on August 28, 1910, Morris Graves has lived nearly
the entirety of the 20th century, and then some. The
sixth son in a family of eight boys and one girl, he
began his early years in remote and rural Eastern Oregon
and eventually made most of planet Earth his home.
an early age, Graves showed interest in gardening, drawing
and architecture. He disliked most of school except art
classes. His art teachers encouraged his innate ability
to draw and convey life in his art. Away from school,
Graves preferred solitude. He enjoyed walking in the
forest; he collected wild flowers for church bouquets.
1927, the family moved closer to Seattle, therefore Graves
was separated from pristine nature and his gardening.
At 17, he deliberately got expelled from school and found
a job the next day as a merchant sailor on the Dollar
steamship line. He traveled four times to China, Japan
and the Philippines. He was greatly influenced by Asian
the grip of the Great Depression of 1928-29, Graves did
not want to be a burden to his family. Seeking his own
independence and adventure, he traveled almost penniless
across the Western United States, hitch hiking and riding
the freight trains. On a stop in Beaumont, Texas, his
aunt and uncle encouraged him to stay with them and their
son and finish high school. Graves excelled in art and
received his high school diploma in 1932.
traveled to New Orleans where he was commissioned by
a friend to paint a tropical fish scene. He was becoming
aware that he had the confidence, intelligence and ability
to paint and make a living at it.
1933, Graves returned to Seattle and his father offered
him a studio in which to paint. Graves painted "Moor
Swan," which won first prize and $100 at the Northwest
Annual Invitational held at the Seattle Art Museum. Graves
was introduced to some of the prominent people of Seattle
society. He made significant friendships with other artists
of the Pacific Northwest.
perception of religion took a new turn. Friends introduced
him to Buddhism and also to the principles of Father
Divine, who preached a form of non-dual Christianity.
1937, after his father passed away, Graves traveled to
Harlem, New York, to Father Divine's Peace Mission. He
was greatly impressed with the direct and tangible form
that religious spirit played in the heart of the devotees.
in the Seattle area, Graves began receiving a subsidy
from the government's Works Progress Administration project
that gave artists a small income in exchange for producing
artwork. While living on a lean budget, he repaired a
home in rural La Conner, Washington. The concentration
and intensity of his paintings increased.
bought a 20-acre tract of tax-delinquent land at an auction
for $40 which he soon named "The Rock," because
it was reminiscent of Chinese paintings of the Sung Dynasty
depicting steep and austere landscapes. In the privacy
and silence of the Puget Sound, he built a small home
studio out of recycled building materials. It was here
he painted the "Little Known Bird of the Inner Eye" series, "Bird
Singing in the Moonlight," and many other poignant
and visionary works of art.
World War II raging in Europe and Asia, the Museum of
Modern Art, New York sent museum scouts out to recruit
artists' works for a major exhibit titled "America's
1942: 18 Artists from Nine States." Graves was invited
to participate. His works received high praised by curators,
critics and art patrons and sold quickly with a request
for more. The event became his financial turning point,
and his place in the gallery world was assured.
1942, the Army attempted to induct Graves. He resisted
and was denied conscientious objection status, yet he
still refused to cooperate. Graves was put into the stockade
off and on for 11 months. Finally the army released him
as "un-adaptable to military service."
returned to "The Rock" to paint his reflections
of WWI and the shake-up of humanity: among the works: "Wounded
Gull," "Blind Bird," and "Winter's
1946 Graves applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship to enter
U.S. Army occupied Japan and work with Japanese artists.
It was granted and Graves sailed for Honolulu, Hawaii,
to await military permission to enter Japan. While he
waited, he was inspired by Chinese ritual bronzes at
the Honolulu Academy of Art and completed about 50 symbolic
paintings during his five-month layover.
to proceed to Japan, he returned to the Seattle area.
1947, selling "The Rock," Graves brought property
North of Seattle and built a small gate house. He stopped
construction, however, with a journey by ship to England,
where he was commissioned by an art patron to paint several
lunettes at his Chichester house.
agreement fell through and Graves fled to France where
he lived in the town of Chartres for six months, making
drawings of the magnificent Gothic cathedral.
returned to Seattle and resumed construction on his studio
house that came to be called "Careladen" because
Graves put so much effort and care into the architecture,
gardens and pond. In 1956, he sold "Careladen" and
by 1954 he was living in Ireland, renting and looking
for a place to purchase.
1958, Graves purchased Wood Town Manor, an 18th century
18-room house that was in urgent need of restoration
in the Dublin mountains. While the manor was being restored,
Graves made journeys to Paris, New York City, and the
West Coast. In and through it all he continued to paint
and have regular exhibits in New York City by the Willard
Gallery until 1987, and by the Schmidt-Bingham gallery
from 1987 through the present.
1961, Graves began a sculpture series titled "Instruments
for a New Navigation". The totemic forms were to
induce an inward meditative state. Graves had increasingly
believed that his art would act as a balance to the fast
pace of the machine age noise of the 20th Century. He
failed to complete the series, then resurrected them
almost 40 years later when they took place in a national
traveling exhibition in 2000.
1962, NASA invited Graves to their Goddard Space Center
in Maryland where he consulted and collaborated with
NASA designers on two different space probe projects.
1963, Graves made extensive journeys to New York, India,
Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. He made new friendships
with prominent artists and political figures.
the year's end, Wood Town Manor was completely restored,
though Graves was experiencing increasing friction with
some of the Irish temperament. He sold the manor, contents
and all, and returned to the West Coast.
1964, he found a tract of forest land with a pond in
Loleta, California. He built a small cabin and later
a permanent home and surrounding gardens.
traveled internationally for the next 20 years, predominantly
in Asian countries. He continued to paint floral still
lifes and some of his more mature works of art: "Waking,
Walking and Singing in the Next Dimension," "The
Great Blue Heron and Rainbow Trout Yogi in Phenomenal,
Mental and the Space of Consciousness," and "Glimpse