Frederick Frary Fursman (1874-1943)
By Kit Lane and Joel S. Dryer © Illinois Historical Art Project
Frederick Frary Fursman, impressionist painter and teacher, was born February 15, 1874, near the small town of El Paso, Woodford County, Illinois, the son of Elias S. and Elmira E. Fursman. The Fursman family had arrived in North America prior to the Revolution. William E. Fursman, Frederick’s grandfather, was a veteran of the War of 1812. Elias was a native of Niagara County, New York, and moved to Illinois in 1857, settling first in Waldo Township, Livingston County, where he was married December 3, 1863, to Elmira E. Pool, a school teacher.
In 1865, the family moved to Panola Township, about two miles north of El Paso, where all five of the children, three sons and two daughters, were born. Frederick was the eldest son. In addition to home schooling by his mother he attended Panola No. 1, a township schoolhouse about a mile east of his home, and El Paso secondary schools.
Elias Fursman was a farmer and had an early nursery which furnished fruit trees and ornamental plantings for most of the farms in the area. In 1874, he became the Illinois dealer for the Chicago scraper and ditcher, and in 1883, was cofounder of a tile and brick works in El Paso. The company, using their own product from locally dug clay, built four connected brick buildings, the Fursman block, on Front Street in downtown El Paso.
Early in 1892, Elias’ corn, grain and grasses display shown first at the El Paso Fair, won the $250 blue ribbon prize at the Illinois State Fair in Peoria. In 1892, D. W. Vittum, state superintendent of agriculture, appointed Elias to set up the agricultural portion of the Illinois state pavilion at the World’s Columbian Exposition, scheduled to open in Chicago on May 1, 1893.
The summer of 1892 was spent drying and packing railroad box cars full of materials to ship to the World’s Fair to decorate the pavilion. The entire Fursman family moved to Chicago for a year. Later, the official Illinois Board report stated the commission: “Having at least a faint idea of the value to the many visitors from all nations at the great Columbian show of presenting to their view a picture of a typical Illinois farm home, determined to make the same in a form as yet never undertaken, by making it entirely out of grains and grasses.” Although little mention of Frederick’s contribution is made in the contemporary press, later historical summaries and the El Paso Journal obituaries, for both Frederick and his father, note that in preparing the exhibit, “Fred’s experience as an artist [was] a valuable aid. Fred designed and his father executed the famous farm scene picture, all features… being constructed of grasses and grains all grown on farm lands... [it] was the centerpiece of the Illinois agricultural exhibit and later was exhibited at fairs in Philadelphia, St. Louis and Paris, France.”
The commissioners later wrote, “The commission planned more wisely than it knew; for during the Columbian Exposition possibly no single exhibit was inquired after oftener or received more of written and verbal commendation.”
Frederick had gone to Chicago as early as 1891, when he was 17 years old, and enrolled in the Bryant and Stratton Business College. That year, he met Georgia Brown, a bookkeeper who boarded on Lake Park Avenue. In 1892, Frederick was identified as a clerk at 228 Wabash Avenue, and in 1893, a bookkeeper at 116 Lake. No family tradition or written record reveals any proclivity toward art earlier than 1893, when he became involved with his father’s grain mural project.
Some time between 1892 and 1894, Frederick was married to Georgia Brown, later described in Frederick Fursman’s obituary as “also an artist.” In 1896, a daughter, Laurens Lucile Fursman, was born in Chicago. In late 1897, Georgia Brown Fursman arrived at the E. S. Fursman homestead by train “after having been assured by her physician in Chicago that her case was beyond medical aid.” She died of consumption on January 14, 1898, in El Paso. Their young daughter, known as Lucile, born a partial dwarf with a near-normal torso but foreshortened limbs, lived with Frederick’s parents in El Paso until Elias Fursman died in 1901, during the preparations of his exhibit for the Pan American exposition at Buffalo. Then both Lucile and her grandmother moved to Chicago to reside with Mary, Frederick’s older sister.
After the death of his wife, Fursman returned to Chicago, where directories continued to describe his work as “clerk” working this time at The Rookery until 1901, when he is identified for the first time as “artist.” From 1900 to 1901, he studied at the J. Francis Smith Art Academy in Chicago. In February 1901, he enrolled in evening classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In his second semester, October 1901 to June 1902, he took instruction in life drawing, and in October 1901, for six consecutive Wednesdays, studied color composition during the day.
In January 1902, he enrolled in the regular school and was a student in the class of visiting professor Gari Melchers (1860-1932). As Mr. Melchers’ class was reserved only for the most advanced and gifted students, it is clear Fursman had obtained a very sound foundation at the Smith Academy and already possessed a good deal of talent. Fursman must have forged bonds with some of his fellow students in this class as many were active later in Saugatuck, Michigan. That year, apparently swept up in the Arts and Crafts movement, he became affiliated with craft workers known as Varied Industries.
In 1902, his first painting in a juried exhibit, A Summer Day (location unknown), was accepted at the Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago. The year marked another milestone. On September 2, 1902, he was married in Chicago to Ida Luella Morton, daughter of Charles and Catharine (Johnson) Fish of Toronto, Canada. She had come to Chicago in 1888. Her first husband was Charles B. Morton, a print shop employee. Ida was a teacher and worked first at the Chicago Athenaeum and later as assistant principal at the Avondale School.
From fall 1902, through December 1906, Fursman continued classes in the evening at the School of the Art Institute studying life drawing and illustration. The only exception to his evening study was a month-long day class in the spring 1905, academic life drawing with John H. Vanderpoel (1857-1911) and Karl Albert Buehr (1866-1952). He led a not-untypical artist’s life in Chicago, changing residences frequently.
John C. Johansen (1876-1964), a Danish-born portrait painter, was probably one of his instructors at the School of the Art Institute. Johansen achieved local fame in 1903-1904, when he won the Municipal Art League purchase prize, Young Fortnightly prize, Chicago Society of Artists silver medal, Arché Club purchase prize, Chicago Woman’s Aid purchase prize and a West suburban woman’s club prize (Hinsdale, LaGrange and Western Springs). He taught both life drawing and illustration in the 1903-04 academic year. Johansen had organized summer classes in Saugatuck during the summers of 1904 to 1906. His classes were immediately popular and cut into the only real competition, John H. Vanderpoel’s Delavan, Wisconsin group.
The 28-year old Fursman and Johansen became friends, and in 1906, Johansen and his wife, illustrator M. Jean McLane (1878-1864) invited Ida and Fred to join them for an extended tour of Europe. During the next several years Fursman studied with Raphael Collin, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Myron Barlow, Claudio Castelucho at the Académie de la Grande Chaumier and Jean Paul Laurens at the Académie Julian in Paris. Ida made use of the trip to research French education and they often traveled separately. In 1907, the couple rented a room in Etaples, a small fishing village southwest of Paris. The trip also included visits to Germany, Italy and Belgium.
At the Académie Julian, Fursman experienced intensive work with the living model executed plein-air paintings in settings in and around Paris. The outdoor instruction would later be a mainstay when he taught at his own summer school. Fursman had one painting La visite de la grand-mere (A Visit from Grandmother) in the Salon Société des Artistes Français (Paris Salon) at the Grand Palais des Beaux-arts in Paris in 1908. The catalog gives his address as “Rue Boissonade 14.” In 1909, before leaving Europe, two more of his paintings, Sur les bords de la riviere (On the Banks of the River) and Un coup de vent (A Gust of Wind), were accepted at the grand exhibition. His address in the catalogue was “Etaples (Pas-de-Calais).”
In December 1909, shortly after his return to Chicago, the Art Institute organized an exhibition of twenty-nine canvases he had painted in France. Critic Harriet Monroe leveled some praise for as well as some criticism his works commenting upon his gallery which “gives a breezy out of door impression, with the pictures of girls in the wind, children on the beach, etc.” Also in 1909, for the first time since 1902, Fursman had two works in the Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture by American Artists there. In January 1910, Fursman taught a month-long class at the School of the Art Institute. The 1910 catalog described him as “Pupil of the Art Institute, Laurens, Colin, Castelucho, Tanner, Barlow and others.”
The 1910 bulletin for The Summer Art School noted: “Mr. F. F. Fursman has recently returned from a sojourn in France. He is a former student of the Art Institute of Chicago and has studied with the best modern masters.” He also exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts annual exhibit in 1910. The Fursmans settled into a new home in 1911, at 4465 N. 43rd Avenue later renamed Kildare Avenue, which they would occupy until 1920.
In the summer 1910, Fursman taught an Art Institute class in illustration, two to three times a week from July to September. There he undoubtedly came into close contact with Walter Marshall Clute (1870-1915), who had been teaching a similar class during the regular term since 1901. Clute had been teaching summer students since 1909 and in 1911, took his classes to Saugatuck where he and Fursman opened the “Summer School of Painting.”
Saugatuck is a small resort community located about ninety miles around the Lake Michigan coast from Chicago. Artists had discovered it by about 1896, when four from the Chicago area rented a red scow and paddled along the Kalamazoo River painting the scenery. John C. Johansen and his brother, Peter, had organized summer classes for many of Johansen’s students from the School of the Art Institute in the summers of 1904 to 1906. There is no record of Fursman visiting these classes, but it is not unlikely. The program certainly would have been a topic of conversation between the two artists on their joint trip to Europe 1906-1909. John W. Norton, a teacher at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and later an Art Institute instructor and active Saugatuck visitor, had held classes in nearby Douglas in 1906.
Using Johansen’s studio and former quarters at Riverside Rest, a resort on the Kalamazoo river, the classes offered competition for John H. Vanderpoel’s summer school in Delavan, Wisconsin. Like the Delavan classes, the school at Saugatuck was always allied, at least informally, with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Students and faculty would meet at the Graham and Morton Transportation docks at the foot of Wabash Avenue and the Chicago River to take a Saturday night boat across Lake Michigan.
Fursman received the first widespread acclaim of his career in the fall 1910. Harrison S. Morris, Commissioner General of the United States to the International Exposition of Art and History at Rome, Italy, visited Chicago and viewed several pictures at the Art Institute. Fursman received a letter in October asking that he allow his “Taking Tea in Open Air” to be part of a “very select selection of about 200 pictures” to be exhibited at the American pavilion. A second letter from Morris’ office in January 1911, confirms shipping information for Fursman’s painting In the Garden (Toledo Museum of Art). Since the canvas depicts a young lady taking tea out-of-doors it is highly likely the two letters contain different titles for the same painting.
Fursman’s position at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago did not become permanent as it was common for the school to hire capable, short-term replacements for the regular teaching staff when someone was absent, or for the short duration of the summer term.
Alexander Mueller, of the Milwaukee School of Art, (sometimes called the School of Fine and Applied Art) invited Fursman to teach beginning in the fall term of 1910. In 1911, it became part of the Milwaukee Normal School. He enjoyed his work in Wisconsin enough that in the spring 1911, he took a role in A Colonial Girl, a play presented May 20, 1911, at the Pabst Theater under the auspices of the Milwaukee Daughters of the American Revolution chapter. He would continue to teach at the school until 1920, usually spending three days and two nights in Wisconsin each week. He met his later close friend, Milwaukee artist and crafts teacher, Elsa Ulbricht (1885-1980), there. She would regularly meet him at the train from Chicago to take him to his quarters. The Normal School evolved into the State Teachers College and eventually was absorbed into the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee.
In the fall 1911, Fursman returned as a student to the School of the Art Institute for a three month class with George E. Ganiere, a sculptor from Chicago. Why he sought such training we do not know. Fursman had two paintings in the 24th Annual Exhibition of American Painting and Sculpture at the Art Institute, and received the Martin B. Cahn prize for the best painting by a Chicago artist, for his work Summertime (location unknown). The painting was then invited to the 1912 annual International exhibition at the Carnegie Institute. Highly respected art critic James William Pattison praised the painting by describing the difficulty of technique in Fursman’s work:
“…the really interesting problem which the painter set himself is the painting of a light green dress against the lively green of a meadow both in sunshine and shadow. It is no easy trick; the pale green dress is actually very much lighter than the green grass, but the sunlight on the grass beyond must be lighter than the pale dress in shadow. The ability to paint for the sake of painting is already an indication of talent which deserves attention.”
The 1912 Saugatuck classes included an autumn session “to study the unusually beautiful color effects which Saugatuck, with its wealth of sumac, sassafras, poplar, hard and soft maple, beech and trailing vines, annually gives.” The fall classes began on October 4, 1913, and were held at Riverside Hotel since “their work will mostly be in the woods.” These fall classes must have been held in the charge of Clute; Fursman had left August 19, 1913, on the S. S. Potsdam, for Europe. Fursman must have seen the International Exhibition of Modern Art, known as the “Armory Show,” at the Art Institute when it had opened in March 1913. Some of the canvases he showed upon his return from France prior to the summer of 1914, contained a decided influence of Fauvism.
Classes for the 1914 summer school, were announced in April by Clute and began June 22, delayed so Fursman could finish up “the auxiliary art class at Madison, Wis.” For the first time both the summer and fall classes were held at the Riverside Hotel on the Ox-Bow Lagoon. Fursman would later tell a reporter, “We found the spot one day by chance as we walked along the river and cut through the woods toward the lagoon... this spot, close to the village and yet quite apart from it... was ideal for our purposes.”
Fursman and Clute hosted a record eighty students, including some Saugatuck area artists. They celebrated the Fourth of July holiday by inviting a number of important Chicago art critics out for a visit including: Lena McCauley, of the Chicago Evening Post; Maude I. G. Oliver, of the Chicago Record-Herald; Mrs. Eva Webster, of the Chicago American and Harriet Monroe of the Chicago Tribune. Theodore J. Keane, Dean of the School of the Art Institute also came out for a visit. In August, an exhibition of work by both faculty and students was held at the Saugatuck Village Hall and several paintings were sold. Fursman and Clute were speakers at a special pre-exhibition show held at the Saugatuck Woman’s Club.
In December 1914, the Toledo Museum of Art included Fursman in a group of one person exhibits which also featured the work of Edmund W. Greacen (1877-1949), Walter Gilman Page (1862-1934) and Francis Hopkinson Smith (1838-1915). Eighteen paintings, some done at the Summer School and several from his European trip, were presented. Toledo art critic Elisabeth Jane Merrill wrote:
“The work of Frederick F. Fursman... is intensely interesting to all who are students of color... The work which he did a few years ago appears almost academic by comparison with that which he is now doing. These might be called ‘mass impressionistic’ for they are studies of color seen in different kinds and degrees of light, but instead of having the colors laid separately on the canvas very close together, they are painted in broad flat masses of color… A student of color, Mr. Fursman is leagues ahead of the majority… He uses color audaciously, producing wonderfully forceful and decorative effects.”
Prior to the exhibition in 1913, Cora Baird Lacey had purchased his painting In the Garden, for five hundred dollars and given it to the Toledo Museum in memory of Henry Allen Lacey. Asked for biographical material Fursman wrote a sketch of his education and honors and added, “I regret to say that the only museum that I am represented in is the Toledo Museum of Art, but I trust that in the near future other museums will follow the very good example of Toledo.” One of the artist friends he visited in France was George Senseney (1874-1943), who had been a fellow student at the Smith Academy in Chicago. Fursman probably convinced him to return to the United States to help found the New School of Drawing, Painting and Etching in the Tower Building on North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, which opened classes on January 1, 1915. Clute and Senseney were also friends, having met in Paris in 1899, and working together at the Académie Julian and in the country at Auvers sur Oise. Clute was planning on leaving Chicago for his health at the end of 1914, and it is more than likely the three of them worked out the plan for Senseney to come to Chicago to replace him as Fursman’s partner.
The classes were designed to appeal to those who were unable to be full-time art students, a situation with which Fursman was very familiar.
“They believe in using to its fullest extent the tremendous faith and enthusiasm of youth, and feel that the proper artistic outlet for these is in the tendencies to the use of fuller color and a more careful consideration of the decorative elements. They believe that there is possible for the students of today a freer, fuller and more varied expression than ever before.”
“Painting and drawing will be taught in the morning and etching in the afternoon. A class which should appeal on account of its convenience in time for business people will be that from 1 to 4 on Saturdays. This class will be in painting and will be in charge of Mr. Fursman who will also hold one on Sundays from 10 to 3.”
Fursman kept busy teaching as he also served on the staff of the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts in 1914-1915.
Fursman had an opportunity to present his views on modern art to the public when he, Senseney and a few other artists were invited to speak at the annual Chicago artists’ dinner held at the Press Club, February 7, 1915. While Fursman’s views were not aired in the local papers, Senseney had earlier said Chicago was “more plastic than New York and less saturated with European ideas.” A month later, Fursman’s works were hung in the “radical room,” gallery 53, at the Annual Exhibition of Works by Chicago Artists, reflecting the influence of modernism and his recent sojourn to France on his new paintings. Other modernists in the room included
Jerome S. Blum (1884-1934) and Raymond Johnson (1891-1976, soon to be “Jonson”). Art critic Maude I. G. Oliver commented on his “daring orange and purple” and called room 53, the “iconoclastic room of the whole collection” and that to some it was a room of “shrieking riot of all that is dischordant [sic] in color combinations.”
Walter Marshall Clute died in California on February 13, 1915. A news release to the April 23, 1915, Commercial Record announced the Summer School of Painting would continue with George Senseney who took over Clute’s landscape classes while Fursman continued his classes in out-of-door figure painting. Elsa Ulbricht was hired to open a crafts department and taught jewelry design, basketry and stenciling. Summer school in 1916, was under the sole direction of Fursman. Senseney had determined to spend the summer at Lovetts Court, in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
In 1917, The Book of Chicagoans profiled both Fursman and his wife. Frederick was described as associated with the Fine and Applied Arts School of Milwaukee and director of the Saugatuck Summer School of Painting. He was listed as a member of the Chicago Society of Artists, the Artists’ Guild of Chicago and the Socialist Party. Ida was described as “head assistant at the Avondale School, Chicago, twelve years, and in a similar position at the Linne School, six years; president of the Chicago Teachers’ Federation five consecutive years, now serving, and a member of the Socialist Party since 1913, a pacifist, single-taxer, trade unionist, and Christian Scientist.” She belonged to the Political Equity League, and the Women’s Legislative Congress. Ida listed her recreation preferences as “walking, riding and boating.”
In June 1917, Fursman was given a one man exhibition at Favor, Ruhl & Co., in Chicago. A few weeks later, works of the summer students at Saugatuck were shown. It is interesting that the company was involved in the art supply business and told art critic Lena M. McCauley, they “noted the increased interest in highly keyed color and the study of color theory and color charts.” It is likely there was some connection with Fursman’s exploration of color that impacted the way the company was thinking about trends in color. A later newspaper column noted their rooms were “the favorite haunt of the art student. The theories of palette arrangement and new methods in color study are of particular interest.” In June 1918, Favor, Ruhl announced an exhibition of the summer school at Saugatuck, stating their company was the “home of the artist.”
In 1919, Fursman and his wife secured a lease from the government for an unused lighthouse across the lagoon from the Summer School of Painting as a summertime cottage. This was the first year he affiliated the school with the Alumni Association of the Art Institute of Chicago. The idea was to increase the number of artists attending the area and to give more seasoned artists a chance at outdoor instruction under a less academic structure. The Alumni sent a class out from Chicago on June 28. It was also an opportunity for some of the older artists who “want to get out of a rut.” While they all worked hard during the day culminating in regular weekly concours, evenings were mostly filled with entertainment, plays and cook-outs on the beach. Saturday evenings were reserved for well planned carnivals which could include any number of antics, almost always in jest of something. And each summer an elaborate dramatic event was given with titles such as “Interior of the Artist’s Brain at the Saugatuck Summer School of Art.”
During all this activity, Fursman was proud of the “fraternal” feeling among the artists and the absence of “cliques.” A decided success, the school attracted eighty-two students from ten states and Canada that summer, including twenty-seven from the alumni association.
Initially, Ida presided over teas for the students on Sunday afternoons at the lighthouse. However, as time wore on she seldom mixed with the artists and many of them did not even know she was in town. Fursman had begun a series of portraits he called the “Saugatuck Anthology.” They were non-commissioned and painted in a style more realistic than many of his earlier works; yet continued to express the sharp contrasting colors of his brand of Fauvism. The Heuer family were particularly favorite subjects. A portrait of Dick Heuer, poling his clamming scow, was shown in the 1919 Annual Exhibition of American Oil Paintings and Sculpture at the Art Institute. Critic Marguerite Williams said it was Saugatuck people like Heuer who were “its picturesque old characters who are the painter’s delight…,” as a way to describe the charm of the area. She continued to recount that Heuer was none to pleased to sit for a portrait, as he thought artists were frivolous and beneath his dignity. But when the finished product was hung in the local drug store, it created enough of a warm stir that old Heuer invited Fursman to dinner. She described Saugatuck as “one of those old-time villages in which the democracy of civil war times still exists.” The editor of the local newspaper wrote, “Too bad they had to hang old Dick who was always a pretty good sort of chap. But that’s what comes of mixin’ in along of them artist fellers.”
For the 1920 season, a studio building was renovated and a new fireplace, something which would be very important to social gatherings at the school, was cause for celebration. Summer students had hauled stones from the lakeside and donated their time for construction. Fursman extended an invitation to Charles L. Hutchinson, president of the Art Institute, and in August, a party of people came out from Chicago to join in the festivities.
In 1921, a stock company was formed for the Saugatuck School. Fursman owned 57 percent, Thomas Tallmadge (1876-1940), a noted Chicago architect and artist, owned 29 percent and Edgar A. Rupprecht (1889-1954), a Chicago artist friend of Fursman, owned 14 percent. An option had been secured in 1919 to purchase the Riverside Hotel. This property included: “the thirty-room hotel, a four-room cottage, a studio building, a dormitory, store building and barn and seven acres of land.” The buildings came furnished and the complete price was $8,500. Plans called for the use of rooms for rental to help support the project. Critic Eleanor Jewett noted, “From the point of view of comfort and convenience, everything has been done to the place that human wit can devise.”
The very next winter, the shareholders of the school voted to add two directors, Arthur T. Aldis and Chicago artist Richard Fayerweather Babcock (1887-1954), a successful commercial illustrator who taught both at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. The shareholders soon elected to hire a full time manager for the “Ox-Bow Inn” and to spend up to $1,500 improving the property. They also took steps to incorporate in the state of Michigan. In September, officers were officially elected including Tallmadge as president, Rupprecht as vice president and Fursman acting as secretary and treasurer. Results for the more formal enterprise showed revenues of the Ox-Bow Inn at $6,700 and a strong profit from its operation of $1,800. Clearly the school was not the only money making venture for in addition to this, there were profits from operation of an on-site store.
Frederick and Ida had moved to Saugatuck in 1920. Ida apparently retired from her duties although she made frequent trips back to Chicago. They stayed in the lighthouse during the summer and rented seasonal quarters in town during the winter. Now living in Michigan, Fursman continued his close ties with the Chicago art community. His work was included in the Annual Exhibition by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity at the Art Institute through 1924. In the 1923 exhibition, he won the $150 Harry A. Frank prize, an award given from 1920 to 1934 for the best figure composition in oil, for his canvas entitled Morning (location unknown). In 1924, he won the Chicago Society of Artists Silver Medal, an award offered for the best group of paintings or sometimes for recognition of significant overall painting achievement as displayed at the exhibition. He had entries accepted in the Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture in 1921, 1922 and 1924. Publicity for the Saugatuck summer school played on his recent honors by featuring a portrait of Fursman on the front cover of the brochure.
Throughout these years, his opinions as a teacher and artist were valued as he served on the Chicago & Vicinity exhibition juries in 1914, 1917, 1918, 1920, 1921 and 1923. Fursman maintained his membership in several Chicago clubs including the Cliff Dwellers, Arts Club, Chicago Galleries Association and Tavern Club.
Operations at the school at Ox-Bow were very successful and the Fursman’s continued to entertain a variety of guests and students from Chicago and the Midwest. Duncan Clark wrote to Fursman about the fine work he was doing, giving a perspective that perhaps was valuable for its objectivity:
“We think that you and Mrs. Fursman are very wonderful people and are doing a wonderful and beautiful thing at Ox-Bow. You are both of you too near to it, perhaps, to realize how wonderful and beautiful it is, but as those who came newly to it and watched if with the interest of outsiders – at first – we were in a position to pass judgment impartially, and judgment became admiration. You have made a picture for us which cannot be put on any canvas, and in which the human values find an altogether lovely setting against Nature’s background – and are wholly worthy of it.”
Fursman was enjoying Michigan as a place to paint. In 1925, the school on the lagoon was visited by Russell Gore of the Detroit News. Portions of the story were repeated in the local newspaper and included the Fursman observation:
“Michigan to me is the most paintable state in the union. A peculiar atmospheric condition gives the landscape a softness not found elsewhere. In Wisconsin, immediately across the lake, outlines are hard and bold. I think perhaps there is more moisture in Michigan. This moisture is like a lovely veil to the brilliant and variegated coloring, enhancing and at the same time subduing the transcendent beauty to be found on every hand.”
The buildings at Ox-Bow were not winterized and the Fursmans rented a variety of apartments and houses in town in the early 1920s. To solve the continually changing seasonal housing problem and to supplement their income, the Fursmans began to travel during winter months. In 1924-25, they were at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where he had been engaged to teach a special course. Both Dr. Frank L. McVey, president of the University, and H. D. Sachs, head of the Department of Fine Arts, had spent time at Ox-Bow and “have long endeavored to induce him to go to them during the winter.” A special one-man exhibition was held during his visit.
Just prior to leaving for Kentucky, Fursman had put together a group of paintings for a one man exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Institute. The Milwaukee Journal gave a strong review to the show which was shared with Chicagoan Walter Ufer (1876-1936, featured in this book with an essay). The critic was primarily taken by the effect of color and bright light in the canvases:
“Far apart in theme, the two men, and yet a certain kinship might be found in a shared strength, vigorous color, and freedom of spirit in making an expansive gesture… Mr. Fursman, in his matters of every day, gives the familiar a new beauty and floods the casual with radiance… through the muslin sash curtains the morning sun pours like a bright rain on the girl’s delicately modeled back… and fills the whole room with swimming shifting light. To come upon the canvas is like going through a doorway into the very clearness of morning light itself… [commenting on another painting] Even the air takes color from its flaming hues.”
The summer of 1925, he had his third one man exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago which remained open from July 15 until September 13. Critics said of the show:
“… But Mr. Fursman’s main purpose seems to have been to paint sunlight – sunlight as it falls in blinding brilliance on water, sunlight slanting thru the leafy shelter of the trees, sunlight falling on human hands and faces and garments… Mr. Fursman appears to have been content with the simplest in composition and the minimum of trickery in drawing for the sake of registering the sunlight as it affected his subjects… There is no denying his gift for catching the shifting gleam on the surface of the water.”
“In Frederick F. Fursman’s exhibition, we have a painter with a love for strong color, for bright sunlight – one who boldly and courageously tackles the problem of painting nature garbed in vivid hues. In all of Mr. Fursman’s pictures he has introduced a human figure as the principal theme, upon which the bright light plays and reflects an interesting interplay of color.”
In the winter 1925-1926, he was invited to be the first director of the Chappell School of Art in Denver, Colorado. The appointment came from George William Eggers, director of the school, who had previously been the director of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His stay opened with an October exhibit “which has been on view during the entire summer at the galleries of the Art Institute and which has come directly from there.” Whether he was not selling his most important works purposely so as to gain from their exhibition and press, or his efforts to sell the canvases were unsuccessful, is not known. Many of the works in this exhibit were from previous shows and included his prize winning paintings.
The following winter Frederick and Ida left in mid-September to spend the winter in Regina, New Mexico. According to a letter from Ida, they had expected to camp and paint on the way West but rain and flooding prevented this. They returned to Saugatuck at the end of April 1927, with a number of sketches “characteristic of the state” and four portraits, having spent considerable time in the artist colonies at Santa Fe and Taos.
Still prior to the Great Depression, the summer school was running strong. An impressive brochure for the 1927 summer season featured in its title “Under the Auspices of the Alumni Association of the Chicago Art Institute.” The brochure carefully balanced the work of painting with descriptions which evoke summer camp: “The opportunity for healthful sport is unusual,” “Next to swimming the most popular sport is hiking and picnics” and “The school encourages home entertainment.” And who wouldn’t want to attend a school where the surroundings included “the cool shadowy green of the pines, the sunlight on the dunes and the cool depths of the forest… and the shallow waters of the lagoon filled with pond lilies.” It sounded like an oasis during the heat of a strong Chicago summer.
In the fall 1927, the Fursmans finally purchased a house in Saugatuck. It was a small white structure on Mary Street which had been the first schoolhouse in the Village in the 1860s. It had a large shed in the back which he converted into a studio. With the help of his architect friend Tallmadge, he changed the windows in the front of the building and made significant other improvements. To while away the winter, Fursman made a few attempts at woodblock printing, something he evidently picked up from the many visiting artists during the summer.
Ida joined in small town life. In an account of the Saugatuck Woman’s Club annual banquet, she addressed the needs of the village speaking of the need for a club house, “where women can hold small social affairs while the men are golfing, fishing and attending to their various society meetings” and advocated a public library for the village. The library became her pet project and within a year it opened under the auspices of the Woman’s Club. Ida Fursman was on the first library board and was librarian of the new collection.
Fursman’s daughter, Laurens Lucile, had begun study at the School of the Art Institute taking a life class taught by John Warner Norton in 1928. That summer, she was an official student at the Summer School of Painting. In the fall, she and her father took a motor trip to the upper peninsula of Michigan and then traveled South past Saugatuck on to Missouri to visit Fursman’s brother William. She spent the winter term of 1928-1929, at the School of the Art Institute. After another summer at Ox-Bow, she decided “to spend the winter here [Saugatuck] studying with her father.” He was pleased enough with her progress to plan a three-month tour for the family to Europe beginning in late October 1930, including ten days in England and more than a month in Etaples, and other “scenes of his student days in Paris.” The summer season had started off slowly and looked to be a particularly difficult one as only twenty-five students enrolled in classes at Saugatuck. However, by the close of the summer, Fursman announced the total number of students in attendance had exceeded any previous year.
Fursman was one of the founders of the Saugatuck Art Association in 1931, an organization of area artists both professional and amateur. The group received permission to use the upper rooms of the Saugatuck Village Hall as an art gallery which would feature both local and guest artists. The first exhibition opened in July 1931. It included works by: Fursman; Carl Hoerman (1885-1955), a Bavarian born architect, turned artist, who had a studio in Saugatuck; Cora Bliss Taylor (1889-1986), who ran an art school in town and Albert Krehbiel, a Park Ridge, Illinois, artist, friend of the deceased Clute, who had taught since 1926 at Ox-Bow, but had just opened his own school in town. Other artists included Milo Denny, Olive Williams, Edith Hammond (1887-1969), Christiana Hoerman, Adele Houser and visiting artists Frank Charles Peyraud (1858-1948) and Wellington Jarard Reynolds (1866-1949) of Chicago.
Fursman used his resident status in 1932, to enter the Annual Exhibition of Michigan Artists at the Detroit Art Institute and had two canvases accepted. The following spring, he was the Chicago artist named to the jury of the Nineteenth Annual St. Louis Artists’ Guild Exhibition. The Guild traditionally invited three artists, one each from New York, Philadelphia and Chicago to serve on the jury. In 1934, after a hiatus of ten years, Fursman had a painting in the 1934 Exhibition of Chicago & Vicinity Artists at the Art Institute. Later that year, at the close of Ox-Bow classes, Fursman had a one-man exhibit in the gallery on the second floor of Saugatuck’s Village Hall. It is described extensively in the July 27, 1934, issue of the Commercial Record, by Saugatuck resident and art student Edith Barron. The exhibit included many of the portraits of Saugatuck area residents and Fursman opened the exhibit with a talk about his experiences of painting in Saugatuck and in other places in the world. Mrs. Barron wrote: “It is always a pleasure to listen to Mr. Fursman, because of the fact that he never ‘puts on dog’ and always has his whimsical sense of humor on tap as well as many delightful experiences and associations to draw from.”
During the Depression there was decreased enrollment at the Summer School and money was tight in the Fursman household. He began teaching again in Chicago, the luxury of time off during the school year apparently no longer affordable. The school he chose was the same where his friend John Warner Norton had been teaching for some years, The Studio School of Art. Fursman was fortunate financially in 1934 when he received a contract with the Federal Art Project for a mural in the upstairs assembly room of the Saugatuck High School. He had a local boat builder pose in buckskin garb as a pioneer and produced a three-paneled painting that wrapped around two walls of the room. According to the local newspaper, “The mural depicts the discovery of this pleasant site, our pioneer days and the first settlers, all with our well-loved Kalamazoo River in the background.” The wife of the boat builder posed for a picture of a woman sewing, planned to form part of another panel, but the painting was never expanded.
In December 1937, three members of the Summer School of Painting staff, Fursman, Francis Chapin (1899-1965) and Edgar Rupprecht had a show in the east wing of the architecture building at the University of Illinois. A student reviewer praised Fursman for the “delicacy and softened brilliance” of two snow scenes. A reviewer for the local Sunday Courier wrote: “Subdued colors blend effectively in Mr. Fursman’s character studies and other paintings… [his technique] is equally enjoyable to contemplate… whether it is enjoyed in his two nudes or in the interesting portraits of elderly persons.”
Fursman was a frequent lecturer on art topics both to art students and to the general audience. In 1937, in a presentation entitled “The True Appreciation of Art,” he told a woman’s organization, “Art is a challenge, not an opiate. And like a marriage partner must be something that one can enjoy and laugh with, yes, but also cry with, and, now and then, quarrel with.”
Fursman seldom painted commissions, but in 1940, probably as a special favor to his friend and Chicago painter, Dr. Michael Mason (1895-1963), he painted a portrait of Dr. Charles Addison Elliott, first head of the medical department of Passavant Hospital, Chicago. The portrait was hung in the library of the Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. Mason, formerly closely associated with the Summer School of Painting, and a surgeon, presented a talk at the dedication, February 1, 1940, describing the artist and his work.
The Art Institute of Chicago, its school and the summer school at Saugatuck, were featured in a 1941 Life Magazine article which included a photograph of the gray-haired Fursman directing the operations of an outdoor class. Life Magazine photographer Wallace Kirkland spent many summers at Ox-Bow sometimes taking macro-photography of insects and plants for magazine features.
Ida died in Saugatuck on May 11, 1942, after a long illness and was remembered in her Commercial Record obituary both for her work representing the Chicago Teachers’ Federation and her interest in the growth of the Saugatuck library and Woman’s Club “and any worthwhile affairs.”
Fursman died quietly at his home just one year later on Sunday, June 12, 1943, after a short illness. The Saugatuck Commercial Record paid a kind tribute to Fursman in saying:
“Through his various activities in the village… he became known to and learned to know intimately a great many people in every capacity of life; that faculty of human interest and kindliness, which was so much a part of his nature, enabled him to understand and to appreciate all people with whom he came into contact… He was a man of great integrity, simplicity and directness – one who sensed true values and avoided sham and insincerity – a friendly, genial personality… with an infectious laugh… To meet him was to be cheered… An unfailing memory, spurred on by a sense of fun and an irrepressible imagination, contributed to his ability to relate interesting anecdotes at every occasion.”
Former colleagues Elsa Ulbricht, Chicago artist Alice Mason (1895-1977), wife of artist Dr. Michael Mason, instructor Francis Chapin, Gerald Landt and Winifred Phillips of Milwaukee, gathered for the funeral and moved immediately to the Ox-Bow Inn to make preparations for the opening of the summer school on June 28. The local newspaper wrote, “Friends and colleagues... were imbued with the desire to make this season successful so the school which he had established 33 years ago would be perpetuated in his memory.” Shortly after the opening of the season, Lucile Fursman gave a reception in honor of Francis Chapin, her father’s successor as director, to help smooth the transition.
Fursman remained very much a part of the details in running the Summer School right up until the very end. By this time, many of these details were carried out by Elsa Ulbricht and included such mundane matters as: who would run the store; upholstery for the furniture; help for the kitchen and difficulty with the gasoline shortage. Before his death, Fursman had wanted to transfer his stock in the summer school to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, with voting rights to transfer upon his demise. Despite the fact that the “Summer School of Painting At Saugatuck, Mich.” letterhead included in its subtitle, “The Summer School Of The Art Institute of Chicago,” the arrangement wasn’t quite formalized, and in a letter to trustee Joseph T. Ryerson and a return letter from the director, it is evident the persons at the School of the Art Institute had little knowledge of the financial workings of the school and the particulars of its stock ownership.
In 1947, friends of Fursman set up the Frederick F. Fursman Art Foundation as a memorial and to assist in the maintenance of the summer school. After Lucile’s death in March 1948, her heirs who were her father’s siblings, William and Frances, contributed the paintings they had inherited and the voting stock in the Summer School of Painting to the Foundation. This stock gave the foundation considerable influence in the running of the school.
In addition to fund raising, the Fursman Foundation sought to make his work better known. In 1964, they mounted an exhibition of twenty-eight Fursman paintings. Many were from his Saugatuck anthology of local people. Also included were canvases from trips to France and New Mexico. The exhibition opened in July, in the Ox-Bow gallery and later moved to the Woman’s Club auditorium, which had been designed by his long time friend Tallmadge. None of the paintings were available for purchase but the foundation donated one canvas which became part of a scheme “to encourage donations to the Woman’s Club of funds to be used for maintenance.”
In 1969, upon the urging of Fursman colleague Elsa Ulbricht, the Charles Allis Art Gallery, affiliated with the Milwaukee Public Library System, mounted an exhibit of forty-five paintings. Eight years later, at the suggestion of the foundation, a Fursman painting, Woman with a Green Parasol, was accepted into the National Collection of Fine Arts of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1977, his painting In the Garden, was lent by the Toledo Museum for the exhibit, Currents of Expansion: Painting in the Midwest, 1820-1940, at the St. Louis Art Museum.
In September 1991, a retrospective exhibit, including more than one hundred paintings completed between 1900 and 1939, was presented under the title, Frederick Frary Fursman: A Rediscovered Impressionist, at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee Art Museum. A painting by Fursman was part of the 1997 exhibition, Painting the Town: A Century of Art in Saugatuck and Douglas at the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Museum in the exhibit The Color of Modernism, The American Fauves, at the Hollis Taggart Galleries in New York.
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