Frank Applegate

(1881 - 1931)

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Frank Guy Applegate was born into a large family in Eminence, Illinois on February 9, 1881. The first records of Frank’s artistic skills were in 1897 when he was sixteen years old and won two blue ribbons at the Atlanta Fair for a portrait in charcoal and a pencil drawing.

After passing the state scholarship exam in September 1902, he left for the University of Illinois to begin his study of art in earnest. In his senior year the university offered ceramic technology for the first time, and Applegate took the class which foreshadowed his deep involvement with that medium. Upon graduating in 1906, he set off on a tour of Europe, his first stop being Paris, where he enrolled in the Academie Julian, the city’s largest and most popular private art school. Applegate’s travels took him to Italy, Holland, Belgium and England. Applegate returned to the United States to accept a teaching position as head of the modeling department at the School of Industrial Arts in Trenton, New Jersey.

Applegate’s stature as an artist grew quickly, and he was recognized as a spokesman for the school and in the field of ceramics. In summer of 1908 he returned home to marry Alta Chenoweth. The couple settled in New Jersey. Applegate made frequent trips to New York City as his brother Alpheus, a singer, lived and worked there.

In the summer of 1910 Applegate returned with Alta to Paris and the Academie Julian to study sculpture with the preeminent sculptor and teacher Raoul Charles Verlet whose work is in the Louvre and Musee du Luxenbourg. Although Verlet was a classicist, Paris introduced Applegate to the revolutionary artists of the time - Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse - who were as yet unknown in the United States. The Applegates returned to New Jersey and purchased land in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, which was an easy commute to the School of Industrial Arts in Trenton. The following year, 1911, the couple’s only daughter, Ruth Elizabeth was born.

Applegate continued to teach and study. He studied life modeling at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia during the 1913-1914 school years when the sculpture department was chaired by Charles Grafly, considered the country’s foremost teacher of sculpture.  Applegate first started showing his ceramic sculptures in New York at the MacDowell Club in November 1914. He would go on to show at the Montross Gallery which was actively showing modernist work, and his association with the gallery continued on for many years. Applegate began to show regularly and by the late teens was a member of the New York Society of Keramic Arts. He was in demand as a ceramics expert and gave lectures on glazes and clays. The Minton Potteries of Stoke-on-Trent, England, was so impressed by his work and expertise that they offer him a job in England. But Applegate’s interests were developing westward. His friendship and correspondence with Gerald Cassidy, a painter who lived in New York and Santa Fe allowed Applegate to explore his interest in Indian clays. It is with this mission in mind that the Applegates packed their camping things and headed west for what was to become a permanent move to New Mexico.

The Applegate family arrived in Santa Fe in September 1921. By the second week of September, the Applegates had purchased land on Camino del Monte Sol where the Cinco Pintores, a group of five young painters, would also build their homes. Applegate, who was quite a bit older than the Cinco Pintores, was nevertheless included in their shows. Applegate began his study of native clays but he found himself turning towards painting and is now known primarily for his oils and watercolors. Applegate first showed his paintings in 1922 at the Fiesta Exhibition. In 1923 the New Mexico Painters, an avant garde group of painters, was established. This group included Applegate, Jozef Bakos, Ernest Blumenshein, William Henderson, Gustav Baumann, Victor Higgins, Walter Ufer, and B.J.O. Nordfeldt. The first exhibition was held October 1923 at the Montross Gallery in New York. The following year, five more artists joined the group, which now included John Sloan, Andrew Dasburg, Theodore Van Soelen, Randall Davey, and Walter Mruk. Group shows of the New Mexico Painters toured the country going on to Buffalo, New York, The Toledo Museum of Art, and the Carson, Boston, Pirie, Scott & Co. Gallery in Chicago.

By the mid 1920s, Applegate had abandoned oils to concentrate on watercolors. He focused on landscapes, town and street scenes, Indian ceremonies and rural villages. By the late 1920s, his paintings took on a more oriental feeling, almost like calligraphic brushwork. Applegate became the secretary for the New Mexico Painters in 1925 and two years later the group had its last show together. After 1927 several men from the New Mexico Painters regrouped as the Santa Fe Society of Artists, Applegate being one of them. Applegate continued to exhibit in major shows at the Art Institute of Chicago, Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The Denver Art Museum gave Applegate a one-man show of his watercolors in November 1927.

Applegate filled his homes (he built several) with his own wood carvings and handmade furniture, as well as ceramic sculptures and pots. Along with his passion for painting, Applegate developed a tremendous interest in Indian and Colonial Hispanic Arts and began collecting pottery, rugs, and jewelry as well as old religious woodcarving and santos. He was a founding member of the Old Santa Fe Association and was an influential force in developing and establishing the historic preservation movement in Santa Fe.  On February 12, 1931 after a rehearsal with the Santa Fe Players, a local theater troupe, Frank Applegate suffered a heart attack in his home and died.