Carolyn Seymour has been creating art for over 80 years. In that time, she has mastered a variety of mediums, including watercolors, oils, acrylics, pastels, printmaking, woodcuts, stainglass, and silkscreening. The subjects of her works have been drawn from friends, family, and the many places she has lived and visited. Her life in art began humbly and took many twists and turns, and through it all she continued to hone her skills and vision.
Early Years 1922-39
Born in the logging camp of Bon Ami, Louisiana, where her father, George Preston Harper, had temporary employment as the head of the local YMCA, Virginia Carolyn Harper was named after the two states from which her parents came-Virginia and South Carolina. Even before the Depression, her father drifted from job to job resulting in many temporary homes in several geographic localities in the southeastern United States. The Depression and unemployment took its toll on her parents’ marriage, and they were divorced. Carolyn Seymour’s unusual talents were evident early in her life. During the Depression, she and her sisters were supported by their college-educated divorced mother, Thelma Hamersly Harper, but there was little discretionary money. A family benefactor, Mr. Don Staley, recognized Carolyn’s innate artistic ability and gave her art lessons at the Felix Mahoney Art School in Washington D.C. She excelled at her academic studies and graduated from high school when just sixteen years of age winning a scholarship to the Corcoran Art Gallery School of Art for two years. At that time, she worked at the neighborhood settlement house, Friendship House, as an art instructor where she met and ultimately married (at the age of 18) her husband, Lawrence Alan Seymour. He was to have a profound influence in her life; their synergistic talents combined with his tolerance of the demands of her art hobby resulted in a proliferation of creative production for both of them. Some of the surviving works of art from this period include portraits of her sisters, Doris and Shirley, and her mother, Thelma Hamersly Harper and exquisitely rendered watercolors of magnolia blossoms which hung in the Seymour’s bedroom in the Seven Locks Road House for many years. She also worked in oils and there is an interesting character portrait of a Friendship House acquaintance and an abstract nude encumbered with fish breasts from this period.
War Years 1940-45
During their early marriage Alan taught Carolyn the photography craft making it possible for her to send many home-made dark room prints of their first child, Susan Carolyn, to him when they were separated by his service in the United States Navy in World War II. This was the era of cloth diapers, wringer washers, clothes lines, and sterilized formula and bottles. There was little time to do large art projects. She was living in Fairlington, Virginia with, at one time or another, sisters and mother while Alan was off at the war. During this time, Seymour illustrated a brochure for the Bureau of Labor where her mother was employed during the war.
Young Mother 1945-64
Once Alan came home from the War, they moved into their first home on Garfild Street in Bethesda, Maryland where Seymour’s second child, Lawrence Alan, Jr. was born. The family of four lived in Ottawa, Canada from 1949-1953 when Alan worked as a Scientific Attache to the United States Embassy. As the young mother and wife of a diplomat, there was little time and no studio space for art during this period in Seymour’s life. Their first recreational home was built on Constance Bay of the Ottawa River giving them valuable experience which was to come to fruition in their later architectural endeavors. Once back in the Washington, D.C. area, Alan and Carolyn set about designing and building their home from scratch on Seven Locks Road. It was a split-level rambler on a farmstead overlooking a valley in the Maryland countryside. They incorporated efficiency and functionality in an architectural style well before its time. A wall of windows captured a stupendous view which created the illusion of living outdoors at one with the multi-textured vegetation. The recreation room with its two window walls served as an art studio where Seymour was able to exercise her craft. It was during this period in her life when Seymour earned her Bachelor of Arts in Painting and Art History from American University in Washington D.C. She also had a third child, Frederick Harper, and taught art lessons in her studio to recalcitrant teens and eager adults of varying abilities. She often set up still lifes and had an occasional live model (sometimes enlisting her reluctant children). When her daughter, Susan, went off to college, she was employed at Landon School for boys as an art teacher. She worked mainly in oils and experimented with egg tempera at this time in her career.
The Paris Years 1965-77
Seymour resided in Paris, France off and on for up to five years at a time while her husband was employed at UNESCO. They frequented the flea markets and garnered a collection of antiques before it was the vogue. They ingeniously remodeled a French country stone cottage with a clockwork spit over the fireplace and a roll away guest bed which disappeared under the floor. At a stint stateside, she taught art at the University of Maryland while she earned her Masters of Fine Arts. This was the time of her boldest experiments in the use of color and abstraction. Realistic themes from this time period include the famous view from their walkup apartment window of a Paris street scene, the French countryside and the budding musical career of their youngest child. Etchings and lithography dominated her work of this period when she was able to purchase a manual press. Seymour is known for her etchings of dynamic musicians (often patterned after her son) shown in multiple poses as they execute their tunes with feeling.
Pacific Northwest 1977-2002
For a quarter of a century, Seymour resided in the Pacific Northwest where her art matured with the new subject matter that the Seattle area had to offer. She gained growing recognition as a member of the Northwest Watercolor Society, local art shows and she had a few gallery openings featuring her works. First living in several town homes, she and Alan designed their last custom-built home on a difficult Bainbridge Island lot with a sweeping view of Puget Sound and Seattle across the water. Once again, though hampered by newer building codes, they managed to design cutting edge architecture that was a perfect amalgam of functionality (they could sleep eight) and form (three quarter and half walls, vaulted ceilings and not a 90 degree angle in the house!). The highlight was a ship’s prow deck which seemed to be directly above the water even though there was a road between them and the shore. Finally, Seymour had her dream studio with adequate storage, a wet sink and a north facing skylight. She relearned her neglected watercolor skills, though ever the purist, she was disdainful of the new idea of copying photographs. She taught art lessons at the local community center and in her studio, setting up and painting many still lifes. Besides the prodigious number of water colors, she also produced a series of twenty (?) intaglio nativity theme Christmas cards which she sent to friends and relatives over the years. She also decorated in the traditional style Morbier clock cases Alan built to house the antique clockworks he had gathered in Paris. But her most profound work came when she and Alan learned the art of cutting and composing stained glass. Major works in this genre are a greenhouse door of dragonflies at the Bainbridge Island house, a bear/eagle scene designed for her daughter who now lived in Alaska, and several human figured pieces including a self portrait and some of Alan doing his hobbies. By now Seymour was a grandmother several times over and, not content to be a tea and cookies granny, she more likely than not would offer up her cra-pas or watercolors to her progeny for their first foray into creativity.
Alaska Experiences 1982-
When visiting her daughter, Susan, in Alaska, Seymour embraced the frontier wilderness and rendered art which expresses the simple beauty but also exposes the ruggedness of life in the last frontier. Her most dramatic pieces are watercolors of her first ride in a small plane. The application of a commonly photographed bear fishing phenomenon to the craft of stained glass resulted in one of her most sophisticated pieces to date. She typically would take her pastels in the field (a challenge in the elements of Alaska) to sketch the ideas, then takes them back to the studio to work them up in several different mediums.
Adirondack Influences 1962-
The most enduring influence on Seymour’s works has been the Adirondack forest to which the family retreated most summers for almost fifty years. She has done numerous woods, lake and babbling brook scenes evoking the quiet solitude with which any Adirondack sojourner can identify. Over the years their family “camp” has grown from a one room hunting shack to a rambling bunkhouse with a tree room, numerous decks (one is the first ship’s prow prototype) and a senior wing which doubles as an art studio for Seymour.
This retreat has been the scene of numerous reunions and family celebrations. Many of her portraits of family members were done here when the pace of life slowed, allowing even children to sit for a sketching session. Reflections are a recurring theme in her work over the years and her series of six snowy mountainsides and their reflections in the underside of the wing of the plane are an unusual view of an awesome experience. She also captures the quiet solitude of a fresh snowfall in the woodsy path inspired by her daughter’s back yard.