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“What Shall I Do?”: Paid Employment for Mormon Girls, 1927 — part 8: The Artist

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 15, 2011

“What Shall I Do?”: Paid Employment for Mormon Girls, 1927

Agnes Lovendahl Stewart

The introduction to this series is posted here.

VIII. The Artist

If you love the feel of a pencil or crayon in your hand, if you thrill to lovely color and graceful lines in landscape or figures, if you can smear daubs of paint on canvas so realistically that folks can tell what it represents without a label – what can you do by way of putting that talent to work for you?

Art for art’s sake, unfortunately, seldom pays fabulous returns until after the artist is dead. It is true in more ways than one that the artist paints for future generations, because it is the heirs of his collectors who receive big sums for his merest sketches in many instances. The stories they tell of artists in garrets aren’t all based on fancy.

But, art for laughter’s sake, art for the sake of business – now here we have a different story! For if folks won’t pay for real art, they will most assuredly pay for commercial art and for comic strips and sketches.

When I was very young and had an ungovernable hankering for paints and palette and canvas, it was considered something of a disgrace to have an aspiring artist in the family. The thought uppermost in everyone’s mind was to throw as much water as possible on that tiny spark of ability and quench it with the utmost speed.

Probably they did an inestimable service to a suffering world. Who knows? But so far as the individual is concerned, an ingrowing talent is as bad as an ingrowing nail. You can’t help thinking, “I might have done this, or I might have done that.” It’s like measles, much better to have it out than in.

So – if you want to paint or draw, and hunger for it with all your heart, do it!

And if you are of the genuine stuff of which genius is made, you will be happier painting a cake than eating it, so to speak.

Commercial art. There is a big field for it, and if you have that sparkle and life in your pen and ink drawings which makes them jump right out at you from the printed newspaper page, you are sure to find a market for your work.

Many people have the mistaken idea that all of the pictures appearing in the store advertisements are drawn by an artist in the store. Only two stores in Salt Lake City have artists who draw pictures of their dresses, although all of them occasionally use some art work.

There are large concerns in the east which make a business of drawing the newest fashions in apparel, in handbags and gloves, kitchen utensils and chinaware – in fact everything carried in the store. This is called an art service, and one store in each city throughout the country may buy reproductions of this art work for use in their advertising. Of course this method is much less expensive than having an artist in the store and making zinc etching or engravings of all of the pictures used.

These art services offer excellent opportunity for commercial art work. The advertising agencies buy art work for their clients, usually buying from the same firm of artists from month to month. This art work is usually ordered specially, to fill a particular need.

Each newspaper employs one or more artists on the staff.

One may obtain a regular job doing commercial art work for some firm of artists, for an advertising agency, a newspaper, department store, etc., or one may do “free lance” work, soliciting work wherever it can be found. A commercial artist’s salary depends upon her ability and experience. If she does “free lance” work she usually charges from $1 to $2 an hour.

Of course there are vacancies also for teachers of art in the junior and senior high schools and for supervisors of art in the elementary grades. Usually, however, there are more teachers than positions in this particular line. Unlike music, art offers very little opportunity for giving private instruction.

Interior decoration is allied to art, of course, and usually very interesting to a woman. Every girl will find here a subject in which she can become enthusiastic and which she can use to good account in her own home. She will learn many valuable things if she studies in school the applications of artistic principles in the building, decorating and furnishing of a home. In the larger cities it offers splendid opportunities for earning money but this is not true, except in a small way, of the West. As yet our cities have not become populous enough to need this type of service. Of course in a store a girl who has a knowledge of interior decoration could make herself valuable in the drapery or furniture departments.

What about the crafts? Here is an interesting phase of art work which is becoming more important year by year. Go into the art department of any store and you will see women and girls grouped around a table busily painting linen lamp shades with wood alcohol and wax, making paper flowers, painting frocks and scarfs, and decorating screens. They are making things to beautiful their homes.

They must be taught the way, and this opens the way for ambitious girls to give instructions in the arts and crafts in the department stores. There is also the call for such instruction in the schools.

Various companies, such as the Dennison company, send instructors to tour the country, spending a week in each store in which their products are represented, showing the customers new things to make.

If you wish to make money in your home, you can do so by means of the arts and crafts if you are quick to adopt the latest fad. But we are all changeable folks, and it is constantly off with the old and on with the new.

A few years ago china painting was important, and women clever with paints and brushes made money at it. A little before this the fad was for sofa cushions and wall hangings painted on black velvet – and so strange is the world that this is now coming back into style again! Among our more recent fads have been crystallite lamp shades – painted or waxed, and covered with tiny crystal beads. Now we are turning more to “Italian Vellum” shades, without the beads. Polychrome work has had a big vogue which is now dying away a little. We are all wanting now the big water-lilies made of paper and heavily waxed. Where will you not find one in the bowl of the console set on table or buffet? Last year wax fruit occupied this place of honor.

If you would make a living by your arts and crafts, you must be among the first to adopt the latest fad, so that you have always something new to offer your customers or students.

That these things are not really art, I will grant you. Probably Rembrandt would turn over in his grave at the sight of some of them. But they are honest work, and pleasant for many girls to do, and they can be made quite profitable.

I have said but little about the art of the landscape or portrait artist – the artist who creates things of beauty, with the touch of genius.

Here in the West nature is prodigal with inspiration. Where, the whole world over, could one find lovelier settings than our mountains, and those masterpieces of sculpture and painting which nature has made in the wonderlands of southern Utah? There is subject matter in plenty for the artist here.

And there is encouragement, also, for his work. Several collections are being made, and each year there are two big exhibitions held, one at the Springville high school which has taken the lead in the state in the encouragement of a knowledge of real art values, and one under the auspices of the Utah Art Institute. In the Springville show are included paintings from many of the greatest artists of the country, a great incentive and inspiration to the boys and girls who will be Utah artists of tomorrow.



6 Comments »

  1. That these things are not really art, I will grant you. Probably Rembrandt would turn over in his grave at the sight of some of them. But they are honest work, and pleasant for many girls to do, and they can be made quite profitable.

    Again, I appreciate her practicality.

    Comment by kew — March 15, 2011 @ 7:47 am

  2. Interesting that no mention was made of magazine illustration, as this was written during this specialty’s “golden age” (Think Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wythe, Howard Pyle, etc.)

    Most of the advertising work the author describes would shortly be taken over by photography as soon as good color film was developed.

    Comment by Clark — March 15, 2011 @ 10:15 am

  3. I wonder if Minerva Teichert, the age 39, might have seen this while she was painting a large mural on a canvas stretched on rough lumber in her ranch kitchen in Cokeville, Wyoming? The concept that only dead people’s art sold for high prices would have read true for her. The paintings she donated to BYU in exchange for her children’s tuition would now sell for “dead men’s prices”. Maybe Linda Curley Christensen, who has painted the scenes in six temples and has six paintings in the Conference Center would enjoy seeing the 1927 article. Her paintings in private galleries command very dear prices. The same is true for Kathryn Stats, another LDS artist who has risen to national recognition. Paint on, ladies!

    Comment by CurtA — March 15, 2011 @ 10:47 am

  4. I find it interesting that, though she remains focused on local opportunities, she doesn’t immediately leave off talking about art services even though they were located in the East.

    Also, this makes me wonder when resin grapes first entered the Mormon cultural lexicon as those things frequently “in the bowl of the console set on table or buffet”.

    Comment by David B — March 15, 2011 @ 1:31 pm

  5. He he — I’m thinkin’ circa 1966, David.

    CurtA, I confess I haven’t heard of the current artists you name. I’ll correct that lack — thanks for the referral. I’m very glad that there are people who can earn a living for themselves (not just their grandchildren) with fine art.

    That *is* an interesting omission, Clark. If wonder if it means anything; that is, did she somehow not think of that? or was the likelihood of a newcomer breaking into that field so negligible as not to warrant mentioning? (But she has warned of other difficulties, so that probably wouldn’t be her reason for leaving it out.) Now I’ll always wonder …

    Isn’t that true, kew! It feels to me that she gives all the right encouragement, without false expectations. Practical through and through.

    Thanks, all.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 15, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

  6. Ardis,

    Linda has a very large landscape as you enter the Salt Lake Temple just to the left of the recommend desk as I remember.

    Comment by CurtA — March 15, 2011 @ 4:41 pm

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