METCALFE, AUGUSTA ISABELLA CORSON (1881–1971).
Known as "the Sagebrush Artist," Augusta Metcalfe used oils and watercolors to render images that depicted her first-hand knowledge of ranch life in Oklahoma's early years. After moving from Pennsylvania to Illinois to Kansas, where Augusta Corson was born near Vermillion on November 10, 1881, in 1886 her parents, Edward G. and Mary Davidson Corson, brought their two boys and two girls to Oklahoma. In autumn 1893 the Corsons claimed a homestead acreage at the mouth of Turkey Creek on the Washita River near present Durham, in Roger Mills County. On this 640 acres Metcalfe lived the rest of her eighty-nine years.
Metcalfe's mother, a former teacher, tutored her daughter at home, but the girl preferred to be outdoors, riding horses and rounding up cattle. In spare moments, she drew. Whether she scratched the brands of ranches into rocks or sketched on paper, by age five she had made the family aware of her talent. George Davidson, her maternal uncle and a professor in San Francisco, mentored her drive to draw. He sent her supplies and critiqued her work.
In 1905, two years after her father's death, Augusta Corson married James Metcalfe. They had one son, Howard, but Metcalfe left his wife with an infant and an invalid mother in 1908. The strong, determined young woman continued to perform the ranch operations: stringing fence wire, planting, harvesting, roping and branding, and then cooking evening meals on her wood stove. Many days found her painting or drawing set aside, but she always returned to her art.
At the first Oklahoma State Fair, held in 1908, Metcalfe won two first prizes for her paintings. She repeated her first-place winnings in the fairs of 1909 and 1910 and in the Amarillo Tri-State Fairs of 1948, 1951, and 1952. She took first-place awards in shows at Abilene, Texas (1928), and at Canadian, in Hemphill County, Texas (1927).
Critics saw too much detail in her paintings, but Metcalfe knew her subject well and was determined to make her pictures real. According to Roy P. Stewart, historian and writer for the Daily Oklahoman, her experiences lent her art an "air of authenticity which makes the best native American art." Others agreed, and her work was displayed in the Grand Central Station Art Galleries in New York, the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, and the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa. In 1949 the Oklahoma Art Center in Oklahoma City featured her paintings in a one-artist exhibit, and in 1950 Life magazine featured color reproductions. In 1968 Augusta Metcalfe entered the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. She was also an honoree of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. She died on May 9, 1971. Art lovers may enjoy her legacy at the Augusta Metcalfe Museum, located on the original Corson-Metcalfe homesite near Durham.
"Cowhand and the Lady," Life, 17 July 1950.
Melvin Harrel, "My Life in the Indian Territory—Augusta C. Metcalf," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 33 (Spring 1955).
Katherine Randall, "Pioneer Staked Her Claim on the Beauty in Oklahoma," The Oklahoma Farmer-Stockman, September 1961.
Roy P. Stewart, "Prairie Painter," Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 10 April 1949.
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Suzzanne Kelley, “Metcalfe, Augusta Isabella Corson,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=ME019.
© Oklahoma Historical Society.
Pioneer Painter, a documentary that shows Augusta Metcalfe sketching and working on her ranch, 1968
(F2013.134.2.0035 , WKY-TV Film Collection, OHS)