Ramond Hendry Williams (1900-1977)
Pursuit of Happiness*
Oil on canvas, 44 x 48 inches. Signed and dated lower left: "R.H. Williams 1947"
Hittner, Arthur D., "The Art of the One-Hit Wonder," Fine Art Connoisseur, July/ August, 2020, pp. 109.
Hittner, Arthur D., "The Art of the One-Hit Wonder," Fine Art Connoisseur, July/ August, 2020, pp. 108-109. Biographical information gleaned primarily from articles in Lincoln (NE) State Journal, Lincoln (NE) Journal and Star, Lubbock (TX) Morning Avalanche and McAllen (TX) Monitor from 1934-1974, accessed on newspaperarchive.com. See, e.g., "Dern Cabinet Appointment Recalls Most Embarassing [sic] Moment To R. H. Williams," The Lincoln (NE) Star, March 19, 1933.
Unidentified private collection, North Haven, CT to 1999; acquired by Neil J. Scherer through Shannon’s Fine Art Auctioneers, Milford, CT, October 21, 1999 (lot 27, as "The Dance Hall"); Scherer Fine Art, New York, NY (with periods of consignment to ACA Galleries, New York, NY and Spanierman Gallery, New York, NY), 1999-2019; Heritage Auctions, Dallas, TX, November 8, 2018 (lot 68109).
Relined, minor inpainting. 7-inch white/gray custom frame by Gill & Lagodich. Upper stretcher bears labels of ACA Galleries, Scherer Fine Art and Gill & Lagodich.
Though best known as an art educator, Ramond Hendry Williams** was an accomplished sculptor, painter and writer. Born in Ogden, Utah, Williams received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah in 1926. He spent three years teaching at Logan High School in Logan, Utah, before resigning to continue his art studies at the University of Chicago and Art Institute of Chicago. Williams went on to teach while pursuing a masters degree at the University of Wisconsin before heading up the department of ceramics and sculpture at the school of fine arts at the University of Nebraska from 1931 to 1938. Williams studied sculpture briefly with Alexander Archipenko at the Chouinard School in Los Angeles (probably in 1933), was a frequent exhibitor of his sculpture and ceramics throughout the Midwest and a repeat contributor to the national art journal Design, writing that “[t]he artist’s mission in life is not so much to teach humanity how to see as to sharpen its sensitiv[ity] toward emotional response.”***
In 1938, Williams was hired to teach at Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University) in Lubbock, Texas, remaining on the faculty of the division of Architecture and Allied Arts through 1946, one year prior to his execution of Pursuit of Happiness. In the mid-1940s, the Williams family moved to Mission, Texas, near the Mexican border. Little is known of the artist's career beyond this point, although newspaper advertisements indicate he was teaching ceramics privately in nearby McAllen, Texas, as late as 1974, three years before his death.
While the African-American population of Mission, Texas was (and remains) miniscule, the artist’s children recall the family living briefly in Corpus Christi, Texas, a few years prior to the painting’s execution. That city maintained an active Naval Air Station at the time. It was not unusual for entertainers (black and white) to perform at dances for nonwhite participants on the base during this period. The Corpus Christi Caller-Times of June 29, 1945 reports, for example, that “Clyde Lucas and his orchestra will play . . . for a dance for negro personnel at the Main Station gym on July 3,” adding in the same article that “Louis Armstrong’s band will play for a dance for negro personnel at the NAS gym July 30.”**** A uniformed sailor and American flag would seem highly appropriate in such a context.
Saturated with energy, Pursuit of Happiness revels in the dynamism of swing jazz culture as it reflects the exuberance of the post-war era. At the same time, the symbolic inclusion of the sailor and the prominence of the American flag celebrate the contributions of African-American soldiers to the victorious war effort.
* Title conferred by Scherer Fine Art.
**Multiple sources misstate the artist’s first name as Raymond.
*** “Too Many Theories, Too Few Facts in Modern Art, Declares Ramond Hendry Williams of Art Faculty” in Lincoln Sunday Journal and Star, November 14, 1937 quoting from R. H. Williams, “Science—The Mainspring of Art” in art journal Design, date unknown.
**** See also Corpus Christi Caller-Times, July 9, 1947, reporting that “Hal McIntyre’s band . . . will play . . . a dance for the Negro [Navy] personnel.”