Leighton, Clare, 1898-1989

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Engraver and writer; born in London, England. Came to the United States in 1939 and became an American citizen in 1945. In addition to membership in the Royal Society of Painters, Etchers and Engravers, London, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts by Colby College, Maine.

From the description of Clare Leighton papers, 1931-1967. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 86132872

English painter and etcher.

From the description of Correspondence to Maxwell Struthers Burt, 1941. (University of Pennsylvania Library). WorldCat record id: 155862390

Clare Leighton was an English-born artist who immigrated to the United States in 1939. She was a writer, illustrator, and artist who was particularly noted for her wood engravings. -- Jeffrey P. Dwyer and Gordon Cronin, at the time of these letters, operated a book store in Amherst, Mass. After their split in 1975 Dwyer and Cronin were separately involved in a variety of book ventures.

From the description of [Clare Leighton's letters to Jeffrey P. Dwyer, 1974-1975] (Smith College). WorldCat record id: 245118573

Clare Veronica Hope Leighton was born in London, England, on April 12, 1898. Both parents, Robert Leighton and Marie Connor, were writers. Ms. Leighton trained at the Brighton School of Art, the Slade School of Fine Art, the University of London, and the London County Council Central School of Arts and Crafts, where she studied wood-engraving under Noel Rooke. Leighton emigrated to the United States in 1939 and became a naturalized citizen in 1945. She settled in Connecticut where she continued her work. Although also recognized for her painting, Leighton is best known for her wood-engraving. In addition to illustrating many reissues of literary classics as well as gardening and children's books, she designed stained glass for a number of New England churches, art glass for the Steuben Glass Works, and porcelain for Josiah Wedgwood & Sons. Her own publications include 'Woodcuts: examples of the work of Clare Leighton', with an introduction by Hilaire Belloc (1930), 'The musical box', a book for children (1932), and 'How to do wood-engraving and woodcuts', (1932). Work by Leighton is included in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum in London; the Metropolitan Musem of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; and many others. In 1930 Leighton won first prize at the International Engravers Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago and in 1934 represented England in wood engraving at the International Exhibition in Venice, Italy. Colby College, Waterville, Maine, awarded her an honorary doctorate of fine arts in 1940. Clare Leighton died on Nov. 4, 1989, in Watertown, Conn.

From the description of The Clare Leighton collection, 1949-1952. (Georgetown University). WorldCat record id: 230949606

One of twelve illustrations Leighton created for a 1930 edition of Emily Brontèˆ's Wuthering Heights (U.S.: Random House; London: Duckworth).

From the description of Cathy in delirium [graphic] / Clare Leighton. [1930] (Boston Athenaeum). WorldCat record id: 45303463

Clare Leighton (1898-1989) earned early recognition as an innovative and original wood engraver in 1923, when her engravings were shown at the annual exhibition of the Society of Wood Engravers. The same year, she moved to Bloomsbury, London, where she met the radical journalist Henry Brailsford (1873-1958), with whom she lived for many years. His Marxist politics likely encouraged Leighton's dedication to portraying working men and women in her engravings, but she also seems to have had an innate respect for physical labor and those who wrest their living from the natural world. Leighton even liked to engage in the occupations she depicted (she spent a day harvesting cranberries for the Wedgwood series, and lamented that she could not go to sea on a whaling ship). Engravings such as her 1931 Lumber Camp series and "Bread Line, New York" (1932) are stark examples of social realism, and reveal her profound connection with the physical existence of man.

By 1925, when she began visiting America to give lecture tours, Leighton was already an established and respected artist. She illustrated books by Thomas Hardy and Thoreau, and published popular books with her own text and images, such as Farmer's year (1933), a chronicle of life during the agricultural depression, Four hedges (1935) about her Chiltern house and garden, and Country matters (1937), a nostalgic celebration of English rural life. Leighton was also influential as a teacher, and wrote two pedagogical texts on the craft of wood engraving: Wood-engravings and woodcuts (1932) and Wood-engravings of the 1930s (1936).

In 1939 she left Henry Brailsford and moved permanently to the United States, where she became a naturalized citizen in 1945. Her first project in the US was the semi-autobiographical Sometime -- never (1939), an exploration of her memories and inner imaginative world. Southern harvest (1942) displays her fascination with rural life in the American South; in the 1943 English edition, she wrote, "The true character of a people is to be found in its workers, and especially in the workers upon the earth, for it is here that man is up against the eternal, and it is here that he demonstrates his values and his worth."

In 1951 and 1952 she worked intensively on Josiah Wedgwood's commission for a series of 12 plates portraying traditional New England industries. The work took her all over the Northeast, and upon its completion she decided to move to Massachusetts (she would later settle in Woodbury, Connecticut). Although she broke new ground in designing the Wedgwood plates, she finished the project feeling both triumphant and exhausted. In the unpublished notes towards an autobiography she made in old age, she recollected: "Once I had finished the Wedgwoods, I realised I needed to forget wood engraving. It is no wonder that after so many years, I found myself growing exhausted by it. I felt I was running the risk of repeating myself and ceasing to grow." She saw the Wedgwood plates as one of her most ambitious projects, perhaps even the culmination of her career. The last major work she wrote and illustrated was Where land meets sea : the tide line of Cape Cod (1954), which the New England Society of New York hailed as a great contribution to the culture of New England. Soon after, she stopped engraving and began designing stained glass windows, mosaics, and other projects that spared her the detail-intensive and physically demanding labor of engraving.

The Wedgwood Plates

Clare Leighton had lived nearly 8 years in North Carolina when she received a commission from Josiah Wedgwood & Sons to design a series of 12 plates depicting traditional New England industries. The two-year project (1951-1952) sent Leighton traversing large areas of New England, to which she became deeply attached. In a draft of her "Introduction" to the Wedgwood series, she explains that she saw the commission as an opening to a new place: "Here, now, was my chance to discover New England. For always, I have found, the one way to learn the life of a land is to work upon it whether it be with plow or pencil."

As Leighton began traveling around New England, she found that "in the clean light of the North, the actual shape of the earth has a strength that is rare in the South." She got to know the people, whom she said resembled Southerners, having "the same far off, keen look in their eyes that you find in all fishermen, everywhere, the same angular bonyness of all tillers of the soil." However, she also believed that "Something happens to a man's face and stance when he battles the cold. I must be able to show this, with engraving tools, on wood." She tirelessly tracked down subjects to draw, seeking out old grist mills and ice-cutting teams (already anachronisms) in remote areas of New England. She even spent a day harvesting cranberries, and was dedicated to gaining a first-hand perspective on her subjects as much as possible.

Leighton initially planned to organize the plates by state, with logging and lobsters from Maine, codfishing from Massachusetts, maple sugar and marble quarrying in Vermont, tobacco growing in Connecticut, etc., allotting two subjects to each of the six New England states. However, she soon found that so many industries demanded representation--many of which could not be isolated by state--that this scheme would not work. In determining which industries to present, she writes that "I had decided from the very beginning that I wanted to make this an epic of earth and water. I wanted the basic, cradle industries of New England, rather than recent mechanisation. This m[u]st be the harvests of land and sea."

As an artist accustomed to illustrating books, Leighton was forced to tackle the difficulty of designing a circular (rather than rectangular) engraving for the Wedgwood designs. She solved this problem by depicting the tools of each trade in the bottom foreground. She recalls the riveting power of the many tools she examined and handled while researching subjects: "I myself grew intoxicated with the beauty and meaning of tools and caught something of the magic that man feels for the instruments of his craft ... Greater than will to power and more enduring than economic strain and stress is the inevitable shape of plow deter[m]ined by necessity. These designs, in which I have tried to show the rhythm of labour, are no sentimental escape from reality."

From the guide to the Clare Leighton collection, 1949-1953, (Yale Center for British Art)

Clare Leighton was born in England in 1898. She studied at Brighton College of Art and the Central and Slade Schools in London. Leighton is best known for her books of stories and illustrations of agrarian subjects and the American South. The artist was a member of Duke University's Department of Art, Aesthetics, and Music from 1943 to 1945 and was awarded several prizes for her artistic achievements.

For more information, see Hickman, Caroline. "Clare Leighton and the American South." Duke Library Magazine Vol. 17, No. 3 (Spring/Summer 2004).

From the guide to the Clare Leighton Papers, 1940-1968, (David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Inventory of The Legion Papers: Rare MSS 00149 ., 1927-1935 Cushing Memorial Library,
creatorOf Glasgow, Ellen Anderson Gholson, 1873-1945. Miscellany of Ellen Anderson Gholson Glasgow [manuscript] 1900-1950. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Leighton, Clare, 1898-1989. Artist file. Brooklyn Museum Libraries & Archives
referencedIn Cheever, Lawrence Oakley, 1907-1974. Papers, 1931-1966. University of Iowa Libraries
referencedIn Mills, Charles, 1914-1982. Charles Mills papers, 1937-1981. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
creatorOf Leighton, Clare, 1898-1989. Diary for 1914 / Clare Leighton. Bibliomation, Inc
referencedIn Schnakenberg, H. E. (Henry Ernest), 1892-1970. Henry Ernest Schnakenberg papers, 1905-1969. Archives of American Art
creatorOf Leighton, Clare, 1898-1989. Clare Leighton : artist file : study photographs and reproductions of works of art with accompanying documentation 1930?-1990 [graphic] [compiled by staff of The Museum of Modern Art, New York]. Frick Art Reference Library of The Frick Collection
creatorOf Leighton, Clare, 1898-1989. [Clare Leighton] : artist file John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Library, Ringling Museum Library
referencedIn Letters from various correspondents, 1921-1951. Houghton Library
creatorOf Emerson, Edith, 1888-1981. Edith Emerson papers, 1839-1981, (bulk 1894-1971). Archives of American Art
referencedIn Parker, John A. (John Albert). John A. Parker papers, 1959-1980. Archives of American Art
creatorOf Leighton, Clare, 1898-1989. Correspondence to Maxwell Struthers Burt, 1941. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Fletcher, William Dolan. William Dolan Fletcher papers, 1924-1986. Archives of American Art
creatorOf Leighton, Clare, 1898-1989. Diary for 1918, beginning 1st August / Clare Leighton. Bibliomation, Inc
referencedIn Richard Gaither Walser Papers, 1918-1988 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection
creatorOf Ellen Glasgow Papers, 1935-1941 University of Virginia. Library. Special Collections Dept.
referencedIn Biographical Reference Collection, ., 1972 - 2004 University Archives, Duke University.
referencedIn Kent, Rockwell, 1882-1971. Rockwell Kent papers, ca.1885-1970. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
creatorOf Leighton, Clare, 1898-1989. Correspondence to Van Wyck Brooks, 1954-1955. University of Pennsylvania Library
referencedIn Friends of Duke University Library. Scrapbook, 1943-1966. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
creatorOf Nason, Thomas W. Correspondence with Carl Zigrosser, 1927-1971, n.d. University of Pennsylvania Library
referencedIn Marshall, Lenore, 1897-1971. Papers, 1887-1980. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
creatorOf Schauffler, Robert Haven, 1879-1964. Correspondence, 1872-1964. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Kent, Norman, 1903-1972. Norman Kent papers, 1939-1964. Archives of American Art
creatorOf Clare Leighton Papers, 1940-1968 David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn Leighton, Clare Veronica Hope, 1900- : [miscellaneous ephemeral material]. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas J. Watson Library
referencedIn Paul Green Papers, 1880-1992 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection
creatorOf Leighton, Clare, 1898-1989. [Clare Leighton's letters to Jeffrey P. Dwyer, 1974-1975] Smith College, Neilson Library
referencedIn Charles Mills Papers (#4270), 1937-1981 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection
referencedIn Tonner, W. T. Mrs. Correspondence with Carl Zigrosser, 1941-1964. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Leighton, Clare, 1899-. Clare Leighton papers, 1931-1967. Archives of American Art
creatorOf Glasgow, Ellen Anderson Gholson, 1873-1945. Letters to Clare Veronica Hope Leighton [manuscript], 1935-41. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Thomas family. Thomas family papers, 1895-1968. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Radin, Herman T. (Herman Theodore), b. 1878. Herman T. Radin letters, 1911-1944. Archives of American Art
creatorOf Leighton, Clare, 1898-1989,. Cathy in delirium [graphic] / Clare Leighton. Boston Athenaeum
creatorOf Leighton, Clare, 1898-1989. Diary for 1915 / [C. Leighton]. Bibliomation, Inc
creatorOf Clare Leighton collection, 1949-1953 Yale Center for British Art
creatorOf Glasgow, Ellen Anderson Gholson, 1873-1945. Papers of Ellen Glasgow [manuscript], 1880-1963. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Charles Edward and Isabel Patterson Eaton Art Collection papers, 1920s-1990s. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
referencedIn Rockwell Kent Papers, ca.1885-1970. Columbia University. Rare Book an Manuscript Library
referencedIn Ward, Lynd, 1905-. Lynd Ward papers, 1934-1964. Archives of American Art
creatorOf Leighton, Clare, 1898-1989. The Clare Leighton collection, 1949-1952. Georgetown University, Joseph Mark Lauinger Memorial Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Arms, John Taylor, 1887-1953. person
correspondedWith Beamand, Arthur W. person
correspondedWith Belding, Alice person
correspondedWith Carpenter, Virginia E. person
correspondedWith Chambers, Helen person
correspondedWith Chambers, Robert person
correspondedWith Chavchavadze, Paul person
correspondedWith Cheever, Lawrence Oakley, 1907-1974. person
correspondedWith Clapp, Dorothy L. person
correspondedWith Clare Leighton person
correspondedWith Coe, John A. person
associatedWith Colony Club (New York, N.Y.). corporateBody
associatedWith Cronin, Gordon, person
correspondedWith Danaher, Mary Byington person
associatedWith Duke University. University Archives. corporateBody
associatedWith Dunbar, Helen Flanders, 1902-1959 person
associatedWith Dwyer, Jeffrey P., person
correspondedWith Ellen Glasgow person
associatedWith Emerson, Edith, 1888-1981. person
associatedWith Fletcher, William Dolan. person
correspondedWith Fogg, Margaret L. person
associatedWith Friends of Duke University Library. corporateBody
correspondedWith Gamble, Irene person
associatedWith Glasgow, Ellen Anderson Gholson, 1873-1945. person
associatedWith Green, Paul, 1894-1981 person
correspondedWith Hartwell, Dickson person
correspondedWith Henderson, Priscilla A. B. person
correspondedWith Higham, Anne Stewart person
correspondedWith Hill, Frederick F., d. 1974 person
associatedWith Hitzberger, Ruth M. person
correspondedWith Johnson, Leighton F., 1890-1953? person
correspondedWith Johnson, Margaret L. person
associatedWith Josiah Wedgwood & Sons. corporateBody
associatedWith Kallen, Horace Meyer, 1882-1974 person
correspondedWith Kallen, Rachel person
associatedWith Kent, Norman, 1903-1972. person
associatedWith Kent, Rockwell, 1882-1971. person
associatedWith Kroll, Leon, 1884-1974. person
associatedWith Leach, Henry Goddard, 1880-1970 person
associatedWith Lionni, Leo, 1910-1999 person
correspondedWith Loreth, Connie person
associatedWith Macmillan & Co. corporateBody
associatedWith Marshall, Lenore, 1897-1971. person
correspondedWith McBride, Malcolm R. person
correspondedWith Melcher, Frederic Gershom, 1879-1963 person
correspondedWith Melville, Carey E., 1878- person
correspondedWith Melville, Maud Seamen, 1880-1978 person
correspondedWith Middleton, Katharine person
associatedWith Mills, Charles, 1914-1982. person
associatedWith Minchin, Humphrey Cotton person
correspondedWith Mitrany, David, 1888-1975 person
associatedWith Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Nason, Thomas W. person
associatedWith Nina Georgievna, Princess of Russia, 1901-1974 person
associatedWith Parker, John A. (John Albert) person
correspondedWith Pattyson, Ralph, A., d. 1974 person
correspondedWith Pinnington, Jane, 1892-1970 person
correspondedWith Prettyman, Charles B., Jr. person
associatedWith Radin, Herman T. (Herman Theodore), b. 1878. person
correspondedWith Rhine, J. B. (Joseph Banks), 1895-1980 person
correspondedWith Saltonstall, Nathaniel, 1903-1968 person
associatedWith Schauffler, Robert Haven, 1879-1964. person
associatedWith Schnakenberg, H. E. (Henry Ernest), 1892-1970. person
correspondedWith Sweaney, Hunter, 1893-1969 person
associatedWith The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Library. corporateBody
associatedWith Thomas family. family
associatedWith Tonner, W. T. Mrs. person
associatedWith Walser, Richard Gaither, 1908- person
associatedWith Ward, Lynd, 1905- person
correspondedWith Warrot, Paul person
correspondedWith Williams, Marion N., 20th cent. person
correspondedWith Wolf, Ruth person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Cranberry industry--Pictorial works
Ice industry--Pictorial works
Marble industry and trade--Pictorial works
Whaling--Pictorial works
Maple sugar industry--Pictorial works
Art--American (?)--Reproductions
Logging--Pictorial works
Lobster industry--Pictorial works
Art, American
Shipbuilding--Pictorial works
Atlantic cod fishing--Pictorial works
Agriculture--Pictorial works
Women artists
Grain--Milling--Pictorial works
Tobacco farms--Pictorial works


Birth 1898-04-12

Death 1989-11-04



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