ILLINOIS HISTORICAL ART PROJECT
No. 102 Edithe Jane Cassaday
Edithe Jane Cassady does not lack in popularity, but she feels that her circle of friends isn’t quite complete. She would like to meet a truck driver — a gentlemanly truck driver who owns his truck. Reason: she’s smallish but, unlike most small painters, she hasn’t acquired the habit of painting large canvases. Of late, however, she has a yearning to undertake something massive — something beyond 30 inches by 36. It happens that 30 by 26 is about the largest canvas that can be conveniently taken into a taxicab. Now, if she knew a truck driver — a gentlemanly truck driver with his own truck —!
This information was once “off the record,” but by coaxing Miss Cassady I succeeded in getting permission to use it. Of all artists I’ve ever interviewed, she told me most “off the record” stuff, cunning, whimsical, and sprightly anecdotes about friends, nothing really malicious but slants she feels might hurt their feelings or their dignity. She couldn’t be coaxed out of things she said about other people, but usually I could get her to erase “off the record” when her remarks concerned herself.
Another reason, for example, why she doesn’t paint pictures above 30 by 36 is that her studio won’t accommodate canvases any larger.
Her studio, it develops when “off the record” is expunged, is her little bedroom, which she furnished herself in a sister’s home some six years ago, with a French canopied bed and such rococo luxuries. A sketching easel can be set up in the daytime but it has to be folded and put in the closet at night.
She boasts she has the cleanest paint brushes of any artist in Chicago, not because she is naturally super-tidy but because they have to be washed and put away at night, no matter how splitting a headache she might have or how weary her feet.
Moreover, she doesn’t have a “North light,” so much in demand by temperamental artists. Her room faces West, with all the presumed disadvantages of afternoon sunshine.
Nevertheless, it is in this studio that Edithe Jane Cassady has been painting for more than half a decade pictures that are the envy of many other Chicago artists who must have North light and elbow room in order that their talents may flourish.
I know another painter who can paint anywhere he can hang his hat. He is Frank O. Salisbury, none other than the most popular living portrait painter in London — painter of the official coronation portraits and pageantry of King George VI. Salisbury, when he comes to Chicago, simply hires a hotel room, sets up his easel, and invites his sitters in. No shopping around for a month or six weeks for an ideal studio with ideal lights.
But to proceed with Miss Cassady and her “off the record” information, she has a fantastic sense of humor. I tried to guess where she got it. Nearest I could figure out was that her father was a Cassady and her mother Fitzpatrick — of the French-Canadian Fitzpatrick’s, Edithe Jane told me.
Well, with this sense of humor, she is in the habit of wandering into places where women congregate, much as does Clare Boothe Luce, author of The Women. Only, as I have said, there is far less of malice in Edithe Jane Cassady. It is “off the record” where the beauty parlor is located that furnished her much of the atmosphere and some of the types she worked into a grand spoof she exhibited in the Arts Club in the spring.
I suppose when she comes to paint two more projected pictures — larger, if she meets her ideal in truck drivers meanwhile — it will be “off the record” where is located the bicycle stand that rents bicycles to overly lean and overly fat ladies in shorts. Also, it will be “off the record” the address of the establishment where ladies in rompers are put through reducing exercises to counteract tendencies to indulge in desserts. Miss Cassady used to know one grimly, for she likes ice cream, though now forswears the “goo” that rounds out a sundae.
Edithe Jane Cassady has been a “somebody” in Chicago art since 1929 when she won the Union League Club’s annual purchase prize of $100 for young artists. She was 23 — born Chicago, Aug. 22, 1906. She says modestly that the Union Leaguers were friends of her father, but events later have proven that her own talents may have had something to do with it.
Her father retired in 1914 from presidency of a hardware manufacturing company and devoted his time largely to Catholic charities. It was he who founded during the war the Chaplains Aid, whose purpose was the equipping and financing of young priests going to the front.
He was a Philadelphian by birth. Edithe’s mother was Bostonian and, like many cultured young ladies of her day, expressed her art tendencies in china painting. Edithe Jane from the outset had the full endorsement and encouragement of her parents in her art ambitions.
\These ambitions began to take shape when she was a student at St. Xavier’s Academy. The talented and much loved Sister Paul, who had been educated in Munich and who is nationally known for her portraits of the clergy, directed her impulses. A part of her instruction was copying Vermeer.
Finishing at St. Xavier’s, Miss Cassady entered the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts with the intention of becoming a commercial artist. Illness intervened, and when she recovered she continued at the Academy but with “fine art” as her aim. Frederick M. Grant was a dominating influence here, and her adventures in “still like” (subject of much of her painting through her whole career) started with the exotic, Oriental compositions he set up.
Grant left for Bali, and Miss Cassady went down East to Lyme, Conn., where she entered the school of Guy Wiggins. She had been there only a week, however, when her father died, and she returned to Chicago, to be met shortly with another blow, the death of her mother. After prolonged visits with relatives in Indiana and Hot Springs, Ark., she returned to the Chicago Academy, and then in 1931 again went East to the Lyme school of Wiggins.
In Connecticut, she painted two pictures that added to her fame. One was “Monday,” with clothes on a backyard line, which was in the A Century of Progress exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The other was a nude, form which she reaped some unexpected notoriety in an exhibition held at the Hotel Sherman in 1932, sponsored by the South Side Art Association at the annual meeting of women’s clubs of Illinois.
The nude was from a model that had come to Wiggins’ class after a day on the beach in the hot sun. She presented a truculent tan, with areas of white where shoulder straps and scant bathing trunks had shielded her from the sun.
The model’s fantastic appearance aroused the sense of whimsy in Edithe Jane, who hitherto had viewed nude models with “academic” soberness. She painted a picture that attracted the immediate attention of Guy Wiggins, but that didn’t offend the sensibilities of either him or Bruce Crane of Wilson Irvine, who dropped in later to look at and praise it.
But when shown at the clubwomen’s convention at the Hotel Sherman — even after passing a conservative South Side jury — it was pounced upon by an irate club leader, who denounced it as “modern,” “immoral,” and “damnable.” The denunciation got into the newspapers, and Edithe Jane all but dissolved in her own tears.
After the show, she sent the nude back to Lyme, where it was hung between a painting of a church and a painting of a pasture with kind cows. It didn’t cause a ripple, Buy Wiggins wrote Miss Cassady. So she cheered up.