Rebecca Salsbury James

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Rebecca Salsbury James
Rebecca Salsbury

(1891-12-21)December 21, 1891
London, England
DiedJuly 8, 1968(1968-07-08) (aged 76)
Known forPainting on glass, colcha embroidery
Spouse(s)Paul Strand; Bill James

Rebecca Salsbury James (1891–1968) was a self-taught American painter, born in London, England of American parents who were traveling with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show.[1] She settled in New York City, where she married photographer Paul Strand. Following her divorce from Strand, James moved to Taos, New Mexico where she fell in with a group that included Mabel Dodge Luhan, Dorothy Brett, and Frieda Lawrence.[2][unreliable source?] In 1937 she married William James, a businessman from Denver, Colorado who was then operating the Kit Carson Trading Company in Taos. She remained in Taos until her death in 1968.

James is noted for her “large scale flower blossoms and still lifes painted on glass." She also worked on colcha embroidery, a traditional Hispanic New Mexico craft style.[3][4]

Early life[edit]

Salsbury James was born to Nathan and Rachel Salsbury.[5] She had two older brothers, Nathan and Milton, and a twin sister, Rachel.[6] She grew up on New York City’s Upper West Side. With her twin sister, Rachel, she attended the Ethical Culture School beginning in 1905. She was a member of the glee club and basketball team. In 1915, she was valedictorian of the Teacher’s College graduating class. In 1917, she and her brother Nate published A Book of Children’s Songs.[7]

In New York City and Taos[edit]

Rebecca Salsbury married photographer Paul Strand on January 21, 1922 in Manhattan.[8] The two were active participants in the group of artists that showed their work at Alfred Stieglitz's galleries: 291, the Intimate Gallery, and An American Place. In addition to Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe, the Strands were close to Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove and Helen Torr, and Gaston and Isabel Lachaise.

In 1926, the Strands traveled to the west, visiting Mesa Verde National Park and cities including Denver, Santa Fe, and Taos. They had considered a European trip instead, but as Rebecca wrote to Paul, “Europe will still be there when we are middle-aged—we can still enjoy it—the West we should really see while we are young and sturdy—and that won’t last always.” [9] Strand enjoyed the southwest, and Mabel Dodge Luhan's hospitality, so much that she wrote to Stieglitz and O’Keeffe, “She’s been so lovely … why she has been so kind to us we do not know. Except that she probably is to everybody. She does want you both to come sometime—Georgia should … she would do some great things—Georgia, do come some day.” [10]

In 1929, Strand returned to New Mexico with O’Keeffe. The two stayed at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s compound in Taos, where Strand taught O’Keeffe to drive. The two painted throughout the summer. Strand and her husband returned to the southwest in 1930, 1931, and 1932. In 1933, the two divorced in Mexico and Rebecca returned to Taos, where she would marry businessman William James in 1937.[11] In 1953 she published the book Allow Me to Present 18 Ladies and Gentlemen and Taos, N.M., 1885-1939.[12]

Art and exhibitions[edit]

Mexican Gourd Pitcher and Tulip Pud
Rebecca Salsbury (Strand) James, Mexican Gourd Pitcher and Tulip Bud, early 1930s, oil on glass

James created artwork in pastel and charcoal, but for the majority of her career she worked primarily in the technique of reverse painting on glass. She also participated in the revival of the Spanish colonial colcha stitch. She wrote, “This versatile stitch, for me, has provided a creative means to make a statement with stitches. The living world about one—the skies, the land, people, grasses, trees—can be imbued with immediate life.”[13]

James participated in her first group exhibition at the Opportunity Gallery in New York City in 1928. She exhibited her paintings at the following institutions:[14]

  • An American Place (1932, 1936)
  • Denver Art Museum, Chappell House (1933)
  • New Mexico Museum of Art (1934)
  • Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (1939)
  • Palace of the Legion of Honor (1951)
  • Santa Barbara Art Museum (1951)
  • Martha Jackson Gallery (1954)

She showed her embroidery at:

She also often participated in the annual exhibitions at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe and the Harwood Foundation (now the Harwood Museum of Art) in Taos from the 1930s through the 1960s.[15]


James' works can be found in the following collections:[16]


  1. ^ "Rebecca Salsbury James: Paintings and Colchas". Retrieved 7 March 2016.
  2. ^ liz. "Mabel Dodge Luhan and the Remarkable Women of Taos". Retrieved 7 March 2016.
  3. ^ Heller, Jules and Nancy G, Heller, ed., “North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary” Garland Reference Library of the Humanities (Vol. 1219), Garland Publishing Company, New York & London, 1995
  4. ^ Petteys, Chris, “Dictionary of Women Artists: An international dictionary of women artists born before 1900”, G.K. Hall & Co., Boston, 1985
  5. ^ 1900 United States Federal Census
  6. ^ 1900 United States Federal Census
  7. ^ Campbell, Suzan (2002). In the Shadow of the Sun: The Life and Art of Rebecca Salsbury James. Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico (PhD Dissertation). pp. 47–62.
  8. ^ New York, New York, Marriage Index 1866-1937
  9. ^ Busselle, Rebecca; Wilner Stack, Trudy (2004). Paul Strand: Southwest. New York: Aperture Foundation. p. 74.
  10. ^ Busselle, Rebecca; Wilner Stack, Trudy (2004). Paul Strand: Southwest. New York: Aperture Foundation. p. 77.
  11. ^ Campbell, Suzan (2002). In the Shadow of the Sun: The Life and Art of Rebecca Salsbury James. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico (PhD Dissertation).
  12. ^ Shipp, Steve (1996). American Art Colonies, 1850-1930. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 118. ISBN 0313296197.
  13. ^ Embroideries by Rebecca James. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Museum of International Folk Art. 1963. p. 5.
  14. ^ Luhan, Mabel Dodge (1947). Taos and Its Artists. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce. p. 165.
  15. ^ Salsbury James, Rebecca (1953). Allow Me to Present 18 Ladies and Gentlemen and Taos, N.M., 1885–1939. Taos, New Mexico: El Crepusculo. p. 2.
  16. ^ "SIRIS – Smithsonian Institution Research Information System". Retrieved 7 March 2016.

External links[edit]