81. Evangeline St. Claire

Life Datesca. 1901-1985
Place of BirthBoston, MA, USA
Place of DeathNew York, New York
Birth NameEvangeline St. Claire

Evangeline St. Claire’s parents died when she was young, and she grew up in an orphanage in Merrimack, New Hampshire, her birth year given variously between 1901 and 1907.1 By the 1920 census (and at roughly the age of eighteen), St. Claire had moved to Dover, New Hampshire, where she was employed as a servant in the household of Arthur and Maud Dunstan.2 Moving at some point to New York City, St. Claire began four years of art training in the fall of 1931 at the National Academy of Design, and simultaneously she took classes, through a scholarship, with William Von Schlegell and Robert Laurent and at the Art Students League.3 She became an elementary school art teacher through the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration, working for the Project off and on between February 1936 and 1942.4 As an orphan and an African American, St. Claire likely encountered many challenges in pursuing a career as a professional artist. During this period, she was a member of the Harlem Artists’ Guild and exhibited with the group on two occasions.5 It is unclear what St. Claire did after her WPA employment–probably further teaching–or what her art looked like–examples of her work are not known. She was a member of Atelier 17 at some point during the 1940s and exhibited two prints in a group exhibition of Atelier 17 artists held from October 1 to 24, [ca. 1949].6 With the titles The Star and The Sphere, her prints suggest an interest in celestial bodies, which was a shared focus among many members of Atelier 17 and the broader community of postwar artists. Nothing further is known about St. Claire’s professional life, and government records mark her death 1985 with New York City as her last residence.7

Notes


  1. My thanks to Marisa Bourgoin and Caroline Donadio at the Archives of American Art for their help researching Evangeline St. Claire. Caroline kindly provided access to St. Claire’s student records in the National Academy of Design records, 1817-2012. Marisa took the addresses listed in St. Claire’s records and traced her back to the orphanage in New Hampshire. An eight-year-old St. Claire appears as a ward of the orphanage in the 1910 census: Franklin Ward 1, Merrimack, New Hampshire; Roll: T624_865; Page: 10A; Enumeration District: 0211; FHL microfilm: 1374977.
  2. 1920 Census: Tilton, Belknap, New Hampshire; Roll: T625_1006; Page 3A; Enumeration District: 15. Arthur M. Dunstan was an Episcopalian minister and led the St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Dover. Nothing is yet known about the orphanage where St. Claire spent her childhood, but it is possible it had a connection to the Episcopal church.
  3. Student registration card, Art Students League of New York, and National Academy of Design records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. St. Claire lists additional schooling in the biographical questionnaire she filled out for the Harmon Foundation in the mid-1930s, which includes special classes with George Lawrence Nelson and Winold Reiss. Harmon Foundation, Inc., records. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. She further states on this questionnaire that she pursued evening classes while working full-time and took advantage of any opportunities for free training.
  4. Thank you to George Fuller, Archival Reference Technician, at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis for locating St. Claire’s employment information. I saw mention of St. Claire’s participation in the WPA-FAP through charts compiled in Kimn Carlton-Smith’s dissertation, “A New Deal for Women: Women Artists and the Federal Art Project, 1935-1939” (PhD diss., Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 1990), 309, 315, 318.
  5. Mary Ann Calo alerted me to St. Claire’s membership to the Harlem Artists’ Guild and her participation in two of the group’s exhibitions: she showed Mt. Lafayette and Landscape in Harlem Artists Guild at the American Artists School, April 24 to May 15, 1937; and The Barn in Exhibition of Sculpture and Paintings presented by The Labor Club, February 12-March 12, 1939. Catalogues for both shows are in the Alain Locke Papers at Howard University. Calo has written an insightful article about the visibility of African American artists in WPA projects: “Expansion and Redirection: African Americans and the New Deal Federal Art Project,” Archives of American Art Journal 55, no. 2 (Fall 2016): 80-91.
  6. Exhibition pamphlet, Tate Archives, Papers of Stanley William Hayter, 200510/3/205/1. There is no year written on this pamphlet, but the dating of the prints included suggests 1949.
  7. Ancestry.com, Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 (Provo UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2014).