Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Olive Fell, Flour Sacks, and Monkey Wards

A well know artist lived up the river from us.
"Olive Fell grew up in Wyoming, and after studying at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in New York, she returned to her home state. She settled on the Four Bear Ranch near Cody and lived there for the rest of her life. In the 1930s, Fell developed her popular "Little Bear Cubs" design on cards and novelties, which sold to tourists in the national parks and resorts. During the 1940s and 50s, she continued to create postcards and posters for Yellowstone National Park. In 1935, the artist began painting Native American children with oils and later acrylics. She also sculpted wildlife in wood, rock, and stone. 
Despite her isolation from the artistic community, Fell became known especially for her etchings. For Minds to Know was chosen as one of the one hundred best prints of the year by the Society of American Etchers in 1934. During the 1930s, several of her prints were featured in exhibitions sponsored by organizations such as the International Etchers, the Northwest Printmakers, and the Society of American Etchers. She also showed at the National Art Exhibition in Chicago in 1936 and the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939. 

"The inspiration for most of Fell's work came from within the boundaries of her 1,800-acre ranch, a protected game refuge in the Absaroka Range of the Wyoming Rockies. Regularly she tracked animals on horseback or on skis, then sat for hours, often using precarious vantage points to observe and sketch for future reference." 
(Source: Kovinick, Phil and Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick. An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998.)"

Daddy became good friends with Olive, who preferred living an isolated existence.  He would shoe her horses, help with jobs around her ranch or some project that  she was working on. Sometimes she would make trips to New York City or Chicago for art exhibits. Knowing that my mom was a good seamstress she would give Dad boxes of "city clothes" that she was tired of.  Mom would carefully take them apart, and refashion them into dresses for herself and us girls, dresses made of expensive fabrics that she could only dream about..

For inspiration Mom would check the pages of the latest Monkey Wards catalog, and carefully recreate the current fashion.  Our good dresses made from the the reworked fabric, and our everyday dresses made from flour sack prints were always in the up to date styles.  We were poor, but always dressed well, thanks to Olive Fell, flour sacks, the catalog, and Mom's wonderful talent at the sewing machine.


  1. Oh my goodness your stories always make me smile so much and dream of a different time.

    1. What a great post! Your stories are so romantic. It's funny, but when I first saw 'Olive Fell,' I thought it was some type of food ingredient. lol I so enjoy your stories, Marti, and what an amazing woman your mom was.

  2. Wow, that's an interesting story! Good for your mom and her talent!

  3. Your childhood is like a novel. I love reading your posts :)

  4. What a fascinating story, Marti!

  5. Fascinating, Marti! Are you working on a book? If not, perhaps you might consider it.

  6. My goodness! Olive lived up above us on the mountain- we lived on Jim Creek. She had little pomeranians as I recall. It is fun to read your stories- Berta artwyoming@gmail.com