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Rush, Olive Landscape with Deer, c. 1931


Olive Rush was a highly accomplished painter, illustrator, and teacher. Born in Fairmount, in Grant County, Indiana, she graduated from Fairmount Academy, a Society of Friends School founded by her Quaker parents on the family’s farm. She first studied art under John Elwood Bundy at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. She also attended the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., the Art Students League in New York City, Howard Pyle’s school of illustration in Wilmington, Delaware, Richard Miller’s Class for Painters in Paris, and the Boston Museum School in Massachusetts. While at school in New York, Rush worked as an illustrator for the New York Tribune and began a career as an illustrator of children’s books. After spending the summer in Paris in 1913, she settled in Manhattan for the next five years and earned her living as a commercial artist. She returned to Indianapolis in 1918 and opened a studio downtown, where she painted portraits, received mural commissions, and designed bookplates.

In 1920, she settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a city she had previously visited with her family in 1914. Rush was the first professional woman artist to move permanently to Santa Fe. Among her close friends there were fellow Hoosier Gustave Baumann and former classmate Georgia O’Keeffe. In Santa Fe, she began experimenting with the fresco technique of mural painting, becoming so adept that she received many commissions for such work and was hired by the Santa Fe Indian School to teach their students how to paint murals. Rush also created murals for the WPA in Santa Fe and Las Cruces, New Mexico and in Florence, Colorado.

When Rush died in 1966, she left her home to the Society of Friends, who had held their meetings there for many years.

  • Landscape with Deer, ca. 1931
  • 36″ x 42″
  • DePauw University Peeler Art Center
  • Keywords: paintings, frescoes
  • Subjects: outdoors, deer, trees, plants, hills, rocks

While most Indiana artists did not go as far as complete abstraction in their work, many experimented with some aspects of painting associated with modernism, including the simplification of forms, an emphasis on the two-dimensionality of the canvas, an abandonment of any illusionistic sense of space in their works, the decorative effect of colors and shapes, and the use of non-naturalistic colors. Rush used many of these techniques in paintings such as Landscape with Deer. In this work, she created an imaginary Western landscape populated with tiny deer, large plants, little trees, and cubist rocks. While animals, trees, sky and mountains are recognizable, their shapes have been simplified and are not depicted in a representational manner. The senses of scale and space within the painting are also non-naturalistic, as objects become decorative elements in the overall design of the painting. As Rush noted, “Since I was a young girl, much of my work has been abstract and imaginative, although not non-objective.”