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FORSYTH, CONSTANCE

FORSYTH, CONSTANCE (1903–1987). Constance (Connie) Forsyth, printmaker, painter, and teacher, was born on August 18, 1903, in Indianapolis, Indiana, the second of three daughters of William and Alice (Atkinson) Forsyth. Her father was one of Indiana's leading artists during the early part of the twentieth century, and from a young age Forsyth and her sisters accompanied him when he taught outdoor painting classes during the summer. Both parents encouraged their children to observe nature, which subsequently became the enduring theme of Connie Forsyth's art.

After completing a B.A. degree in chemistry at Butler University in Indianapolis in 1925, Forsyth began formal art training at the John Herron Art Institute. There she studied with Clifton Wheeler, Myra Richards, and her father; she received a diploma in 1929. In 1927–28 and in the spring of 1930 she attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where she studied with Henry McCarter, George Harding, and Albert Laessle. In the summers of 1932 and 1934 she studied at the Broadmoor Art Academy (later the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center), where she studied under Boardman Robinson and John Ward Lockwood. She attended the first lithography class offered there in the summer of 1932 and developed an enthusiasm for printmaking, which became her primary medium. She also assisted Thomas Hart Benton on the Indiana murals for the Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago in 1933.

Forsyth first gained experience in teaching by offering private art lessons in Indianapolis. From 1931 to 1935 she was an instructor at the John Herron Art Institute, and in 1937 she enrolled in education courses at Butler University. She taught art at Western College in Oxford, Ohio, in the spring of 1939. In 1940 her former teacher, Ward Lockwood, hired her to help develop a program in printmaking in the University of Texas art department. Forsyth's efforts to teach printmaking were hampered by what she referred to as the "World War II Battle for Supplies." Carborundum, essential for the preparation of lithographic stones, and proper paper were often unavailable, but she made do with available materials. In the summer of 1945 she spent a week in Burlington, Vermont, with the renowned printer George C. Miller, an invaluable opportunity to observe an expert at work and to develop a dependable printing method for classroom use.

During her thirty-three years of teaching at the University of Texas Forsyth supervised many graduate students and served on numerous committees. Her teaching activities extended beyond the university campus; she gave lectures and demonstrations on printmaking for the Texas Fine Arts Association and local and state museums and served on juries for major statewide competitive exhibitions. She was a member of the Indiana Art Association, the Indiana Society of Printmakers, and the Printmakers' Guild, a group of women printmakers in the Southwest. She was also a member of the Texas Fine Arts Association, the Texas Association of College Teachers, Texas Printmakers, and the National Association of Women Artists.

She most characteristically composed semiabstract studies of natural forms such as waves, mountains, and especially clouds. Her early work was primarily lithography, but during the 1940s and 1950s she frequently combined aquatint, drypoint, and lithographic processes to achieve a variation in textures and tones. Occasionally she added a single color as an accent. In Sun Cloud (1972), for example, drypoint lines swirl around a woodcut golden sun; aquatint was used to achieve fluid background swirls. Forsyth excelled in capturing subtleties found in nature; in Sky and Goat Mountain (n.d.), for example, the cluster of inky mountains at a low horizon are dominated by curving drypoint lines that suggest air currents. She also painted watercolors in bright, earthy colors in a style influenced by John Marin. In later years she became increasingly nonobjective and experimented with collages of torn, colored papers, often combined with overpainting. She used acrylics in patterns, texture, and calligraphy meant to suggest natural processes.

Forsyth exhibited her work widely, beginning in 1928, when she won a prize at the Hoosier Salon. She won awards at exhibitions sponsored by the John Herron Art Museum (1936, 1938, 1961), the Dallas Printmaker Society (1945), the Joslyn Memorial Museum in Omaha, Nebraska (1949), the Indiana State Fair (1941, 1946–47, 1950, 1956–57), the Indiana Society of Printmakers (1949, 1953), the Eighth Texas General Exhibition (1946), the Texas Fine Arts Association (1946–47, 1951, 1954, 1956, 1961, 1972), and the National Association of Women Artists (1955, 1961), among others. She exhibited her work at the Witte Museum in San Antonio; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Dallas Museum of Art; the Laguna Gloria Art Museum and Elisabet Ney Museum, both in Austin; an invitational Printmaking Exhibition at Texas Tech University in Lubbock; and annual art-faculty exhibitions at the University of Texas. The Laguna Gloria Art Museum mounted a solo exhibition of her paintings and drawings in 1946; galleries in Austin, San Antonio, and Indianapolis also sponsored solo exhibitions of her work. Nationally her work was exhibited at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the National Academy of Design and the 1939 World's Fair (both in New York), the Kansas City Art Institute, the Library of Congress, the Denver Art Museum, and the Seattle Art Museum. She also exhibited her work in Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Scotland, England, Japan, and India.

Forsyth retired with the rank of professor emeritus in 1973. Her contributions were honored a year later by a joint retrospective with William L. Lester organized by the Archer M. Huntington Art Galleryqv. She continued to contribute work to the annual faculty exhibition until 1985. On March 22, 1985, the Southern Graphics Council presented her with the Printmaker Emeritus Award in recognition for her outstanding achievement in that field. Constance Forsyth died on January 22, 1987. Her work is represented in the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, Austin; the Witte Museum, San Antonio; the Dallas Museum of Art; the Texas Fine Arts Association, Austin; Texas Wesleyan College, Fort Worth; the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana; Ball State Teachers College, Muncie, Indiana; and Joslyn Memorial Museum in Omaha, Nebraska, among others. Forsyth also illustrated two books, Charles Garrett Vannest's Lincoln the Hoosier: Abraham Lincoln's Life in Indiana (1928), and The Friends (1951), a children's book by Esther Buffler.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Clinton Adams, American Lithographers, 1900–1960: The Artists and Their Printers (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1983). Jim L. Collins, Women Artists in America, Eighteenth Century to the Present (1973; rev. and enlarged ed., Poughkeepsie, New York: Apollo, 1980). Peter Haskins Falk, ed., Who Was Who in American Art (Madison, Connecticut: Sound View, 1985). David Farmer, "Constance Forsyth: Printmaker," in The Tamarind Papers, Vol. 12, ed. Clinton Adams (Albuquerque, New Mexico: Tamarind Institute, 1989). Retrospective Exhibition of Constance Forsyth and William Lester, Huntington Art Gallery Archives, University of Texas at Austin, 1974. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Kendall Curlee

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Kendall Curlee, "FORSYTH, CONSTANCE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffo55), accessed April 24, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.