Sachi Yanari-Rizzo, Curator of Prints & Drawings
One of the FWMoA’s most recent acquisitions is Chrysanthemums by Hoosier Impressionist painter John Wesley Hardrick who was born, and lived his entire life in, Indianapolis. He grew up at 3309 Prospect Street, and his desire to be an artist was clear early in life: when he was eight years old he was already exploring watercolor on his own.
At age 13 he was in his first exhibition at a convention for the Negro Business League in Indianapolis. Two years later, he was selling sketches he made from memory from a visit to his aunt in Iowa.
After viewing some of his artworks, one of Hardrick’s teachers at Harriet Beecher Stowe School arranged for him to meet Herman Lieber. Lieber was an important patron in the Indianapolis arts scene and owned H. Lieber Company, which sold art supplies and frames. They were also the first art gallery to exhibit the Hoosier Group painters. Lieber encouraged Hardrick’s parents to send him to classes at the John Herron Art Institute (now the Herron School of Art, IUPUI).
Hardrick attended Emmerich Manual Training High School where he took drawing with Otto Stark. Stark was one of Indiana’s most prominent Impressionist painters and likely extended his love of depicting the figure to his students. Hardrick supplemented school with additional Saturday morning classes at Herron in 1908.
In 1910, Hardrick enrolled in regular classes at Herron and continued to study over the course of eight years, receiving a scholarship in 1913-14. William Forsyth and Clifton Wheeler were among his teachers. Despite widespread segregation in schools throughout Indianapolis, Herron was open to Black students. Today, IUPUI’s campus has a building named for the artist, Hardrick House, which welcomes Herron School of Art and International House students as residents.
Hardrick received early critical recognition for his work in the Tenth Annual Exhibition of Works by Indiana Artists at the John Herron Art Institute (March 9-April 8, 1917). By 1925, Hardrick spent less time on art to support his wife and three daughters. He joined the family trucking company and started his own carpet cleaning business. Despite his financial constraints, Hardrick continued to achieve success as a painter.
In 1927, he exhibited work at the Art Institute of Chicago, sponsored by the Chicago Women’s Club in an exhibition devoted to African and African American artists (Nov. 16-Dec 1, 1927). The exhibition featured works by fellow Indiana artists Hale Woodruff and William Edouard Scott as well as Henry Ossawa Tanner and Edmonia Lewis. Hardrick had six paintings on display, one of which, a portrait entitled Sydonia, was reproduced in the catalogue. The artist participated in exhibitions with The Hoosier Salon, the Indiana State Fair, and was in an exhibition with his studio-mate Woodruff at Atlanta University.
Hardrick exhibited multiple times with the Harmon Foundation; a real estate developer, William Harmon focused his foundation to recognize achievements by African Americans and encourage further creativity in business, education, literature, music, race relations, religious service, science, and the fine arts. Notably, in 1927, Hardrick received a bronze award for his five exhibited paintings, including Little Brown Girl (1927). The award came with a $100 honorarium presented to him in a ceremony by the mayor of Indianapolis.
Hardrick was highly valued as an artist by the Indianapolis community. In 1929, a group of Black churches and social organizations formed the Hardrick Picture Fund. The Indianapolis Recorder wrote, “’Because of what he has done for racial advancement, all classes of our people are his debtors, and the response which they make to this fund will show just how deeply they feel the obligation.’”i Funds raised allowed them to purchase the award winning Little Brown Girl for the John Herron Art Institute, now in the collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields.
Hardrick excelled at creating portraits, especially from the Black community in Indianapolis. For a year the FWMoA had a portrait by Hardrick of L.S. Ayres department store dress designer Xenia Goodloe on extended loan from a private collector. The luscious, painterly handling describing facial features and different textures of fabrics worn by his sitters recall the works of his teachers Forsyth and Stark, but perhaps even more so Robert Henri.
Landscapes of Brown County often filled his canvases, capturing the colorful foliage and hills in different seasons. He did not, however, paint or sketch during his visits, but rather these works were made from memory.
Although best known for portraits, landscapes, and some cityscapes, Hardrick painted a number of still lifes. Vases of peonies, zinnias, and roses often fill the viewer’s field along with scattered, fallen petals or a stem dropped on the table. The FWMoA’s new painting, Chrysanthemums, is less conventional; the big floral display is just off center, and the arrangement is so tight that, if anything, parts may be cropped out of it.
Rather than giving us a detailed description of each petal, Hardrick stylized the blooms with a pronounced brushwork design to evoke petals. The artist enjoyed applying paint very thickly, often using a palette knife. In fact, in an interview, he was said to use a brush to blend or add a shape and his thumb to “mold the paint as if he were shaping a sculpture.”ii
Hardrick admired the work of French painters Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas. Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that the work of Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh appealed to Hardrick, too. The heavy impasto and blue/yellow juxtaposition feel faintly reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh.
After the 1940s the artist concentrated on painting primarily landscapes and some portraits. Due to health limitations Hardrick no longer worked in the family trucking business; instead, in the evenings, he was a cab driver. Hardrick sold paintings along the way that he stowed in the car’s trunk and kept an eye out for potential subjects and models that he could use in his work. Hardrick continued to paint until he succumbed to the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Although many works are in private hands, you can see Hardrick’s paintings at the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette, Hampton University Museum, Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, and the Indiana State Museum.
i William E. Taylor and Harriet G. Warkel, A Shared Heritage: Art by Four African Americans (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art; Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996), 169.
iiTaylor and Warkel, 41.