Rebecca Salsbury James

b. 1891 – d. 1968



One of the few female artists in Alfred Stieglitz’s circle, Rebecca Salsbury James began painting in the early 1920's alongside her husband, photographer Paul Strand, and closest friend, Georgia O'Keeffe. She eventually identified her preferred technique, reverse oil on glass, and worked in that format throughout her career in New York, Maine, and Taos, New Mexico. For over four decade, James expressed her interest in beauty, quality, and simplicity through mediums historically used by folk artists and regional artists in the United States in an effort to utilize a "usable past" as she—and other American Modernists—underscored the ongoing achievements of her countrymen and developed a new visual language for the twentieth century.

In 1947, Mabel Dodge Luhan published Taos and Its Artists, the first book to laud the successes of the then-established Taos Society of Artists. Luhan’s entry on James, “The paintings on glass by Rebecca James ... are perhaps the most exquisite productions of any Taos artist. Flowers – sometimes only a single flower – fruit, still-lifes composed of objects found in the valley, an ancient cross, an old Santo, are reproduced with a most poignant sensitivity to color and meaning ... Her paintings on glass have a strange impact upon one through their frail elegance, the inconspicuous delicacy.... Trying to analyze this knockout influence of theirs, I have wondered whether the artist actually transfers an unconscious high vibration of her own directly to the surface before her, where it is captured and maintained in equilibrium.”

Rebecca Salsbury Strand James was born in London in 1891, the daughter of Nathan Salsbury, creator of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. She was raised in New York and New Jersey and was a student at the Ethical Cultural School for her primary and secondary education. She married Paul Strand in 1922 and modeled frequently for both Paul Strand and Alfred Stieglitz, worked with Marsden Hartley, and became a close friend of Georgia O’Keeffe, whom she was said to resemble in looks and personality. In fact, the two female artists made a momentous trip to Taos together in the summer of 1929, which eventually inspired each to make a permanent move to New Mexico. After exhibiting at Opportunity Gallery and An American Place, James moved West in 1933, after her divorce from Strand, and settled there with her second husband, rancher Bill James eventually retiring from painting and moving on to colchas, a local embroidery technique.