Featured Acquisition: Elmer Schooley, “Silent Spruce”

Elmer Schooley (1916-2007)
Silent Spruce, 1973
Oil on canvas
60 x 71.75 inches 60.75 x  72.5 inches framed
Provenance: Duncan E and Elizabeth Boekman Estate, Santa Fe, NM

Elmer Wayne “Skinny” Schooley (1916-2007)  –  painter, printmaker, and teacher –  is described as a “painter’s painter” and is nationally recognized for his landscape paintings.  His oils have been compared to those of Renaissance masters because of their luminosity and his minute attention to detail and patient layering of paint.

Schooley was born in Lawrence, Kansas on February 20, 1916. His childhood was spent in rural Oklahoma before the family moved to Colorado during the Great Depression.

He received his BFA in 1938 from the University of Colorado, Boulder.  While an undergraduate he meet fellow art student Gussie Du Jardin of Westcliffe, Colorado; they were married and went together to the State University of Iowa to continue their studies.  He received his M.A. in 1942 and enlisted in the Air Force as a private, served with distinction in the South Pacific, and was discharged as a Captain in 1946. 

Schooley was an assistant professor at the New Mexico Western College in Silver City from 1946 to 1947. In 1947 he joined the faculty of the New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas and taught there for thirty years.  During most of those years he was head of the department of Arts and Crafts and was a moving force in the arts in northern New Mexico.  He established the University’s art library and its Graphics Department.

Schooley founded the lithography workshop —  one of the first of its kind in the state — at Highlands.  He made prints for such artist as Kenneth Adams and Theodore van Soelen, as well as his own works, and exhibited them in major shows. His prints are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Dallas Museum, the Philadelphia Print Club and the Library of Congress. 

While more a printmaker than a painter in the 1940s and 50s, Schooley eventually settled on oil painting as his preferred medium. At the age of 54, he initiated his “Wilderness Series,” working directly on the canvas with no preliminary drawing,  in which all elements were treated equally without focus or framing. Without a point of convergence, Schooley‘s fabric-like designs provide a view of nature separate from our domination.

“I don’t paint the picturesque,” Schooley said emphatically.  

After he retired from teaching, he turned his full attention to painting. After his retirement in 1977, the Schooleys spent a year in joint residency at the Roswell Museum and Art Center. They lived in Roswell the rest of their lives,  and he turned his full attention to painting. 

Over the years Elmer Schooley’s work has garnered numerous awards and prizes, including the Museum of New Mexico’s Biennials in 1970, ’72 and ’74; a Ford Foundation purchase prize in 1962; a Hallmark Purchase Award in 1964 and the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Visual Arts in 1986.  

His paintings are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Albuquerque Museum, the New Mexico Museum of Art,  the Roswell Museum and Art Center,  the New Mexico Highlands University, the Hallmark Collection, Pacific University, the Kathryn Cawein Gallery of Art, the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Fine Art , the University of Oklahoma, the Tucson Museum of Art.the Brooklyn Museum,  the Dallas Museum of Art, the Library of Congress,  the Museum of Modern Art,  and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 Schooley died at the age of 91 on April 25, 2007 in Roswell, New Mexico.

Biographical sources: Susan Craig, Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945); Who’s Who in American Art; AskART;  Annex Galleries; CSA Journal

“And it’s—perhaps corny phrasing—an instant of ecstasy and an ecstatic experience I have. And maybe these ecstatic experiences are unique to me. I don’t know anybody else that goes out and gets that same wallop I do of seeing some simple, little thing like this. Most people drive by and say, ‘Well, they’re trees. After seeing one tree, you’ve seen them all.’ But—I believe I see everything in it. I see the forest, I see the clumps of foliage, I see the individual needles, I see the branches, I see the trunk, I see the whole damn thing.” – Interview with Elmer Schooley by Sharyn Udall, October 1983, Roswell, NM