Sunday, January 3, 2010

Augusta Metcalfe: Sagebrush Artist

Augusta Metcalfe's illustration of a neighbor

In 1886 when Augusta Corson was three years old, her family moved from Marshall County Kansas to “No Man’s Land,” a desolate, windy, sagebrush covered region that Texas relinquished claim to in 1850. This strip of land, which bordered Kansas, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, had no governmental authority; it was not a part of any state of territory. And, there was no law, which is probably why many referred to the region as Robber’s Roost. Today, this strip of land is the western most part of the state of Oklahoma—the Oklahoma Panhandle. It was in this remote place where Augusta Corson Metcalfe lived. She captured her life and the culture of rural western Oklahoma in her sketches and paintings. Her artistic endeavors began when, as a little girl, she sketched on rocks and the white stones of an abandoned farmhouse. As she grew, so did her talent and by the 1950s, the world knew her as the Sagebrush Artist.

Augusta working in her studio

Augusta’s family, like many who kept moving westward in the late nineteenth century, was in search of better grazing and farming land. After Augusta’s father found the right piece of land on which to settle in 1886 in western Oklahoma, he built a 10ft by 12ft shack, and the family called it home. Eventually they moved from this adobe to a three-room sod house dug into the side of a ravine, which was close to deep spring ponds. The shady springs provided the family and their small cattle herd with relief from the summer heat. In 1893, her family moved to a homestead on the Washita River near Durham inside the newly-opened Cheyenne and Arapaho reservation.

Painting entitled "First Home in Day County."

Augusta was the youngest of four children and like her brothers and sister, she spent her days learning the skills that would help in contributing to the families economic welfare. But, when Augusta was not helping her mother or helping her brothers with the cattle, she found entertainment by sketching the life around her.

Annie Dimmock in the mail hack

Prairie fire was of particular interest to Augusta and her numerous paintings of the fires perhaps demonstrates the common occurrence of brush fires in rural western Oklahoma.

In 1908, Augusta married Jim Metcalf and they had a son whom they named Howard. Within a couple of years, husband Jim abandoned Augusta and her son leaving her to raise Howard alone. It was then that Augusta added an e to Metcalf, showing her independence. She did not marry again.

Like western artist, Charlie Russell, Augusta started demonstrating her talent in illustrating the letters and envelopes that she sent to friends. Her reputation as an artist began to grow as she sold painting to friends and neighbors. She exhibited some of her art as early as 1911 and won prizes at state fairs in Oklahoma and Texas. She eventually exhibited her work at the Grand Central Galleries in New York City, the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City and the Philbrook Art Center in Tulsa Oklahoma. In 1968, three years before her death, Augusta Metcalfe was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

Augusta Metcalfe

Augusta playing the violin

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