John Steuart Curry

It is his birthday today.  He was born on November 14, 1897.  He was the first cousin of my paternal grandfather.  Their mothers were sisters, both daughters of John Steuart who I posted about on Sunday.  Their mother was Rachel Holliday Steuart.

John Stuart

John Steuart

Rachel Holliday Steuart

Rachel Holliday Steuart

Margaret Jane was born in 1870 in Sparta, Illinois, and Sarah Elizabeth Ethel was born in 1883 in Winchester, Kansas.  This photo was taken shortly after John Steuart’s death and shows Margaret in the upper left and Ethel as a baby being held by Rachel.

Rachel Steuart and her eight children early

Rachel Holliday Steuart and her eight children shortly after her husband’s death

Here is a photo of Margaret.

Margaret Jane Steuart Curry

Margaret Jane Steuart

Here is a photo of Rachel and her children in about 1890.  Margaret is in the back row third from the right.  Ethel is in the middle of the front row next to her mother.

Rachel Steuart and her eight children

Rachel Holliday Steuart and her eight children

Even though these sisters grew up together and stayed to live in the same area, their lives became very different. For Ethel, she married Albert White in 1910.  They farmed 110 acres near Winchester, Kansas.  My impression is that the farm never did well, and he lost the farm due to drought in 1938.  They had five children.  The first one died at birth.  The second one was my grandfather Boyd Ethelbert.  She died in childbirth along with their sixth child.  Here is a photo of Albert, Ethel and my grandfather on their farm.

Albert, Ethel and Boyd Ethelbert

Albert, Ethel and Boyd Ethelbert

Here is a school photo of my grandfather.  He is the unhappy looking kid in the middle row, third from the left.  His brother Gene is in the middle row all the way to the right.  His sister Ruth is in the front row third from the right. White siblings school photo My grandfather moved to Iowa looking for working after he graduated high school.  He met my grandmother there.  They moved to where she grew up in Minnesota and tried to farm.  A hailstorm took out their crop just before harvest.  They then moved to Minneapolis for him to go to aircraft school.  They then went to San Diego and then to Seattle to work in the aircraft industry.  He worked for Boeing from 1947 to 1976.

For Margaret Jane Steuart, she married Thomas Smith Curry in 1895.  They farmed near Winchester, Kansas but were more successful with better land.  They had 5 children with the oldest being John Steuart Curry, named after his maternal grandfather.  John grew up on the farm, taking care of the animals but also painted and took art lessons.  After high school graduation he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, graduated from Geneva College and travelled to Paris to study art.  He then started producing the art he became famous for. I was not aware of this man or our family connection until I was an adult and studying genealogy.  In that process, I visited our many relatives in Winchester, Kansas with the church and graves of many of these relatives.  We were brought to the Capitol building in Topeka Kansas to see his murals and other art work there.

left side of mural Kansas Capitol Building in Topeka

left side of mural Kansas Capitol Building in Topeka

right side of mural Kansas State Capital Building in Topeka

right side of mural with John Brown at Kansas State Capital Building in Topeka

John Steuart Curry Art in Kansas

John Steuart Curry Art in Kansas

After this, I started collecting some prints of his works.

Kansas Cornfield, Ajax and Belgian Stallions

Kansas Cornfield, Ajax and Belgian Stallions

Hounds and Coyote & Line Storm

Hounds and Coyote & Line Storm

I bought this wonderful book about him. John Steuart Curry Inventing The Middle West My father gave me a print that had been passed down in the family.

Spring Shower

Spring Shower

After visiting the Kansas Capitol mural, I also developed an interest in john Brown.  I read a great book about him.  So when we visited Washington DC we checked out Ajax Ajax and John Brown’s rifle. John Brown's rifle Some relatives sent me these newspaper clippings from 1988 regarding saving his childhood home to make a museum.  It also describes the fact that Kansas did not honor him during his lifetime.  There apparently was ambivalence that he did not portray Kansas in a more positive light.. Curry of KansasKansas never truly honored painter in his lifetimeHistorical society may preeserve birthplace of regionalist painter Jon Steuart Curry They were able to save his home and make a museum.  They move it to Oskaloosa, and it now has some of his artwork in it.  There was also a one hundredth birthday celebration across the state of Kansas to celebrate him in 1997. John Steuart Curry 100th birthday tribute So I feel like he is getting the respect he deserves in Kansas, where he grew up and where he is buried.  I also feel like maybe I came by my interest in farming and my brother came by his artistic talents naturally.  Certainly there are other farmers and artists in our family, but as far as artists go, there is not one more famous in our ancestry.  I think about all the influences from his life that affected his art:  growing up on a Kansas farm, his religious upbringing, his coming of age during World War I, his history of having his grandfather and namesake die of his war injuries leaving his grandmother widowed, and dealing with the aftermath of slavery.  I do feel like he is a great American artist.

Finally here is a painting of his parents (my great, great aunt and uncle).

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4 Responses to John Steuart Curry

  1. Denise says:

    very cool. I’d not heard of John Steuart Curry before. i like that his mother is knitting in the last painting 🙂


  2. Scott says:

    Very interesting, my great aunt by marriage is John’s sister, we called her aunt Peg and I have some painting/drawings handed down to me. I love these kind of stories.


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