Saturday, August 26, 2017

Frank Lloyd Wright & William Penhallow Henderson

Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City (2016)
Until recently, we were unaware of the link between architect Frank Lloyd Wright and an admired but lesser-known painter named William Penhallow Henderson (1877-1943).

Most people think of the latter as an artist who was closely tied to artists who settled in Taos NM around the turn of the century. But he was also a capable architect, muralist and furniture designer, in a style that was in keeping with the American Arts and Crafts Movement.

Henderson was born in Massachusetts, but grew up in the Midwest. In the beginning years of the 20th century, he lived and taught in Chicago, at which time Wright was living there. In 1914, while Wright was completing the Midway Gardens on the city’s southside, he commissioned Henderson to design a mural for that project. But when Wright (apparently) objected to the end result, Henderson backed out and the mural was soon painted over. While remaining in Chicago, he designed the costumes and scenery in 1915 for a theatrical production of Alice in Wonderland by the Chicago Fine Arts Theatre.

For health reasons, Henderson and his wife relocated to Santa Fe in 1916. The following year, soon after the US entered World War I, a new system of disruptive ship camouflage was adopted by the British Admiralty and, soon after, the French and Americans did the same. In 1918, Henderson was appointed to serve as a camouflage artist in San Francisco.
USS Western Star (1918) in dazzle camouflage

There he was part of a team of civilian artists who painted dazzle camouflage schemes on merchant ships. As we have blogged previously, the artist in charge of that particular team was Edgar Walter (1877-1938). But Maynard Dixon was also involved, as were (Swedish-born) Bro Julius Olson Nordfeldt, A. Sheldon Pennoyer, and others.

When Henderson returned to Santa Fe with Nordfeldt, his friend and fellow camoufleur, a brief article appeared in the Albuquerque Morning Journal, on December 22, 1918, p. 2, with the headline CAMOUFLEURS IN SANTA FE

William Penhallow Henderson, the noted artist, who has served the shipbuilding board on the Pacific coast as camoufleur, has returned to Santa Fe, with O. Nordfeldt, and etcher and artist of fame, who with Mr. Henderson had charge of the camouflage department at San Francisco. They perfected this art to such a point that the camouflage inspectors in the east compared that of the eastern shipyards with that at San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego as standard. Mr. Nordfeldt will remain in Santa Fe over the winter. The two artists brought with them models of camouflaged ships which will be placed on exhibit in the new museum [New Mexico Museum of Art] and will illustrate a museum night talk.

An earlier article about the camouflage efforts of West Coast artists, titled SEEKS TO MAKE ARMY INVISIBLE, appeared in The Daily Ardmoreite (Ardmore OK) on July 11, 1917, p. 1—

San Francisco, July 11—The western division of the American Camouflage [Corps], an organization of artists which has for its object the recruiting of men who can assist in rendering the forces of the United States army and navy invisible to the enemy, was organized here [at the California School of Fine Arts] last night by artists and scene painters.

By the use of color combinations in small squares, map-like patches and other methods, United States battleships have been rendered more nearly invisible than those of any other nation, the members said today…

A month later later, yet another article on SAN FRANCISCO ARCHITECTS AND ARTISTS AS CAMOUFLEURS appeared in Western Architect and Engineer August 1917, p. 58, about which we posted an earlier blog.