The historical obscurity of the 20th-century landscape artist Norma Bassett Hall (1888–1957) is the result of many factors: she did not find her métier until she was in her thirties; that métier was the quiet medium of color woodblock; and both her style and her landscape subject matter harked back to an earlier Arts and Crafts aesthetic, rather than embracing the modernism of her own time. Finally, she was a female artist who spent much of her career in the rural Midwest and left little written documentation of her concerns and processes. The recent catalogue raisonné of Bassett Hall’s prints put together by the Oregon-based art historian Joby Patterson aims to alert a new audience to this underrated artist’s hushed brilliance.
Born in the small frontier town of Halsey, Oregon, in 1888, Bassett was one of the first students to enroll at the School of the Portland Art Association in 1909. There she probably encountered the work of Arthur Wesley Dow,1 a significant figure in the American Arts and Crafts movement whose attempt to bridge Asian and European sensibilities exploited the aesthetics of Japanese color woodblock prints.
- Dow’s student Anna Belle Crocker was one of Bassett Hall’s instructors at SPAA and also curator of the Portland Art Museum.