Where were they then?

No, not “Where are they now?”  Not a single artist showcased below is still with us.

Lillian Wilhelm Smith Entrance to Lost Dutchman Park
Lillian Wilhelm Smith at the entrance of Lost Dutchman Park.


So the question is, “Where were they then?”  “Then” being when they were painting the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix.


Albert Groll
Superstition Mountains by Albert Groll. 41″ by 51″ Oil on canvas. Circa 1910 Photograph one mile south of the Peralta Trail head. This may well be the earliest known painting of the Superstitions still in existence. Groll was one of the first artists to paint Arizona extensively, first arriving in 1905.


Several years ago I was fortunate enough to help assemble and curate the Picerne Collection of Arizona Landmark Art.  From the beginning David Picerne, the owner, wanted to amass the premier collection of Pre-World War II Arizona landmark art.   Thanks primarily to Mr. Picerne’s vision and financial resources, my “gopherism”, and help from many of our friends in the Southwestern/Western art world we succeeded.


Joseph Imhof
Superstition Range by Joseph Imhof. 16×22 Oil on board. Circa 1930. Although best known for his depictions of the Pueblo tribes and their ceremonies he was also an accomplished landscape painter. The photo was taken near Mountain View Road and Jacob Waltz Street in Apache Junction.


One of the many things I learned while working on the project was prior to 1930 the most frequently painted landmark in Arizona (after the Grand Canyon, of course) was the Superstition Mountains. While it may seem surprising, one only has to consider how difficult travel was in the territory/state before the development of paved roads. To paint the Superstitions back then, an artist could take the train to Phoenix and head east via horseback, foot, or Ford Model A for five to twenty miles across flat, open desert. Once the desired location was determined he or she could then set up the easel and get to work.


Superstition Range by Jessie Benton Evans (the Elder). 24″ x 30″ Oil on canvas. Circa 1930. I couldn’t find the location for this one because I suspect it heavily surrounded by gated private property. Evans, Phoenix’s original art maven, owned over two hundred acres on the south side of Cambelback Mountain, now the site of The Phoenician resort. I theorize this perspective is very close to her property, somewhere on the southeast corner of Camelback Mountain looking east.


By contrast, it was a three to six day horseback ride after de-training from the nearest train station just to get to places like Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly. Even Oak Creek Canyon (Sedona), which Hanson Puthuff claimed was the most beautiful place he’d ever seen, required a ten mile trip from the train station in Flagstaff, then a very difficult descent to reach a workable location.


Desert Scene by Hanson Puthuff. 12×16 Oil on board. Puthuff was one of the first southern California plein air painters. He also painted the area from the Superstitions east all the way to the Picket Post Mountains near Superior. I took the photo approximately two miles east of Lost Dutchman Park on the Apache Trail.


So while putting together the collection, we located dozens of quality pre-World War II paintings of the Superstitions created by well known artists.


Marjorie Reed II
Superstition Mountains by Marjorie Reed. 24 x 36 Oil on canvas. Circa 1940. Although best known for her paintings of the Butterfield Overland Stage Trail, Reed learned her craft under the tutelage of California landscape master Jack Wilkinson Smith and frequently went on sketching trips with Smith and Hanson Puthuff. The photo was taken near the intersection of Acacia and Lost Dutchman Street in Apache Junction.


So where were some of the artists when they painted the nearly mile high extinct volcanic peaks that dominate the scenery east of Phoenix? Here’s just a few samples. As you can see some painted literal interpretations while others took artistic license. Still, I think in most cases I was in the general vicinity of where “they were then.”


John Marshall Gamble
Saguaro Mountain by John Marshall Gamble. 24 x 30 Oil on canvas. Circa 1925. Gamble was a Santa Barbara painter best known for his coastal scenes of with blooming poppys on the hillsides. This painting was used for the cover of Touring Topcis (later Westways), the monthly periodical for the Automobile Club of Southern California. Photo taken approximately one mile west of the Peralta Trail head. I think Gamble’s viewpoint is a little more to the southwest of where I took the photo, but private property again prevented further exploration on my part.


George Elbert Burr Apache Trail at Night 12x10 etching
Apache Trail at Night by George Elbert Burr. 12×10 Etching. Burr was a well known watercolorist who came to Phoenix in the 1930s for health reasons. After arriving in Arizona he did a series of etchings depicting Arizona landmarks and scenes. Photo taken at Mountain View Road and Jacob Waltz (aka the Lost Dutchman) Street in Apache Junction.


LWS superstitions
Superstitions in Spring by Lillian Wilhelm Smith 12×16 Oil on board. Circa 1925. Photo taken from the southwest corner of South Meridian Road and West Southern Avenue.


Emil_Kosa_Superstition_Sunriselocation II by Gary Fillmore
Superstition Mountains by Emil Kosa Jr. 24×36 Oil on canvas. Circa 1950. Kosa, an original member of the California Watercolor School, was accomplished in several mediums. He was also a well known set designer in Hollywood, perhaps best known for the opening scene of Planet of the Apes (the submerged Statue of Liberty.) Photo taken at the intersection of Apache Trail and Bluebird Trail.


StrobelSuperstitionThunderstormWCP14x18 II_000
Superstition Thunderstorm by Oscar Strobel. 14×18 Watercolor. Circa 1930. Strobel was a well known calendar artist who lived in Paradise Valley for over forty years after arriving in the 1920s. He was also the Grand Marshall of the Parada Del Sol Parade from 1957 to 1965. Photo taken just southwest of the Goldfield ghost town.


E.L. Boone II
Superstitions by E. L. Boone. 12×16 Oil on board. Circa 1925. Boone was a Texas artist who made several painting trips to Arizona in the 1920s. He died nearly thirty years later after returning from a trip to Oak Creek Canyon. Photo taken at intersection of Jacob Waltz and Mountain View Drive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s