Oil on canvas, 18 x 29.5 inches/Signed lower right
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Olive Turney was born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania and raised in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh. Her father was a carpenter and served on the Lawrenceville Borough Council. Her sister, Margaret, was killed in the deadly Allegheny Arsenal Explosion during the Civil War. In 1865 she enrolled in the first class of the Pittsburgh School of Design for women, where her talent and exuberance led to her teaching Saturday classes at the school. Turney also became the favorite of George Hetzel, the noted Pittsburgh landscape artist and founder of the Scalp Level School. In 1867 Hetzel organized the first of what was to become a yearly summer pilgrimage from the industrial landscape of Pittsburgh to the “wilds” of rural Scalp Level, near Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Turney, with six students from the Pittsburgh School of Design, was invited to accompany Hetzel and other notable Pittsburgh artists to sketch and paint the rocky creeks and rustic landscape. The women were led by instructor Miss Mayhurst and chaperoned by the mother of Pittsburgh Industrialist Andrew Carnegie and George Hetzel’s wife, Louisa. Turney graduated with honors in 1872 and became a teacher at the school and later its principal until it closed in 1904. During her summers at Scalp Level she made the acquaintance of the Lehman family who had a farm at there and with whom she developed a lifelong friendship. Adam Lehman built her a cottage on a half-acre of his property that Turney had purchased from him in 1888. She spent nearly 40 summers painting in the small cottage she affectionately called the “Sketch Box”, while maintaining a house she had built on Amber Street in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Many of her paintings depict Lehman family members and the Lehman farm. In the 1870s a Pittsburgh art critic wrote that Turney’s work was “felicitous in depicting the warm glow of the sunset or the ethereal freshness of a morning sky.” In 1888 her style was described in The Social Mirror as “vigorous, full of color and dash”. She also traveled to the Cumberland Valley of Maryland and Lake Chautauqua in New York State, and continued to paint into her 80s. Turney was a member of the American Artists Professional League and exhibited at the Pittsburgh School of Design (1872, gold medal); and the first Carnegie International (1896). This painting is from descendants of Mary Louise Wear, whose portrait Turney painted in 1924 when Wear was four years old.