The flowers on the dress Grace Hudson (1865-1937) is wearing are a clue. She would become recognized as an exceptionally popular artist in her time whose passions included painting local landscapes, local indigenous peoples and animals. She came by this naturally. Her father, A.O. Carpenter, was a well known and respected photographer who recorded early landscapes and pioneers of Mendocino County, and her mother, Helen, was an artist in her own right, illustrated by the two lovely pieces below, now housed in The Sun House, Grace Hudson’s family home, a registered California Historical site.
Grace Carpenter, a twin, was born in a humble one-room cabin in 1865 in Potter Valley in Mendocino County. Her talents were recognized and encouraged by her artistic parents early on. At age fifteen, she was sent alone to San Francisco to attend San Francisco School of Design where she would excel. Completing her studies, she returned to Mendocino County and remained with her parents until she met and married John Hudson, a young physician from Tennessee, whose developing love of Indian studies Grace shared. Indeed, Grace Hudson would go on to paint over 600 paintings of the Pomo Indians who inhabited Mendocino County at the time, establishing herself as one of the first female artists to be recognized among Western artists. In 1893 her painting, “Little Mendocino” went on exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago where it created a sensation and received a certificate of honorable mention. Her competitors included works by Mary Cassatt and Rosa Bonheur.
The success of this painting put Grace squarely on the radar of collectors and galleries in San Francisco. She began to paint on commission. By the end of 1894 Grace was a nationally known and admired painter. She received major national media attention and her career was firmly secured.
The dog in this endearing painting looks suspiciously like a McNab (closely related to the Border Collie) and as the McNab was bred first in Mendocino County on McNab Ranch, I have to wonder. Dogs appear frequently, however, with Grace’s renditions of Pomo children. This might be construed as contrived, but, point of fact, the Pomo Indians had a very high regard for their dogs.
There is an attending story about the above painting. Apparently Grace painted a Pomo woman and named the painting, “Powley’s Sweetheart.” When she was asked repeatedly, “Who is Powley?” she subsequently painted the man himself to answer their question.
My awareness of Grace Hudson’s work began, synchronistically or ironically, when I planted my first garden in Mendocino upon returning to California after a four year quest exploring living first in the South followed by two years in the Arizona desert, outside Scottsdale. In digging up the earth for my first seed planting I “happened to” unearth two Indian tools. I was surprised and excited. And for some reason I put them in a zippered pocket in my purse and then promptly forgot they were there.
Later in the spring I decided to visit the Grace Hudson Museum which a friend had told me about and the Sunday I decided to make that journey it so happened that the staff was sponsoring a day in which one could bring indigenous artifacts to be evaluated by an expert. I sat in utter (very quiet) fascination as people revealed paintings and objects they had brought for evaluation. It took me a full hour at least to recall that I had the Pomo tools I had found in my garden with me in my purse. Very shyly I finally brought them forth, and was told they were practical tools the Indians used in their daily creative activities, one being a scraping tool, and the other looking more like an arrowhead.
I remember feeling excited. However subsequently I was quietly informed by a woman I met who is of Pomo descent, “I have never found a single thing.” The impact of the find descended on me and I felt profoundly humbled and honored. I also felt obliged to pay attention and I have ever since. One entry point into this exploration is the blessing of Sun House and the adjacent museum showcasing Grace Hudson’s life and work. Here is the Sun House.
I find myself wondering if people actually came and left by the front door. If one takes a docent tour one is always ushered through the patio door, on the side of the house, and this feels like a more likely entry.
I’m going to show you another photo of this side of the house, as I want you to get the feel of this property from this perspective, influenced largely by this redwood tree which stands just in front.
The hand of the artist reigned at Sun House. This firepit and the arbor and sundial below all speak to her domestic creativity.
Arbor which will be awash in trumpet vine and wisteria come spring
Lapping up her creative endeavors it is no large stretch to imagine that her life and work are now housed on this same property in the Grace Hudson Museum. Cheers to those who recognized and valued her work and continue to showcase it, as well as other artists’ work in the area.
Grace would be pleased.
With love and great gratitude for all artists everywhere,
Posted on January 10th, 2009 by Kathryn
Filed under: Field Trips