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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Artist with Barry County roots gains notoriety

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Edgar Payne and his wife, Elsie Palmer Payne, herself a recognized artist, are photographed shortly after their marriage in 1913.
Think of a renowned painter from Missouri and people are most likely to think of Thomas Hart Benton from nearby Neosho. Famous artists are not known to have come out of Barry County, yet there is one, whose big paintings now sell for around $250,000.

"You could say Edgar Payne's time has come," said Dee McCall, owner of De Ru's Fine Arts Gallery in Laguna Beach, Calif. "In the past 10 years, prices for his paintings have steadily gone up."

Edgar Alwin Payne was born in Washburn. He is not known as a Missouri artist, finding his niche as one of the top tier California impressionist painters, along with William Wendt. Payne himself found modest success in his lifetime.

Payne's stature as a traditional landscape artist has grown, according to McCall.

"What Payne left was a record of what California was like, of rolling hills, wild poppy flowers and open country that is slowly being covered with cement and asphalt," McCall said. "He painted California the way it was, and the way people dreamingily would like it to be."

Payne was born in Washburn on March 1, 1883. He left home in 1897 and found work painting houses, signs and stage sets. Such work led him to travel. Payne moved across the Ozarks and into Mexico. He gained an interest in serious art, so much so that he studied briefly at the Art Institute in Chicago. Adopting the formal philosophy of no particular school or teacher, Payne is considered to be largely self taught.

The Southwest, where fellow southwest Missourian Harold Bell Wright resettled, had a particular draw for Payne, as did southern California, where Pierce City native Theron Bennett would settle in 1921. Payne first visited California in 1909 and met his future wife, artist Elsie Palmer, in San Francisco. He married her in Chicago in 1912.

Working where opportunity provided, Payne got noticed and kept securing jobs. His biggest early commission came from the Congress Hotel in Chicago, which hired him to paint an 11,000-square-yard mural on muslin in 1917.

At that time Payne settled in the Los Angeles area, establishing a home and studio in Laguna Beach the following year. From this point, Payne concentrated on painting southwestern landscapes, sea scenes, and Native Americans in desert canyons, all of which would become his trademarks as an artist for the rest of his career.

Payne won prizes at California state fairs before 1920, showed at the Paris Salon in 1923 where he received honorable mention for "The Great White Peak" and went on to win other awards over the years. His work depicting Indians riding through desert canyons in the Sierra Nevada are known internationally.

Payne became known as the dean of the plein air artists in California. He rendered many of his paintings in the field then returned to the studio to complete larger paintings of the same subject.

Payne's early work is characterized by delicate, refined brush strokes, while his later work more typically has big strokes and bold layers of color. His work has a strong three-dimensionality and reflects a reverence of nature. Payne's love of the Southwest led him to produce a documentary film, "Sierra Journey", about the Sierra Nevada mountains in the early 1940s. A lake in the High Sierras is named for him: Payne Lake.

"He was a hard worker, working against a bad time," said McCall. "It's hard to imagine trying to sell oil paintings in the Depression or in World War II. It wasn't an easy life for him."

Nostalgia, in part, has helped raise interest in the paintings of Payne. According to McCall, Payne's 25x30-inch paintings or larger of Indians and cowboys bring from $175,000 to $350,000. His landscapes of the Sierras selling for about half that amount. His smaller paintings sell for $15,000 to $25,000, while his drawings are still available for $1,500 to $1,700 apiece.

Payne died in 1947. He was at the heart of the art community in Laguna Beach, a past president of the California Art Club and has never been forgotten in southern California. The Edgar Payne Gallery, devoted to his work, is located in Palm Desert, Calif.

"Artists are classified by their ability," said McCall. "Every now and then they are rediscovered. Interest in Payne laid dormant, but he is among many who have been coming into their own in recent decades."

One of the keys to rediscovery has been for an artist to have a book come out on his or her work. Payne wrote his own book, "Composition of Outdoor Painting," in 1941. According to art historian Armand Cabrera, "His book is still in print today because of its no-nonsense approach to the craft of painting."

In the book, Payne wrote, "A painter needs to study, meditate and experiment and practice interminably in order to produce a painting that would have nobility in its concept, variety, rhythm, repetition, unity, balance and harmony in its composition."

McCall's gallery bought up the last copies of the fourth printing of the book and, through arrangements with Payne's daughter, Evelyn Payne Hatcher, kept it in print. The $48 book is now in its seventh printing. McCall calls it "the number one handbook for American artists."

McCall continued, "It's a book for the advanced and the beginner. Even art dealers read it. It tells me how to look at paintings. It's for anybody that's interested in art."

The De Ru's Gallery worked with Payne's daughter for 25 years. The current printing of the book, which is half sold, was done entirely by the De Ru's Gallery. Mrs. Hatcher recently died at age 92.

According to McCall, Payne's reputation as an artist is now secure, and the current prices his paintings bring are no fluke. McCall said the art market, unlike the stock market, "has been more of a solid investment," less subject to swings from big increases to big losses.

"People feel more secure in art. It's a place to put their money and still enjoy it," McCall said.

Asked what people in Payne's hometown should know about the artist, McCall said, "Missouri people are known for being stubborn and determined. Payne had the qualities to keep going. He was a pioneer."

Nixa man prosecuted for stealing Edgar Payne painting

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. --On April 9, a Nixa man pleaded guilty in federal court to transporting a painting across state lines after he stole it from a nursing home patient and sold it to an art gallery for $175,000.

Micah Owen Shatswell, 29, of Nixa, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. England to the charge contained in a Dec. 17, 2008, federal indictment.

By pleading guilty, Shatswell admitted that on April 25, 2006, while he was employed at St. John's Mercy Villa, an assisted care facility in Springfield, he stole the painting from the room of a resident at the facility. The painting was "Summer Clouds" by Edgar Payne, a noted American Impressionist painter.

Shatswell sold the painting to Edenhurst Gallery, an art gallery in Palm Desert, Calif., for $175,000. Shatswell told the gallery that he had obtained the painting from his uncle. On May 2, 2006, he shipped the painting to Edenhurst Gallery.

Under federal statutes, Shatswell is subject to a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000 and an order of restitution. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall D. Eggert. It was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Springfield Police Department.

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