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Anne Evans is not the only forgotten Colorado woman pioneer! Read about an important new exhibit that brings to life the remarkable achievements of Helen Henderson Crain.

 
Barbara Sternberg's Book about Anne Evans

Welcome to Anne Evans News - July, 2014
by Barbara Edwards Sternberg

Anne Evans News – In this Newsletter I will be discussing interesting developments in the news that tie into into Anne Evans' life and activities, along with those of some of her family members and contemporaries.

New Developments in the Still Open Wound of Sand Creek

Some of you may have noticed an unexpected headline in the Denver Post on Wednesday, June 18. Truth and Respect: Bishop explores role of United Methodist Church in massacre. Under the headline is a photograph titled "A monument marks an overlook that greets visitors to the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in Kiowa County, near Eads. In November, 1864, U.S. soldiers killed more than 160 people on that land."

The article describes the activities of a Methodist Bishop, Elaine Stanovsky, who came to Colorado in 2009, knowing almost nothing about the Sand Creek Massacre. Slowly she learned about the connection between Sand Creek and the Methodist Church in Colorado, particularly about the involvement of two prominent Methodist leaders of the time, John Chivington and John Evans. Stanovsky has been working with a group of Methodist Church members and with leaders of the Native American descendants of those who were killed, preparing for a "spiritual pilgrimage to the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site on Friday, June 20." 13 busloads of Methodists were to travel to the site and stand with the descendants "to remember and honor those who were 'mercilessly slain'. Hopefully, this will begin a journey of respect and healing relationships with the descendant tribes." The event will mark the 150th anniversary of the massacre.

The article referred to the studies being conducted, by both Northwestern and Denver Universities, of the role of John Evans in the entire Sand Creek catastrophe. Evans, the Second Territorial Governor of Colorado, was a major founder and benefactor of both Universities. It was also mentioned - and it was news to me - that the Northwestern study had already been completed. I searched for it on the university website, downloaded the entire 113-page text, and have just finished reading it. This will be the subject of the next Ann Evans News. Hopefully, the study results from the University of Denver will also be available, so that I can report on the essence of both reports.


Book Talks - On October 16 I look forward to discussing my book with the Thursday Morning Book Group in Wheat Ridge.

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Denver Westerners Award to B Sternberg

Helen Henderson Chain: Art and Adventure in Early Colorado - Exhibit curated by Deborah A. Wadsworth

Helen Henderson Chain could be described in the same terms as historian Tom Noel described Anne Evans, "one who, like so many women who made vital contributions to the development of Denver and Colorado...has been largely forgotten." Chain's creative contributions and remarkable achievements are beautifully brought to life in this new exhibit on the 5th floor of the Denver Public Library, in the Western History Art Gallery. Both for the light it sheds on Helen Chain's life and work, and for its reflections on the early development of Denver's art world, It is well worth an attentive and leisurely visit.

The exhibit embodies much original research by the Department's indefatigable volunteer, Deborah Wadsworth, as well as untold hours of her patience and persuasion spent in securing the loan of oil and watercolor paintings, photographs, and other materials from private and institutional collections. In addition to items from DPL's own art collection and that of History Colorado, these came from the Princeton University Library, Boston Public Library and the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum.

Deborah Wadsworth and Barbara Sternberg  at the Chain Exhibit

Helen Henderson Chain was born in Indianapolis in 1849. When she was 6 years old, she embarked, along with her mother and two older brothers, on the "hazardous voyage around Cape Horn to join her father, George H. P. Henderson, in San Francisco." This was only the first of numerous, and unusual, travels undertaken by Helen Chain during her brief, creative, life.

The Henderson family lived in Antioch, a suburb of San Francisco, where two younger brothers were born. According to Wadsworth, "In the brawling, boisterous port settlements along the Sacramento River, Helen encountered dozens of nationalities and races...In this exciting and vibrant setting, Helen developed a lifelong attraction for 'far-away places' and a fearless acceptance of other races, unusual for a woman of her day."

When Helen's mother died in 1862, she was sent back to Illinois, along with one younger brother, to be raised by her mother's sister. 1868 saw her attending Illinois Female College - now McMurray College - "at a time when fewer than 1% of American women went to college." While earning her degree in Liberal Arts, she had her first formal art lessons. It was while she was teaching at the school, after graduation, that she "found a partner for adventure and for life."

James Albert Chain's fragile health had forced him in 1868 to drop out of Illinois College. Probably hoping for the miracle of improvement experienced by so many from Colorado's dry air and sunshine, he traveled with a friend to the Wet Mountain Valley, where they worked herding cattle. He returned to Jacksonville "in markedly better health and spirits. With a dimple in his chin and thrilling cowboy tales to tell, he cut a charming figure." James and Helen were married in 1871. In short order they departed for Colorado and settled in Denver, "a rowdy, bustling settlement of less than 5,000 residents."1

James had experience in retail work and an "adequate inheritance from his father" so he invested in a book store, which became the Chain and Hardy's Bookstore when an old friend joined him in the enterprise in the autumn of 1871. The exhibit showcases some fascinating documents about this bookstore, which became a significant Denver cultural institution. In addition to selling books and stationery, the store bound and published books of local history and interest. Since it also sold art supplies and did framing, it became a widely-known hangout for artists.

Denver's economy had been through a very rough period in the late 1860's. This was the time when the infant Colorado Seminary/University of Denver had to close its doors for lack of support. One major reason for the economic difficulties was the decision to route the transcontinental railroad through Cheyenne rather than Denver. Economic prospects were transformed by the determined efforts of the city's business leaders, spearheaded by former Governor John Evans, when they succeeded in completing in 1870 a railroad link between Denver and Cheyenne. The proportion of the city's population which had come to settle, build sturdy brick homes instead of the earlier wooden cabins, and establish businesses, was increasing. The Chains "integrated themselves into the more civilized parts of the Denver community," becoming members of the Central Presbyterian Church. There Helen taught Sunday School classes, James became an elder and Helen a deaconess, and both started a lifetime practice of significant - but always anonymous - philanthropic activities.

Helen began her career as a serious artist, painting first in a room at the bookstore and then in an adjoining studio. The subject of her work changed from "the ladylike florals and still lifes of her eastern life" to ambitious and dramatic mountain landscapes.

Helen H Chain, Royal Gorge

Wadsworth suggests that one of the reasons James and Helen spent much of their time outdoors was so that James could benefit fully from the healthful Colorado climate. Whatever the reason, the extent of their travels was truly amazing. On foot, on horseback or once in a while by train, they traveled the length and breadth of the state from the San Luis Valley to Rabbit Ears Pass. "Clad in petticoats, long skirts and corset" Helen climbed many of Colorado's highest peaks. It is unlikely, in Wadsworth's opinion, that James' fragile health allowed him to undertake these climbs with her, "but apparently he encouraged both her painting and her adventuring."

Helen also received significant encouragement about the quality of her painting from two established artists whom the Chains met in 1973 at a summer camp near the Twin Lakes. Hamilton Hamilton, a well-known artist from Buffalo, New York, was making his first visit to Colorado, traveling with John Harrison Mills, also from Buffalo, who had settled near Long's Peak some years earlier. Helen painted together with these two artists. Mills later wrote that "under the encouragement of Mr. Hamilton, Mrs. Chain developed rapidly." I remembered from my own research on early art organizations in Colorado (for my book on Anne Evans) that John Harrison Mills later moved to Denver and was an important figure in the early attempts to establish an ongoing organization of artists in the city.

Ever the adventurer, Helen Chain was apparently the first woman to climb the Mount of the Holy Cross - and certainly the first woman to paint it. This was in 1877, only two years after the famous artist Thomas Moran painted his version of the peak. The DPL exhibit has Moran's and Chain's paintings hung side by side. Helen was also one of the early visitors to Mesa Verde, making the demanding trek into the canyon and "exploring the cliff dwellings with the Wetherill family who had discovered them." ( Article continues in second column.)

 

Anne Evans-A Pioneer in Colorado's Cultural History

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In the above photo Deborah Wadsworth introduces Barbara Sternberg to the Exhibit about Helen Henderson Chain. The image to the left is an oil painting by Helen Henderson Chain, Mount of the Holy Cross.

Helen Henderson Chain: Art and Adventure in Early Colorado - Exhibit curated by Deborah A. Wadsworth 

Article Continues:

Helen made frequent trips to California to visit her family there. She went by a different route each time, sketching and painting along the way. Included in the exhibit is a series of watercolors she did of Spanish missions in the southwest. Together with James, she experienced the different landscapes on different routes to and from Yosemite, Yellowstone and Wyoming. Wadsworth notes that Helen Chain was one of the first women to paint the Grand Canyon.


(Re: the above photo - The Chains made repeated trips to New Mexico and Mexico with famous photographer William Henry Jackson and his family, traveling in a comfortable and interesting way.  Each of them outfitted a Pullman car, somewhat like a modern RV.  The railroad would haul them as far as they wanted to go - then apparently they were able to be parked in a siding until they elected to travel further.  "Jackson and Helen often worked from the same vantage points and Jackson's photographs often detail the settings for Helen's paintings."  Jackson had a business relationship with the Chain and Hardy Bookstore and sold the entire range of his photographs, "Native Americans, archeological sites, mountain peaks," through the store.  The photograph is of the interior of the Chains' Pullman car, with Helen Chain sitting, looking lovingly at her resting husband, while reading to him.  His health was always somewhat fragile.)

The next event in Helen's growing reputation as an artist was a fascinating project called "Democracy of Art" developed by one Louis Prang, "an innovative and successful publisher of chromo-lithographs." Prang visited the flourishing Chain and Hardy bookstore, now located at 414 Larimer St, in 1875 - and bought six of Helen's landscapes, to reproduce as prints, for $200. Prang's idea in producing these inexpensive "chromos" was that every family, on the most modest of incomes, could posses copies of the finest work of contemporary artists - a privilege previously restricted to the wealthy. The DPL Exhibit displays the framed prints and other materials related to this project that placed Helen unexpectedly in the company of such artists as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran.

To me, one of Helen Chain's most attractive traits was her thirst to learn more about her chosen profession from those more skilled than she. She took the opportunity to study under Professor W. E. Porter when in 1876 he started offering art classes in Denver. The first public showing of Helen's work was in an exhibit of Porter's own work along with that of his students. Newspaper reviews selected her painting of Long's Peak as a highlight of the exhibit. This work also brought kudos to Helen when it was selected for the prestigious Centennial Exhibit in Philadelphia.

Porter's unexpected death opened another door for Helen. She undertook to teach his classes, which she rapidly expanded, and started holding exhibits of her paintings and those of her students in her own home. One rather amazing feature of her teaching was that she "took all of her students into the wilds to sketch and paint and the local papers reported their excursions. Painting en plein air was for her a requirement, regardless of the difficulties."

The exhibit documents other travels of the Chains, with Helen painting and sketching on the way: times with their friend, photographer William Henry Jackson on trips to Mexico and New Mexico, and other trips to the East coast. There she is said to have studied with George Innes, sometimes called "the father of American landscape painting."


Helen Chain Landscape

In my own account of early artists in Denver and Colorado, I noted that one of the most talented and successful of Helen Chain's art students was young Charles Partridge Adams, who worked as a clerk in the Chain and Harvey bookstore. The exhibit has some paintings illustrating this connection. The Chains introduced Adams to the beauty of the Estes Park area, where he and Helen sketched together. Adams eventually had a studio there.

One milestone in the development of art in Colorado was H. A. W. Tabor's ambitious Mining and Industrial Exhibition of 1882. About this show I wrote, "The main purpose of the event was to publicize economic opportunities in Colorado in agriculture, mining and industry. But the Exposition also included an art exhibit, the first major art show in the State's history...Works of Denver artists Mrs. Chain, John Harrison Mills, Charles Partridge Adams and I. M. Bagley were included. Adams was awarded a Gold Medal at the Exposition."2 Wadsworth notes that works by Moran, Bierstadt and Hamilton were also displayed. Helen Chain's reputation as a talented landscape painter was increasing.

In 1883 and 1888 the Chains traveled in Europe, where of course Helen painted and sketched any and all subjects that caught her eye, and exhibited a selection of her paintings in Denver when they returned. Wadsworth notes that they were praised in reviews as being "cultured and educational."

Helen was happy to receive an invitation to join the Denver Fortnightly Club. This was one of a national network of such clubs in which members were obligated, in their turn, to prepare and read an original, scholarly paper. The Denver Club had been formed in 1881 and its first President was Margaret Evans, Anne Evans' mother. Anne Evans later herself became a member. It is interesting that the affiliation of both Helen Chain and Anne with the Fortnightly Club is responsible for important legacies from both women. In Anne's case, it was a series of worthwhile papers she wrote which give us considerable insight into her interests and activities. In Helen Chain's case it was some precious mementos of her last travels which are showcased in this exhibit.

Quite a number of artists' organizations were formed over the years in Denver, most of them short-lived. One of the more successful was the Le Brun Club, founded in 1981 by Helen Chain, Emma Richardson Cherry and Henrietta Bromwell. Somehow this Club folded, but segued into the Denver Artists' Club, headed up by Mrs. Cherry. This was the organization which endured and flourished, metamorphosing eventually into the Denver Art Museum. But that group was founded in1893 - and by then Helen Chain was dead, drowned along with her beloved husband, when a typhoon sank the ship on which they were sailing from China to India.

Helen's interest in the Orient was stimulated by contacts she made working in one of her most praiseworthy philanthropic projects in Denver. According to Wadsworth, this developed from a visit she made to Denver's Chinatown, accompanying some friends visiting from the East who demanded to 'go slumming' there. "Helen was struck by the miserable living conditions and lack of opportunities for the Chinese immigrants in the area and she determined to do something." Her husband allowed her to use a back room of the bookstore to begin teaching the speaking, reading and writing of English. The Chinese at first were wary, but one at a time students came, and stayed. Finally, Helen's Chinese School became so large and successful that the Chains persuaded the Central Presbyterian Church to take the project over. In that location, the School expanded to serve Japanese and then other Asian groups, and lived on for more than 50 years.

Helen had undoubtedly picked up on European interest at the time in the artistic dimensions of the Far East, and also had heard for many years the tales of missionaries from the Orient. So, in 1892, the Chains embarked on the last of their travel adventures together - a round-the-world trip. Their plan was to start in Japan, proceed to China and Korea, then travel across India before returning through Europe. "They left Denver in March 1892 and spent several delightful weeks in Japan, where Helen wrote a lengthy scroll in the Japanese manner for the Fortnightly Club. She discussed the history of Japanese art and illustrated the scroll with her own watercolors and renditions of famous Japanese works."


Deborah Wadsworth discusses Helen Chain's relationship with Asia and how that interest intersected with her membership in the Fortnightly Club.

Helen mailed her scroll to the Fortnightly Club from China, her "scholarly paper" to be read in her absence. But tragically, as already mentioned, the steamship the Chains boarded was sunk in a typhoon in the South China Sea, taking the lives of all the passengers and crew.

When they heard the news of the Chains' death, "the Fortnightly Club and the Chain and Hardy Bookstore cut Helen's scroll into pages and bound it in a large volume covered in Japanese silk. Helen's scroll was read at a meeting of the Fortnightly, surrounded by her paintings and her portrait, while her sorrowing friends sipped Japanese tea from a tea set she had sent home. It was a fitting remembrance for Colorado's beloved artist, alpinist and philanthropist."

I highly recommend that you get to the fifth floor of the Central Denver Public Library and see this Exhibit for yourself. It is there until the end of August, it is free, it is in a spacious Gallery which is usually uncrowded, and I believe it will intrigue and delight you.

Deborah Wadsworth and Barbara Sternberg enjoy lunch at Palettes Restaurant.

1 This and all subsequent quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from Wadsworth's well researched, illustrated brochure produced for the exhibit.
2 Sternberg, Barbara, Anne Evans - A Pioneer in Colorado's Cultural History: THE THINGS THAT LAST WHEN GOLD IS GONE, Buffalo Park Press, 2011, pg 149

** All images courtesy of Francesca Starr
 

Copyright © 2014 Buffalo Park Press, All rights reserved.
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