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Betty Waldo Parish (1910 – 1986)

Rooftop Bathers (Untitled), c. 1940s, oil on canvas, 22 x 32 inches, signed lower right


About the Painting

Betty Waldo Parish gives us a delightful slice of life in 1940s New York, as we see a couple relaxing on the rooftop “tar beach” of their lower East Side building. Initially quoting a New York Times article from 1936, Adam M. Thomas in his book From the Rooftops John Sloan and the Art of a New Urban Space notes: “Basking on roofs is becoming increasingly popular in New York. Coats of tan are acquired without the aid of ocean beaches and ease is found on deck chairs far from the holystoned boards.’ Hotels, private residences, apartment buildings, and health clubs were all in a rush to provide sunroofs as never before. The vogue was relatively recent. Predicated on well-being and beauty, the idea of deliberately altering skin color – most often white skin – through expose to sunlight gradually shed it negative association with outdoor labor because lower-status jobs had largely moved indoors to factories in the past few decades.” Parish arrives at the subject of her Rooftop Bathers by way of one of her most prominent teachers at the Art Students League, John Sloan. Starting several decades before Parish’s work, Sloan and many of his Ashcan School contemporaries began to explore the verticality of New York’s multi-story buildings including their rooftops which became spaces for work and leisure as the city’s population skyrocketed in the face of waves of immigration. Unlike their precisionist counterparts, for Sloan and Parish, New York’s skyline was a place where life was well lived, not a mere source of pure design.

About the Artist

Betty Waldo Parish was a multi-faceted artist who is remembered for her brightly colored and vivacious oils, as well as her woodcuts and engravings. Born in Cologne, Germany, Parish moved with her family before World War I to Evanston, Illinois. As a young sixteen-year-old, Parish initially studied at the Academy of Fine Art in Chicago and later at the Art Students League in New York with Kenneth Hays Miller and John Sloan, as well as at Columbia University, the New School of Social Research and at the Grand Central School. She worked as a printmaker for the WPA and spent much of her career in New York, where she had a studio in Greenwich Village overlooking Union Square. Parish was an important member of the National Association of Women Artists and served on its board for nearly a half decade and exhibited at their annual shows for two decades. Starting in 1934, Parish exhibited widely, including at the Salons of America, the Society of Independent Artists, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Provincetown Art Association, the National Academy of Design, and the New York World’s Fair. Parish’s works are held in over a dozen museums


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