Request Checked Items

Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

Search Collections

Elizabeth Olds:

An Inventory of the Emmett L. Hudspeth Collection of Elizabeth Olds in the Art Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Elizabeth Olds, 1896-1991
Title: Emmett L. Hudspeth Collection of Elizabeth Olds
Dates: 1921-1986, undated
Extent: 25 boxes, 1 document box, 21 flat file drawers, 21 framed paintings (853 items)
Abstract: The bulk of the collection comprises original works by Olds: 452 drawings, 109 paintings (oil, gouache, watercolor), 218 prints (lithographs, woodcuts, screen prints), 7 posters, 51 mixed media works, and 9 wood blocks. Included are several works from her studies in Paris during the 1920s, many Depression-era works, and later works from her travels in Canada, France, Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States (especially New England and the Pacific Northwest). There are also nature studies and a few children's book illustrations.
Language: English
Access:

Open for research. A minimum of twenty-four hours is required to pull art materials to the Reading Room.




Acquisition:

Gifts (G2506, G10589), 1986, 1996

Provenance:

The Elizabeth Olds Collection of Emmett L. Hudspeth was the gift of University of Texas at Austin physics professor Dr. Emmett L. Hudspeth and his wife Mary Hudspeth. Mary Hudspeth was the niece of Elizabeth Olds.

Processed by:

Helen Young, 2003

Repository:

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center


Elizabeth Olds was born December 10, 1896, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Fred Allen Olds and Harriet (Trussell) Olds. As a girl she had an interest in drawing; she also participated in competitive swimming and horseback riding. After studies at the University of Minnesota (1916-1918) and the Minneapolis School of Arts (1918-1921), she attended the Art Students’ League in New York as a scholarship student, where she studied under George Luks and other Social Realists. She would accompany Luks to New York's Lower East Side and other ethnic neighborhoods where the two would sketch the immigrant culture. Olds soon became Luks' assistant. Through Luks' friend Edward Root, she spent some time with James Agee and Alexander Woollcott.

In 1925 Olds traveled to Paris. There she produced numerous crayon and watercolor sketches and drawings; she also performed as a trick bareback rider with the Fratellini Brothers' Cirque d'Hiver. The next year she became the first woman to win a Guggenheim Fellowship, which she used to continue her studies in Europe until 1929.

After returning to the United States, Olds stayed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Tamworth, New Hampshire, where, although initially sheltered from the Great Depression, she observed the misery others endured. Her response resulted in the development of a new style with a focus on workers as subject matter.

In 1932 Olds accepted a commission to produce a series of portraits of the prominent Samuel Rees family in Omaha, Nebraska. Although she was a proficient portrait artist, she quickly found the work boring. Samuel Rees, aware of her frustration, encouraged her to visit the Rees Printing Company where she could learn lithography from the printer. Olds learned the entire process and soon was creating lithographs. In 1934 during her stay in Omaha, Olds went to the Swift and Company slaughterhouse and asked permission to sketch the men working in the plant. She was allowed to take her sketchpad to the killing floor and her sketches resulted in The Stockyard Series, a set of lithographs that received critical acclaim in New York.

Olds returned to New York in 1935 and worked for the Federal Art Project's graphic division. She continued creating lithographs depicting people struggling with the hardships of the Depression. She joined the Artists Union, the Artists Congress, and the Graphic Division of the Works Projects Administration's Federal Art Project (FAP). In 1939, she participated in the FAP's silkscreen unit as it worked to develop serigraphy as a fine art medium. Committed to the idea that art should be democratic and available to all people, Olds found silkscreen to be a medium suited for this purpose. In 1936 and 1937 Olds also did political illustrations for The New Masses .

After World War II, Olds accepted assignments as an illustrator-reporter for The New Republic and Fortune. She provided illustrations for articles on labor issues and in 1954 she traveled to Florida and New Orleans to gather information for an article on the Lykes Bros. Industry for Fortune. She also wrote and illustrated children’s books. Four of these were chosen as Junior Literary Guild selections.

In 1949 Olds began to spend summers on Long Island Sound, where she spent time observing the shore birds, which became the subjects of numerous watercolors and wood block prints. She visited Mexico and Guatemala in 1951 and made studies of the people, animals, and boats.

In the 1950s, Olds began to work with multi-media collages, combining her silk screens and wood cuts with scraps of paper. She was also an artist in residence at two artists' colonies: Yaddo, near Saratoga Springs, New York, and McDowell, in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Olds moved to Florida in 1971. She died March 4, 1991.


Olds, Elizabeth. Elizabeth Olds: Retrospective Exhibition. Austin, Tex.: RGK Foundation, 1986.


The collection comprises 853 items, including 847 original works, 3 reproductive prints, 2 published portfolios, and 1 printing block. These are organized into two series: I. Works by Elizabeth Olds, and II. Works by Other Artists. A group of photographs is described as Series III., Photographic Materials. Titles of works are transcribed either from the works themselves or from Elizabeth Olds, 1896-1991: an Exhibition at the Live Oak Art Center, Columbus, Texas (1992). Cataloger's titles appear in brackets.

Series I. encompasses 851 works. The bulk is original works and includes 452 drawings, 109 paintings, 218 prints, 7 posters, 51 mixed media works, and 9 wood blocks. These works span Olds' creative years, with several works from her studies in Paris during the 1920s, many Depression-era works (including work done for the Federal Art Project, Works Progress Administration), and later works from her many travels. The series is divided into fourteen subseries, which reflect the periods, subjects, and genres represented by the works: A. European Works; B. Depression-era Works; C. Travel Works; D. Horses and Horse Racing; E. Boats and Fishing; F. Portraits and Images of People; G. Birds; H. Insects and Spiders; I. Other Animals; J. Still Lifes; K. Landscapes; L. Lykes Bros. Industry; M. Miscellaneous; and N. Sketchbooks and Portfolios.

A large portion of the collection is devoted to workers and industries, especially during the Depression, and Olds' work captures factory workers, garment workers, iron and steel workers, miners and mining (Pennsylvania), printers and presses at the Rees Printing Co. (Omaha, Nebraska), the production of beef, grapefruit, and sugar at Lykes Bros. Industry (Florida and Louisiana), and stockyard and slaughterhouse operations at Swift and Co. (Omaha, Nebraska). Other employment topics, such as unions, the unemployed, and various social programs (especially in the New York City area) are also depicted. Works documenting the peoples and places Olds saw during her travels in Canada, France, Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States (especially New England and the Pacific Northwest) and her observations of the natural world (animals, birds, insects) are also extensive. A few illustrations for her children's books are also present, as are groups of landscapes, nude studies, and still lifes.

Series II., Works by Other Artists, includes two works, a drawing by Berthold Mahn, and a reproductive print of a work by Rembrandt.

Series III., Photographic Materials, consists of 785 photographic prints, slides, and negatives. These are mainly of Olds' artwork; there are also a few portraits of Olds herself and a few of her travel slides. Accompanying the photographic materials is a transcript of Emmett Hudspeth's 1985 interview of Elizabeth Olds, with her comments on 314 slides of her work.


The Ransom Center's Art Collection also has the George Luks Collection (works from Elizabeth Olds' collection given to the Ransom Center by Emmett L. Hudspeth) and the Benjamin O. Rees Collection of Elizabeth Olds. The Ransom Center also has Elizabeth Olds materials in its Manuscripts Collection, its Library, and its Film Collection.