James Blanding Sloan Biography

James Blanding Sloan




Painter, printmaker, and theater set designer James Blanding Sloan was born in Texas on September 18, 1886, to Alexander Colvin Sloan and Henrietta Blanding. He grew up in Corsicana, Texas, where he received his early education and began acting in local theater. After his elementary years he studied at Austin College and in 1910 he enrolled at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts (now the School of the Art Institute of Chicago). He would later become a teacher of color composition there. He shared a studio with printmaker B.J.O. Nordfelt and discovered color etching through George Senseney. In 1914 he participated in his first exhibition with the Chicago Society of Etchers.

Sloan's secondary interest remained in theater and throughout the 1910s he helped organize the Players Workshop in Chicago, producing scripts by Ben Hecht, Alice Gerstenberg and Max Bodenheim. He incorporated themes of politicial activism into his various endeavors and, as the U.S. began to enter the first World War, Sloan was arrested while posting flyers encouraging young men to protest the draft through conscientious objection.

Sloan relocated to New York in 1918 to design stage sets for Florence Ziegfeld's Ziegfeld Follies, as well as Earl Carrol and John Murrary Anderson. Meanwhile, he continued to exhibit his prints, gaining widespread acclaim for his etchings and blockprints. In 1923 Sloan left New York with Mildred Taylor, his second wife, intending to drive across the U.S. and embark on a trip to Asia. However, due to Sloan's ailing health, when they arrived in San Francisco they opted to remain and established a studio on Polk Street. This proved to be a prolific time for the aritist, whose work greatly reflected his interest in questioning establishment. In addition to fine art on paper and canvas--gaining such a positive reaction that catalogue raisonné of his work was published in 1926--Sloan continued with his theatrical pursuits, establishing a puppet theater for adults that featured critical commentary on religion, sex, and politics, and and opening a movie theater that ran foreign films banned elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Sloan had established a second studio in Carmel-By-The-Sea, where he taught summer classes in etching, theater design, and painting through the University of California Extension Division. In 1929 he and Mildred founded Carmel's first international film festival, their first screening being The Light of Asia, a film about the life of Buddha performed by an all-Indian cast. In the early 1930's they moved to Hollywood where Sloan continued his fine art and theater work, as well as taking on a job with Disney. and in 1938 was hired as Regional Theater Director for the Deferal Theater Project. He left this post in 1940 to work as supervisor to the National Youth Administration for the American Southwest. After this period he co-produced films with his protegee, Wah Chang, in their company East West Films. Included in their productions was an interview with legenday singer Leadbelly and a film about nuclear disarmament, funded by the Lutheran Church. This led to his dismissal from Disney.

His etchings of Texas were presented by Vice President John Nance Garner to the Library of Congress in 1936, the same year in which Sloan was named specialist in arts and crafts for the mayor of San Antonio. Also in 1936, Sloan directed "The Cavalcade of Texas" a pageant of history for the Texas Centennial in Dallas. Sloan was a life long member of the Chicago Society of Etchers.

James Blanding Sloan died on October 5, 1975 in Canyon, Alameda County CA.