Henry Varnum Poor, artist. Born September 30, 1887 , Chapman, Kansas . Father, Alfred J. Poor (nephew of Henry Varnum Poor, founder of Standard & Poor); Mother, Josephine Graham Poor. Brother Herbert, sister Eva. Graduated from Stanford 1910, Phi Beta Kappa. Studied art in London with Slade School , Walter Sickert, and in Paris at the Academie Julian, winning prizes.
Poor returned to Stanford as an art teacher in 1911-12, and 1913 he returned to teach for three years. He then moved to San Francisco , and taught at the new San Francisco Art Association, until drafted into the army. He served in France in 1918as regimental artist and interpreter.
After the war, Poor stopped in New York . He found land in Rockland County , and with the help of just one man, built his unique life-time home, Crow House. His first recognition in the East was as a ceramicist. He produced hand-thrown usable pottery, plates, bowls, cups, saucers, vases, with his unique pictorial decoration on each piece. He was shown in the Montross Gallery, and although the demand for the work exceeded his ability to meet it, he refused any assistants. Each piece was his own.
In 1925 he married again. He had first married Josephine Wiltz, with whom he had a daughter, Josephine, and then the textile designer, Marion Dorn. His third wife, who was with him until his death, was Bessie Breuer, a distinguished journalist, editor, and novelist. He adopted her daughter, Anne, who became an artist of note, and had a son Peter, who became a television producer and director.
In 1928 Poor was one of the organizers of American Designers Gallery, which for two years showcased the high quality of American artists as designers and craftsmen.
In 1929 the family went to France for a year, during which Poor concentrated on a renewed interest in painting, and Breuer worked on her first novel, “Memory of Love”, later made into the movie “”In Name Only.” On returning, Poor had his first important show as a painter, and through many shows at the Rehn Gallery, established himself as a painter as well as ceramicist.
Poor was considered one of the leading artists of the country. His work was shown at all the important museum annuals, where he won prizes and served on juries of selection and award, and was purchased by museums all over the country, including the Metropolitan, the Whitney, Brooklyn, Newark, the Phillips in Washington, Wichita, Kansas City, and many others.
Poor began to do true fresco murals, painted on wet plaster which became a permanent part of the wall. He did frescos in the Department of Justice and the Interior Department in Washington , and was appointed by President Roosevelt to be the artist-member of the Commission on Fine Arts. He did a large fresco for the Louisville Courier-Journal, and most extensively, a major work in Old Main at Penn State . He continued working in ceramics, doing ceramic murals in Fresno , Chicago , New York , and Boston .
During the Second World War, Poor was named head of a War Art Unit, under the Corps of Engineers, and led a group of artist to Alaska to cover all aspects of the struggle there. He made a taxing trip by small ship up the coast with Major Marston, who was organizing Eskimos into the Home Guard, as far as Point Barrow. Later, he wrote a book on his experiences, “An Artist Sees Alaska”.
As well as his own house, Poor was the architect of impressive modern homes for notable friends, including John Houseman, Burgess Meredith, Maxwell Anderson, and Milton Caniff.
In 1946 Poor, with three other artists, founded the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, of which he was president, a teacher, and trustee. The list of important artist alumni from that summer school is unmatched in America . He also taught for years in the Art Department of Columbia University.
In 1950 Poor was invited to the American Academy in Rome , and was there for a year as Resident Artist. He was also elected a member of the National Academy , and of the Academy of Arts and Letters, both in New York . In 1983 Penn State Museum of Art organized a Poor retrospective which traveled to three cities. The catalog of that exhibition contains essays on his life and work, with many photographs.
Poor never stopped his work in ceramics, and, like his paintings, many examples are in museums, from the Metropolitan in New York to the Houston Art Museum . His book on ceramics, “A Book of Pottery - From Mud to Immortality” is close to required reading as an explanation of techniques and expression of his philosophy of art.
He died December 8, 1970 in his home, Crow House, having spent the day working in his pottery. His papers are available in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian.