Biography recounts story of Hollis artist

Friday, October 5, 2012

Historic Passages

By Dick Lates

This month’s Hollis Historical Society article contains excerpts taken from a short biography of Francis Jane Stratton, a Hollis resident and well-known artist and art teacher. The biography was written by Jeanne Smith-Cripps, herself an artist and art teacher, and will be published in the society’s fall newsletter.

The Hollis Historical Society will present an exhibit of Jane Stratton’s paintings, wood block prints, drawings, sketchbooks and art education books. The exhibit will be displayed at the Wheeler House Museum, 20 Main St. in Hollis. The museum is open from 1-4 p.m. every Monday and Wednesday year-round, and from 1-4 p.m. on the first and third Sundays through October. Other exhibit days for groups may be arranged by calling 465-3935.

“Francis Jane Stratton Artist and Teacher,” by Jeanne Smith-Cripps:

“Francis Jane Stratton was born in Hollis, New Hampshire, in 1875, the youngest of Charles M. Stratton’s four children. The Strattons lived in a large Victorian house at the corner of Love Lane and Main Street next to the parsonage. Jane grew up in Hollis and graduated from Hollis High School in 1894 at age nineteen.

In 1896, Jane Stratton began a program of study to become an art teacher at Massachusetts Normal Art School. Art teacher preparation consisted of a two-year program leading to a diploma. Art teachers of that period varied greatly in their education as artists, and in their knowledge and understanding of contemporary art. Massachusetts Normal Art School was a well-respected art school. The school’s teaching philosophy emphasized the practical, manual training of children in preference to picture making. Curriculum included drawing, design, and construction with emphasis on the utility of art with the goal of training good taste in clothing, furnishings, and other industrial products. Fine arts focused on the appreciation of paintings and sculpture. Jane received her diploma in 1900.

Her first assignment was in Claremont, New Hampshire, where she taught fine arts in the elementary grades and high school. She continued her training as an artist and teacher by taking summer courses and Saturday classes. Her studies prepared her for teaching manual arts as well as fine arts and led to employment in several Massachusetts schools – Attleboro (1904-05), Southbridge (1905-08), North Andover (1908-10), and Plymouth (1910-23).

In 1925, Jane Stratton pursued a Master of Arts degree at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, New York. Teacher’s College surpassed Massachusetts Normal Art School in national importance as a foremost graduate program in the nation’s leading cultural center. Jane spent the next three years in a progressive program guided by the philosophy of John Dewey which emphasized the importance of art to society and art activities in an integrated curriculum. A new approach to teaching art through abstract principles of composition and design replaced teaching through representation. New York City museums and galleries offered many opportunities for Jane to study contemporary art.

The principles of design and composition taught at Teacher’s College by Arthur Wesley Dow and Denman Waldo Ross were important considerations in making art as well as in learning to appreciate art. Jane applied these principles in her work. This was evident in her wood block prints, for example, her annual Christmas card design. One of her designs of a hay wagon is currently used in the Hollis Old Home Day advertisements.

Jane lived and taught in Princeton, New Jersey, from 1925-1950. From there, she took advantage of the cultural and educational opportunities in New York City and Philadelphia. She studied painting at Columbia, the Philadelphia School of Art, and with Hans Hoffman in his New York studio and summers in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Hoffman was an abstract painter who believed that abstract art was a way to get at the important reality. He advised simplifying the subject to eliminate the unnecessary and focus on the important, the essential. Hoffman’s influence is evident in Jane’s oil paintings, abstract paintings with simplified shapes and color. 

Jane retired from teaching at Miss Fine’s School in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1950 and returned to Hollis where she lived in the family home on Main Street until her death in 1973. In her journals from this period, she describes a life of painting, frequent trips to see exhibits in Boston, and teaching drawing and art appreciation to residents of the community.”

Dick Lates is a member of the Hollis Historical

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