Rebecca Salsbury (Strand) James 1891-1968
- Rebecca Salsbury (Strand) James
- White Hollyhocks and Polar Ice Gladiolas
- signed Rebecca Salsbury James Taos New Mexico and titled White Hollyhocks and Polar Ice Gladiolas on the reverse
- reverse oil on glass
Weimer Family collection, Taos, New Mexico
Owings-Dewey Fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1998
Taos, New Mexico, Van Vechten-Lineberry Taos Art Museum (on loan)
Washington, D.C., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Variations on America: Masterworks from American Art Forum Collections, April-July 2007
Dean Porter, Teresa Hayes Ebie, and Suzan Campbell, Taos Artists and Their Patrons, 1898-1950, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1999, no. 230, illustrated in color p. 302 [as White Hollyhocks (From My Garden)]
The daughter of Nate Salsbury, the American impresario who created and managed the Buffalo Bill Wild West show, Rebecca Salsbury Strand James was born in London in 1891 during one of the show's European tours. She and her family traveled with the show until her father's death in 1902, when they settled in New York. In 1922, she married photographer Paul Strand, whose dealer was the legendary Alfred Stieglitz, a fellow photographer noted for "discovering" artists including Marsden Hartley, Georgia O'Keeffe and John Marin. James and Strand became a part of the social circle surrounding Stieglitz and this exposure to the fervent, progressive aesthetic theories of some of the great early American modernists fueled her desire to teach herself to paint.
Beck, as she was affectionately known, and O'Keeffe frequently painted side by side during visits to Stieglitz's home on Lake George. During one of these trips, Beck discovered by chance as she was cleaning her glass palette that light had an unusual effect on the oils viewed through the glass. Familiar with the American Folk art technique of oil on reverse glass, as well as some early experiments in the medium by Marsden Hartley, Beck decided to practice this method, in which paintings are conceived backwards, carefully layering pigments to create the desired effect. Suzan Campbell writes, "By the mid-1920s, her determination, self discipline and deep concentration were rewarded when her friend Georgia O'Keeffe recommended that she be given a show at New York's Opportunity Gallery, a free exhibition space for emerging artists. Not wanting to be recognized as Paul Strand's wife, she exhibited under her maiden name, Rebecca Salsbury, and received favorable reviews."
In 1929, accompanied by O'Keeffe, Beck made her second visit to the Taos home of the renowned arts patron Mabel Dodge Luhan. Both O'Keeffe and Beck were escaping the throes of unhappy marriages and viewed New Mexico as a welcome source of distance and inspiration. Though Beck continued to return to New York during the winters until 1932 -- the year of her first joint exhibition with her husband Paul Strand at An American Place -- by 1933 they had divorced and she settled permanently in Taos. There she met and married her second husband, rancher Bill James, in 1937, and continued to master the 'painstaking and finicky' reverse oil on glass medium that she would favor for the next three decades.
In 1947, Mabel Dodge Luhan, aided by Beck, published Taos and Its Artists, the first book to laud the successes of the Taos Society of Artists. Luhan's entry on Beck illustrated White Hollyhocks and noted: "The paintings on glass by Rebecca James ... are perhaps the most exquisite productions of any Taos artist. Flowers – sometimes only a single flower – fruit, still-lifes composed of objects found in the valley, an ancient cross, an old Santo, are reproduced with a most poignant sensitivity to color and meaning ... Her paintings on glass have a strange impact upon one through their frail elegance, the inconspicuous delicacy.... Trying to analyze this knockout influence of theirs, I have wondered whether the artist actually transfers an unconscious high vibration of her own directly to the surface before her, where it is captured and maintained in equilibrium" (Taos and Its Artists, 1947, p. 30).