Subscribe for 33¢ / day

Mark Humpal isn't surprised that some Oregonians may not be familiar with the late Ray Stanford Strong or his landscape paintings, even though the artist was born in Corvallis.

But Humpal hopes to change that with his new book, "Ray Stanford Strong, West Coast Landscape Artist."

"I think it's just bringing a remarkable body of work to the public that's only been known mainly in California," Humpal said. "He's primarily known as a California artist, but he had pretty deep roots here."

Humpal will introduce the book Wednesday night during an author event and book signing at Pegasus Art Gallery in Corvallis.

The book, published by the University of Oklahoma Press, is the first comprehensive exploration of Strong's life and artwork. It features more than 100 color and black-and-white illustrations.

It is Humpal's first outing as a solo author. He previously was the coauthor, with Margaret E. Bullock, of "Coast to Cascades: C. C. McKim’s Impressionist Vision," for a 2016 exhibition he co-curated at the Tacoma Art Museum.

Humpal is also an art historian and has had his own gallery, Mark Humpal Fine Art, in Portland for the past 17 years. It specializes in vintage Northwest, mainly Oregon art.

Strong was born in Corvallis in 1905, but his family moved when he was very young.

"He grew up on a berry farm in Gresham, Oregon, and that's when he started painting landscapes," Humpal said.

After high school, Strong moved to study in California, but wasn't satisfied, Humpal said. He left for New York in the late 1920s, where he went to the Art Students League and studied under Frank Vincent DuMond.

"That's really where he got launched as a professional artist," Humpal said.

One theme of the book, Humpal said, is that Strong was in the minority among his fellow professional artists of the 1900s to 1915, who were mostly moving into modernism.

"Ray really resisted that," Humpal said. "I think he would've been more comfortable if he were born about twenty years earlier."

Strong resettled in San Francisco and started an Art Students League there in the mid-1930s, Humpal said.

He also worked on several art projects for the Works Progress Administration during the New Deal era in the President Roosevelt years. The WPA employed millions of Americans in everything from road construction to fine arts.

It was during those years, Humpal said, when "Ray created probably his most famous work, which is called 'The Golden Gate Bridge Construction.'"

The painting, which was on display in the White House during Franklin Roosevelt's presidency, now hangs in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, he said.

After that, Strong painted diorama backgrounds for decades. The most notable backgrounds he did were for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History in the early 1960s, Humpal said.

But Strong always returned to Oregon, where he had a lot of family.

"Part of my book shows that he maintained a freshness in his work by being in Oregon for summers, and painting in California the rest of the time," Humpal said.

Strong was known for his depiction of landscapes from the two states in his signature plein air style.

Humpal said he will discuss Strong's interesting connections to Corvallis during his author event. One story is about Strong's attempts to become an artist in residence after World War II.

Strong had to put his art on the shelf during the war and had a difficult time finding his footing after it ended. At the time, his younger brother, Jack Strong, was studying psychology at Oregon State College (now Oregon State University).

The idea was for Strong to get named as an artist in residence for the state of Oregon. Gov. Earl Snell had to agree to it, and Strong would have to spend time at the University of Oregon.

John Leo Fairbanks, head of the Oregon State College art department, was very receptive and even set up a studio on campus for Strong, Humpal said. Gov. Snell was on board with the idea as well.

"But U of O was a little cold in their reception," Humpal said. "Essentially their line was modernism, and they didn't think he was a good fit."

The possibility ended when Gov. Snell died in a plane crash, Humpal said.

Twenty years later, Strong made another attempt at getting a residency at OSU, but that one didn't pan out either.

Humpal interviewed Strong multiple times over the course of two years, in addition to having access to the artist's archives, papers and letters to write his book.

But the first time Humpal flew down to Strong's Santa Barbara home, in 2004, it was to interview him about another artist he planned to write about.

Humpal was working on an outline for a book about Oregon impressionists, and wanted to ask Strong about Clyde Leon Keller. Strong had painted with Keller in the early 1920s, while he was still in high school.

But all of the things Humpal learned about Strong in the process made him realize it was time to switch subjects.

"I quickly shelved my project when I found out just how interesting his story was," Humpal said. "The first interview I did with him, he had just turned 99 years old. I knew I didn't have a lot of time to work with him."

Strong had a remarkably long career, starting in the mid-1920s and painting until (2006) "I think a few months before he died at age 101," Humpal said.

"It's not bad to be working at the same job for 80 years," he said.


Load comments