Donna Schuster

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"Rita, the Vendor of Beads"
c. 1925
Oil on canvas
36 x 36 inches

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Donna Norine Schuster was born on January 26, 1883, (although some sources indicate 1884) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Donna grew up in Milwaukee and attended school locally before enrolling at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Illinois, where she graduated with honors. Afterwards she moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where she enrolled in the School of the Museum of Fine Art, where she studied under the artists Edmund Tarbell and Frank Benson, each known for their impressionist style of painting. In the summer of 1912 she traveled to Europe on a painting tour of Belgium with a group led by artist William Merritt Chase. Her work from this period strongly reflected the influence of the Boston School and the impressionistic style of Chase and his idol Claude Monet.

Around 1913, after her parents' divorce, Donna moved with her mother to Southern California. The next year, in 1914, she joined William Merritt Chase's summer art class in Carmel, California; this was one of Chase's last teaching endeavors as he was ill and passed away in 1916. That fall, Donna remained several weeks in Northern California to carry out a commission to paint scenes of the various buildings under construction for the planned 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Of the resulting paintings, which were featured in a solo exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science, and Art, Antony Anderson wrote in the Los Angeles Times: "The vivid impressionism of these quick sketches is delightful. They glow and sparkle like jewels, and have caught, as it were, the very spirit of the great exposition-the élan of San Francisco, its joyous life, its glamorous sunshine. These things, translated to paper charged with fluent color make fascinating pictures." Her skill was also rewarded with a silver medal for three of the watercolors from the series she exhibited at the 1915 Exposition and another silver medal for watercolors from the series the she exhibited at the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego later that same year.

In 1923, she and her mother moved into a newly built home in Los Angeles's Los Feliz neighborhood in the hills overlooking nearby Griffith Park. Immersing herself in Los Angeles's arts community, she worked as an instructor at the Otis Art Institute while maintaining memberships in multiple organizations. She purchased a small house in the seaside village and painted there in the summers, maintaining her activity within the community's artist colony.

Another artists' group in which she was a member was the Group of Eight in Los Angeles. From its formation in E. Roscoe Schrader's studio in 1921 to its dissolution in 1928, the Group of Eight held exhibitions in several venues, including the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science, and Art in 1927. Of the exhibition, critic Antony Anderson in a Los Angeles Times art review of July 31, 1927, wrote, "They are not traditional painters of Southern California landscape; all of them use color freely and generously; all are more or less open to new ideas in painting; all of them paint the figure. While most of them may be described as progressive, none works in a manner which is not comprehensible to a moderately educated mind." The product of these artists reflects a period in California painting that straddled the edge of impressionism and new modernist concepts.

Donna's oeuvre includes watercolor and oils, in which she continually experimented, varying subject matter and style. She produced numerous paintings of water lilies and lily ponds, showing a Monet influence, but often achieving a more decorative, flattened, two-dimensional effect, reminiscent of Far Eastern prints and aspects of art nouveau. About 1928 she began her study with the artist Stanton MacDonald Wright. In his discussion of her work, Leonard De Grassi describes hoe Wright's influence can be seen in Donna's series of paintings titled Pasionata, which included the hot color range and Cézannesque approach to forms often found in Wight's work. Her California scenes included mission and harbor studies, one of which was reproduced on the cover of Touring Topics magazine in May 1929. Though she experimented with many styles, the impressionists were overall the most influential in her work. And though she favored figural studies she painted landscapes depicting many area of California, including her beloved Griffith Park. Through the 1930s she was somewhat influenced by the rise of cubism, and later her style reveals an awareness of abstract expressionism particularly noticeable in a series of watercolors done in and around Yosemite National park in the late 1940s and early 1950s. By 1952 she was an instructor at the Los Angeles Art Institute.

Donna Schuster passed away on December 27, 1953, in Los Angeles, California, at the age of seventy when a massive wind-driven brushfire swept over her hillside home, as she attempted to save her dogs.

Member: California Art Club (cofounder); Society of Independent Artists; West Coast Arts, Inc., later Women Painters of the West (co-founder); California Watercolor Society (president); Laguna Beach Art Association; Group of Eight.

Exhibited: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1914, 1917, 1920, 1927, 1929; Copley Gallery, Boston, MA, 1914; San Francisco Art Association, 1916; New York Academy of Fine Art; New York Watercolor Society; American Watercolor Society; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts annual, 1912-1915; Anslie Gallery, Los Angeles, 1926; Los Angeles County Fair, 1929 (prize), 1930 (prize); Orange County Fair, 1930 (prize); Riverside County Fair, 1930 (prize); California Art Club, 1921 (first prize), 1931 (prize); California Watercolor Society, 1926 (first prize) ; Art Institute of Chicago; Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, 1939; Minnesota State Art Exhibition, 1913 (gold medal), 1914; St. Paul Institute, Minnesota, 1915 (silver medal); Society of Independent Artists, 1917; Corcoran Gallery biennial, 1919; West Coast Arts, Inc, 1926 (prize), 1929 (prize); Santa Cruz, 1931; Art Teachers Association, Los Angeles County, 1933 (medal).

Works held: Downey Museum of Art; Fleischer Museum, Scottsdale, AZ; Irvine Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Oakland Museum; Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach; Laguna Beach Museum of Art.

Hughes, Edan M. Artists In California 1786-1940. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Sacramento: Crocker, Art Museum, 2002. N. pag. 2 vols. Print.
St. Gaudens, Maurine. Emerging from the Shadows: A Survey of Women Artists Working in California, 1860-1960. Vol. 4. 2015. Print.