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 Sarah (Speight) Blakeslee  (1912 - 2005)

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Lived/Active: North Carolina/Pennsylvania/Illinois      Known for: landscape, still life, and portrait painting, teaching

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Sarah Blakeslee Speight is primarily known as Sarah (Speight) Blakeslee

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Ad Code: 3
Sarah Blakeslee The Farm
The Farm
watercolor 18x22

Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Known for her painterly, naturalistic landscapes and still-life images, Sarah Jane Blakeslee received her art training in Realism* and Impressionism* and was profoundly influenced by the work of Paul Cezanne.

Blakeslee was born in Evanston, Illinois in 1912.  She attended the Art Institute of Chicago*, Illinois in 1926, followed by the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C.  Additional instruction was obtained from Catherine Critcher, an artist recognized for her Native American portrait paintings.  In 1931 she began studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts* in Philadelphia under the artist Francis Speight.  As an instructor and landscape painter, Speight was influential on the artwork she produced.  Blakeslee and Speight later married.

Sarah Blakeslee was awarded the Cresson Scholarship* from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1933, enabling her to travel and paint in Europe for a year.  It was during her time abroad that Blakeslee encountered the artwork of Paul Cezanne, which, having a significant impact on her style of painting, is most apparent in her earlier work.  She also received awards in honor of her work, such as the Charles K. Smith Award from the Woodmere Gallery; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts' Mary Smith Prize*; and the National Academy of Design* Roger Fund.  She painted Apple Orchard, a mural for the post office in Strasburg, Virginia, as part of the Works Progress Administration* in 1938.

Blakeslee’s artwork has been exhibited by the Art Institute of Chicago; Corcoran Gallery; National Academy of Design; North Carolina Museum; Pennsylvania Academy; and the 1939 Worlds Fair in San Francisco, California.  Her work is held in permanent collections of institutions including the Greensville Museum of Art in North Carolina; Muskegon Museum of Illinois; North Carolina Museum of Art; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; and the St. John’s Museum in North Carolina.

Blakeslee died on 12 January 2005 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one day prior to her ninety-third birthday.

Submitted by Jenna Wuensche, Researcher

Source: Jules Heller and Nancy G. Heller, North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century

Additional Resources (Internet Sources): James A. Michener Art Museum, Bucks County Artists, Interactive Database Post Office Photos, Strasburg, Virginia Post Office

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


Biography from Gallery C:
Sarah Blakeslee was born in Evanston, Illinois on January 13th, 1912, the same year Jackson Pollock was born. Her formal education in art began in 1926, when at the age of 13 she attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  Shortly thereafter she moved to Washington, D.C. and took classes under Catherine Critcher during her senior year of high school. With persuasion from Critcher, Sarah began studying at the Corcoran School of Art in 1930.  

In 1931, she left the Corcoran and went to Chester Springs Pennsylvania to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  At the time, it was considered one of the best en plein aire schools in the nation.  Sarah was awarded the Cresson Traveling Scholarship in 1933 and returned to Philadelphia to continue her studies at the other campus of the Pennsylvania Academy. She was awarded a second Cresson in the Spring of 1934 and traveled to Europe a second time.  After taking additional classes at the Corcoran upon finishing at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, she married Francis Speight on November 7, 1936.

Returning to Pennsylvania from a honeymoon in North Carolina, Sarah began exhibiting her work at the Corcoran during their annual exhibitions in 1937 and 1938. She also painted a mural for a post office in Virginia and exhibited work at the 48th Annual Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago during this time.

After her formal training in impressionism and realism, and gaining experience as an en plein aire landscape painter, she spent the years from 1938 to 1964 exhibiting in many venues and working as a portrait painter.  She participated in the Golden Gate International Exhibition in San Francisco and the New York World’s Fair. Blakeslee’s artwork can be found in numerous museums collections including the North Carolina Museum of Art, North Carolina State University, Greenville Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In 1961 Sarah Blakeslee and her husband Francis Speight relocated from Pennsylvania to Greenville, North Carolina where Speight took a teaching position at East Carolina University. Sarah continued to paint and teach at various art centers in Greenville, Kinston, Washington, and Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Blakeslee returned to Pennsylvania following her husband’s death and lived near her children until her death in 2005.

Greenville Museum of Art Catalogue, Sarah Blakeslee: A Retrospective. 1993.

York, Maurice C. The Privilege to Paint. Greenville Museum of Art. 2002.

Biography from The Johnson Collection:
Sarah Jane Blakeslee was born in 1912 in Evanston, Illinois. During her teenaged years, she took classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. She also attended a private art school in Washington opened by Catherine Crichter, an accomplished painter and prominent member of the Taos Art Colony. Encouraged by Crichter, Blakeslee enrolled at the Country School of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts at Chester Springs following high school. While at the Academy she was awarded two Cresson scholarships which allowed her to travel to Europe and encounter the work of the European masters. Shortly after graduation, Blakeslee married one of her former professors from the Academy, Francis Speight, in 1936. The couple moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania and settled in the rural community of Castle Valley where they lived until 1961.

Rural life suited both Blakeslee and Speight and gave them ample time to paint the surrounding Pennsylvania countryside. In 1937, Blakeslee showed paintings at the annual exhibitions of both the Corcoran Gallery and the Art Institute of Chicago. She also exhibited regularly at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1938-1967. However, her productivity slowed dramatically in the forties and fifties as she raised their two children; a son born in 1940 and a daughter in 1943.

In 1961, Speight accepted the position of artist-in-residence at Eastern Carolina University in his home state of North Carolina. Blakeslee adapted well to her new home and continued to paint and teach art throughout the sixties and seventies. Her subjects were primarily landscapes of the surrounding area and portraits of local citizens.

Following Speight’s death in 1989, Blakeslee continued to paint and show her work. She rented out rooms to international students for additional income and companionship until 1998 when she retired and moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to her daughter.

Blakeslee’s paintings are now part of the permanent collections of the Greenville Museum of Art (NC), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the National Academy of Design in New York, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

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