ILLINOIS HISTORICAL ART PROJECT
No. 89 Flora Schofield
Flora Schofield likes people. That keeps her eternally young in the art life of Chicago and of Paris. Of the generation of the late Pauline Palmer, she keeps the friendship and esteem of her old conservative associates. Yet with an open and eager mind for all that develops in “modernism,” she numbers among her young companions radicals like Rifka Angel and Julia Thecla.
Flora Schofield’s was once a fighting name in Chicago’s art circles. In 1923, three “abstracts” she painted proved the final triple wedge that split asunder the old established Chicago Society of Artists, founded in 1888. The Chicago Society of Artists, retaining the name, is the present “radical” organization. The Association of Chicago Painters and Sculptors broke away and has to be content with “traditions” dating back only to 1923.
It came about in this way. The old-line artists of Chicago kept themselves, year after year, in the official Chicago and vicinity shows at the Art Institute by a self-perpetuating jury of 21 artist members. Exhibiting artists voted for next year’s jury, and next year’s jury could be depended upon to choose for hanging the work of the “loyalists.”
In 1923, by a “coup,” certain radicals got onto the jury. Five “abstracts” by Flora Schofield came up for consideration, and three of them were voted into the show. An acrid debate ensured between Pauline Palmer, Mrs. Schofield’s personal friend but art foe, and Carl Hoeckner, champion of the “radicals.”
The fury of this debate was carried into the next business meeting of the Chicago Society of Artists, with the result that Mrs. Palmer and her friends withdrew and formed the new Association of Chicago Painters and Sculptor.
Flora Schofield started her career in Chicago art with all the promise of a good soldier ready to march in the ranks. She duly graduated at the school of the Art Institute of Chicago, and then went to Provincetown and put herself under the tutelage of Hawthorne, as all other up-and-coming Chicago artists of the day (particularly the women) were doing.
The Armory Show came to Chicago in 1913, and while a number of your Chicago artists were stimulated and overly stimulated by the revelation of what the violent young heretics of Paris were doing (Henry Matisse, for example, whom the wags dubbed “Henry Hair Mattress”), Mrs. Schofield paid little attention. She saw the Armory Show, but it is so vague in her memory now that she has to prove to herself that surely she must have seen it.
It was in Provincetown, in the war years that followed, that she started on her career as storm petrel.
She had duly enrolled with Hawthorne, paid a term’s tuition, but before a month was up wished she had her money back. Hawthorne was giving her nothing except boredom.
Somebody organized in the Provincetown Town Hall an art exhibition, half “conservative,” half “modern,” the latter an echo of the Armory Show. Mrs. Schofield visited the exhibition again and again and, being of a disposition to analyze her reactions, wondered why the “conservative” half of the show bored her while the “modern” half stimulated her.
But she didn’t do much about it until one day, on a Provincetown wharf, she saw a sign “Modern Art School” over a shanty whose front was panted a violent yellow and blue and other bright colors. Investigating cautiously, she found that the institution had been set up by two young “radicals,” B.J. Norfeldt and William Zorach. Secretly she enrolled, not daring to tell her friends, the disciples of Hawthorne, “just to find out what it was all about.”
But her sin found her out. And Pauline Palmer baled her out! That was the beginning of Flora Schofield as a “modernist.”
She learned what she could in the gaudy studio shanty on the wharf — the exact site, later, of the little theater of the Provincetown Players.
After that, she went to Europe, eager to learn all that was possible for an American artist to know about “modernism.”
Inquiring around, she enrolled in the studio of Andre Lhote — painter, by the way, of the spectacular “Women of Avignon” in the Birch-Bartlett collection at the Art Institute, and rated as the best of the Paris instructors in “modernism.”
But Lhote made Mrs. Schofield a bit nervous. If a student couldn’t or wouldn’t follow instructions, Lhote had a habit of sitting down at the easel himself, showing how to do it, instead of telling. Rebellious Mrs. Schofield wouldn’t finish the picture Lhote had touched up, but would start something else on another canvas.
From Lhote, she passed at odd times over a period of a decade to the studio schools of Gleiza, Leger, Ozenfant, Goncharova, Severini, and others.
She liked the method of Gleiza best — he would set a problem, let the student work on it in her own studio until she ran up against a stone wall, and then would come to her assistance.
Severini, the sensitive Italian cubist, she recalls as a gentle artist of great charm of manner. With Severini and Leopold Survage, she still exchanges letters.
She met Survage the summer after his first American exhibition at the Arts Club of Chicago, from which all the pictures were sold to the number of 18.
Mrs. Schofield was summering in the southern French village of Colioure. On the other side of the Colioure Mountains is the frontier of Spain. It used to be a favorite summer retreat of Matisse.
Survage came down from Paris that summer and, learning Mrs. Schofield was from Chicago, eagerly inquired about such a marvelous art life here that would result in the buying out of a whole exhibition. The friendship there started has persisted to this day.
Survage, incidentally, Mrs. Schofield tells me, is not his real name. He is a Russian and the long and complicated succession of letters that designates him cannot be handled by a Western European tongue. Nor is Sergé Ferat, another of her friends, Sergé Ferat. He is another Russian with an unpronounceable name. Guillaume Appolinaire, art critic and historian of the “fauves” and cubists, himself a Russian, renamed himself and several friends, including Survage and Ferat. It was Appolinaire also, Mrs. Schofield believes, who persuaded Pablo Picasso-Ruiz to shorten his hyphenated name.
Mrs. Schofield, in her nine years in Paris, with generous “time out” for her Chicago home, has so saturated her life with the artists life of Paris that she feels herself a citizen of two continents.
She was born in Lanark, Ill., a village over near the Mississippi River, the daughter of Bernhardt Irwin, who had come to America at16 from Germany. His wife had lived near him in Germany, but they had never met until they had come to this country with their parents and settled near each other.
Mrs. Irwin was insistent that Flora become a musician and, the painter recalls even now with some pain, seven long years of practice at the piano. Flora wanted to be an artist from her earliest recollections, and her father, who could draw a little himself, encouraged her secretly.
The parents returned to Germany for a year when Flora was still a child, and she spent that year in a boarding school where she was given lessons in drawing in the routine of the course. These lessons were the red-letter hours for the girl.
Returning to America, the Irwin’s settled in Chicago. Flora went a year “clandestinely” to the school of the Art Institute, tuition paid by her father unbeknownst to her mother. Then she got a job teaching in the Saturday classes at the Institute, brushed aside the “secret,” and presently married Frank Schofield in 1898.
It is with Mr. Schofield’s encouragement that Flora Irwin has followed out her spectacular career as a painter. They have a son, Paul Schofield, who has developed into a writer.