September 29, 2018 - April 13, 2019  

The artists featured in this exhibition include:

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California Women Artists of the Modern Period

In 2005 Spencer Jon Helfen Fine Arts was proud to present our first exhibition devoted to women artists, entitled California Women Modernists: At the Forefront of American Modernism.

Over thirteen years later we now are proud to present California Women Artists of the Modern Period, a survey of art created from 1915 to 1954, featuring many artists never before exhibited by our Gallery.

A large number of these recently acquired artworks are illustrated in Maurine St. Gaudens’s four-volume book, Emerging from the Shadows: A Survey of Women Artists Working in California, 1860-1960 (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2015).

This exhibition coincides with, and includes some of the same artists as, the Pasadena Museum of History’s major exhibition Something Revealed; California Women Artists Emerge, 1860 - 1960.

Ruth Cravath was a student of Ralph Stackpole, the dean of California sculpture during the Modern period. Cravath learned to create sculpture utilizing the “direct cut” carving method adopted by Stackpole - cutting directly into the stone or other natural material. One of California’s most important woman sculptors, Ruth Cravath created works that are recognized for their sense of proportion, direct simplicity, spontaneity of expression, and harmony of line. Security, created in 1941, depicts a mother embracing her child with her right arm and holding a milk can with her left hand. On the reverse the artist has depicted a fresh stalk of corn. These elements together represent the “security” and abundance this strong woman and mother has provided for her child, family and community.

Zama Vanessa Helder’s Tulips is a prime example of the artist’s careful, even precise, manner of depicting in watercolor her chosen subject matter. Whether she was painting in the startlingly austere style of her architectural and landscape works, or in the intensely Modernist style of her portraits and still lifes, Zama Vanessa Helder’s work had a direct, unguarded quality that was both exciting and unsettling. Her work was included in exhibitions in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and at the Museum of Modern Art, where she exhibited in two shows, Americans, 1943 and American Realists and Magic Realists. The latter exhibition included 12 of Helder’s watercolors, along with the work of Hopper, Sheeler, Wyeth, and others.

An artist who crafted her skills without exhibiting her artworks during her husband’s career, Helen Clark Oldfield was a Modernist maverick creating intensely colorful still life paintings like her 1927 oil painting The Hat, and serene landscape paintings like her 1927 Lone Pine Hills. Helen Clark’s teacher was her future husband, Otis Oldfield. Her 1925 India ink drawing Palace of Fine Arts, created one year prior to her marriage to Oldfield, is a unique and careful study of the important Bernard Maybeck sculptural edifice created for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. By the time of her husband’s passing in 1969, Helen had created an impressive body of work speaking to her independent and unique sensibility. 

Victorian Essay is a stunning example of Edna Reindel’s unparalleled ability to create Realist and Magic Realist images that transfix the viewer. Edna Reindel created still life compositions with a sense of three-dimensionality and a heightened focus. Her precise style and deft handling of the brush, combined with the use of clear, rich color and concise form, produced works known for their impressive clarity and level of detail. Reindel’s 1932 Victorian Essay is highly detailed, incorporating seemingly unrelated objects to create a story the viewer must discern. The blueprint held open by the hand-shaped paperweight toward the center of the painting draws the viewer to the exquisite vase behind, which itself depicts a fully-realized landscape. The extraordinary level of detail in Reindel’s masterwork is seemingly never-ending.

Grace Libby Vollmer was, and still remains, a very interesting early California artist due to the bold, original painting and drawing techniques she implemented in the 1920s and 1930s. Her landscapes, still lifes, portraits and figurative work ranged in style from Impressionist, to Cubist, to near-Abstraction, while always being both engaging to her audience and well-received by critics. Vollmer’s circa-1929 Taos Scene is a superb example of the artist’s oeuvre. Vollmer and her husband lived for a time in the art colony of Taos, New Mexico, resulting in a particularly productive period for Vollmer, who was captivated by the light and ambience of the region. Taos Scene is an excellent example of the work created during Vollmer’s time in Taos.

Portrait of a Male Nude, an assertive and intimate portrayal of a beach bather, is a well-conceived portrait by Dorothy Winslade. This circa-1935 oil painting is perfectly composed, depicting a subject that captures the viewer’s attention. The subject looks out, past the viewer, at someone or something the viewer can only speculate. An extremely versatile artist, Dorothy Winslade worked in oils, gouaches, and watercolors to create bold, richly-colored landscapes of the California coast and hills, and cityscapes of San Francisco, as well as wonderful still lifes and, as in Portrait of a Male Nude, portraits.

Our Gallery’s website contains biographies of each artist that provide important background information for collectors and others. Most of these women artists were talented in a variety of media. In many cases we have selected prints or other works on paper as the primary medium, creating high value for our clients collecting these more modestly priced artworks.


Jessie Arms Botke

California Women Artists of the Modern Period

Leslie Buck

Elizabeth Eaton Burton

Grace Clements

Ruth Cravath

Mildred Geisendorfer

Barbara Thomas Haddaway

Trude Hanscom

Marian Hebert

Zama Vanessa Helder

Isabel Hunter

Gordena Parker Jackson

Zena Kavin

Lilian May Miller

Helen Clark Oldfield

Ginger Osgood

Augusta Rathbone

Edna Reindel

Bonnie Beach Ryan

Helen M. Seegert

Hazel M. Sheckler

Henrietta Shore

Anna Katharine Skeele

Juliette Steele

Edna Stoddart

Phyllis Strickland

Grace Libby Vollmer


Dorothy Winslade


The Gallery also features other artworks by these Women Modernists:

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Gertrude Partington Albright

Gallery Featured California Women Modernists

Mabel Alvarez

Florence Parker Bloser

Dorr Bothwell

Margaret Bruton

Grace Clements

Pele de Lappe

Jean Kellogg

Helen Clark Oldfield

Ruth Powers Ortlieb

Nadine Overpack

Edna Reindel

Nina Saemundsson

Julia Severance

Bernice Lee (“Burr”) Singer

Wilna Splivalo

Lucretia Van Horn

Lillian Whiting

Dorothy Winslade