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Yellowstone Artist Series - HILL

Abby Williams Hill (1861-1943). One of my favorite historic artist mothers, with ties to Yellowstone and a love for plein air painting... She is a kindred spirit!

I featured her in my "Mother's Day" post last year, but in case you missed it...

Abby with her children living and 'home schooling' in a tent while she was traveling to paint.

I wish I could have met her, but instead I have read a lot about her. She was a painter and activist with an insatiable love of travel and learning, who painted the West including time in Yellowstone.

With my curiosity peaked, several years ago I visited the University of Puget Sound (where a large collection of her work resides) and met with their curator, toured the campus to see more of her original work and read some of her journals. Very interesting lady, she was.

Abby Williams Hill is second from the left in the family photo.

She grew up in Iowa, later studying with William Merritt Chase in New York. In 1888, while in New York she married Dr. Frank Hill. They had their first child in 1889, who was partially paralyzed. They proceeded to adopt 3 more children - all girls.

For most of her career as an artist, Hill took her children along with her, exposing them to both the wonders and hazards of the natural world she so beautifully depicted on canvas - the Cascade Mountains, Olympic Mountains, Yellowstone and more.

In 1895, she had her first experience painting in the wilds of the West - the Cascade Mountains in Washington. In 1904, she was a featured artist at the World's Fair, displaying 20 paintings. In 1905 and again in 1906, she was commissioned by the Northern Pacific Railroad to create a series of paintings in Yellowstone. These commissions allowed for extended camping and painting trips in the wilderness, often in the company of her four children.

Abby's children on the edge of the Yellowstone Canyon overlooking the Falls, where she was set up to paint.

There's a good story about her painting at the edge of the Yellowstone Canyon... While she was plein air painting, her painting blew off her easel, down into the Canyon and got caught on a snag. Some very brave volunteers retrieved it for her! She brushed it off and continued painting.

Emerald Pool by Abby Williams Hill

Both artist and adventurer, Abby Williams Hill was a landscape painter, social activist, and prolific writer with an insatiable love of travel and learning. She was active in issues of continuing social and historical interest including African-American and Native-American rights, early childhood education, the plight of tuberculosis patients, and the preservation of our national parks.

This photo I took at the University of Puget Sound -

Yellowstone Falls From Below by Abby Williams Hill

She often said, “I was cut out for the wilds”. She preferred hiking with her four children, being outdoors, and wearing comfortable men’s clothing to the typical female duties and fashions of the day.

Firehole Pool by Abby Williams Hill

(Looks a lot like Cliff Geyser in Black Sand Basin here to me, which I have painted too!)

This photo I also took at the University of Puget Sound -

Yellowstone Falls 1905 by Abby Williams Hill

A fascinating woman ahead of her time, you can read more about her here. The short story is announcing the beginning of a show of her works, now over, but it highlights her extrordinary life and adventurous spirit... worth a read.

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