Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mentors of the Magnificent Marv: Eliot O'Hara

Eliot O'Hara "Cape Saint Elias, Alaska", Watercolor, 1940-41.

Eliot O'Hara (1890-1969), namesake of the O'Hara watercolor box, was an influential American artist and teacher who greatly popularized watercolor painting in America.

In the early 1930s O'Hara started publishing a series of instructional books that gave art students and art teachers a solid curriculum of study in the field of watercolor painting.

O'Hara was a native of Waltham, Massachusetts. O'Hara had an early career directed towards joining his father's business, the Waltham Dial Company. However, his artistic talents and love of travel led him to painting worldwide -- from Russia to India to the Pacific Ocean to the Western Hemisphere, including the Southwest.

He became such a successful teacher that the publishers of the Encyclopedia Britannica commissioned him to film twenty-four color movies of watercolor instruction. His most famous school, at Goose Rocks Beach, Maine, was destroyed by fire in 1947.

The Magnificent Marv took several workshops from O'Hara early in his art career. Marv claimed that while O'Hara would teach his painting techniques, he also would do sneaky things like hide a glob of "secret watercolor" along the edge of his shoe heel. He'd be demonstrating how to lay in a broad color wash and then -- with a slight of hand, and bit of misdirection -- quickly swipe his brush along the sole of his shoe to "pick up" this hidden paint.

As a result, no student could get ever quite the same rich hues in their own copies. It sounded a lot like something a crafty Major League pitcher might pull just to "get an edge" on the batters, -- such as hiding a small hunk of sandpaper in his uniform. In any case, true or not,  it was a classic Marv art yarn, heard many times.

O'Hara wrote many popular books on watercolor, including Making Watercolor Behave (1932), Making the Brush Behave (1935), Watercolor Fares Forth (1938), Art Teachers Primer (1939), Watercolor At Large (1946), Watercolor With O'Hara (1966), and Portraits in the Making (1948). O'Hara was himself the topic of his disciple Carl Schmalz's Watson-Guptill tribute, Watercolor Lessons from Eliot O'Hara (1974).

The Magnificent Marv was instrumental in convincing the powers-that-be at the Anchorage Museum of Fine Arts to acquire four O'Hara watercolors for their permanent collection, including the one above.
The sale may have been brokered by another fine watercolorist, and friend of the family, Edmond J. Fitzgerald.

We've never owned any O'Hara originals in the family collection -- a glaring omission I hope to correct.

Eliot O'Hara, "Duval Street", Watercolor.

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