Oregon Originals: The Art of Amanda Snyder and Jefferson Tester

By Joki, Robert L. | Oregon Historical Quarterly, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Oregon Originals: The Art of Amanda Snyder and Jefferson Tester


Joki, Robert L., Oregon Historical Quarterly


WHEN AMERICAN ART TOOK its first monumental leap into the "modern" at the landmark Armory Show in New York City in 1913, two teenagers were quietly developing their individual artistic talents in the railroad and sawmill town of Roseburg, Oregon.

Amanda Tester (1894-1980) and her younger brother Jefferson (1899-1972) were probably unaware of the controversy the Armory Show caused in the New York press and with the public, as young European artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Vasily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Edvard Munch joined forces with some of America's pioneers in modern art--such as John Sloan, Walt Kuhn, and Arthur B. Davies--to mount an art exhibit that would rock the foundations of American taste and culture.

Throughout their lives, Jefferson Tester and Amanda Snyder would pursue similar but separate paths to find their respective places in this same world of international modernism. Their stories can be told through their differences, but they should also be marveled at for their similarities.

Both stories begin in the public school system of Roseburg, Oregon. Amanda said that she became serious about her artwork at age nine while in the third grade. By the time of her marriage and move to Portland at age twenty-two, she had created some fine early works. Jeff's early work impressed his teachers; and, after graduating from high school, he was able to study at a San Francisco art school for one year. Snyder's move north and Tester's move south would provide a far greater difference than geography and would continue to define their individual artistic paths throughout their lives.

Snyder pursued her vision in Portland by taking some courses at the newly formed Museum Art School. Her life as a homemaker--and eventually a mother--was never at odds with her desires to develop her talents as an artist. Her husband, Edmund Snyder, provided a simple but comfortable and stable life for the family. After Tester's year at the San Francisco School of Art, he returned to Portland and joined the art department of the Oregonian, a job he held until 1926.

In 1925, both Snyder and Tester studied painting with an accomplished traditional-style English portrait painter, Sydney Bell, who had recently emigrated from London. It was the last time they would be under the same academic influence.

In 1926, Jefferson Tester quit his newspaper job and moved east to join the mainstream of American art education, first with a year at the prestigious Chicago Art Institute and then on to New York to study with Jonas Lie and others. He opened a commercial art firm and received commissions from the most prominent magazine companies of the day, including Time magazine. His paintings were exhibited in Chicago and New York to much acclaim. In 1944, his one-man show at New York's Babcock Gallery brought him to the attention of influential critics. He exhibited a painting in the "Critics Choice" show at the home of American modern art, the New York Armory, and New York Times art critic Howard Devree selected that painting as one of the ten best in the show. (1)

Tester left New York intending to paint the world, and he eventually landed in France, where his one-man Paris show at Andre Weil Gallery in 1952 led to glowing reviews in many of the leading French art journals of the day.

Les Arts, 18 Jan.: "We are accustomed to consider that there can be no painting, I mean good painting, outside our country (France), and all too often, alas, exhibitions of foreigners confirm this belief. A brilliant exception comes this week to prove us the contrary. It comes from Jefferson Tester...." (2)

The boy from Roseburg had fulfilled his promise. He had worked hard, studied well, and was now a rising star in the international art world. His style reflected an unusual approach to painting--an aggressive but somehow sublime and expressive brushstroke. This, combined with a moody and rich color pallet, led Tester to a fresh modern style of painting, all the time staying within a relatively realistic, expressionistic, and sometimes cubist framework. …

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