Bessie Onahotema Potter was born in St Louis, Missouri in 1872. Onahotema is a Choctaw name that means “she gives with an open hand.” It’s quite appropriate considering the contributions she has given to the world of art. At age 14 she began working part-time for a sculptor, and taking classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. The purpose of her art, she told an interviewer, was to “look for beauty in the every-day world…”
In 1893, Potter was one of the women artists called the “White Rabbits” who assisted Lorado Taft with sculpture for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Janet Scudder, who will be the subject of a future post, was another of the White Rabbits. By 1895, when Bessie Potter visited Europe and met Auguste Rodin, she was an established sculptor. In 1899 she married the impressionist painter Robert Vonnoh, and became Bessie Potter Vonnoh. They soon were among the best known artists in New York, where they lived.
Bessie Vonnoh specialized in small sculptures that could be displayed in a home. The statuette Water Lillies is a portrait of a young girl who was the daughter of Helen and Frank DuMond, both of whom were artists and friends of the Vonnohs. Vonnoh said that her goal was to make the statuette as lifelike as possible given the size.
Nude young girls were a favorite subject for Bessie Vonnoh. Dancing Girl is one of her well known works.
Reclining Girl With Butterfly is the next figurine. Note that there are slightly different versions of the work.
The next two sculptures are Sunbeam and Springtime of Life. Sunbeam is one of Vonnoh’s clothed figures. She did both clothed and nude statues, but most of her young girl works I have found are nude.
Sea Sprite and Water Nymph are different versions of the same statue. Beverly Maynard modeled for this statue, which served as a centerpiece for a fountain in the Sea Sprite version. Beverly’s father, Richard Field Maynard was a painter and sculptor. Did Vonnoh use her friend’s daughters as models as a favor to her friends, or was it because her friends were artists who did not object to their daughters posing nude?
Robert Vonnoh died in 1933, and Bessie produced very little art after that. Bessie died in 1955.