Treasures from the Vault: L.O. Griffith

Sachi Yanari-Rizzo, Curator of Prints & Drawings

The Indiana artist Louis Oscar (L.O.) Griffith is well represented at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art thanks to the generosity of our donors. We acquired Wash Day from former docent Lorraine Hook Davis who expressed her personal passion for Indiana artists and history. In 2019, Thomas and Marsha French and David C. Masten collectively donated three works in memory of their Fort Wayne friend, Steven Eschoff, upon his passing (Thomas, David, and Steven were all Sigma Chi fraternity brothers at Wabash College in the 1970s). Griffith’s peaceful, Indiana landscapes make a poignant tribute to an Indiana friendship. 

L.O. Griffith was born in Greencastle, IN, in 1875, but his family soon moved cross-country and he grew up in Dallas, Texas. Landscapist Frank Reaugh provided him with his earliest education in art and continued to be a mentor long afterwards. Subsequently, Griffith moved east and studied at the Saint Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts in 1893. Two years later, he relocated to Chicago where he worked as a commercial printer and took evening classes at the Art Institute of Chicago off and on from 1900-1903. His time at Barnes-Cosby Engraving Company surely stimulated his interest in printmaking. 

At the time, artists were continuing to enjoy painting outdoors directly from nature instead of working from sketches or memory. As cities grew, people became nostalgic for a simpler life as a remedy to overcrowding and other effects of rapid industrialization. Small towns and rural areas met many artists’ romanticized notions of agrarian life, complete with interesting local residents and bucolic vistas.  

Through the enthusiastic recommendation of Chicago painter Adolph Shulz, Griffith visited Brown County, Indiana for the first time in spring 1907. He made annual visits to southern Indiana, and the artist and his family finally settled in nearby Nashville, IN in 1922, renting an old creamery for his home and studio. By 1924, the Griffiths had built a home/studio next door to fellow artist Will Vawter. 

Even today, visitors flock to Brown County to experience the rolling hills, flowering blossoms in spring and summer, and brilliant fall foliage. Like many of his contemporaries, who embraced Impressionist painting, Griffith shared an interest in changing seasons, atmospheric conditions, and light. In Brown County Landscape, Griffith used heavy brushstrokes in large masses of autumn golds and maroons. In the distance, pale lavender and greens seem to make up what Shulz described as the region’s distinct “opalescent haze.”    

A painting of fall foliage, with thick browns, greens, oranges, and maroons creating a treelined composition with a peek of blue sky in the background.
L.O. Griffith, American, 1875-1956. Brown County Landscape. Oil on canvas on panel, 1925. Gift of David C. Masten in memory of Steven Eshcoff, 2019.235. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

In contrast to the abstract quality of Brown County Landscape, Griffith sensitively captured the forking limbs and branches that peek in and out of the leaves in his drawing of a hillside apple tree. 

A sketched pen drawing of an apple tree on a hillside against white paper.
L.O. Griffith, American, 1875-1956. Apple Tree, Spring. Graphite on paper. Gift of Thomas and Marsha French in memory of Steven Eshcoff, 2019.234. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

Griffith devoted the warmer months to painting and the wintertime to printmaking. It is likely that he was mostly a self-taught printmaker as the Art Institute of Chicago did not offer etching classes until 1902. There were, however, several technical manuals for etching available, and he is known to have owned a copy of Philip G. Hamerton’s Etching and Etchers (1876).  

The same care for detail taken in Griffith’s drawing is found in Turkeys and Trash. In Brown County Cabin the artist left a light film of brown ink on the plate. This served to soften the overall appearance of the scene, but also created faint shadows along the borders of the print, leaving the path and the front of the cabin in slightly brighter light. 

An etching for a farmhouse in the background and turkeys grazing in the front yard under a leaf-free tree. In the front, a wheelbarrow lays overturned. A person stands, back to viewer, leaving the gate where the turkeys are held.
L.O. Griffith, American, 1875-1956. Turkeys and Trash. Etching on paper. Gift of Thomas and Marsha French in memory of Steven Eshcoff, 2019.233. Image courtesy of FWMoA. 
An etching of a cabin in the woods.
L.O. Griffith, American, 1875-1956. Brown County Cabin. Etching on paper, ca. 1920. Museum purchase with funds provided by June E. Enoch Collection Fund, 2019.36. Image courtesy of FWMoA. 

It is unsurprising that an Impressionist painter created many prints in color. Rather than working on individual etched plates to build the color, Griffith worked à la poupée by spreading ink on a single copper plate with a rag on his fingertip. The artist used a variety of colors in small areas in Wash Day. Applying ink to the plate in this manner would be a very intuitive way for a painter to add color.  

L.O. Griffith, American, 1875-1956. Wash Day. Color etching and aquatint on paper, 1920. Gift of Lorraine Hook Davis, 2008.1. Image courtesy of FWMoA. 

Griffith was a prolific printmaker, making over 300 copper plates in his lifetime. Besides Brown County, he depicted scenes from Mexico, New Orleans, and Texas. He received a bronze medal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco for his color aquatints and his etchings were included in the Sesquicentennial International Exposition in Philadelphia in 1926 and at the Smithsonian Institution in 1945. Griffith was a charter member of the Chicago Society of Etchers in 1910, and exhibited with them annually.   

To see L.O. Griffith’s work in-person, come into the Print & Drawing Study Center Tuesday-Friday, 11am-3pm, or by appointment.

Leave a Reply

error: Right click disabled for copyright protection.
%d bloggers like this: