BIRTH OF AN ARTIST: Three Mentors of Eric Sloane
Posted on February 1, 2015
When a historic artwork enters our collection, it’s the first clue in a grand investigation. A painting is a concrete piece of evidence that links to the artist’s evolutionary chain, leading us back through the years.
Eric Sloane’s Hopi Country, pictured above, helped us trace its creator from New Mexico to his hometown of New York City. Along the way we met three of Sloane’s mentors, who are all revered figures in American history.
FREDERIC W. GOUDY
Eric Sloane was born Everard Jean Hinrichs in New York City in 1905. Meanwhile in Chicago, Sloane’s future mentor Frederic W. Goudy was experiencing a late-in-life rebirth. At 40 years old, he had quit his job as an accountant to open a publishing house called Village Press with his friend Will Ransom. He learned how to design typefaces and began building a portfolio.
“[Goudy started] almost from scratch at an age when most men are permanently set in their chosen vocations,” wrote Popular Science in 1942. Goudy’s new path would lead him from Chicago to Boston to New York, where he moved in next door to young Sloane.
As Goudy’s career took off with a series of hit typefaces—Kennerly Old Style, Goudy Old Style, Copperplate Gothic—young Sloane learned the tricks of the trade. Goudy would design 122 typefaces in his lifetime, topping Gutenberg and Garamond. His painting lessons for Sloane soon launched one of the great adventures of the budding artist’s life. But first, a scholarly interlude.
Sloane changed his name while studying at the Art Students League of New York. He took the middle letters of “America” for his first name, and tweaked the surname of his mentor John Sloan. Sloan encouraged his students to adopt pseudonyms in order to sever ties with their earlier, less accomplished work. He was a passionate and sometimes volatile teacher who believed in art for art’s sake. “I have nothing to teach you that will help you to make a living,” he would tell his students. Although he was a well-known artist who participated in groundbreaking exhibitions like the 1913 Armory Show, his artwork rarely sold.
Sloan’s circle came to be known for their realist depictions of poor neighborhoods in New York. Sloane never took to this subject matter, but finding a new name was transformative for the young artist. With his patriotic moniker and the skills he’d picked up from Goudy, he took off across the country in the summer of 1923, painting sings on barns and stores to make ends meet. Two years later he took another, longer adventure to New Mexico, one of Sloan’s favorite vacation spots.
Much like other students of Sloan, the light and colors of the New Mexico inspired Sloane to push his art in a new direction. He picked up oil painting and learned to capture the light, color and endless expanses of the High Desert, and returned to Long Island in 1927 with a new sense of purpose.
Sloane grew up during the Golden Age of Aviation. By 1933, his fascination with aircrafts lead him to a job at the Half Moon Hotel, which was close to Long Island’s Roosevelt Field. The aviators who stayed at the inn became some of Sloane’s first patrons, paying him to make oil paintings of their planes. Aviator Wiley Post was so impressed by Sloane’s work that he offered to swap flying lessons for painting lessons.
Post had trained to be an aviator during World War I, but the war ended before he entered active duty. He worked as a parachutist for a flying circus and a barnstormer before becoming a private pilot for wealthy Oklahoma oilmen. The job earned him enough money to set out on a worldwide adventure, and he became the first pilot to fly solo around the globe.
Sloane was so inspired by his flights with Post that he began painting the sky, as seen from the cockpit of a plane. Amelia Earhart bought the first work in this new series, and one of Sloane’s largest cloud paintings is now in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. At 28 years old, Sloane had grown from an eager student to a full-fledged master.
Sloane started painting landscapes in the style of the Hudson River School, a mode that fit his fascination with turbulent weather. Beginning in the 1950’s, he took up residence in Taos for part of each year. He built a home in La Tierra, New Mexico in 1975. Sloane captured the light and color of the Land of Enchantment with boundless enthusiasm. Hopi Country features every brilliant hue in a Land of Enchantment sunset.
Over the course of his career, Sloane produced over 15,000 artworks and 38 illustrated books. He died of a heart attack in 1985 on the steps of New York’s Plaza Hotel, on his way to a luncheon in his honor. The event was a celebration for the release of his biography, ‘Eighty: An American Souvenir.’
It’s quite a tale, and it all unwound from a single oil painting on our wall! Learn more about Eric Sloane on our website, and make sure to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr for daily gallery news.