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Friday, October 19, 2012

The Nut Lady

Being based in New York City, and ultimately working out of a studio not far from the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design, the Peter A. Juley & Son photography firm was routinely hired by artists (student and professional) to document works of art and the artists’ studios. Elizabeth Tashjian (1912-2007) is one such artist whose work is included in our photograph archives in the Juley Collection.

Born in New York City, Elizabeth Tashjian studied art at the New York School of Applied Design for Women, and later graduated from the National Academy of Design. While the Juley Collection is still in the process of becoming fully digitized, we do have available online a number of photos of the artist working in her studio. Below is a photo of Elizabeth at work on a four panel painting, perhaps taken while she was a student at the National Academy. She won a prize for one of her paintings sometime before graduating; however her artwork was not to become her sole legacy. It was instead the title of “The Nut Lady” that she would become known for.

Elizabeth Tashjian in her Studio, Peter A. Juley & Son Collection

During her time at the National Academy, Elizabeth began to focus her artwork on nuts, which you can see documented in the Juley image above. The subject matter is innocuous: an ordinary nutcracker and walnuts, though this may have been the beginning of the progression to Elizabeth Tashjian becoming a self-described nut-culturist or nut-artist. She would go on to open the Nut Museum in Old Lyme, Conn. (a collection of nut themed art, artifacts, and decorative objects), as well as to begin composing songs dedicated to nuts. This obsession would eventually gain her interview appearances on the shows of television personalities such as Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, and in 2005 a movie documenting her life was filmed.

The museum closed in 2002, however there was an exhibition of her artwork at Connecticut College in 2004, presumably focused on her paintings done after she became a “nut-culturist.” Though there are unfortunately no dates to go by, many of the images of Elizabeth Tashjian’s art in the Juley Collection appear to be from earlier in her career, perhaps when she was still a student at the National Academy (she moved to Old Lyme in 1950).

This New York Times obituary has some great stories about Elizabeth's fascinating life. You can find more photos of the artist and her studio in our photograph archives on the SIRIS database.

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blogathon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

Rachel Brooks
Photograph Archives, Smithsonian American Art Museum

1 comment:

  1. The song recordings at the museum Website give us her distinctive voice.

    Fascinating person.