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Deaf Artists:
A brief consideration of the works of roommates Granville Redmond and Douglas Tilden
 

Submitted Holly Wermiel
May 9, 2007
http://aslwalkaboutus.blogspot.com/

I suppose the craft of silent movie making had something in common with deaf artists. I just never thought of it. Hence my enthusiasm for California art has led me to this deduction. I chose to research deaf California artists. My research yarn took me to Paris, France. There, I found two deaf artists living as roommates who would eventually turn the art world on its ear. Douglas Tilden and Granville Redmond both had been students of what was once called the Institute for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind at Berkeley, which is now called the California School for the Deaf in Fremont, California. They both had contracted scarlet fever at a young age. Both, when recovered, were found to be deaf. I can only imagine how it must have been for them both, to be in Paris and to have had so much in common. This must have been why they became roommates.

Granville Redmondís paintings and Douglas Tildenís sculptures reflect their California background. Redmond preferred painting the California beaches and wildflowers. Tildenís bronze sculptures depicted California workers and athletes. I had hoped at the outset of my research, to eventually find some artwork that I might be able to view personally. It was a romantic notion that I use this assignment to sleuth through neighboring art museums and perhaps bring some personal attachment to a piece of artwork on public display. I went panning for gold in a stream of library books and periodicals to find tributaries of information that I hoped would lead me to some placer gold. I assumed that artwork done by deaf artists would be elusive. I, therefore, doubled my chances by choosing two artists to research. Now, sitting amongst piles of books and literature, my research is complete. I can tell you that I found not only placer gold, but a gold mine of a story and some silver and bronze too. I found connections with Hollywood, California politics, a world famous author, and a U.S. President. My first artist, Douglas Tilden, became the father of California sculpture (Albronda, 1980). Granville Redmond, my second artist, became a popular California Impressionistic artist, whose paintings were used in advertisements and travel guides to encourage visitors to travel west in the early 1900ís (O.C.M.A., 2007).

Douglas Tilden
He was even referred to as the Michelangelo of the American West (Sonnenstrahl, 2002). Tilden was born May 1, 1860, which was also the same day the California School for the Deaf (CSD) opened for students. Tilden graduated with honors but he didnít want to go to university. Instead, he wanted to be a mechanic. CSD was not able to find work for him as a mechanic because he was deaf. The school recognized his artistic abilities and suggested that he teach art with them. During his time as a teacher at CSD, Tilden discovered his love for sculpture. The CSD board of directors was so impressed with his work, that they loaned him money to study in New York. Tilden felt a harbinger of fame and left his beloved California to pursue his ambition to be a great sculptor. Once in New York, he then fancied further study in the sculpture-mecca of Paris, France. CSD gave Tilden a second-year loan to study in Paris. It was the year 1889, and the Worldís Fair in Paris was presenting the Eiffel Tower to the world. Tilden presented his bronze Baseball Player to the Salon des Artistes Fancaises on the Champs Elysee. It was also here in Paris, that Tilden became active with the deaf community. He organized and was vice-president of the First International Congress for the Deaf. And it was also here in Paris, which Tilden roomed with Granville Redmond who had come study painting due to funding from the CSD. Tilden made the Bear Hunt and the Football Players among others before he returned to San Francisco honorably accepted as an outstanding sculptor. He taught the first sculpture classes on the Pacific Coast at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art. It was there that he became the first instructor in California to use live nude models in a university classroom. Tildenís Bear Hunt sculpture is now located on the main entrance of the California School for the Deaf greeting all who enter their grounds (CSD, 2007). Hundreds of students cherish this symbol of the school.

The Football Players
Tildenís famous statue, the Football Players, which was shipped around the Horn from Paris, was presented to the winner of the football game between Stanford and University of California, Berkeley in 1899. Berkeley had defeated Stanford for the first time the previous year and Mayor Phelan offered the statue to the team that won two out of three straight games. The San Francisco Chronicle (Regents of UC, 1899) reported that Berkeley won a second straight time, thirty to nothing, and the bronze statue went to the Berkeley campus. The sweetness of victory over Stanford, shaped by Tildenís hands, is forever on U.C., Berkeleyís campus. The Football Players is in a tree shaded fork in the path near the football stadium. I was able to take a picture of it after trying to ignore the homeless person with a middle finger sign language message. Each time I tried to take a picture from a different vantage point, he would move in position between the sculpture and me with each attempt at photography. The man carried a large boom box playing music at a deafening decibel. I was excited to have found my treasure and disappointed to see it streaked with a green chemical residue and surrounded by unappreciative patrons. Its history seemingly lost amongst the busy students and society's residue.

Searching for Treasure
I was surprised to learn that I lived for 15 years near his sculpture Oregon Volunteers in Portland, Oregon. School children from the California School for the Deaf may be interested to know that President Theodore Roosevelt was given an 8 inch golden replica of Tildenís bronze Bear Hunt which is now housed in the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, Oyster Bay, New York. I had found gold in my research. I had personally touched his sculpture in Berkeley. I had become enraptured with his art, and thrilled to learn of his lofty accolades. But, I was to find that his life had unraveled in his later years. The earthquake of San Francisco and subsequent fire in 1906 was a catastrophe followed by the United States entering into war. Tilden would find that he had lost his financial support. Tilden was an accomplished and published author with a friend in the business, Jack London. Tilden wrote a manuscript and gave it to his friend Jack London. London died ten days later. Tildenís manuscript was found on Londonís bedside table on the day London died with corrective notes. The manuscript was never published. Tilden then turned to his alma mater for work. California School for the Deaf would not hire him because he was deaf. The school no longer employed deaf teachers. Tilden died penniless, with his sculpture tools within reach before a clay model. I look forward to the day when I will be able to go to the University of California, Berkeley Library Archives to read the letters from Jack London and Granville Redmond to Tilden. I also look forward to my next visit to San Francisco. It is sure to include a bronze sculpture treasure hunt.
Granville Redmond
Granville Redmond had been a student at California School for the Deaf under the tutelage of Douglas Tilden. My research on Redmond led me to Southern California and the Orange County Museum of Art. I would learn that Redmondís painting Silver and Gold, is Lesson One in the publication Imaging and Imagining California for Orange Countyís visual arts education (O.C.M.A., 2007). The lesson asks the students to study Redmondís landscape to learn how the artist used color to create an illusion of depth. Colors are further studied in detail to create overlapping shapes and atmospheric perspective. Students learn to consider Redmondís painting as a good advertisement for the state of California. The publication notes that the large tourism industry demand for California Impressionists paintings coincided with the increase with the state's population, discovery of oil, completion of railways, and the new film industry. Redmond, after returning from Paris, located in Los Angeles and became friends with silent movie screen actor, Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin gave Redmond a painting studio on the movie lot and collected Redmondís paintings. In return, Redmond taught Chaplin how to communicate with sign language and perfected his pantomime (JAMA, 2004). Chaplin also gave silent acting roles to Redmond in several of his movies, including City Lights (1931).
California School for the Deaf
These two deaf artists were connected through the art-loving principal of California School for the Deaf. Dr. Warring Wilkinson saw to it that art education was included in his curriculum. Another deaf pupil of Wilkinson also became a successful, and awarded artist. Theophilus DíEstrella photographed California Ďs deaf life in black and white. He was a good friend and supporter of both Tilden and Redmond. I had found gold, silver, and bronze, not in the mineral deposits of the earth, but at the California School for the Deaf. The paintings of golden poppies, the charm of the silver screen, the bronzes in San Franciscoís streets and parks had all come from one manís vision to bring the arts to his school for the deaf. Who knew that the California School for the Deaf had such an impact on the state of California? I know now, and I have touched it.

References

Albronda, M. (1980). Douglas Tilden, portrait of a deaf sculptor/by Mildred Albronda. Silver Spring, Md.: T. J. Publishers.

Artnet. (n.d). Granville Redmond. Retrieved March 23, 2007 from
http://www.artnet.com/artist/23519/granville-s-redmond.html

California School for the Deaf campus map. (n.d.). Retrieved March 23, 2007, from http://www.csdf.k12.ca.us/campusmap/

California State University WorldImages Kiosk. (n.d.). California Poppy Fields. Retrieved March 23, 2007 from http://worldart.sjsu.edu/Obj16863$8361

Dabakis, M. (1995). Douglas Tilden's Mechanics Fountain: Labor and the "crisis of masculinity" in the 1890s. American Quarterly. vol:47 iss:2 pg:204-235.

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. (n.d.). Granville Redmond. Retrieved March 23, 2007, from http://search.famsf.org:8080/search.shtml?artist=Redmond

Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (n.d.). Granville Redmond, United States, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1871-1935. Retrieved March 23, 2007 from
 http://collectionsonline.lacma.org/mwebcgi/mweb.exe?request=record;id=11962;type=701

Orange County Museum of Art. (n.d.) Imaging + imagining California lesson one: The golden state. Retrieved March 23, 2007 from http://ocma.net/pdfs/redmondWEB.pdf.pdf

Regents of the University of California (1899, Dec 1). Triumph of blue and gold. San Francisco Chronicle 70(139). Retrieved March 23, 2007, from
http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/uchistory/archives_exhibits/online_exhibits
/1899/document_texts/sfchronicle12011899.html

Sonnenstrahl, D. M. (2002). Deaf artists in America: Colonial to contemporary. San Diego, California: DawnSignPress.

Southgate, T.M., M.D. (2004, October 13). The cover JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, 292(14), p1659-1659.


 


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