[Julia] Lauren Ford was born in New York in 1891. Her mother was Julia Ellsworth Ford, the daughter of James E. and Julia A. Shaw (née Brown) of New York. Julia Ellsworth Ford was a socialist, philanthropist, and fervent patron of the arts, as well as an author of children’s books, plays, and art criticism.

As fellow author Nina Wilcox Putnam described her, "Mrs. Ford collected celebrities as some people collect postage stamps." She was hostess of a twice weekly salon at her New York town house that included notables such as Kahlil Gibran, Ezra Pound, Isadora Duncan, Bertrand Russell, Charlie Chaplin, William Butler Yeats, and Anna May Wong.

"Mrs. Ford had a great interest in the Pre-Raphaelite painters and later artists such as JW Waterhouse and Arthur Hacker, both of whom she knew personally. She went to Germany to meet the German painter Franz von Stuck and to get photographic reproductions of his work. She created her own wallpaper for her upstairs study by arranging on the walls as a mosaic over two hundred photographic reproductions of pictures by these artists." (Source: The Yale University Library Gazette, 1926, via JW Waterhouse)

Lauren’s father was Simeon Ford, son of Backus and Sarah Ford (née Webb). Born on August 31, 1855 in Lafayette, Indiana, he was brought from Indiana to Brooklyn, NY as an infant and was educated in the public schools of Brooklyn and Windham, CT, dropping out at around 15 years of age. He was admitted to the bar in New York in 1876 and practiced law for a short time, later becoming a financier and noted host of the old Grand Union Hotel, New York (co-owned with Julia's brother Samuel Shaw) as well as a published after-dinner speaker.
 

The Fords married on May 29, 1883 and subsequently bore three children: Ellsworth, born in 1885, Julia Lauren, born in 1890, and Hobart born, in 1894.

Because Lauren's mother wanted her to become an artist and had very definite ideas about education, she was taught to draw when she was only 18 months old. "You have to do things for children when they are very young," she said. At the age of 9, Lauren was sent to Brittany to study painting with her uncle and namesake, Lawrence Shaw, a portrait painter. His instruction, France's medieval art, and the beauty of the liturgy and Gregorian chants of the monks of Solesmes nourished her creative and spiritual growth. She subsequently went on to study at Academie Colarossi in Paris, where she was introduced to the European academic tradition. Later she studied with Frank V. Dumond and George Bridgman at Art Students League in New York. The revival of ecclesiastical art had the greatest influence in her work. Major figures in the movement included her friends Marie Fauconnier, Frances Delehanty, and Justine Ward.
 
She became a convert to the Catholic faith in 1929 through the Abbey of Solesmes and would eventually take simple vows as a Benedictine Oblate. At the age of 38 she had her first painting exhibition at the Ferargil Galleries in New York. Subsequently her work was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. and the Art Institute of Chicago and sought out by private collectors. Life magazine featured her work in several issues (including on the cover of their 1944 Christmas issue, the only war-time cover to be printed in color) and American Artists Group produced Christmas cards with her artwork. Contemporary critics praised her work for being "tender," "fanciful," and "picturesque."

During her life she lived a "simple" and "independent life" on her working farm, named Sheepfold, near Bethlehem, CT, surrounded by family and friends. She received a "continual procession of interesting guests from all over the world." The Connecticut countryside, her neighbors, and her farm animals appear in much of her work. The Nativity Scene is frequently pictured in her own barn. "My painting takes place as simply as washing floors or mending stockings," she said, "all being part of the daily life," and all performed to the glory of God."

After World War II, she was instrumental in the founding of the Abbey of Regina Laudis in  Bethlehem, CT (there's a lovely photographic study of the Abbey here). The story of her role in the founding of the Abbey was the basis for the 1949 film starring Loretta Young, "Come to the Stable," and is also discussed in the book, Mother Benedict by Antoinette Bosco.  In 1973, Lauren passed away at the age of 82, leaving her estate to the Abbey.
 
During her life, she published at least five books:
  • The Little Book About God (1934)
  • Claude: A Tale of an-Idyllic Childhood by Genevieve Fauconnier, Translated and Illustrated by Lauren Ford (1937)
  • The Agless Story: With Its Antiphons (1939; beautifully written about here, illustrations shown here)
  • Our Lady's Book (1961)
  • Lauren Ford's Christmas Book (1963)
 
Books illustrated by Lauren Ford include*:
  • Imagina by Julia Ellsworth Ford, Illustrated by Arthur Rackham and Lauren Ford (1914)
  • Memoirs of a Donkey by Madame de Segur (1924)
  • Bells of Heaven, The Story of Joan of Arc by Christopher Bick (1949)
  • Treasure on the Hill by Marie Lyons Killilea (1960)
*This list is, I'm sure, quite incomplete. Sadly there is next to no information about Miss Ford available anywhere online, so I've had to piece this together to the best of my ability.
 
La Grippe (Home Fires)

11 Comments:

  1. Faith said...
    Wow, I have never heard of Lauren Ford. What a treasure! Thanks for all the info. Her book on Our Lady looks really good. Are you enjoying as a read aloud? Would my 9 yo daughter like it, I wonder?
    Kristine said...
    Her book on Our Lady is excellent & we're currently using it as a read aloud. I think your 9-year-old daughter would like it very much (mine does, though she's 10). It's beautifully and gently written and very much geared towards children, though it's not overly simplified either. It reads much better than the Vision books, certainly, and is on par with or even better than Windeatt's work.

    On my post with her paintings - the last 5 are illustrations from Our Lady's Book.

    I was pretty appalled, as I started researching her, that her work hasn't been kept in print and isn't better known. I just don't understand how that can happen & wish that someone would republish her.
    Anonymous said...
    I have had a print of Miss Ford's wonderful work showing a small child running into the forest under the watch of a guardian angel. There are hundreds of little animals in the trees and the woods. I bought the print in 1973 when I was in my early 20's and it continues to intrigue me. I was glad to find your website as recently I have been searching to find out more about the painter. Your data answered many questions and has me interested in finding more of her paintings. Thanks so much for the information.
    Kris K in Pennsylvania - I don't have blogger sign-on and hope this message will be accepted.
    Kristine said...
    Kris - I'm so glad the information was helpful, there's so little available about her. Best of luck in tracking down more of her paintings!
    Randall Harris said...
    Thank you for this information. I have been consigned a very large painting of her by Peppino Mangravite and your information was most helpful.
    Here is the painting:
    http://figureworks.com/20thcentury/mangravite.html
    Lisa in Maine said...
    Hello, I found your blog while looking for information about Lauren Ford. I am currently reading a book written by Tomie De Paola called a Christmas Remembered and in it he recalls meeting her when he was pursuing a vocation to the religious life. It's a wonderful story.
    I was pleased to see that you are a Catholic homeschooler as am I. You must be familiar with De Paola's work; it is pure treasure. I highly recommend his collection of Christmas memories written for all ages, the title of which I mentioned above. I am so grateful to be introduced to Lauren Ford. I hope to find out more about her life. Merry Christmas!
    Lisa in Maine
    Hobart said...
    The Rye Historical Society in Rye NY is in her home pictured in the painting of the green room (in above article)They have loads of information on Lauren Ford. They had a wonderful exhibit of her work several years back. Regina Laudis in Bethlehem CT is where she painted You can visit. Write ahead and they might let you peek at her farmhouse. There once was a creche she made in a little roadside building you could visit. I am related to her and knew her. She was a wonderful woman, very down to earth and had a great sense of humor. I also love Depoala's work and read it to my home-schooled daughters and was thrilled to find out that he knew and admired Lauren as well.
    Hobart
    Kristine said...
    Hobart - Thank you so much for the comment...I had ordered a booklet on Lauren Ford's art from the Rye Historical Society, but they never sent it to me, which is a bummer. I would love to visit Regina Laudis in Bethlehem one day!
    Anonymous said...
    My parents worked for "Granny" Ford And Sheepfold was my second home. I just revisited sheepfold for the first time in 35 years. My father and I printed some of her christmas cards in the print room under her studio. Next to the sheep. I wish her cards would make a comeback. I have many of them. John Keilty. Litchfield Ct
    Kristine said...
    John ~ How wonderful for you! I wish her cards would make a comeback too, it's a shame her work is so underappreciated.
    Anonymous said...
    I, too, have the framed guardian angel print hanging in my home since the 60s when I often visited Regina Laudis and knew of Sheepfold and Lauren Ford. I came to your website because I am giving the print to my toddler grand niece and want to tell her Mom more about the artist. Thank you for a wonderful remembering!

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