Julia Thecla

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Julia Thecla (February 28, 1896 – June 29, 1973) was a Chicago artist in the 1930s and 1940s, working in the magical realist school of modern art.

Early life and education[edit]

Thecla was born Julia Thecla Connell in the small town of Delavan, Illinois, the second-youngest of five children. In the 1920s she began using her middle name as her last name; she told various stories to explain the change.[1] Her artistic talents were evident early on, and she won first prize in a county drawing contest at age 12.[1] After graduating from Delavan High School in 1913, she studied at Illinois State University in Normal for a summer.[1] The university was then primarily a teacher's college, and due to high demand it was common for prospective teachers to study only for as long as they felt was needed to prepare themselves; Thecla subsequently taught students in the first through seventh grades at a rural schoolhouse in Tazewell County.[1]

Around 1920, in her early 20s, she moved to Chicago, broke off ties with her family, and began using Thecla as her surname.[2] She studied for a total of two years at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, periodically breaking off her studies to work.[1]

Artistic career[edit]

Thecla was primarily a watercolorist, and made extensive use of fantasy imagery; her work was often described as "jewel-like" or "enchanted".[3] She worked almost exclusively with the female form, frequently using herself as a model.[3]

Thecla's work was exhibited for the first time in 1931, at the annual International Watercolor Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago.[1] Her works were subsequently exhibited there every year until 1936, and again from 1940 to 1944.[4] Her work began to be shown nationwide in the 1940s, beginning at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1943.[1]

To support herself, Thecla periodically took paying work as an industrial artist, office worker, or art restorer; her work in restoration gave her skills in detail work that she also applied to her painting.[1] From 1938 to 1942, she was employed by the Federal Art Project, a branch of the Works Progress Administration, in the "easel division".[3]

Thecla wrote poetry throughout her career, but only published one poem during her lifetime, as she felt that poetry was a private affair.[1] Her poems were lost when she was moved out of her home in 1969.[3]

Later life and legacy[edit]

After the mid-20th century, Thecla's work was largely forgotten.[2] Reasons for this included the rising interest in abstraction, and the generally lower level of attention given to women artists, particularly those not associated with men.[2] In addition, she had come to be viewed by many as mentally unstable, although later researchers have disputed this characterization.[2] Nonetheless, Thecla continued painting until her vision began to deteriorate in her seventies.[2] In 1969, she was forced to vacate the apartment where she had lived for many years due to renovation, and in the process she lost many of her possessions and supplies.[3] She stayed with friends and family for a time, but in 1971 she was moved to a nursing home, and died there in 1973.[2][3]

As of 2012, five of Thecla's works are held by the Art Institute of Chicago, although none of these are publicly displayed.[5] The Chicago History Museum also owns one of Thecla's paintings.[citation needed]

In 2005, 35 Thecla paintings were shown in a special exhibit at the DePaul University Art Museum.[2] The exhibit was repeated in 2006, accompanied by a lecture series.[6] The museum heralded Thecla as a forgotten Chicago artist, saying "her ethereal and sensuous portrayal of dreams, fairytales, and planetary realms were extraordinary explorations of alternative social orders."[6]

Works cited[edit]

  • Holm, Erica L. (2001). "Thecla, Julia". In Schulz & Hast. Women Building Chicago, 1790-1990. Indiana University Press. pp. 873–875. ISBN 0253338522. 


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Holm 2001, p. 873.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Ruth Lopez (2005-03-22). "Remembering Julia Thecla". Time Out Chicago. Retrieved 2012-10-27. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Holm 2001, p. 874.
  4. ^ "Julia Thecla". Illinois Women Artists Project. Bradley University. Retrieved 2012-10-27. 
  5. ^ "Thecla, Julia". Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2012-10-27. 
  6. ^ a b DePaul Art Museum. "Julia Thecla: Undiscovered Worlds". Retrieved 2012-10-27. 

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