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Olive Rush papers, 1879-1967

Olive Rush papers, 1879-1967

Rush, Olive, 1873-1966

Muralist, Painter, Portrait painter, Illustrator

Representative image for Olive Rush papers, 1879-1967

The papers of Olive Rush in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2004. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 9,064 images.

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Collection Information

Size: 5.7 linear ft.

Summary: The records of Olive Rush measure 5.7 linear feet and date from 1879 to 1967. They contain correspondence, artwork, photographs, writings, and other personal papers documenting Rush's education and career as an illustrator, portraitist, muralist, painter, teacher, 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, Del. from around 1904 to 1910. Photographs of works of art document Rush's murals and frescoes in private homes, businesses, and public buildings.

Biographical/Historical Note

Olive Rush (1873-1966) was a painter, illustrator, and muralist from Sante Fe, N.M. Studied at the Art Students League with Twatchman and Mowbray and the Howard Pyle School. Muralist for the La Fonda Hotel and Public Library, Sante Fe; WPA murals: United States Post Office, Florence, Colo. and Pawhuska, Okla. Illustrator for Collier's, & Scribners. Specialities: women, children, American Indians, frescos.


Diaries and some sketches donated by an anonymous donor, 1970. Other materials donated by Olive Rush, 1964 and 1970. Material on reel SW 4 lent for microfilming by the Olive Rush Memorial Studio, 1970.

Related Materials

The Archives of American Art holds a brief oral history interview with Olive Rush concerning her involvement with Federal Art Projects.


Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Location of Originals

  • Reel SW 4: Originals in the Olive Rush Memorial Studio, Sante Fe, New Mexico.

A Finding Aid to the Olive Rush Papers,
, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical/Historical note
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
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.
Arrangement note
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)
Diaries and some sketches donated by an anonymous donor, 1970. Other materials donated by Olive Rush, 1964 and 1970. Material on reel SW 4 lent for microfilming by the Olive Rush Memorial Studio, 1970.
Location of Originals
  • Reel SW 4: Originals in the Olive Rush Memorial Studio, Sante Fe, New Mexico.
Processing Information note
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.

Additional Forms Available

The collection has been partially digitized and is 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.

Materials loaned by the Olive Rush Memorial studio in 1970 were microfilmed on reel SW4 and are available at Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Olive Rush papers, 1879-1967. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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