“Roger Medearis: His Regionalism” On view June 16–Sept. 17,
2012, in the Susan and Stephen Chandler Wing, Virginia Steele Scott
Galleries of American Art
Press Preview Friday, June 15, 10 a.m.–noon
Roger Medearis, Winter Fields, 1950, oil on Upson board, Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, Gift of Elizabeth Medearis.
SAN MARINO, Calif.—The career of American painter Roger Medearis (1920–2001) will be explored in a special exhibition, “Roger Medearis: His Regionalism,”
on view at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical
Gardens from June 16 through Sept. 17, 2012. With a title inspired by
the artist’s unpublished book My Regionalism,
the exhibition of more than 30 works brings together those given to The
Huntington by his widow, Elizabeth (Betty) Medearis, as well as those
on loan from private collections and a painting borrowed from the
Smithsonian’s American Art Museum. Examples of Medearis’ accomplishments
in various media, including paintings, prints, drawings, and sculpture,
along with letters and photographs, will trace the artist’s career,
from his beginnings as a student of Thomas Hart Benton at the Kansas
City Art Institute through the development of his own distinctive style
in California later in life.
“The Huntington is uniquely
positioned to present an exhibition focused on Roger Medearis, who is, I
think, a relatively underexposed and yet highly accomplished artist,”
said Jessica Todd Smith, Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American
Art at The Huntington. “While he had mastered his craft under the
celebrated Thomas Hart Benton, tastes changed before Medearis received
his due. When Betty gave The Huntington a group of outstanding pieces,
we knew we could be the ones to shine a new light on his work.”
The making of a Regionalist
son of a Baptist minister, Roger Norman Medearis was born in Fayette,
Mo., and moved with his family to Oklahoma in 1928. He was interested in
drawings as a child and, inspired by the work of Norman Rockwell,
decided to become an illustrator while still in his early teens.
arrived at Kansas City’s Art Institute at the age of 18, when Benton
was already a national celebrity, having been on the cover of Time magazine
in 1934. Along with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry, Benton was a
partisan of Regionalism, an American artistic moment in the 1930s and
’40s that rejected European abstraction, took subjects from everyday
rural life, and aspired to bring art to a wide audience through public
art commissions and low-cost reproductions. For Medearis, this
translated to painting what he knew—the farms and people of rural
It was around this time that Medearis made the lithograph Benton at Work.
He wrote his parents that he had been invited to a surprise birthday
party for Thomas Hart Benton, his teacher. “It was, to me, an
overwhelming honor [to be invited], and I went, and wasn’t too much of a
sore thumb, I hope, among a group which was not on the sober side. But
the real fun began, for me, when they gathered around my litho of Benton at Work,
which he had in his dining room among his own works, and I became the
topic of conversation.” Before the party, Benton had purchased the
lithograph, and a half-century later Medearis would re-create it. Both
versions (along with snap shots of Medearis and Benton) are on view in
“Roger Medearis: His Regionalism.”
The Consummate Craftsman
once remarked, “I am a slow painter and devote to each painting all the
time it seems to require. The whole purpose of art is excellence, and
one good painting is better than 10,000 bad ones.”
He became a
master of the labor-intensive medium of egg tempera, concocted by
mixing dry pigment with egg yolk thinned with water on a glass palette.
He described his technique as “by nature much slower, more cautious,”
than that of Benton, from whom he had first learned it. In Still Life with Green Chair (egg
tempera on board, 1950), Medearis builds up a paint surface through
innumerable small marks so carefully done that from a distance they meld
together perfectly. It is only in the details of plant thorns or the
loose yarns of a frayed rug that the tiny painstaking lashes of paint
Another highlight of the exhibition made using egg tempera is Godly Susan
(1941), on loan from the Smithsonian. The vivid and detailed portrait
depicts Medearis’ grandmother on the sun porch of his father’s church.
Medearis described this painting as his “last painting as a student.”
World War II and a Revolution in the Art World
months, however, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought his
pursuit of local subjects to a sudden halt. Medearis produced a series
of paintings about the atrocity of war; then, in 1942, he went to
Washington, D.C., where he spent several years drawing battle ships for
the Navy. After that, in the Army, he spent more than a year making
training charts for the field artillery at Fort Bragg, N.C.
the war, Medearis moved with his first wife, Marjorie Schwarz, to
Chester, Conn., where they had a son, Thomas. Medearis then returned to
painting and held an exhibition at Kende Galleries in New York in April
1949, but tastes were changing. The heyday of Regionalism had passed as
Abstract Expressionism overtook the art scene in America. Medearis quit
painting in 1950 and joined the corporate world. He married Judith
Dettling in 1958. After Judith’s death in 1975, Roger met Betty Burrall
Sterling and they were married in 1976.
A “Furtive Return to Art”
moved to California in 1958 and accepted a position with the Container
Corporation of America. For years he had shunned art museums and
galleries and didn’t pick up a brush, until 1961, when he began what he
described as an “almost furtive return to art.” He converted his garage
into a workshop and began to experiment with acrylic paint; by the end
of 1968 he had resigned from a job in sales and resumed what he long had
felt was his true identity as an artist.
In The Beach (1970), which depicts surfers and families picnicking, and Home in the San Gabriels
(1996), in which a small house is dwarfed by a wall of mountains not
far from his home in San Marino, Calif., he turned to subjects in his
immediate orbit—things he knew well from repeated contact with them.
American Regionalism at The Huntington
The Huntington’s collection of American Regionalist art began with the acquisition of John Steuart Curry’s State Fair (1929) and Grant Wood’s Study for Spring Turning
(1936) in 1984. It has since grown to include such works as “Yankee
Driver” (1923) by Thomas Hart Benton, and 11 works by Roger Medearis
Book Series: American Regionalism
May 23, June 27, July 25, and Aug. 29 (Wednesdays) 11 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
facilitator Judith Palarz for this four-part book series that will
explore the uniquely American landscape through the writings of authors
Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis and John Steinbeck. This
series will also include a curator tour of the exhibition “Roger Medearis: His Regionalism.” Members: $85. Non-Members: $95. Registration: 626-405-2128.
Curator Tour: Roger Medearis: His Regionalism
July 11 (Wednesday) 4:30–5:30 p.m.
Join curator Jessica Smith for a private tour of the exhibition “Roger Medearis: His Regionalism”
and gain insights into this uniquely American artist who was passionate
about painting the places and things he knew best. Members: $15.
Non-Members: $20. Registration: 626-405-2128.
Thea M. Page, 626-405-2260, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa Blackburn, 626-405-2140, email@example.com
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[EDITOR’S NOTE: High-resolution digital images available on request for publicity use.]
About The Huntington
Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a
collections-based research and educational institution serving scholars
and the general public. More information about The Huntington can be
found online at huntington.org.
Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino, Calif., 12 miles
from downtown Los Angeles. It is open to the public Monday, Wednesday,
Thursday, and Friday from noon to 4:30 p.m.; and Saturday, Sunday, and
Monday holidays from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Summer hours (Memorial Day
through Labor Day) are 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed Tuesdays and major
holidays. Admission on weekdays: $15 adults, $12 seniors (65+), $10
students (ages 12–18 or with full-time student I.D.), $6 youth (ages
5–11), free for children under 5. Group rate $11 per person for groups
of 15 or more. Members are admitted free. Admission on weekends and
Monday holidays: $20 adults, $15 seniors, $10 students, $6 youth, free
for children under 5. Group rate $14 per person for groups of 15 or
more. Members are admitted free. Admission is free to all visitors on
the first Thursday of each month with advance tickets. Rates subject to
change. Information: 626-405-2100 or huntington.org.
Roger Medearis, Farmer Takes a Wife, 1989. Hand-colored litho, 11 x 13 in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift of Elizabeth Medearis.
Roger Medearis, Ghost House, 1950. Oil on Upson board, 14 x 17 7/8 in. Huntington Library, Art
Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift of Elizabeth Medearis.
Roger Medearis, Godly Susan, 1941. Egg tempera on board, 27 5/8 x 23 5/8 in. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Roger and Elizabeth Medearis.
Roger Medearis, Self Portrait,
1938. Gouache and graphite on paper, 6 1/2 x 9 in. Huntington Library,
Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift of Elizabeth Medearis.
Roger Medearis, Native Oak, 1981. Lithograph, 17 1/4 x 25 in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift of Elizabeth Medearis.
Roger Medearis, The Green Chair, 1950. Tempera on board, 20 x 30 in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift of Elizabeth Medearis.
Roger Medearis, The Beach, 1970. Acrylic and egg tempera on canvas bonded to panel , 15 x 18 in., Private Collection.
Roger Medearis (left) and Thomas Hart Benton, Martha’s Vineyard, 1948. Photographer unknown. Collection of Elizabeth Medearis