Emerson S. Woelffer Biography

Emerson S. Woelffer




 Emerson Woelffer was born on July 27, 1914 in Chicago, Illinois. He studied Education at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy between 1935 and 1937. In 1938 he joined the WPA Arts Program. After the WPA, at the request of Buckminster Fuller, he began teaching at Black Mountain College in North Carolina with colleagues Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell, with whom he shared an interest in jazz and primitive sculpture. In 1942 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy invited him to teach at the Institute of Design in Chicago (initially known as the New Bauhaus). While there he met Fernand Léger, Roberto Matta and Man Ray when they stopped in Chicago. He also exhibited in group shows at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, participated in the Whitney Museum Annual (1949) and won the Pauline Palmer first prize for painting at the Art Institute of Chicago (1948).

Between 1949 and 1959 he lived in Yucatán, Mexico and Forio d'Ischia Naples, Italy. In 1950 Mitchell Wilder, director of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, invited him to teach at its arts school where he spent the next six years, attracted by the city’s appeal as a summer resort. Head of the school’s painting department, his national reputation as an abstract artist created an awareness and appreciation of modern art in Colorado Springs. In 1952 he welcomed abstract painters, Vaclav Vytlacil and Ludwig Sander, to teach at the Center. While teaching at the Colorado Spring Fine Arts Center, he created Abstract (1954), a three-color lithograph (edition of 150) that was the annual print given that year to the institution’s supporting members. Two years earlier he had a solo exhibition of lithographs at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 1960 he moved to Los Angeles where he taught at both the California Institute of Arts in Valencia (then called the Chouinard Art Institute) between 1969 and the Otis Art Institute from 1974 through 1992, serving there as the Chair of the Painting Department and from whom he received an Honorary Doctorate Degree in 1991. He felt such a strong attachment to Otis that he left his estate to the college to set up a scholarship fund to benefit future artist

In 1970, he was artist-in-residence at the Honolulu Museum of Art. He received the Pollock-Krasner Grant in 1984 and the Francis J. Greenburger Award, in conjunction with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of New York City in 1988.

Emerson Woelffer is best known for his boldly colored Abstract Expressionist paintings and collages with jagged forms. He also created sculpture and lithographs. Late in his career, Woelffer began to suffer the effects of macular degeneration and began working with white crayons on black paper in order to better see what he was doing.

Woelffer’s work is found in a number of public collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Modern Art-New York, Art Institute of Chicago, Milwaukee Art Museum, North Carolina Museum of Art-Raleigh; Isaac Delgado Museum of Art-New Orleans, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Pasadena Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Museum of Art, University of Iowa Museum-Iowa City, Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Emerson S. Woelffer died on February 2, 2003 in Los Angeles, California.