Dorothy Stratton King (1908-2007)

A “brooding, gestural” California modernist, Dorothy Stratton King was a painter before she became, in the early 1960s, a printmaker. And it is her printmaking that continues to drive interest in the artist years following her passing. Her intaglio prints and her paintings have hung on the walls of the World Bank, the Tunisian Ministry of Culture, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Russia, the Long Beach Museum of Art and U.S. embassies through the Arts in Embassies program. Her works also are part of numerous private collections in the United States and abroad, as well as the Georgetown University Fine Print Collection, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington.

More recently King’s legacy as a printmaker has been furthered as her prints and plates have joined the archives of the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, as well as her talents being celebrated in a recent book, on California’s female artists, which features her 1977 llithograph, Sea Grave.

Born in 1908, in Worcester, Stratton grew up in Sharon, Massachusetts. Married in 1928 to Michael Hicks-Beach, the young artist moved to Brooklyn and studied figure drawing and painting at the Pratt Institute and took classes at the Brooklyn Museum School in drawing and painting with artist Alexander Brook.

By 1942, Dorothy had moved to Connecticut. Here, living with her parents, she helped her father deliver telegrams to families of soldiers lost in the War. After her divorce in 1944 she moved to Los Angeles where her first job was at Warner Brothers Studios painting “Tom and Jerry” cartoon cells as well as working as a costume and set designer for Paramount Pictures – including designing costumes and dressing puppets for George Pal’s Puppetoons. While there, she met the director of animation, William Asbury King. They married in 1948 and spent the first 1 1/2 years in Paris, where Mrs. King studied painting with cubist and sculptor Andre Lhote at the Academy de la Grande Chaumiere.

After returning to Los Angeles, her increasingly vivid abstract expressionist paintings gained attention. She studied at the University of California at Los Angeles and had her first major one-woman show at the Pasadena Museum of Art in 1959. By the mid 1960s, she was living in La Jolla and working as the registrar for the La Jolla Museum School. Her increasing interest in printmaking led to classes at the University of California at San Diego given by printmaker Paul Lingren.

By the early 1970s, her mastery of etching, aquatint, drypoint, engraving, softground collograph, and mezzotint reversed her role from university student to teacher. At this time Ms. King served as conservator for printmaker Beatrice S. Levy, a prominent member of the modernist movement in Chicago, where she was from.

In 1973, our own San Diego Fine Arts Gallery commissioned several artists to paint walls based on New York City’s City Walls Inc. program, including King’s contribution "City is for the People," to enhance "gray areas" of the community. This wall was located at 3rd and A streets, "…diagonally across from the beautiful new Civic Concourse -- on a wall above a large parking lot that commands considerable observance from two streets…," in her own words.

In the early 1980s, Dorothy and her husband moved from California to McLean, Virginia where she helped found the Washington Printmakers Gallery (in 1985) and became a founding member of the Columbia Pike Artist Studios in Arlington. She also was a member of the Washington Print Club and the Artists Equity Association. She held solo shows at Acadia University in Nova Scotia in 1991, WPS in 1992 and later at Marymount University’s art gallery.

After her husband’s death in 1990, Mrs. King returned to San Diego, where a retrospective of her work was organized in 1994 at the University of San Diego’s Founders Gallery. She moved back to Northern Virginia about 1996.

In her final years. King exhibited at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, London’s Barbican Center, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. In the later years of her life, three Washington, DC institutions assessed her work in 2000-2002: the Corcoran Gallery of Art, National Museum of Women in the Arts and Georgetown University.

Ms. King carried what the Washington Post described as a “…brooding, gestural…” style across both the painting and printmaking, contributing a distinctive element of the Southern California modernist movement between the 1950s through the 1970s. King’s contributions were further enhanced by her efforts to secure Beatrice Levy’s representation across major exhibitions in museums, galleries, and libraries across Southern California.

Today, King’s prints as well as those of Beatrice Levy’s are being inventoried and photographed in an effort to further her legacy.