From the cover of Life magazine, December 25, 1944 – this was the only color cover of Life during World War II.
Lauren Ford transplants the scene of the Nativity to a barn in Connecticut much like her own. Here she portrays her neighbors gazing in wonder at the Christ Child whose mother had “wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn,” In the doorway stands St. Joseph awaiting the coming of the Three Wise Men who are following the star of Bethlehem to where the Christ Child lies.
From “A Portfolio of Religious Paintings by Lauren Ford,” Life magazine, Dec 25, 1944.
Labels: Authors and Illustrators
[Julia] Lauren Ford was born in New York in 1891. Her mother was Julia Ellsworth Ford, the daughter of James E. and Julia A. Shaw (née Brown) of New York. Julia Ellsworth Ford was a socialist, philanthropist, and fervent patron of the arts, as well as an author of children’s books, plays, and art criticism.
As a fellow author, Nina Wilcox Putnam described her, “Mrs. Ford collected celebrities as some people collect postage stamps.” She was the hostess of a twice-weekly salon at her New York townhouse that included notables such as Kahlil Gibran, Ezra Pound, Isadora Duncan, Bertrand Russell, Charlie Chaplin, William Butler Yeats, and Anna May Wong.
“Mrs. Ford had a great interest in the Pre-Raphaelite painters and later artists such as JW Waterhouse and Arthur Hacker, both of whom she knew personally. She went to Germany to meet the German painter Franz von Stuck and to get photographic reproductions of his work. She created her own wallpaper for her upstairs study by arranging on the walls as a mosaic over two hundred photographic reproductions of pictures by these artists.” (Source: The Yale University Library Gazette, 1926, via JW Waterhouse)
Lauren’s father was Simeon Ford, son of Backus and Sarah Ford (née Webb). Born on August 31, 1855, in Lafayette, Indiana, he was brought from Indiana to Brooklyn, NY as an infant and was educated in the public schools of Brooklyn and Windham, CT, dropping out at around 15 years of age. He was admitted to the bar in New York in 1876 and practiced law for a short time, later becoming a financier and noted host of the old Grand Union Hotel, New York (co-owned with Julia’s brother Samuel Shaw) as well as a published after-dinner speaker.
The Fords married on May 29, 1883, and subsequently bore three children: Ellsworth, born in 1885, Julia Lauren, born in 1890, and Hobart born, in 1894.
Because Lauren’s mother wanted her to become an artist and had very definite ideas about education, she was taught to draw when she was only 18 months old. “You have to do things for children when they are very young,” she said. At the age of 9, Lauren was sent to Brittany to study painting with her uncle and namesake, Lawrence Shaw, a portrait painter. His instruction, France’s medieval art, and the beauty of the liturgy and Gregorian chants of the monks of Solesmes nourished her creative and spiritual growth. She subsequently went on to study at Academie Colarossi in Paris, where she was introduced to the European academic tradition. Later she studied with Frank V. Dumond and George Bridgman at Art Students League in New York. The revival of ecclesiastical art had the greatest influence in her work. Major figures in the movement included her friends Marie Fauconnier, Frances Delehanty, and Justine Ward.
She became a convert to the Catholic faith in 1929 through the Abbey of Solesmes and would eventually take simple vows as a Benedictine Oblate. At the age of 38, she had her first painting exhibition at the Ferargil Galleries in New York. Subsequently, her work was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. and the Art Institute of Chicago and sought out by private collectors. Life magazine featured her work in several issues (including on the cover of their 1944 Christmas issue, the only war-time cover to be printed in color) and American Artists Group produced Christmas cards with her artwork. Contemporary critics praised her work for being “tender,” “fanciful,” and “picturesque.”
During her life, she lived a “simple” and “independent life” on her working farm, named Sheepfold, near Bethlehem, CT, surrounded by family and friends. She received a “continual procession of interesting guests from all over the world.” The Connecticut countryside, her neighbors, and her farm animals appear in much of her work. The Nativity Scene is frequently pictured in her own barn. “My painting takes place as simply as washing floors or mending stockings,” she said, “all being part of the daily life,” and all performed to the glory of God.”
After World War II, she was instrumental in the founding of the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, CT (there’s a lovely photographic study of the Abbey here). The story of her role in the founding of the Abbey was the basis for the 1949 film starring Loretta Young, “Come to the Stable,” and is also discussed in the book, Mother Benedict by Antoinette Bosco. In 1973, Lauren passed away at the age of 82, leaving her estate to the Abbey.
During her life, she published at least five books:
- The Little Book About God (1934)
- Claude: A Tale of an-Idyllic Childhood by Genevieve Fauconnier, Translated and Illustrated by Lauren Ford (1937)
- The Ageless Story: With Its Antiphons (1939; beautifully written about here, illustrations shown here)
- Our Lady’s Book (1961)
- Lauren Ford’s Christmas Book (1963)
Books illustrated by Lauren Ford include*:
- Imagina by Julia Ellsworth Ford, Illustrated by Arthur Rackham and Lauren Ford (1914)
- Memoirs of a Donkey by Madame de Segur (1924)
- Bells of Heaven, The Story of Joan of Arc by Christopher Bick (1949)
- Treasure on the Hill by Marie Lyons Killilea (1960)
*This list is, I’m sure, quite incomplete. Sadly there is next to no information about Miss Ford available anywhere online, so I’ve had to piece this together to the best of my ability.
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