James Whitcomb Riley, Hoosier poet and the spark that started my life down a most rewarding path… It all started with this book and its title page. Yesterday’s holiday brought this title to mind…
Howard Chandler Christy is well known for his art, as was the Bowen-Merrill (later Bobbs-Merrill) Company was for publishing. The other name on the page, Virginia Keep, has become one of my biggest passion subjects. In fact, I’d say she will always be “an old sweetheart of mine.” She was born on 17 February 1878 and has connected me to so many fascinating characters of the past: actress Ilka Chase; Vogue’s longest reigning editor-in-chief, Edna Woolman Chase; Lillie Bliss-one of the three founders of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC; artists Charles Prendergast, Arthur Bowen Davies, Walt Kuhn; Richard Harding Davis and Cecil Clark Davis; The Duke and Duchess of Windsor (as in Mrs. Wallis Simpson and formerly King Edward VIII, abdicator of the throne) and on and on.
Virginia Keep was well known in Indinapolis in the early 1900’s–one of the first five teachers at The John Herron Art Institute (when it started in T.C. Steele’s art studio, the former Tinker Homestead). She painted the portraits of many of Indianapolis notables: Taggarts, McGowans, Hollidays, Liebers and many more. Lucy Taggart was one of Virginia’s closest and life-long friends.
She became an illustrator and portraitist and studied at the Art Students League in New York at the same time as another female Hoosier artist, Julia Graydon Sharpe.
Virginia Keep married Marshall John Clark in 1906 in Indianapolis at her parents Morton Place home and the newlyweds moved to Evanston, Illinois–where his family lived. The couple later took up residence in Chicago proper, then onto Oyster Bay, Long Island; Midtown Manhattan; Mackall, Maryland; Winter Park, Florida. She traveled all over the country painting portraits of well-to-do families, and was particularly fond of painting children. This portrait of a boy named Farwell Kenly is beautifully rendered. I’ve seen a photo of the original in color and his suit is a gorgeous shade of yellow.
Over the years, I am grateful to have had many people contact me. If you know of any information, photos or artwork of Virginia’s please contact me. I am working on a book about her and would love to fill in more of the blanks. Check back on Virginia’s birthday for a couple more examples of her art and pictures of her.
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