A Memory of an Artist

Meeting Olive Chaffee, a St. Louis artist.

A New Acquisition at the store. An original oil painting by Olive Chaffee.

My great uncle, Rev. Dow Pinkston, taught me a lot about art. He was an artist and an art restoration specialist. When he lived in the Rolla area in the 1940s, he met an artist from St. Louis and she participated in some of the art shows which he organized for the community. The artist was Olive Holbert Chaffee. Over the years, Dow purchased several of Olive’s paintings and resold them in the Springdale, Ark. area. Towards the end of her life, Dow wanted another opportunity to talk with her. So, it was in the late 1970s that I had the occasion to meet her.

Uncle Dow needed a driver to help him get from Arkansas to St. Louis, so he came up to Springfield and I drove him to St Louis for a meeting with Olive. We were invited to her townhouse in the Forest Park area. She was in her 90s and was very tottery, as was Uncle Dow. Her home, which she had shared with her architect husband, had tall ceilings, a grand staircase, and was filled with antiques. We shared afternoon refreshments with her in the living room, surrounded by her paintings. Only three remained unspoken for and were available for purchase. Uncle Dow bought two; both red vivid autumn scenes and I purchased the last one, a blue summer forest scene. The two hours passed quickly. But what an afternoon it was. Within a few years, we learned of her death.

Olive’s painting technique was rough and reminiscent of the impressionists and she was known for her landscapes featuring trees. She used a heavy hand and a palette knife style, rather than a dainty paintbrush to capture nature.

Olive was born on January 9, 1886 in Woodville, Kentucky. She began her formal training in art with private lessons while still in high school and she studied in New York. She attended the Corcoran Art Gallery School in Washington DC and was later influenced by W. Humphrey Woolrych, another famous St. Louis artist. She and her husband would travel to a summer home in Colorado, where both would paint.

Olive’s exhibitions included the Women’s National Exposition in St. Louis (1926) -first landscape prize; National Arts Club; the Southern States Art League; Wacha Galleries, St. Louis; Gramercy Park Art Club Galleries, New York; Noonan-Kocian Galleries; St. Louis and Barn Gallery, St. Louis; and in St. Petersburg, FL. One of her paintings hung in the Oval Office during the presidency of Harry S. Truman. That painting is now at the Truman Library in Independence, MO.

Moral of the Story: When opportunity knocks, open the door and drive the car.

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