Field Trip: Sun House/Grace Hudson Museum

Grace Hudson, self-portrait, painted at age 16, Grace Hudson Museum

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.

Painting by Helen Carpenter, Grace Hudson’s mother

Handpainted china by Helen Carpenter, Grace Hudson’s mother

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 Watermelon

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.

Baby Bunting

The Pomo Indians that Grace painted she knew and loved and admired. Said Grace, “My desire is that the world shall know them as I know them, and before they vanish.”

The Seed Conjurer

Powley: Young Man Hoeing Corn

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.

Indeed, Grace was deeply insightful in planting beloved redwoods all along the front entryway to the property, which we now enjoy. Thank you, Grace.

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

Old sundial

On the far side of the house I found this enchanting door ringer.

This door ringer is actually afixed to the door that gives entry into Grace’s studio, a large room with a bank of tall windows, with a stained glass window on one end.

In the opposite end of the room still stands the easel Grace used in her work.

Just beneath her chair is a rug she designed and had executed, showing her obvious passion for beautiful plants, which we all share. A second similar rug, very pretty, is in an adjacent living room.

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.

As I parted today, filled up with my renewed appreciation for Grace’s work and what she left behind a spot of color caught my appreciative winter eye.

Grace would be pleased.

With love and great gratitude for all artists everywhere,
Kathryn xoxo

20 Responses to “Field Trip: Sun House/Grace Hudson Museum”

  1. Great post. I love the photos.

  2. Good evening, Deb! Thanks for the visit. I’m glad you enjoyed what you found awaiting. 🙂 Kathryn xox

  3. Well done Kathryn. Wonderful pictures as well as an interesting and very talented woman. So pleased to know that she respected and loved the Indians. I think you are right about the McNab dog.

  4. Thanks, Marjorie! Yes, in addition to another visit I’ve just read a newer biography, Grace Hudson: Artist of the Pomo Indians by Lucienne Lanson and Patricia Tetzlaff who were given extensive access to the many letters on file in the Hudson Museum. Apparently Helen Carpenter was an advocate for the Pomo Indians, and thus Grace was brought up with this good modeling. Thanks for the comment. Kathryn xox

  5. Very Lovely field trip, mom! Beautiful pictures! 🙂
    What an interesting woman, and talented artist!

    Love you,

  6. Hi, Antonia! She’s a national and local treasure for sure! Her paintings will go far in helping to ensure the legacy of the indigenous peoples. Love, Mom xox

  7. Hello Kathryn

    Thank you so much for taking us along on this wonderful fieldtrip, such a well preformed guided tour. I love the design of those redwood cottages/houses and you found great many lovely details to show us.
    About the rugs, they are very different and beautiful especially number two with the floral design. The colours on that one are so mild and beautiful I think, very nice to see. / LOLove Tyra

  8. Hi, Tyra! Thanks for the visit. Yes, I am more fond of the second rug as well. Kind of impressionistic. And, yes, these homes are abundant in this valley, happily. Crafts and Victorian. Lots of charm! Kathryn xxoox

  9. what a wonderful field trip…thanks so very much for taking us along! A talented artist indeed, it is so fun to see the work of one so talented on a more personal level! Kim

  10. Good morning, Kim! Yes,I am fascinated by her, the more I learn. She was so ahead of her time. She definitely had the Artistic Temperament. What is amazing is that her parents sent her off to SF alone to study as a teen! Stagecoach was the fare at the time, and she was over 100 miles south on her own! Can you imagine keeping in touch by letter with a teen?? Kathryn xoxo

  11. Hi Kathryn!
    I just loved your tour. This is a wonderful tribute to one of our early California artists. She had the artist’s eye and sensibility to paint a culture that in her own time was rapidly vanishing.
    I love the painting of Powley.
    I have never been here, and your post is such a fun discovery. I love the house, pure California, with its board and batten siding and redwood trees. The grounds you show speak to “Western Living”. Ah, halcyon days of California!
    It is so interesting to me that as a woman artist she was a pioneer, in the same period as Cassatt and Morisot.
    The scraper and arrowhead! I feel like the Pomo were speaking to you.
    There are so many things to think about and enjoy in your posts.


  12. 🙂

  13. Good morning, Philip! Yes, I thought of you as I was shooting this post! True! I even asked myself, “What would Philip be noticing?” fresh from your wonderful post on Green Gulch! [] Grace’s parents took oxcarts from Kansas to California and arrived in Grass Valley, then Potter Valley. As a genealogist I know this was a bold move for the time. Then to be thrown into a culture where half the people were pro-Indian and the other half were shooting them, wow.
    Lucky for us Grace’s parents befriended them. And while it’s true they are “vanishing” the Native American people are a very strong presence in Mendocino County–more than anywhere I have ever lived. They are an established dominant subculture and I’m richer for it. I will write about this more in another post. And, yes, the Pomo’s are speaking to me. I wonder what they want? Kathryn xox

  14. What a delightful visit on this snowy morning, dear Kathryn, feeling I was by your side throughout the tour. I’m with Philip thinking the Pomo are beside you. Thank you, dear Mendocino friend.

  15. Good morning, Joey! Thank you so much for joining me! My pleasure! Kathryn xoxo

  16. What a talent, even as a very young girl! The property is enchanting. Thanks for sharing this lovely tour. 🙂

  17. Hi, Nancy! Yes, she had amazing talent at a very early age. I wish I could get a copy of this drawing she did in art school of a piece of sculpture. (She won an award.) Very classic. Very impressive. I’m glad she turned to local lore for subjects! Kathryn xoxo

  18. I’m very grateful for this tour of the museum. My dear friend Louise volunteers there and I’ve always wished I could visit. This was almost as good as being there — but, as I told Louise, this is the sort of place I’d want to spend all day exploring.

    I was impressed by Grace’s work, but especially by the way she caught the textures of her dress fabric in her self-portrait at age 16.

  19. Welcome, Kay! I’m glad you enjoyed this little tour and hope you get to go in person one day with your friend Louise. Yes, Grace seemed so talented so early. I am trying to imagine if I had been accustomed to my mother painting nearby when I was a young child. It was a fascinating culture and time. Thank you for taking time to visit. Kathryn xox

  20. I love reading your blog. You seem like a natural in sharing your experiences. I am starting my blog as well, do you think only natural writers can have something to share?

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