E Boyd

(1903 - 1974)

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E., as she preferred to be called, is first met in this project as the child of a wealthy Mainline Philadelphia family.  Yet, unlike women of her background, she always worked at “bread and butter” jobs, whether as a designer, waitress, cook, archaeological field worker, lingerie salesperson, librarian, or museum registrar.  Her income was poor and her hardships real, not just physically (five years living without water, electricity, or plumbing included), but emotionally as well, beginning with the loss in her early twenties of a newborn daughter she had named “Boyd.”  

Her family brought her to New Mexico to ride a pony when she was a child.  She returned as an adult in 1929, although she never participated in the inventive and hilarious hi-jinks of the Santa Fe art community; rather, she preferred work to play.  Not that spurned the 5:00 o’clock cocktail hour with a few friends. 

Social norms were largely abandoned by E., particularly when she married and divorced three times between 1924 and 1943.  Then she gave all that up.  She was a prototypical feminist, but brusquely dismissed any relationship to women’s issues, saying that her choices were a matter of individual integrity. 

She was the energy (read Secretary) behind the circulating exhibitions of the Santa Fe Rio Grande painters in the mid-1930s. She exhibited often, wrote numerous articles on art, and, as part of New Deal projects in the WPA, traveled throughout New Mexico to paint Spanish Colonial santos and altars, which later were the basis for the now-prized Portfolio of Spanish Colonial Design (1938). 

She was a modernist in spirit, arguing that art emerged from personal experience and one’s own life, and not in the mastery of academic traditions.  She could say this with authority, since she had studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art for four years, beginning at age sixteen.  Quite an odd choice, since her prior schooling took place in travel or at the Phoebe Thorpe Model Open Air School, where she wrote that she spent a lot of time drawing in her textbooks. 

And she was incredibly witty and quotable:
Extraordinarily for an eleven-year old, she wrote:  “A Myth.  Once, in the very beginning, when enough green and blue, purples and silver had been set aside for all the waters, and enough green for the leaves in summer, and red, russet and golden for the fall, and the mountains, plains and deserts, flowers, shrubs and berries, birds, fishes and beasts were made and colored, there were a lot of red and yellow and blue and all-colored scraps which no one wanted.  So they were thrown away, and blew up, up in the air until they came alive, and they were all flying, crawling insects.” [And there is more.]

“I paint because I want to paint.” 

In regard in her use of the single initial “E:”  “There is no sex in art, so why should one sign their work as man or woman?  And if a woman, why in her chosen career, should she be obliged to change her name just because she has chosen to marry?  A man’s work is not branded by his marriage, so why should a woman’s be?  Fancy John Smith, after marrying, signing his name:  John Smith, Married.  That would be absurd, and so it is absurd for a woman to have to label herself married or single.”

“I have had to paint in all sorts of odd places:  snow—where the water froze—in sand storms—living in a tent which leaked so much it was a problem to keep the paper dry—carrying paper and materials on horseback…”

“By the way of my reappraisal of moderne kunst this summer, confined to US output, led me to decide that I still, after 20 years, think that Marin and Demuth are unsurpassed as watercolorists.  I admit that Max Weber and others are swell, but inside this country the above 2 are unbeatable.  And as Demuth died a while back he has no recent work to use as yardstick.  I also still admire Sheeler, but differently.

After seeing an O’Keeffe painting of a pelvis, “It doesn’t take 4 feet to say that.”