"The Ranch"

  • Biography

    Jean Parrish (1911 - 2004)

    Jean Parrish, a Southwest landscape painter, was born June 26, 1911 at
    her parents home at the Oaks in Plainfield, New Hampshire.  She is
    the only one of the children of illustrator Maxfield Parrish and his
    wife Lydia Austin Parrish to become an artist.  

    In 1922, at the age of eleven, she posed for Maxfield Parrish's famous illustration, Daybreak, in which she is the vertical figure bending over the reclining figure.  A photograph dated 1922, titled Jean Parrish Posing for Daybreak
    is in the Special Collections of Dartmouth College Library, Hanover,
    New Hampshire.   She also posed for her father as the model
    for Mary, Mary Quite Contrary and for Jack and the Beanstalk.  According to Alma Gilbert in her book Maxfield Parrish, "The last painting with a human figure that Parrish did was for the famous Collier's cover, Jack Frost (1936), suggested by his daughter, Jean." (19)

    Her schooling began in New York City with kindergarten and first grade
    school.  This was followed by being taught at home by outside
    tutors when her mother returned to their home at The Oaks in
    Plainfield, New Hampshire.  At age fourteen, she enrolled at Ethel
    Walker's School for Girls at Simsbury, Connecticut, and in 1929,
    she  entered Smith College in Northampton,
    Massachusetts.   She was there for a year and a half but soon
    lost interest and chose not to stay and returned home.  From 1931
    to 1937 Jean played, dated, drank and loafed under the disapproving
    eyes of her parents. 

    In 1937, she spent time in Haiti, teaching the children of a Haitian
    plantation owner, and then  married Augustus Seymour, a Harvard
    Law School graduate whom she had met at Smith College.  The couple
    moved from New England to Albuquerque, New Mexico that year, and set up
    Jean's studio facing the western slopes of the Sandia
    Mountains.   She worked and lived in Albuquerque excepting
    for a period during World War II when the couple lived in Virginia to
    accommodate his military service and later for the years 1960 to 1962,
    when she moved to Cornish to care for her ailing father.

    Because of her background, she had a long-time interest in art but was
    not inspired to paint until she saw the mountain landscape of New
    Mexico.  When she was in Virginia, she painted southwest scenes
    she recalled from memory, and then devoted much of her energy to
    painting her surroundings when she and her husband returned to New
    Mexico in 1946.  Of her work she said:  "When I paint I try
    to mirror the way light sculptures the earth, the way shadows fall."
    (Samuels 360)

    In 1949, she and Seymour divorced, and her painting activities,
    including exhibiting her work, became a central part of her
    existence.   She battled and conquered her alcoholism, and
    was quoted about this in an article written for American Artist Magazine
    by Mary Carroll Nelson titled "Jean Parrish:  A Yankee in New
    Mexico".   She had a one-person exhibition at the Museum of New
    Mexico in Santa Fe, and in 1955, she received "her first important
    recognition when Tijeras Canyon earned her the grand prize in objective
    art and a purchase prize at the New Mexico State Fair." (Kovinick
    243)  Other exhibition venues were the Ogunquit Art Center Show in
    Maine; Artists of America Invitational in Denver; and American Artists
    in St. Louis.  

    In the late 1950s, she went through a period of bad health, but in the
    1960s, recovering her energy, she had the most productive time of her
    painting career.  Through most of her life, Maxfield Parrish
    remained Jean's staunchest and most loyal supporter encouraging her and
    helping her financially to achieve her goals.  Their weekly
    correspondence and his monthly checks allowed Jean to branch out and
    achieve her goals.  Despite all her disclaimers to the contrary,
    his technique and usage of Dynamic Symmetry influenced his daughter
    greatly.  She  loved building and built and designed her
    studio with her own hands and little other help, also emulating the
    parent that had built his own home and studio in New Hampshire.

    Her mediums were oil and casein, and her western landscape subjects included mountain villages such as Truchas Revisited, skyscapes and the Navajo Indian reservations in Arizona such as Canyon de Chelly and Land of the Navajos.  She also painted in California, Sacramento Mountains, and in Mexico where she depicted market scenes. 

    Jean Parrish's work is now included in the permanent collections of
    several Southwest Art museums including the Museum of New Mexico in
    Santa Fe.  There is a street in Albuquerque named after her. 
    Jean Parrish Seymour  almost lived as long as her father, Maxfield
    Parrish.  She passed away at the age of 94 in November, 2004.


    Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki Kovinick, An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West, p. 243.

    Alma Gilbert, Director of the Cornish Colony Museum, Windsor, Vermont,
    information sent to AskART on 2/2006 and edited this biography. 
    Her cited book is Maxfield Parrish, The Masterworks

    Information submitted by Larry W. Greenly of Albuquerque, New Mexico, including the references: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West by Peggy and Harold Samuels.