ARTISTS: Bolton Brown (1864-1936)
(1864 – 1936) Bolton Coit Brown, born in 1864, was founder of the art department at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and subsequently became one of the founders in 1903 of the Woodstock Art Colony in New York. He also excelled as a lithographer, working with George Bellows, John Sloan and Rockwell Kent, primarily a printmaker, though Brown was a painter.
He was Chairman of Stanford University’s Department of Drawing and Painting (1891-1902) until chastised for using nude models. An idealist who helped found the Byrdcliffe Arts and Crafts Colony in Woodstock, New York, Brown was also a well-known mountain climber with a peak named for him in California’s Sierra Nevada. He exhibited at the 1913 Armory Show in New York City.
Brown received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Syracuse University, in New York.
Bolton Brown was one of those artists interested as muchor morein the techniques and development of media as putting them to creative use. He taught himself lithography when he was fifty, during time spent in England in 1915-1916, in hopes of creating a rebirth in America of that medium. He developed fifty techniques for preparing lithography stones and invented formulas for more than five hundred lithographic crayons. He also wrote two books on the subject. Brown spent the next ten years involved with lithography, his expertise aiding artists like Rockwell Kent, Arthur B. Davies and George Bellows.
In 1902, Brown ran afoul of Jane Stanford’s inability to deal with nude models posing in his advanced life-drawing class at the University. She ordered segregation of the class by sex, then changed her dictum to halt the use of nude models entirely. Brown resigned.
It was at this point that Bolton Brown went on a trip of discovery, at the behest of Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead, to find a site suitable to establish a Utopian arts and crafts community–inspired by the social philosophy of John Ruskin and William Morris–that would produce hand-made pottery, furniture and other arts. After a difficult hike on foot through the Catskill Mountains of New York State, Brown stood on Mount Overlook in Woodstock and knew he had reached his goal.
Whitehead, a wealthy Englishman, purchased 1,500 acres. Brown designed homes for Whitehead and himself, his wife Lucy and their three children who arrived in 1903 in the spring. Hervey White, a poet, was also involved in the founding of Byrdcliffe. But, like most hoped-for Utopian paradises, this, too, fell short, at least in Brown’s eyes. In October, he left with his family, in disagreement with Whitehead’s plans for the colony. But Brown eventually settled in Woodstock Valley.
Bolton Brown’s mountaineering exploits in California’s Sierra Nevada took place in 1895-1899. He not only climbed but made maps and drawings. In 1896, Brown made the first climb alone of Mount Clarence King, and with J. N. LeConte, the first climb of Mount Gardiner. He and his wife Lucy then climbed Mount Williamson after crossing the Kings-Kern Divide. They later climbed and named Mount Ericsson. Brown was also the first to climb, and name, the 13,000 foot Mount Stanford. In 1899, the couple took their two-year-old daughter with them on a burro on a less difficult excursion.
The 13,491 foot Mount Bolton Brown was named after him in 1922 by Chester Versteeg. “Lucy Pass” is named for his wife.
An exhibition, “Bolton Coit Brown: A Retrospective,” was held at the State University of New York, New Paltz, April 5 – June 15, 2003.
There is an extensive collection of sixty-four drawings and lithographs by Bolton Brown at the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, New York; as well as nine lithographs in the collection of Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
Bolton Coit Brown died in 1936.