Clara Belle Owen

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Clara Belle Owen (American, 1854-1955) was born December 9, 1854 in McHenry, IL to Oliver William Owen (1819-1904) and Harriet Elizabeth (née Holmes) Owen (c.1830-1909) where she was raised and educated. She began painting portraits while still a teenager and at the age seventeen did an oil painting titled, “Cribbage Players”, of her parents. From that time, she did paintings of other family members and of notable persons such as the actress, Lillian Russell and Senator John Percival Jones of Nevada. She usually signed her work as ‘C.B. Owen’. She was largely self-taught, although she studied in Chicago with Susan Hely St. John and in late 1880 went to Europe with her family where she painted in Paris at the Louvre and Luxembourg Museum and Gardens, choosing not to enroll in an atelier. While visiting the museums, she wrote to her mother in Chicago that, “The people I saw copying at the Louvre were not doing so wonderfully well. I can do better than they do, I know. . .” She especially liked working at the Gardens, writing back that she was too busy to be homesick, and that the Luxembourg Museum was so welcoming.  It was kept warm, furnished artists with easels and stools, and took care of the artwork in progress for artists. She was amazed that they, “charge nothing for it, except what one has a mind to give.”

From 1882 until the 1920’s, Clara lived mostly in New York City, with occasional trips to Florida and to Los Angeles to visit friends from her hometown of McHenry, IL. She settled in Pasadena, CA in 1925, and from there often visited Lora Josephine Knight (1864-1945), a Chicago philanthropist at her Scandinavian-style summer home castle on Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe. In New York, Owen exhibited with the National Academy of Design as early as 1883 and also from 1884-1887 and 1896 and 1902. During her later years, she turned to western themes and in 1890 won a California State Fair prize for an oil study of animals. Other works of that time period were “Indian Corn, San Gabriel” and “On a California Ranch.” Visiting the Pacific Northwest, she completed a large logging scene painting. She continued painting, especially enjoyed the California landscape, but at age 88, failing eyesight ended her ability to paint. She died on October 21, 1955 in Pasadena, CA. Her work is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida.

(Sources: With permission from AskArt.com, prior biographical information submitted by Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick, Women Artists of the American West, page 237, David McCullough, The Greater Journey, page 412; Wikitree.com, genealogical information for Oliver William Owen and Harriet Elizabeth (née Holmes) Owen; tahoetrailguide.com, “Vikingsholm: A Brief History (Nordic Castle at Emerald Bay)”, November 12, 2019)

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