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Will Henry Stevens Exhibition 1/24/21-7/4/21


An abiding love of nature—especially as borne out in the Southern landscape—informed the life and work of painter, poet and teacher Will Henry Stevens. Born in Vevay, Indiana, in 1881, Stevens enrolled at the Cincinnati Art Academy in 1901 where his teachers included Frank Duveneck and Lewis Henry Meakin. In 1904, he won a design competition sponsored by Cincinnati’s famous Rookwood Pottery and was subsequently hired as a tile designer. Two years later, Stevens undertook studies at the Art Students League in New York with William Merritt Chase and developed associations with Van Dearing Perrine and Jonas Lie in the city. His first one-man show was held at the New Gallery in 1907.

Over the course of his career, Stevens’ expansive intellectual curiosity and interest in experimental art forms led him to work in varied media and innovative styles, producing both realist and abstract expressions.

Will Henry Stevens, Harleqiunade, circa 1935. Oil on board. The Estate of Will Henry Stevens (1881-1949) is represented exclusively by Blue Spiral 1, Asheville, North Carolina. Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia.

In 1921, Stevens became a member of the faculty at Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans, teaching there until his retirement in 1948. Because of his year-round commitments to Newcomb and various summer schools, Stevens was not able to spend extended lengths of time in the studio. This suited his propensity to wander, work, and teach out-of-doors, and he began to rely on media and methods that encouraged spontaneity. Most of his works were achieved on modestly scaled paper, which could be transported easily and worked on site. The proliferation of modernist issues, occurred coincidentally with Stevens moving away from studio-oriented easel painting and toward the use of more versatile materials and gestural techniques. His reliance on drawing, with charcoal, pastel, and watercolor, led him naturally to place greater importance on the graphic structure of his composition. This new direction also revived Stevens’ earlier interest in Sung painting, and its underlying philosophy of the artist as an extension of nature. He began to experiment with a pastel medium of his own invention, which would also be conducive to a freer creative process. Stevens developed formulas for a fixative and binder, and a whole sequence of emulsions, from tempera with egg and oil to wax, which made his pastel pigments colorfast and virtually

unsmudgeable. He used these in such a range of combinations that they are today almost impossible to distinguish. But perhaps his most interesting technical innovation was to allow random strokes and blots of color to float onto and penetrate a prepared wet paper, thus defining of themselves the starting point for the emergence of the final image—this independently of the experiments with accident and chance of the Dada and Surrealist painters. His style had become characterized by the direct, gestural Will Henry Stevens, Abstraction-Aviary, 1944.

application of lines and tones, which Oil on canvas. The Estate of Will Henry

energized by clusters of flickering color Stevens (1881-1949) is represented exclusively

notations. This visual shorthand had by Blue Spiral 1, Asheville, North Carolina.

parallels with some of the most advanced Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia. Gift

techniques of his day. of the Robert Powell Coggins Art Trust.

Throughout his career, Stevens maintained friendships with Robert Henri, George Bellows, and other artists, and closely followed the modernist scene in New York. His work is included in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Morris Museum of Art, and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


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