Earl B. Holdren (1912-1989)
Suits and Loans
Oil on Masonite panel, 20 x 24 inches. Signed and dated lower right: "HOLDREN 194[?]" Last digit indistinct, most likely 1942.
Enduring America: Selections from the Collection of Art and Peggy Hittner, Northern Arizona University Art Museum, April 7 - May 29, 2015.
Enduring America (catalogue); Speer, George V. and Arthur D. Hittner, "Enduring America: The Collection of Art & Peggy Hittner," American Art Review, June, 2015, p. 88.
Pittsburgh Reflector Company trade catalogue, 1941 at https://ia800503.us.archive.org/27/items/PermaflectorLighting1941/CCA47144_text.pdf
Grogan & Company, Dedham, MA (lot 94, October 18, 2009).
Inscribed in pencil or crayon “Christian Walter Memorial Prize – 241” and “1785” on back of 2 1/2-inch wood frame with hand-painted finish in gray and orange, most likely applied by the artist. It is likely, however, that the frame is actually that originally used on “Grey House in the Hollow” which won the Christian Walter Memorial Prize in 1943.
Earl B. Holdren studied art, design and advertising at Carnegie Institute of Technology and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh during the early Thirties. Although working briefly as an artist and freelance designer in New York and Pittsburgh, he had turned to a full-time career in advertising by the middle of that decade.* Continuing to paint, however, Holdren participated in the annual exhibitions of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh from 1942 through 1944, showing two oils each year. One of his entries in 1943, Grey House in the Hollow, was awarded the Christian J. Walter Memorial Prize. Holdren’s known works suggest a predominantly (but not exclusively) Social Realist bent. African-Americans appear prominently in several of these paintings.
Suits and Loans depicts three figures inspecting the offerings of a small urban shop (possibly a pawn shop) with a broad inventory ranging from musical instruments and shotguns to suits, topcoats and even loans. One of the figures, attired in a flashy white suit, is likely a salesman extolling the virtue of his wares. The precise location of the scene is uncertain, although the shop bears some resemblance to that of Sam Seltzer & Co. at Fifth Avenue and Diamond Street (see Fig. 1) in the Hill District of Pittsburgh which was known as the Harlem of Pittsburgh and the best venue in the city for jazz. The visible signs on the shop in Holdren’s painting raise the possibility that the store was “Sam’s” and indicate similar inventory to that appearing in the signage in Fig. 1 (taken about fifteen years later). The lively, classic American scene is composed in strong colors, with orange and gray highlights repeated in the presumably artist-enhanced frame.
* Holdren served as advertising manager for the Pittsburgh Reflector Company from 1937 until at least 1941 (a brief biographical sketch appears in a 1941 trade catalogue for the company reproduced online at https://ia800503.us.archive.org/27/items/PermaflectorLighting1941/CCA47144_text.pdf). He relocated to New York State in 1944, working for a Rochester advertising company and maintaining a studio in Gorham, New York, southeast of Rochester near Canandaigua Lake. An avid fisherman, he is renowned in angling circles as the author of the 1975 fly fishing classic, Fishing New York State Lakes for Fabulous Trout, Rainbows and Salmon: Complete Fishing Handbook (Outdoor Sports Press, 1975).
Fig. 1 - Photo of Sam Seltzer & Co., Lower Hill District, Pittsburgh, October, 1956, looking west on Fifth Avenue at Diamond Street. Collection, Allegheny Conference on Community Development (HSWP).