About the Artist
This biography of Catherine Fels is quoted from the Archives of askART
It was researched, written, and copyrighted by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, 2015
Museum of Nebraska Art Project:
Their Place, Their Time: Women Artists in Nebraska, 1825-1945
“Fels, Catharine Phillips:
(1912, Kirksville, Missouri-1991, Taos, New Mexico)
Also known as Catharine Phillips and C.P. Fels
A letter from Helen Kendall Jensen, dated September 16, 1991 to personnel of the Museum of Nebraska Art, Kearney, describes the life chapters and talents of Jensen's long-time artist friend, Catherine Fels, whose primary tie to Nebraska is that it was her childhood home. Receipt of the letter led to the Museum's acquisition of artwork by the subject of the correspondence:
“Catharine Phillips Fels died at her home in Taos, NM on August 29. . . .Catharine was a daughter of Prof. Leroy Phillips, who was an English professor at the college in Kearney until 1926, and Catharine and I were children together in Kearney and maintained our friendship throughout our lives. We lived across the street from each other during the ‘70s in Long Beach, Ca, when she was a professor of art at California State Univ. L.A. Her paintings have been included in a number of books of American artists, and I believe one of them is at the Smithsonian in Washington. She wrote/illustrated a book on Byzantine Architecture published last year, did a series on the Victorian houses on Bunker Hill in L.A. before they were torn down to make room for the Music Center, and most recently has produced a great deal of art of the Southwest, mainly landscapes in oil, gouache, and silk screen. Catharine’s daughter, Marjorie Palmer, tells me that there are over eight hundred works of art.”
Additional information comes from Edan Hughes, art historian who referenced Fels both as a single and married woman in his two volume publication, Artists in California before 1940. He wrote that Catherine Phillips was “educated at Ball State Teachers College (Muncie IN), Mayville (ND) State Teachers College, and the University of California at Berkeley before her marriage to Leonard Fels. During the 1940s, she lived in Burbank and taught art at UCLA. Summers were often spent traveling where she obtained much of her subject matter.” (370) Listed were her exhibition venues of Oakland Art Gallery, 1943; San Francisco Women Artists, 1943-46; New Orleans Art Association, 1943-46; Mississippi Art Association, 1945; and San Francisco Art Association, 1945-47.
A specialty of Fels was printmaking as well as painting, and indicative of the ongoing respect for her talents is the following publicity of an exhibition of her work in Montana on May 7, 2016: “We are so excited that 80 pieces created by master printmaker Catharine Fels (1912-91) will be on display in Missoula at Zootown Arts Community Center (ZACC) for a month with the Opening Reception on Dec. 9, 5:30 – 8:30pm.
Surprising, edgy and sometimes nostalgic, Fels painted what she saw; which is why her Los Angeles’ “Florence Avenue Series” (1968-73) bursts with lively retro colors. Her “Joshua Tree Series” of woodcuts draw the eye into the detail of a black and white wonderland in that stark emblematic California desert landscape. Institutions have noticed her work: LA County has a few of her pieces, while some like Philadelphia, Mississippi (1965) shout out to be displayed by a museum willing to tell historical truth in poetic ways.
A demonstration using her brilliant Toucans (1977) woodblock will be executed by three Missoula printmakers in the ZACC’s Morris Silver Foundation print room that evening. A detail from it appears, along with details from 7 other works, in various media that Catharine was proficient in on the publicity. . . .Catharine Phillips Fels was a unique, confident American woman artist who spoke visually about her experience of what beauty is. She was a generous mentor assuring others not to compromise their creative drive. You will see her vision expressed honestly in every piece, be they humorous -- Dog Patch Topless (1969)--- or breathtaking –Gila Cliff Dwelling from Nearby Cave (1976). Appreciators will find CP Fels art very collectible, increasing in value as decades pass.”
Books written and illustrated by Catharine Fels are A Balkan Byzantine Notebook, 1990; and Graphic Work of Louis Monza, 1973”
“CP Fels Art Legacy,” Fels Art Legacy, Web, May 2016
Helen Kendall Jensen, Letter to the Museum of Nebraska Art, 9/16/1991, Museum of Nebraska Art file for Catharine Phillips Fels
Edan Hughes, Artists in California 1786-1940, Volume I, Third Edition, p. 370, Print
Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshikie-Kovinick, Women Artists of the American West, p. 357, Print.