Joy Surdam (left) personally delivered their collection of art works by Olive Rush to Julie May (right), associate professor of art history and curator of the art collection.

Works by Olive Rush Donated to Art Collection

July 03, 2013

The Earlham College Art Collection has received a gift of paintings and drawings by Olive Rush — a celebrated Quaker woman artist who attended Earlham in the 19th century.

Fourteen paintings and drawings by Rush were donated by Joy and Ron Surdam, of Laramie, Wyo. Joy Surdam is a great niece of Olive Rush. She notes that her family has roots in Fairmont, Indiana, and that many of her relatives —including her grandfather, Charles Everett Rush — attended the College. The Surdams have been collecting Rush’s work for nearly 50 years, beginning with a painting that they received as a wedding present in 1966.

“Earlham just seemed like a perfect fit for this gift,” says Surdam. “Olive Rush grew up in Indiana, studied at Earlham and remained active in the Religious Society of Friends. To me it would make sense to have a significant collection of her work at the College. I hope that others who own her paintings will consider donating them to Earlham when it comes time for them to consider making such a gift.”

The pieces donated by Surdam span Rush’s painting career — from a still life that she completed at Earlham to paintings dating from late in her career. Earlham owns four additional paintings by Rush. According to Julie May, associate professor of art history and curator of the art collection, this expanded collection will provide additional learning opportunities for students.

“I can imagine wonderful student research projects based on these pieces,” notes May.  “I routinely use pieces from our collection in my classroom teaching and students use the collection for their individual research, so I am confident that these pieces by Olive Rush will be of great benefit to our students. The College is extremely grateful to the Surdams for this generous gift.”

A Remarkable Career

Rush (1873-1966) attended at Earlham for a year, studying with John Elwood Bundy, the College’s first art professor and a notable painter in his own right. After Earlham, Rush attended the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. She later took classes at the Art Students League in New York City, Howard Pyle’s private school in Wilmington, Del., Richard Miller’s class for painters in Paris and at the Boston Museum School.

She worked as an illustrator for such newspapers and magazines as New York Tribune, St. Nicholas, and Woman’s Home Companion. Rush also completed many commissioned portraits and murals during her career.

Rush was the first woman artist to settle in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She moved there in 1920, long before it became a popular destination for artists. Rush is perhaps best known for her mural paintings, many of which she completed during the Works Progress Administration (WPA) years. She completed murals at La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe Plaza, the Santa Fe Public Library and in the biology building at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, among others.

She was also the first woman to be granted an exhibition of her paintings at the New Mexico Palace of Governors. While living in Santa Fe, she contributed works to national and international exhibitions The New Mexico Museum of Fine Art offered a major retrospective exhibition of her work in 1957. Also active as an educator, Rush taught mural painting to Native American Artists at what is now the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. More recently, Rush’s work was included in a traveling exhibition and catalogue entitled, Skirting the Issue: Stories of Indiana's Historic Women Artists (2004).

A lifelong Quaker, her former studio on Canyon Road in Santa Fe is now home to the Santa Fe Quaker Meeting.

The Earlham College Art Collection contains more than 4000 pieces from all over the world. Students use the collection in art history courses and for independent research. Art works from the collection are periodically displayed in the College’s Ronald Gallery in Lilly Library as well as in display cases in the Landrum Bolling Center. 

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