A Finding Aid to the Olive Rush Papers,
1879-1967, in the Archives of American Art, by Megan McShea
Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Table of Contents:
- Biographical Information
- Overview of the Collection
- How to Use the Collection
- Detailed Description and Container Inventory
Olive Rush was born in Fairmount, Indiana in 1875 to a Quaker farm family of six children, and attended nearby Earlham College, a Quaker school with a studio art program. Encouraged by her teacher, Rush enrolled in the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1890, where she stayed for two years and achieved early recognition for her work. In 1893, Rush joined the Indiana delegation of artists to the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
In 1894, she moved to New York City and continued her studies at the Art Students League with Henry Siddons Mowbray, John Twachtman, and Augustus St. Gaudens. She secured her first job as an illustrator with Harper and Brothers and quickly started doing additional illustration work for Good Housekeeping, Scribner's, The Delineator, Woman's Home Companion, Sunday Magazine, and St. Nicholas Magazine. Rush also became a staff artist at the New York Tribune and illustrated several books.
In 1904, Rush sent an inquiry with samples of her work to master illustrator Howard Pyle, who had established what was then the only school of illustration in the country in Wilmington, Delaware. There he provided free instruction to a small number hand-picked artists culled from hundreds of applicants. Although Pyle did not admit women to his studio, he encouranged her to come and join the class for lectures and criticisms. Rush moved to Delaware later that year, joining a growing number of female illustrators there including Ethel Pennewill Brown (later Leach), Blanche Chloe Grant, Sarah Katherine Smith, and Harriet Roosevelt Richards, among others. Rush and her female colleagues lived together in a boarding house known as Tusculum, which became well-known as a gathering place for women artists.
Rush traveled to Europe in 1910, embarking on a period of intense study and travel which would mark a steady transition from illustration to painting. She studied at Newlyn in Cornwall, England and then in France with the American impressionist Richard E. Miller. She returned to Wilmington in 1911, where she moved into Pyle's studio with Ethel Pennewill Brown. Rush bounced to New York, Boston, and back to France, where she lived for a time with fellow artists Alice Schille, Ethel Pennewill Brown, and Orville Houghton Peets. Her reputation grew, and she began to exhibit regularly in major national and regional juried exhibitions including the Carnegie, Pennsylvania Academy, and Corcoran annual exhibitions, as well as the Hoosier Salon.
In 1914, Rush made her first trip to Arizona and New Mexico. Passing through Santa Fe on her return trip, Rush made contact with the artists community at the Museum of New Mexico, where she secured an impromptu solo exhibition after showing her new work, inspired by the landscape of the Southwest. She made Santa Fe her permanent home in 1920 in an adobe cottage on Canyon Road, which became a main thoroughfare of the Santa Fe artists' community.
Rush began to experiment with fresco painting, and developed her own techniques suitable to the local climate. She became a sought-after muralist and was asked to create frescoes for many private homes and businesses. In her painting, she often depicted the Native American dances and ceremonies she attended. She exhibited these paintings around the country, including with the Society of Independent Artists in New York, and in the Corcoran Annual Juried exhibition, where Mrs. Herbert Hoover and Duncan Phillips both purchased her work.
In 1932, Rush was hired to teach at the Santa Fe Indian School. Rush's enthusiastic work in the 1930s with the young pueblo artists is credited with helping to bring about a flourishing of Native American visual art in New Mexico. Rush continued to work with native artists throughout her life, and many of her associates went on to gain national reputations, including Harrison Begay, Awa-Tsireh, Pop Chalee, Pablita Valerde, and Ha-So-De (Narciso Abeyta).
From 1934 to 1939, Rush executed murals for the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) and the Federal Art Project (FAP) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Rush's federal art projects included murals for the Santa Fe Public Library (1934), the Biology Building of the New Mexico Agricultural College (1935), the Pawhuska, Oklahoma Post Office (1938), and the Florence, Colorado Post Office (1939). Rush was also asked to join the Advisory Committee on Indian Art created by the PWAP in 1934, to help administer a segment of the program aimed at employing Native American artists.
In her later years, Rush's artwork became increasingly experimental, incorporating the ideas of Chinese painting, Native American art, and her contemporaries, the modernists, especially Wassily Kandinsky. She continued painting and exhibiting until 1964, when illness prohibited her from working. She died in 1966, leaving her home and studio to the Santa Fe Society of Friends.
Sources consulted for this biography include Olive Rush: A Hoosier Artist in New Mexico (1992) by Stanley L. Cuba, and Almost Forgotten: Delaware Women Artists and Arts Patrons 1900-1950 (2002) by Janice Haynes Gilmore.
Overview of the Collection
Scope and Contents
The records of Olive Rush measure 5.7 linear feet and date from 1879 to 1967. They contain correspondence, artwork, photographs, writings, and other records that document her education and career as an illustrator, portraitist, muralist, painter, and promoter of Native American art.
Biographical materials include several narratives written by Rush and others, as well as a few items related to Delaware artist Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach, Rush's close friend and colleague. Correspondence spans Rush's education and career, and documents her early career in illustration, purchases and exhibitions of her work, her efforts to secure exhibitions for Native American artists, and her dealings with administrators of Federal Art Projects of the 1930s.
Writings include diaries from Rush's early years, including an especially detailed diary from her Santa Fe Indian School mural project in 1932. Also found are lectures, talks, essays, notebooks with technical experiments and aesthetic ideas, and loose notes for her FAP project at the New Mexico College of Agricultural and Mechanical Arts.
Records of Rush's artwork include two record books, receipts for supplies and shipments, price lists, inventories, records of submissions, and a small number of similar records of artwork by Native American artists. Sketchbooks, loose sketches, and drawings by Rush span her entire career and include many studies and proposed designs for murals and frescoes.
Printed Materials consist of exhibition catalogs, clippings, and reproductions of artwork, especially illustration work from Rush's early career. Photographs include a class photograph from the Corcoran School of Art circa 1890 and many of Rush and her fellow artists in Wilmington, Delaware from around 1904 to 1910. Photographs of works of art document Rush's murals and frescoes in private homes, businesses, and public buildings.
Arrangement and Series Description
The collection is arranged into seven series:
- Series 1: Biographical Material, 1886-1966 (Box 1; 7 folders)
- Series 2: Correspondence, 1889-1964 (Boxes 1-2, 8; 1.4 linear feet)
- Series 3: Writings, 1886-1962 (Box 2; 0.6 linear feet)
- Series 4: Records of Artwork, 1904-1956 (Box 3; 8 folders)
- Series 5: Artwork, 1896-1957 (Boxes 3-4, 7, OV 8-12; 1 linear foot)
- Series 6: Printed Materials, 1879-1967 (Boxes 4-5, 7, OV 13; 1.6 linear feet)
- Series 7: Photographs, circa 1890-1966 (Box 6; 0.4 linear feet)
Subjects and Names
This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following index terms. People, families and organizations are listed under "Subjects" when they are the topic of collection contents and under "Names" when they are creators or contributors.
- United States -- Dept. of the Treasury -- Section of Fine Arts
- Women painters -- New Mexico -- Santa Fe
- American Indians in art
- Mural Painting and decoration -- 20th century -- New Mexico -- Santa Fe
- Art and state
- Painters -- New Mexico -- Santa Fe
- Illustrators -- New Mexico -- Santa Fe
- Muralists -- New Mexico -- Santa Fe
Types of Materials:
Olive Rush donated the bulk of her papers to the Archives of American Art in 1963 and 1964. Additional exhibition catalogs and photographs were added to the collection upon her death in 1966. An anonymous donation of additional diaries, sketchbooks, and a photograph was received by the Archives in 1970. Also in 1970, the Olive Rush Memorial Studio lent scrapbooks, photographs, clippings, and exhibition catalogs to the Archives, which were then microfilmed and returned to the studio. Many, but not all, of the loaned materials were later donated.
Separated and Related Materials
Materials loaned by the Olive Rush Memorial studio in 1970 were returned after microfilming on reel SW4. The portion that was not later donated is not described in this finding aid.
The Archives of American Art holds a brief oral history interview with Olive Rush concerning her involvement with Federal Art Projects.
How the Collection was Processed
The collection typically received preliminary processing at some point after receipt and was partially microfilmed on reel SW4 . The entire collection was fully processed, arranged, and described by Megan McShea in 2005 and the bulk of it was scanned, with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.
How to Use the Collection
Restrictions on Use
The bulk of the collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website. Use of material not digitized requires an appointment.
Ownership & Literary Rights
The Olive Rush papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.
Portions of the collection were digitized in 2006 and are available online via AAA's website. Materials which have not been scanned include art reproductions, programs for cultural events, and photographs of works of art. Exhibition catalogs and periodicals that refer to Rush or to her work with Native American artists have had their covers and those references scanned, and other periodicals and pamphlets have had only covers scanned. Photographs of works of art have not been scanned, except for installation views and photographs of murals and frescoes in situ.
How to Cite this Collection
Olive Rush papers, 1879-1967. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Detailed Description and Container Inventory
Biographical Material, 1886-1966, undated
(Box 1; 7 folders)
This series contains biographical narratives, bank records, bills and receipts, identification and membership cards, programs, certificates, and other personal printed materials. Many of the biographical narratives were written by Rush herself. Other narratives are by Sylvia Loomis, W. Thetford LeViness, and Gustave Baumann. Personal Documents include identification and membership cards, Rush's 1947 honorary Doctorate degree from Earlham College, and printed invitations to Rush's garden parties. A nineteenth century alphabet picture book is filed here as an artifact. Biographical materials for Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach include undated pen and ink illustrations, biographical narratives, exhibition catalogs, and clippings.
|1||1||Narratives, 1920-1966, undated|
|1||2||Notes on Rush Family Ancestry, undated|
Financial Records, 1905-1962
|1||5||Personal Documents, 1886-1909, 1947, undated|
|1||7||Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach, 1952-1960, undated|
(Boxes 1-2, 8; 1.4 linear feet)
Correspondence includes personal and business letters from Rush's family and friends, clients, galleries, and administrators of the Federal Art Project. Subjects include personal matters, Rush's illustrations for magazines and books, private commissions of portraits and murals, the exhibition and sale of her work at galleries and other venues around the country, Rush's Federal Art Project murals in the 1930s, and her artistic association with and promotion of Native American artists. Sales of artwork are often documented in this series with notes from buyers.
Significant correspondents include Lou Henry Hoover (Mrs. Herbert Hoover); fellow Howard Pyle studio student Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach; Chicago artist Laura van Pappelendam; literary critic Marius Bewley; arts educator Dorothy Dunn; Hilla Rebay of the Guggenheim Foundation; curators Mary Cabot Wheelwright and Florence Bennett; writers Haniel Long, Witter Bynner, and May Sarton; and Brooklyn artist Beulah Stevenson. Federal Art Project administrators with correspondence in this series include Edward B. Rowan, J.L. Nusbaum, Edward Bruce, Holger Cahill, and R. Vernon Hunter. A few brief letters from Georgia O'Keeffe are also found.
Among correspondence are original prints sent as greeting cards from artists the Applegate's, C.W. Ashley, Josef Bakos, Gustav Bauman (1927, 1937, 1944), Kathleen Blackshear, Margaret Britton, Ruth M. Hallock, Edward and Jo Hopper, Marguerite and Charles Kassler (1929), Hannah McCord Rhett, Mary Riley, Will Shuster (1927), and Agnes Tait (1937). (Unless otherwise indicated, these cards are filed with undated correspondence.)
Received letters are sometimes annotated with Rush's detailed notes concerning the business at hand. Outgoing drafts of Rush's replies are also occasionally found. Fragments of letters are common.
Correspondence is arranged chronologically, with undated correspondence arranged alphabetically at the end of the series.
(54 folders; see also OV 8)
|2||10||Leach, Ethel Pennewill Brown|
Rush (other than Olive)
First Names Only, A-V
(See Box 1, F41)
Writings, 1886-1962, undated
(Box 2; 0.6 linear feet)
This series contains diaries, notes, transcripts of lectures/talks, and other writings by Olive Rush, mostly about art, aesthetics, and art techniques. Also found are personal writings, creative writing, and writings of others. Rush's early diaries concern her childhood, education, and early career, including her experiences at the Corcoran School in Washington, D.C. and her arrival in New York City, where she studied with Henry Siddons Mowbray and Augustus St. Gaudens. A 1932 diary contains a daily account of her experience creating murals with young Native American artists at the Santa Fe Indian School. Rush's talks and lectures address mostly art-related topics, including art appreciation, modern art, her own art, and Indian art. Essays include a couple of brief, handwritten essays about Indian art.
Notebooks include a book labeled "Analysis" which contains compositional analyses of modern paintings, detailed notes on other art subjects, and sketches. Two other notebooks contain records of her experiments and practices with art materials, particularly frescoes, for which she developed her own techniques suitable to the New Mexican climate. Detailed notes are found concerning Rush's mural project for the Biology Building at the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts, a Federal Public Works of Art Project, as well as loose notes on a range of art subjects. Miscellaneous Notes contain contact information and other personal notes.
Other writings are found in Series 1. More details on the Agricultural College mural are found in 1938 correspondence with R. Vernon Hunter, and many sketches for that project are found in Artwork (Series 4).
|2||25||Fragments, 1890, 1900, 1907, undated|
Bound Volumes, 1886, 1891-1896
|2||30||Indian School, 1932, undated|
|2||31||Talks and Lectures by Olive Rush, 1947, 1957, undated|
Stories, Poetry, Essays of Olive Rush, 1890, undated
"Analysis," circa 1934-1935
|2||35||Fresco Experiments, 1920|
|2||36||"Technical Art Notes," circa 1920s|
|2||37||Miscellaneous Notes, undated|
|2||38||Notes for Mural in Biology Building, New Mexico Agricultural College, circa 1935|
Notes on Art Subjects, 1924-1958, undated
Miscellaneous Notes, 1919-1953, undated
Writings of Others, 1919-1921, 1962, undated
(Lectures on Dynamic Symmetry by Jay Hambidge, pamphlet on lithography by Lawrence Barrett, miscellaneous quotations, prayers, and poems)
Records of Artwork, 1904-1956, undated
(Box 3; 8 folders)
This series contains business records related to artwork by Olive Rush and Native American artists Rush worked with and helped to promote.
Records of Artwork by Olive Rush make up the bulk of this series, including notebooks that record individual titles of works, prices, and sometimes sale and exhibition information; bills and receipts for supplies, framing, and other work expenses; and lists of inventories, submissions, and prices. Scattered receipts of painting sales are filed with price lists. Additional sales information can be found in Correspondence.
Records of Artwork by Native American Artists include lists of artists' names and works, price lists, and records of exhibitions.
|3||Records of Artwork by Olive Rush|
Record Books (1918-1920, 1919-1951), undated
(2 volumes in 2 folders)
|3||3||Bills and Receipts, 1904-1924, 1940-1941|
Lists, Prices, Submissions, 1913-1954, undated
|3||8||Records of Artwork by Native American Artists, 1933-1956, undated|
Artwork, 1896-1957, undated
(Boxes 3-4, 7, OV 8-12; 1 linear foot)
This series contains loose sketches and drawings, sketchbooks, woodcuts, and lithographs by Olive Rush, along with a few artworks created by others.
Sketches and Drawings are grouped by subject matter, with those representing Rush's murals and frescoes filed separately. There is some crossover among the subject categories, and sketches and drawings made for murals in particular are likely to be found in other categories. Although most sketches are unidentified, murals and frescoes known to be represented here include Rush's Federal Art Project murals at the Santa Fe Public Library, the New Mexico College of Agricultural and Mechanical Arts, and the Pawhuska, Oklahoma Post Office. Also represented are privately commissioned works, including murals and frescoes created for the La Fonda Hotel of Santa Fe, the Sandia School in Albuquerque, and the homes of Florence Barrett, Cyrus McCormick, and Mary Wheelwright, among others. Photographs of many of Rush's murals and frescoes are found in Series 7.
Among the other sketches and drawings are scenes of Native American reservation life, scenes from home and travel destinations, studies for Rush's illustrations, portraits, and other paintings, and abstract, non-objective drawings. Sketches and Drawings are mostly executed in pencil, but are also found in colored pencil, charcoal, watercolor, pen and ink, crayon, and oil.
Sketchbooks contain a similar range of subjects and media, with sketches sometimes accompanied by notes and information about location and date of execution. Artwork by Others includes works by Charles Barrows, Edgar Miller, Dorothy Stewart, Mootzka, Will Shuster, and Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach. See Correspondence for prints received by Rush as greeting cards. Additional drawings by Ethel P.B. Leach are found in Biographical Materials.
|3||Sketches and Drawings|
Murals and Frescoes, circa 1919-1938, undated
(7 folders; see also OV 8 and 12)
Landscapes, 1897-1948, undated
(9 folders; see also OV 9)
Figures, 1912-1957, undated
(11 folders; see also OV 10 and 12)
Animals, 1896-1951, undated
(7 folders; see also OV 11)
(2 folders; see also OV 11)
|3||48||Sketches of Native American Art, undated|
|3||49||Miscellaneous Subjects, 1883, undated|
Sketchbooks, 1931-1948, undated
(7 folders; see also Box 7)
Woodcuts and Lithographs, 1926, undated
(2 folders, including duplicates)
Artwork by Others, 1927, undated
(see also OV 11)
|4||11||Children's Drawings, undated|
(See Box 4, F7)
Oversized Sketches for Murals and Frescoes
(See Box 2, F10)
Oversized Sketches of Landscapes
(See Box 2, F17)
Oversized Sketches of Figures
(See Box 3, F26)
Oversized Sketches of Animals
(See Box 3, F37)
Oversized Sketches of Flora
(See Box 3, F44)
Oversized Artwork by Others
(See Box 4, F10)
Large Oversized Sketches for Murals and Frescoes
(See Box 3, F10)
Large Oversized Sketches of Figures
(See Box 3, F26)
Printed Materials, 1879-1967, undated
(Boxes 4-5, 7, OV 13; 1.6 linear feet)
This series contains exhibition catalogs; newspaper and magazine clippings; reproductions of Rush's illustrations, paintings, and murals; periodicals; postcards; programs from the theater and other cultural events; pamphlets; and other printed miscellany. Exhibition catalogs, making up the bulk of this series, are for Rush's solo and group exhibitions throughout her career, and for other artists as well. A poster designed by Rush for the Plastic Club (founded 1897), a club for female artists in Philadelphia, is filed here.
Exhibition Catalogs, 1905-1954
(22 folders; partially scanned)
Oversized Clippings, Images
(See Box 5, F19)
Oversized Clippings, Native American Subjects
(See Box 5, F20)
Oversized Reproductions of Rush Artwork
(See Box 5, F23)
Oversized Poster for Plastic Club Exhibition
(See Box 5, F22)
Oversized Reproductions of Rush Artwork
(See Box 5, F23)
Photographs, circa 1890-1966
(Boxes 6-7; 0.4 linear feet)
Photographs in this series depict Olive Rush, her schools, classmates, friends, colleagues, homes, and artwork. Class pictures include a group photograph from the Corcoran School of Art circa 1890, and from the John Herron Art Institute from 1920. Photographs from Rush's Delaware years depict the residents of "Tusculum," a boarding house used by female artists who attended Howard Pyle's studio lectures and criticisms, and the interior of the Howard Pyle studio, where Rush lived with Ethel Pennewill Brown (later Leach) during Pyle's absence in 1911.
The bulk of photographs of artwork depict Rush's murals in the Midwest and Southwest, some in private residences and businesses, and others created for the Federal Art Project in public facilities. A series of photographs also depict Rush working with local Navajo, Taos, and Apache artists on frescoes at Maisel's Indian Trading Post in Albuquerque
Dates given in parentheses are execution dates of artwork and should not be confused with record dates. Apart from installation views, murals, and frescoes, photographs of artwork have not been digitized.
Oversized Photographs of Artwork
(See Box 6, F18 and F38)