Photography
© Ely Abrums and Laura Walker

Jean Parrish (1911-2004)

Jean Parrish, a Southwest landscape painter, was born June 26, 1911 at her parents home at the Oaks in Plainfield, New Hampshire. She is the only one of the children of illustrator Maxfield Parrish and his wife Lydia Austin Parrish to become an artist.

In 1922, at the age of eleven, she posed for Maxfield Parrish’s famous illustration, Daybreak, in which she is the vertical figure bending over the reclining figure. A photograph dated 1922, titled Jean Parrish Posing for Daybreak is in the Special Collections of Dartmouth College Library, Hanover, New Hampshire. She also posed for her father as the model for Mary, Mary Quite Contrary and for Jack and the Beanstalk. According to Alma Gilbert in her book Maxfield Parrish, “The last painting with a human figure that Parrish did was for the famous Collier’s cover, Jack Frost (1936), suggested by his daughter, Jean.” (19)

Her schooling began in New York City with kindergarten and first grade school. This was followed by being taught at home by outside tutors when her mother returned to their home at The Oaks in Plainfield, New Hampshire. At age fourteen, she enrolled at Ethel Walker’s School for Girls at Simsbury, Connecticut, and in 1929, she entered Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She was there for a year and a half but soon lost interest and chose not to stay and returned home. From 1931 to 1937 Jean played, dated, drank and loafed under the disapproving eyes of her parents.

In 1937, she spent time in Haiti, teaching the children of a Haitian plantation owner, and then married Augustus Seymour, a Harvard Law School graduate whom she had met at Smith College. The couple moved from New England to Albuquerque, New Mexico that year, and set up Jean’s studio facing the western slopes of the Sandia Mountains. She worked and lived in Albuquerque excepting for a period during World War II when the couple lived in Virginia to accommodate his military service and later for the years 1960 to 1962, when she moved to Cornish to care for her ailing father.

Because of her background, she had a long-time interest in art but was not inspired to paint until she saw the mountain landscape of New Mexico. When she was in Virginia, she painted southwest scenes she recalled from memory, and then devoted much of her energy to painting her surroundings when she and her husband returned to New Mexico in 1946. Of her work she said: “When I paint I try to mirror the way light sculptures the earth, the way shadows fall.” (Samuels 360)

In 1949, she and Seymour divorced, and her painting activities, including exhibiting her work, became a central part of her existence. She battled and conquered her alcoholism, and was quoted about this in an article written for American Artist Magazine by Mary Carroll Nelson titled “Jean Parrish: A Yankee in New Mexico”. She had a one-person exhibition at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe, and in 1955, she received “her first important recognition when Tijeras Canyon earned her the grand prize in objective art and a purchase prize at the New Mexico State Fair.” (Kovinick 243) Other exhibition venues were the Ogunquit Art Center Show in Maine; Artists of America Invitational in Denver; and American Artists in St. Louis.

In the late 1950s, she went through a period of bad health, but in the 1960s, recovering her energy, she had the most productive time of her painting career. Through most of her life, Maxfield Parrish remained Jean’s staunchest and most loyal supporter encouraging her and helping her financially to achieve her goals. Their weekly correspondence and his monthly checks allowed Jean to branch out and achieve her goals. Despite all her disclaimers to the contrary, his technique and usage of Dynamic Symmetry influenced his daughter greatly. She loved building and built and designed her studio with her own hands and little other help, also emulating the parent that had built his own home and studio in New Hampshire.

Her mediums were oil and casein, and her western landscape subjects included mountain villages such as Truchas Revisited, skyscapes and the Navajo Indian reservations in Arizona such as Canyon de Chelly and Land of the Navajos. She also painted in California, Sacramento Mountains, and in Mexico where she depicted market scenes.

Jean Parrish’s work is now included in the permanent collections of several Southwest Art museums including the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe. There is a street in Albuquerque named after her. Jean Parrish Seymour almost lived as long as her father, Maxfield Parrish. She passed away at the age of 94 in November, 2004.

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