Elmar “Skinny” Schooley: Works on Paper: lithography, woodcuts, aquatints and pastels in Santa Fe, NM
While Elmer Wayne “Skinny” Schooley (1916-2007) was best known for his large landscape paintings, the artist also achieved distinction as a printmaker creating imagery of northern New Mexico in lithographs, woodcut, aquatints and pastels. On Friday, April 24 the Meyer East Gallery will open an exhibition featuring the largest collection of Schooley’s works on paper with a reception from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM, in the 225 complex on Santa Fe’s famed Canyon Road.
Meyer East Gallery has represented Schooley since the early 80’s and continues to represent his estate and actively seeks his historical works. It is in this tradition the gallery is excited to curate this exhibition which will feature the largest collection ever compiled of his paper works; including lithographs, woodcuts, aquatints and pastels. These works offer a perspective of the artist as a draftsman.
The paper pieces in this exhibition were primarily done between the 1940s through the late 1960s while Schooley was teaching at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas New Mexico. Schooley retired in 1977, after teaching fine art and print making at the University. During his 30 year tenure at the school he was head of the department of Arts and established the University’s art library and it’s Graphics Department. Schooley made prints for such artists as Kenneth Adams and Theodore van Soelen, as well as his own works the school’s print shop was established by Schooley and he would spend countless hours there creating works. For decades he printed lithographs on a press in his office at the university between classes for extra money and artistic challenge. He founded the lithography workshop at the University and educated thousands of students in how to work in this art form.
With little training in printmaking, a used $50 press and grim determination, Schooley developed a lithography program at NM Highlands University long before the Tamarind Institute moved to Albuquerque. The works he developed reflected the times of their creation, often focusing on the social issues that Schooley held close; fighting racism, voting rights and worker’s rights and social equality. The pieces have a wonderful WPA feel to them focusing on people and their struggles.
In the1930′s Schooley began creating his paper works and exhibited them in major shows throughout the country. He participated in many shows including the Society of Print Makers, the Mid-America Arts Alliance, and the Philadelphia Print Club Annual and won many Purchase Awards from the Museum of New Mexico’s Annual Graphics Show in the 1950s. Over the years Elmer Schooley’s work has garnered numerous awards and prizes, including the Museum of New Mexico’s Biennials in 1970, ’72 and ’74; a Ford Foundation purchase prize in 1962; a Hallmark Purchase Award in 1964 and the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Visual Arts in 1986.
His prints are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Dallas Museum, the Museums of New Mexico, the Philadelphia Print Club and the Library of Congress.
“The greatest influence on my print work was a fellow you probably have never heard of , Frederick O’Hara, who was a New Mexico artist who was very active here from the early 1940s to the mid 1960s He was a première printmaker. He taught me more and he taught me through example because he was real big on this business of listening to your material, and I’m no sooner going to impose myself into those big gestural lines and all this kind of stuff that people do. Instead of that, he would flow ink onto a stone and then see what kind of form that suggested, and then put it down and print something else on top. My wife, Gussie was doing some woodcuts at the time and Frederick did a lot of colored woodcuts before he got involved with colored lithography, absolutely beautiful prints,” explains Schooley from his diary.
“So this idea of serendipity or whatever we should call it, of listening to the material, of letting the material suggest to you what the finished work should look like; I really got this, I owe everything on this to Fred O’Hara and to my willingness, more than willingness, my ability, to follow his example,” Schooley noted.
Elmer W. “Skinny” Schooley spent 50 years creating works on paper but spent the later part of his life painting substantially large canvases. He surrounded himself with the stuff of his densely patterned paintings. Working hand stretched linen canvases measuring approximately 7 by 8 feet; he enveloped the viewer, commanding an unnerving emotional surrender and profound introspection. No horizon line or human figures provide an easy visual solution. Nothing was simple for “Skinny”. He painted his world of nature from inside the tunnel looking out, demanding the viewer jump right in, headfirst.
He was born in Lawrence, Kansas, the third of four sons of Sparks S. and Nella Winey Schooley. His family lived in Oklahoma during his childhood, moving to Colorado during the great depression. After high school Skinny enrolled in the University of Colorado where he majored in art and worked his way through college as a truck driver. In Boulder he fell in love with a fellow art major, Gertrude “Gussie” Rogers, and spent one summer as a ranch hand working on her family’s ranch near Westcliffe, CO. They married in Sept. 1941, just prior to departing for the University of Iowa where they both earned a Masters of Fine Arts degree.
Skinny enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942, went to Officer Candidate School, and spent several years in the South Pacific and later Japan. After the war they moved to Silver City, NM, in Jan. 1946, where Skinny taught art at New Mexico Western College. In 1947 Skinny joined the Art Department of New Mexico Highlands University, Las Vegas, NM. He convinced the University to get its first lithography press, a medium he practiced for many years in addition to wood blocks and etching. However, he settled on oil painting as his favored medium and rarely did any print making in his later years. He taught classes in all the above media, in addition to art history. He was head of the Art Department for many years before retiring early in 1978 to devote himself full time to painting. Both Gussie and Skinny were predominantly landscape painters, for which they were well known.
Skinny was an energetic man of many interests. He loved classical music and played the cello, performing in the Highlands Orchestra and enjoying duets with friends. He was also active in the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society. He was an ardent bird watcher, and always an eager participant in the Audubon Christmas bird count. He skied briefly in college, but took it up again in his 50′s with a passion, serving on the Ski Patrol at Sipapu, a ski area near Tres Ritos.
For over 30 years Gussie and Skinny made their home in the lovely Gallinas canyon near Montezuma, northwest of Las Vegas, where they raised three sons, David, John, and Ted.
Gussie wanted to retire someplace with winters warmer than at 6700 feet. Just prior to Skinny’s retirement, Gussie applied for, and received, grants for them in the Roswell Artist-in-Residence program. Skinny was reluctant to leave his beloved home and studio nestled in the pines at Montezuma. However, after the one year program, they bought a house on Berrendo Road near the Roswell artists’ compound to continue enjoying the active arts community they had entered.
Their careers blossomed in retirement, devoting most of their time to painting. For many years he painted very large landscapes, 7 x 8 feet. He exhibited extensively, and his paintings are represented by the Meyer East Gallery in Santa Fe. Skinny’s work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Brooklyn Museum, the Library of Congress, the Roswell Museum and Art Center, the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art, Roswell, Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe, the Albuquerque Museum, the Dallas Museum of Art, among others, and numerous private collections.
Elmer Schooley loved to paint and it shows. He created large (80″hx90″) landscape paintings covered with tens of thousands of small dots. Layer upon layers of intense radiant color each canvas stands the test of time, placing over 20 paintings in museum collections through the world.
Even though Schooley uses recognizable landscape elements like a field of prairie grasses or a barren grove of winter trees, each image glows shimmering light and the physical texture of paint.
His painstaking work reflects a true love for the land and a passion for the land and a passion for the application of oil paint on a surface. The results of his labor envelop the viewer with an energy verging on the spiritual. Like actual landscapes, these paintings change in front of the viewer’s eyes. As if affected by cloud shadows or a moving sun, whole areas move from cool to warm while viewer focus shifts around the canvas. When standing completely still, the viewer is surrounded by quiet luminescent transformation. Like a slight but urgent breeze Schooley tricks his audience into seeing motion where there is only the stillness of his singular vision.
Despite their contemplative, eccentric and unique ambiance, Schooley’s pictures are firmly rooted in the history of modern art. The application of small dabs of color came straight from the late 19th-century pointillists Georges Seurat (1859-1891) and Paul Signac (1963-1935). Schooley also borrowed compositional elements and painting techniques from the abstract expressionists Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning. The roots of Schooley’s overall patterns and field-oriented visual effects can be traced back to the Nabis Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) and Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947).
The retrospective features a cross section of lithographs, drawings and woodblock prints, pastels and several larger paintings. Through May 8, 2009