Blanche Phillips Howard (1908-1976), the second wife of John Langley Howard (1902-1999), accompanied her husband in 1951 (the year they married) when they lived most of the year in Mexico, including a spell in Ajijic.
Blanche Phillips was born in Mt. Union, Pennsylvania and attended Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture, the Art Students League and the Steinhof Institute of Design, all in New York. She also studied at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA), now called the San Francisco Art Institute. Blanche also studied with Ossip Zadkine.
She lived in the Bay Area 1942-1950, and again in the 1970s. She was best known for her sculptures, especially expressionist abstractions, made primarily in brass. Early in her career, she worked for a time with another, younger Bay area sculptor, Mary Fuller McChesney, who also has links to Ajijic. In an interview years afterwards, McChesney recounted how Blanche had later told her that “she just couldn’t stand my arrogance as an young artist because I said I could never work in stone… because I couldn’t have that much patience to work that long. So I worked in clay because it was a faster material.”
Blanche Phillips Howard exhibited regularly at Stable Gallery and a major retrospective of her work was held at The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, University of California, Berkeley in 1981.
Her solo shows included the San Francisco Museum of Art (1944); E.B. Crocker Art Gallery, 66, Sacramento (1946); City of Paris Gallery, San Francisco (1949); Louvre Gallery, San Francisco (1950); Galeria Artes Contemporaneo, Mexico City (1952); Ariel Gallery, Guadalajara, Mexico (1952); Roko Gallery, New York (1954, 1957, 1959); New Gallery, Provincetown, Massachusetts (1961); Silvermine Guild, Connecticut (1962); The Place, London (1969); and Galeria La Branza, Freestone, California (1974).
She had at least two two-person shows with her husband, the abstract impressionist painter John Langley Howard. The first (“Capricorn Asunder”) was held at the San Francisco Art Commission Gallery in 1973 and the second at the Bank of America Center in San Francisco in 1975.
Examples of her work can be found in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and in the Chrysler Museum at Norfolk (formerly Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences) in Virginia.
Both Blanche and her friend Mary Fuller were among the ten sculptors commissioned to produce pieces for the San Francisco General Hospital when the building was under construction in the 1970s. Blanche’s “Fragmentation”, a bronze dating from 1976, was installed in the Out Patient Lobby of the hospital. – Note: Can anyone confirm whether or not this sculpture is still there?
Blanche Phillips Howard was also the author of Dance of the Self: Movements for Body, Mind, and Spirit. (Simon & Schuster, 1974) While one review of the book labeled it “a dance philosophy that was practiced back in the Thirties in a small, obscure Greenwich Village studio” (The Times of San Mateo), Miriam Borne, a close friend and disciple of Phillips, has pointed out that it is most definitely not a “dance philosophy” but is “essentially a more spiritually oriented/esoteric dance form which developed within the stream of modern dance.” Borne describes the book as, “a course of lessons in moving meditation.” The book’s 53 lessons “progressively align and strengthen the body” and each of the “specific movement patterns” in every chapter “is allied to a symbol such as waves breaking, trees in the wind, puppets, logs rolling, elephants moving through the forest.”
My thanks to Michael Agostino (see comments) for prompting me to update this profile in July 2019, and to Miriam Borne for her valuable and insightful comments on the life and work of Blanche Phillips.
- Mexican Life, August 1952, 47.
- San Francisco Art Commission. 1978. San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center Collection.
- The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California). 1974. “City picks artists for hospital.” 20 Jun 1974, 28.
- The Times (San Mateo, California), 21 February 1975.
Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.
Tony Burton’s books include “Lake Chapala: A Postcard History” (2022), “Foreign Footprints in Ajijic” (2022), “If Walls Could Talk: Chapala’s historic buildings and their former occupants” (2020), (available in translation as “Si Las Paredes Hablaran”), “Mexican Kaleidoscope” (2016), and “Lake Chapala Through the Ages” (2008).
I knew and was a friend of the Howards beginning in 1971. I lived in the apartment they rented to me below theirs for a couple of years and we carried on the friendship through the years after that.
I was told by Blanch that they lived in Mexico for a year, I believe, in a small place they bought.
I have a painting by Blanch’s husband at the time, John Langley Howard, that is from that period.
It dates to the early fifties and is documented by a label on the back side from an artist show at the Whitney Museum.
I hope this helps in supporting the belief that Blanch and Langley lived in Mexico for a short time.
BTW – I built out a studio for Blanch and watched her create her metal work while I lived there.
Michael, Thank you for taking the time to comment in such detail about your friendship with the Howards and the clear evidence supporting the fact that they definitely both spent time in Mexico. It’s amazing how many great artists worked at Lake Chapala. Best wishes, Tony.
Me again, Michael Agostino.
No need to post this if it is inappropriate to do so of a past contributor but I would like to know if her sculpture / metal relief that I installed is still displayed at San Francisco General Hospital.
I believe the purchase was a selection by the San Francisco Arts Commission. Probably the latter part of the 1970s.
I also remember building pedestals and helping to set up her work in a join show with her husband John Langley Howard at a gallery near City Hall. I am sorry that I do not remember the name of that gallery but you might like to research that for additional information to expand her biography.
Michael, Thanks! It’s never inappropriate to offer more clues about any artist who ever worked at Lake Chapala! I appreciate your help and will try to find out more details. Best, Tony.