. She tended her flower gardens, painted, taught, and entertained guests. An entry in her journal in 1980 even notes when she planted the winter wheat.

In 1984, Clara was honored as a Life member of the American Watercolor Society. Shortly after, she passed away, at age ninety-four. Her niece, also an artist, made a final visit to Clara's tidy, now quiet, home. It was clear that Clara had left the autobiographical notebook where her niece would easily spot it. It was if Clara had left a long note while out for the day painting or gardening. We all benefit from pouring through that notebook, discovering two lives that made such lasting contributions to American art and to women.

Clara said, "There is good art, bad art . . . It's a matter of taste but it should have the 'basic elements.' It should show draughtsmanship. It is significant if the artist feels deeply and makes his expression with knowledge and skill and intensity. Time is the critic. You are a success, but it is not how much money you make but rather if you achieve the 'basic things' in your work; if you have a message you desire to give, and say it with passion."

Today, that passionate message of these two indomitable spirits lives on as two prestigious annual awards The Clara & Ida Stroud Awards given by both the American Watercolor Society and American Artists Professional League. Further, we are reminded that the most influential force on American art education especially from the 1890s through the World War I era was a "quiet force" led by a few key women painters and craftswomen. Prominent among them are the Strouds.

The very last line of her notebook stated, "Yes, she lives alone and likes it. This is Clara Stroud."


1 The Public Drawing School, or Free Drawing School, eventually grew from providing only evening classes to full day classes, and in 1908 was re-named the Sara A. Fawcett Drawing School in honor of Fawcett's tenure as the first supervisor of art for Newark Public Schools (1879-1899). Ida Stroud became an official faculty member in 1907. When further growth caused the school to move into a new building, it assumed a new name: the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art.

2 New York Times, 3 Nov. 1912.

3 Brick Town News, (New Jersey) 8 Dec. 1982, p.1

4 The other founding members included Albert Hencke, Ella Mendonhall Churchman, Victor Julius, Edgar L. Pearce, Julius Golz, Margaret Markow, Fred Sprague, and Margaret Sample.

5 In addition to being a teacher herself, Clara was always interested in learning new tips from other painters. Among these artists were Hilton Leech (1934-1937, 1948), Donald Blake (1935), Loran Wilford (1936), and Stanley Woodward (1937). She also studied watercolor with Eliot O'Hara at Yale School of Fine Arts, in 1939.

6 World Telegram, 16 Mar. 1938, New York.

7 In 1929, William Spratling [1901-1967] was an architecture professor at Tulane Univ. when he decided to write a book about Mexico. He settled in Taxco, but his 1931 experiment of making silver articles in Taxco soon grew into an industry. By 1940, he had created a colony of more than 300 silversmiths who executed the "Spratling design" which combined pre-Columbian motifs with modernist design.

8 La Revue Moderne (France) Sept. 1951, p.14

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