Sellors, Evaline Clarke (1903–1995)


By: Scott Grant Barker

Type: Biography

Published: January 30, 2022

Updated: February 8, 2022


Evaline Clarke Sellors, accomplished Texas sculptor, ceramist, and educator, the third of four daughters of Irish immigrants Edward Marmaduke Sellors and Josephine (Brady) Sellors, was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on August 30, 1903. Edward Sellors was a barrister, Oxford University graduate, member of the Royal Irish Academy, and an authority on art. He worked for Texas Electric following the family’s relocation to Texas. Josephine Sellors studied at a museum school associated with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. She ran a home-based business in Texas and designed trousseaus for clients across the state. As a child, Evaline drew and exhibited a talent for modeling figures in clay. Her parents furnished her with materials and encouragement. Evaline Sellors experienced severe hearing loss around the age of twelve and dealt with the condition for most of her life before a late-career series of operations restored her hearing.

From age eight, Sellors studied drawing and watercolor with Christina MacLean, a Scottish art teacher in Fort Worth. Her family moved to a farm between Fort Worth and Handley around 1910. She and her sisters were driven into Fort Worth in a surrey to attend school until the United States entered World War I. She then briefly attended public school in Handley before enrolling in the prep school for girls at Texas Woman’s College (later Texas Wesleyan University), where she studied painting under Samuel P. Ziegler. At the age of fifteen, she earned a high school diploma from the prep school.

From 1921 to 1923 Sellors attended Washington University in St. Louis, where she took illustration classes and enrolled in clay modeling sessions conducted by Victor S. Holm. Sellors instead shifted her focus to sculpting. While enrolled at the university’s St. Louis School of Fine Arts in 1923, Sellors designed and patented a stuffed dog and later won an infringement suit against the manufacturer of a similar toy. Originally named Tut’s Pup to capitalize on the intense public interest in Howard Carter’s 1922 discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, the toy dog was sold under the name Woof Woof, with Sellors earning royalties. In 1924 she directed a summer art school in Fort Worth that offered classes in modeling, design, and poster work.

In 1924 Sellors entered the sculpture program at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where her principal instructor was Charles Grafly. At the Pennsylvania Academy’s satellite school in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, she studied with Albert Laessle. Sellors returned home several times during her stay at the academy, delaying completion of her coursework until early 1931. Sellors was twice awarded the William Emlen Cresson traveling scholarship. This scholarship enabled her to spend extended periods in Europe in 1929 and 1930 to study sculpture. In the summer of 1935 Sellors studied with Joseph R. Taylor, head of the University of Oklahoma sculpture department.

Sellors returned to Fort Worth in March 1931 to face a job market largely devoid of prospects in her chosen profession. The bleak economic outlook provided the catalyst for Sellors and two other local artists, Blanche McVeigh and Sallie M. Gillespie, all of whom had trained at the Pennsylvania Academy, to partner in the operation of an art academy for both adults and children.

Sellors taught figure and portrait and sculpture composition, plus casting for advanced students. Gillespie offered spaces in her home for use as classrooms. Their academy was originally named the Texas School of Art and opened in the fall of 1932. In 1933 the school moved to the Woman’s Club of Fort Worth’s art center and was incorporated as the Fort Worth School of Fine Arts in 1934.

Gillespie left the school in 1933 and was replaced by Wade Jolly of Philadelphia. Other professional artists who served on the faculty at various times included Harry Carnohan, Clinton King, Alice Stockdale, and Mary Eleanor Witherspoon. Among those who attended as students were Cynthia Brants, Lia Cuilty, Nell Gene Estill, Frank P. Fisher, Joe Fuller, Veronica Helfensteller, John Paul Hoppe, Marjorie Johnson, Sara Shannon, and Bror Utter. A number of these students went on to form the Fort Worth Circle.

While teaching at the Fort Worth School of Fine Arts, Sellors began a parallel career as a Dallas art teacher. The opportunity arose when Sellors was invited to fill a vacancy on the faculty of the Dallas Public Evening Schools program, which offered courses in a variety of subjects at low cost. She taught classes in sculpture and pottery at Dallas Technical High School (later Crozier Technical High School) beginning in 1933. She taught regularly in the Dallas Public Evening Schools program until 1942.

Federal government efforts to spur Fort Worth’s economy during the Great Depression included the construction of many public schools. Sellors found work in the city department that coordinated public school landscaping projects. She designed and oversaw construction of a large, cast stone, bas-relief sculpture set into a retaining wall at South Hi Mount Elementary School. In 1937 she completed a similar project at North Side High School when she supervised the creation of lintels and decorative stone pieces and also produced four cast stone, bas-relief plaques, featuring the heads of Texas longhorns, modeled in the Art Deco style, to decorate a shelter house on the school’s west lawn.

Sellors was awarded government-funded and privately-funded commissions in the 1930s. These included a bust of Frank Hawks, nationally-known American aviator (1933); a bronze bust of Ephraim M. Daggett (1934); a bronze bust of Al Hayne, a local hero who died saving lives during the catastrophic 1890 Texas Spring Palace fire (1934); and a new grave marker for Major Ripley A. Arnold (1936). In 1938 Sellors sculpted two eight-and-a-half-foot, cast stone, Art Deco, bas-relief figures to decorate the entrance to Farrington Field. They are perhaps her best-known and largest sculpted works.

Sellors, McVeigh, and Jolly dissolved the Fort Worth School of Fine Arts in July 1939. Sellors continued to operate the school as The Studios until 1941, when, following the entry of the United States in World War II, she closed the academy in order to accept a job with North American Aviation in Grand Prairie.

Sellors was hired as an instructor of the production of patterns used to cast airplane parts. Her background in sculpture and casting made her one of only a few people in the area with the requisite skills. For several months after beginning work at the plant, she continued teaching at Dallas Technical. Sellors worked at North American Aviation for the duration of the war. One of her co-workers in the plaster pattern department was fellow artist Octavio Medellín. In 1943 Medellín, along with Sellors, Dallas sculptors Dorothy Austin and Allie Tennant, and eleven other sculptors from across the state, formed the Texas Sculptors Group.

In the fall of 1945 she was hired by the Fort Worth Art Association to conduct clay modeling classes for children. Sellors taught these classes until 1968. In 1950 the Craft Guild of Dallas began conducting ceramics classes, which the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts began hosting and co-sponsoring the following year. Sellors was a pottery instructor for the Craft Guild from 1950 to 1968. In 1971 she was named a life member by the Craft Guild for her years as a teacher. From 1948 to 1955 she taught clay modeling at the Fort Worth Children’s Museum. She also assisted the Reeder Children’s School of Theater and Design in the early 1950s, producing masks and other props for the school’s theatrical productions, and in the summer of 1952 served as a guest instructor in ceramics at the Texas State College for Women (now Texas Woman’s University) in Denton. In 1955 Sellors, alongside Cynthia Brants, Emily Guthrie Smith, McKie Trotter, and Bror Utter, established a museum school for the new Fort Worth Art Center (later the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth). She began teaching sculpture and pottery classes when the school opened in the summer of 1955 and continued to do so until the school closed at the end of 1972.

Sellors’s focus on her own art intensified after she left North American Aviation, and she established a home-based studio in 1948. The experience of working in North American’s plaster pattern department had a long-lasting influence on her views of abstraction. Sellors’s tilt toward simplified forms can be seen in many of the figurative, bird, animal, and insect sculptures she produced after 1945. This idea of simplification pushed her concept of sculpture’s possibilities to include shapes that were less realistic and more abstract. Praying Mantis (ca. 1946; cast in bronze, 1954) is one of Sellors’s best-known works, and an example of her move toward simplified forms. She rarely attempted sculptures of fully abstract shapes but did produce at least one major example, Spring Bud (ca. 1955), carved from a downed cedar tree.

Sellors exhibited sculpture and pottery in numerous regional and national group exhibitions and in two major solo exhibitions held in Fort Worth. Among the most significant exhibitions she participated in were the Centennial Exhibition of Paintings, Sculpture, and Graphic Arts, Texas Centennial Exposition, Dallas, 1936; American Art Today, New York World’s Fair, 1939; the Texas General Exhibition (also known at various times as the Texas-Oklahoma General Exhibition or the Annual Texas Painting and Sculpture Exhibition), 1940, 1941, 1949–57, 1963; Texas Sculptors Group exhibitions, Dallas Museum of Fine Art, 1943, 1947; Fort Worth Public Library, 1948 (one-woman show); Texas Crafts Exhibition, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 1949, 1951–58, 1961; Texas Contemporary Artists, M. Knoedler & Co., New York, 1952; Made in Texas by Texans, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 1959; Fort Worth Art Center, 1962 (one-woman show); and Texas Painting and Sculpture: The 20th Century, Owen Art Center, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, 1971.

Sellors transitioned to stained glass when age prevented her from continuing to work with bronze. Major commissions she received in the 1960s and 1970s included designing a five-by-thirty-foot bank of faceted stained glass windows for Grace First Presbyterian Church in Weatherford, designing five stained glass windows for the Mary Lard Chapel at Temple Beth El in Fort Worth, and designing a seven-foot-tall glass mosaic panel for the Brazos River Girl Scout Camp for installation at Stevens Ranch in Somervell County. A commission from Fort Worth’s St. Andrew Catholic Church enabled her to collaborate with sculptor Gene Owens to design and fabricate a series of devotional images, including Sellors’s figure of Christ (stoneware, ca. 1970). In 1976 the Texas Society of Architects granted her a special award for enhancing the built environment and quality of life in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

In the mid-1970s she suffered a burst pancreas. Her illness required a year-long recuperation, after which she accepted an out-of-state teaching assignment with Columbus College (later Columbus State University) in Columbus, Georgia. She taught at Columbus College from 1978 to 1980.

From the mid-1980s until her death, Sellors was represented by Fort Worth art dealer Evelyn Siegel, an artist and retired art educator who had been a member of Sellors’s first sculpture class at the Fort Worth Art Center in 1955. In 1989 Siegel presented Sellors’s final retrospective exhibition, Evaline Sellors: A Celebration of 70 Years of Sculpture, at the dealer’s Fort Worth gallery. Failing eyesight prevented her from continuing to work beyond 1989.

Evaline Clarke Sellors died in Fort Worth on May 18, 1995, at the age of ninety-one. Her passing was widely noted within the Fort Worth community. She was buried at Shannon Rose Hill Memorial Park in Fort Worth. She was never married. Sculptures by Evaline Sellors are represented in the permanent collections of the Dallas Museum of Art; the Fort Worth Public Art Legacy Collection; the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; the Fort Worth Botanic Garden; and the Old Jail Art Center, Albany, Texas. Archives from the Sellors estate are housed at the Jerry Bywaters Special Collections, Southern Methodist University, Dallas; the Robert E. Nail, Jr., Archives, Old Jail Art Center, Albany, Texas; and the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.

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Judith Singer Cohen, Cowtown Moderne: Art Deco Architecture of Fort Worth, Texas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1988). Dallas Morning News, May 21, 1971. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 5, 1948; June 30, 1982; January 12, 1984; October 19, 1989; May 20, 1995. John Powers and Deborah Powers, Texas Painters, Sculptors & Graphic Artists A Biographical Dictionary of Artists in Texas Before 1942 (Austin: Woodmont Books, 2000). Evaline Sellors, Artist File, Mayer Library, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Evaline Sellors Art and Papers, Jerry Bywaters Special Collections, Southern Methodist University. Evaline Sellors Oral History Interview, conducted by Earline Baker, March 1978, Tarrant County Archives. Evaline Sellors Papers, Robert E. Nail, Jr. The Old Jail Art Center. Taos News, April 28, 1966. Janet Tyson, Cultural Cornerstones: Sculptures by Gene Owens and Evaline Sellors (Fort Worth: Fort Worth Public Library, 2008).

Categories:
  • Education
  • Art and Music Schools
  • Educators
  • Art and Architecture
  • Visual Arts
  • Sculpture
  • Women
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
Places:
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth

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

Scott Grant Barker, “Sellors, Evaline Clarke,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/sellors-evaline-clarke.

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January 30, 2022
February 8, 2022

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