Henry Varnum Poor


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Painter and ceramist. A singular artist-craftsman, as a painter he focused on figural works but also executed landscapes and still lifes. In addition, he created murals, ceramics, and architectural designs. Born in the central Kansas town of Chapman, Poor grew up with a naturalist's love of the countryside. After graduating from Stanford University, in 1910–11 his artistic education proceeded at the Slade School of Art in London and the Académie Julian in Paris. He returned to teach at Stanford, but soon numbered among the founders of the California School of Fine Arts (now San Francisco Art Institute). Later, he helped to establish the Skowhegan (Maine) School of Painting and Sculpture. Following military service in World War I, in the 1920s he personally constructed a home to his own designs in New City, in the Hudson River Valley. Inspired by Arts and Crafts precedents, Poor's stone house integrates extensive handmade detailing, including much ceramic ware. Self-taught in pottery, Poor often applied painted ornamentation to his pieces. He also designed residences for several friends. Poor's early painting shows a debt to Cézanne's example, but in the 1920s he began to work more expressionistically. With time, his painting became softly romantic and more directly realistic, as in the figure study Pink Table Cloth (Cleveland Museum of Art, 1933), although underlying structure and patterning suggest his continuing interest in modernism. His 1930s murals for a federal art project led to other decorative commissions. During World War II, he headed the U.S. Army's Art Unit in Alaska, where he portrayed the landscape and resident Eskimos. This experience provided the basis for his illustrated book, An Artist Sees Alaska (1945). He also published A Book of Pottery: From Mud into Immortality (1958). He died at his New City home.

The artist's stepdaughter, painter Anne Poor (1918–2002), born in New York, studied at the Art Students League and Bennington (Vermont) College. She is known for landscapes, flowers, and figure paintings, as well as scenes of World War II and murals. Long associated with Skowhegan, she also traveled widely. Greece (1964) reproduces her views of that country, along with text by Henry Miller. She died at Nyack, not far from her Hudson River Valley home in Haverstraw.

Subjects: Art.

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