Friday, July 28, 2017

WPA artists of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area, part 4: Bernice Cross

Above: Bernice Cross was born in Iowa City, Iowa, in 1912. In 1937, she painted a mural for the children's section of the Glenn Dale Hospital in Prince George's County, Maryland, depicting various nursery rhyme scenes. In the photograph above (and the photos that follow), Cross can be seen working on the mural. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: According to her 1996 obituary in the Washington Post (click here and scroll down), Cross "operated an art studio [during the 1930s] on the 1500 block of H Street NW [Washington, DC], where she held painting classes for adults and sketch classes for children." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Cross's obituary also reports that "She was a member of a group of young artists associated with the former Studio House, which was run in connection with the Phillips Gallery in Washington during the 1940s. Over the years, she had solo exhibitions at the Studio House Gallery, the Little Gallery and the Phillips Memorial Gallery." Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: According to Professor of Art Keith Anthony Morrison (Temple University), Bernice Cross taught art at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, and American University in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: According to Cross's Wikipedia page, she participated in art exhibitions from 1933 to 1988. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: According to her Wikipedia page, Cross married James McLaughlin, a curator at the Phillips Collection art gallery, in 1937. They had no children and divorced "sometime in the 1950s." Her obituary states that she passed away on July 23, 1996, at Bethesda Manor Care, at the age of 84. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Bernice Cross's nursery rhyme mural, nearing completion. About a month and a half ago, I wrote a blog post about the interesting story behind this mural. After its completion, a health official called it "grotesque" and wanted it removed. A jury of children was formed to determine the mural's fate (recall that the mural was painted for the children's section of the hospital). The jury unanimously decided that the mural should stay, and so it did. Unfortunately, cultural neglect was not so kind. The mural seems to have been lost or destroyed (Glenn Dale Hospital, now closed, has been the target of frequent vandalism over the past several decades). However, notice that there is a mural study in the above photograph. If that painting still exists, it would be a great piece of art history. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: Bernice Cross created other New Deal artworks, for example, "Georgetown Corner in the Rain," an oil painting she made while in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Seaside," an oil painting Cross made in 1943 (this could be a WPA artwork, but most likely it was created after she left the WPA program). In her obituary, it was reported that "Art critics called her a painter of fantasy whose work had the unpredictable quality of children's drawing, indicating a spontaneous interpretation of actual events." More of Cross's artwork can be seen on the website of the Phillips Collection here (be sure to scroll down from the top image). Notice that "Georgetown in the Rain" is a more "traditional" style painting than her hospital mural and her later work, perhaps indicating that she was really striving for her own unique style. Image courtesy of the Phillips Collection, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

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