Boatright, Elizabeth Keefer (1899–1989)

By: Ernest B. Speck

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

Updated: September 30, 2020

Elizabeth Keefer Boatright, etcher and watercolorist, the daughter of James Blair and Estelle (Cherry) Keefer, was born in Houston, Texas, on November 4, 1899. She decided that she would pursue a career in art after she won second place in a nationwide art contest for children when she was seven. She attended the Southern Seminary in Virginia from 1915 to 1917 and then began studying art under a Mrs. Creager, whom she accompanied to Washington, D.C. Always a person of independence and strong opinion, Elizabeth decided she was being taught in the wrong way and returned to Houston, but was more determined than ever to learn to paint. In 1920 she enrolled at the Art Institute in Chicago where she studied until 1924. That year she went to New York to study at the Art Students League. She left because of the death of her mother but returned the next year at the request of Joseph Pennell, the etcher, to become his assistant. In the fall of 1926 she joined the faculty of Sul Ross State College in Alpine, Texas, as art instructor. There she became interested in western themes, particularly Indians. She visited reservations in northern New Mexico and was the first White woman given permission to sketch there. She married Mody C. Boatright in 1931 but did not join him in Austin until the end of the 1931–32 school year; they had two children. She continued to work in Indian materials, doing graphic arts and etchings from 1929 to 1937 and watercolors from 1927 to 1947. She worked in Taos, Idelfonso, and Conchiti Pueblo. She became known as the "Etcher of Indians." Some of her more notable etchings include The Sand Painter (Navajo), Storm Cloud on Wind (1927, Navajo), Black Eagle Dance (Pueblo), and Singing in the Moonlight (Taos). This last item was selected as one of the hundred best etchings of 1934. She developed a technique for making etchings with color. No other etcher in the country had used the process. The United States Museum of Graphic Arts in Washington in 1934 invited her to send a solo show of thirty etchings, and from that show her Hurrying Lady was selected to become part of the permanent collection.

Elizabeth Boatright gave up etching when she saw her young son perilously close to a container of acid she used in her work. After that she devoted her energies almost entirely to watercolor painting, although she occasionally worked in oil. As an opponent to the abstract painting taught by the art faculty at the University of Texas she was challenged by a faculty member, who suggested that she was incapable of producing abstract art; she proceeded to paint a 45"-by-60" abstract that was highly successful. She then returned to doing watercolor landscapes. In the late 1940s and into the 1960s she organized art classes in towns in the Austin area. These classes resulted in art clubs and an increased interest in art that still continues. After the death of her husband in 1970 she moved to Corpus Christi and began painting seascapes. Her Fisherman's Wharf was selected to go on tour in Mexico with a show of American art. Except for an interim in Georgetown, she lived in Corpus Christi for the rest of her life. Early on she was elected to the Pen and Brush Club in New York (1925) and the Chicago Society of Etchers (1930). She later became a member of the Texas Fine Arts Association and the Texas Watercolor Society. The list of shows in which her work was displayed covers some twelve typed pages. In 1936, for example, her work was displayed in Dallas, Buffalo, New York (on two occasions), Santa Fe, Philadelphia, Fort Worth, and Austin. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Southwestern Museum of Art, Los Angeles; the Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe; the United States National Museum of Graphic Arts, Washington; the Feldman Collection, Dallas; the Texas Memorial Museum and the Texas Fine Arts Association, Austin; and the Museum of the Big Bend, Alpine. She was known primarily as Elizabeth Keefer to the art world. Her own selection of her most outstanding works includes The Sand Painter (a good example of her use of color in etchings), Storm Cloud on Wind, Black Eagle Dance, and Singing in the Moonlight. Elizabeth Keefer Boatright died on February 20, 1989, in Corpus Christi.

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Doris Dawdy, Artists of the American West (3 vols., Athens, Ohio: Swallow, 1974–86). Peter Haskins Falk, ed., Who Was Who in American Art (Madison, Connecticut: Sound View, 1985). Mantle Fielding, Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers (New York: Struck, 1945; rev. ed., ed. Glenn B. Opitz, Poughkeepsie: Apollo, 1983). Esse Forrester-O'Brien, Art and Artists of Texas (Dallas: Tardy, 1935). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Visual Arts
  • Painting
  • Printmaking
  • Women
Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Central Texas
  • Austin
  • East Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • Houston
  • Southeast Texas
  • Gulf Coast Region
  • Corpus Christi

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

Ernest B. Speck, “Boatright, Elizabeth Keefer,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 17, 2022,

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August 1, 1995
September 30, 2020

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