Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Olive and John Steuart Curry

In Mark Spragg's beautiful book, Where Rivers Change Direction, there is a haunting description of Olive. One passage describes a conversation with the author where Olive takes out a shoebox full of letters from Georgia O'Keeffe and John Steuart Curry. Olive is quoted as saying "I thought once I might like to marry Mr. Curry".

Without having those letters, we've been feverishly researching to substantiate the relationship between Olive and these two famous artists. So far, we've been unsuccessful.

Tonight, we made a wonderful discovery.

In the Smithsonian's Archive of American Art, buried deep within a John Steuart Curry correspondence folder titled "First names only and unsigned" we found this letter from January 1, 1942:

Olive is reconnecting with Curry after what seems to have been a very long time--perhaps since they were in art school together in Chicago (25 years prior). She talks admiringly about his successes then proceeds to describe her life.

She starts by talking about missing Curry when he was recently in Cody. At that time, Olive was on a 12,000 mile road trip putting her cards in all the national parks. She transitions from asking about Curry's new wife to this passage:

I have had a not so pleasant experience, I have been married and I got a divorce. I took my maiden name back.

I live all alone now for six years on a large ranch in the mountains. When I say alone I really mean alone. I have no one to help me. I have forty six horses and love every one. Three of my horses got so old that I had to have them shot and two of my three little dogs died and since I had transfered my affections to the animal world I had quite a time. I have lived so alone and have been so devoted to my animals, wild and tame, that when I lost them I seemed to loose everything and had a terrible time righting myself, (this must sound like strange words to you) but I took the long auto trip and once more got back to realizing that all material things are lost and only the spiritual remains or is anything. I have lived on this ranch for fifteen years but only the last six I have lived alone.

I have lived a very happy and eventful life. I have had some terrible things to go thru but it has all been for the best and I would not trade my life for any other I ever heard of. I get so much joy out of my work. I always have that grand buoyant thrill on every new thing I start on, it never lets me down and I never stop working day in and day out as the years go by. I put out great quantities of greeting cards and commercial prints, for a living and then I paint wall tapestries and make etchings the rest of the time. I am trying to write three books but it is slow. I have never sent an etching to an international show that it has not been accepted, so I know I am going along in my own way if I do miss out on any prizes and ballyhoo.

I was planning on making myself a new house and studio this year but the war put a crimp in all of that. When I get my new place built I want you and your wife to come out and spend some time with me some summer. I really have the most beautiful mountain ranch in all the world I think as do many others. My big lodge burned to the ground and the houses I now have are just log cabins that need a man's ability and strength to repair. I walk over the place on showshoes most of the winter.

I probably look much older as I should by now but I can't remember what I looked like then and I can only see what I look like now. I have gained twelve pounds, I have no grey hairs but many chins, which I seem to rest very comfortably in.

Please do write and tell me a lot about yourself. I am indeed very interested for you were always a fine friend that I never forgot.


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