Updated: Aug 26, 2022
Although Agnes Lawrence Pelton is best known for her California desert paintings, she has ties to Water Mill, where she set up a studio in the Hayground Windmill. While in Water Mill, she met Samuel Parrish and he became an early patron. Several of her early works were in his private collection. Agnes had an interesting and troubled history. Her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Tilton, was alleged to have had an affair with the famous clergyman Henry Ward Beecher. Elizabeth’s husband, once a close friend of Beecher, was embarrassed by the scandal and moved his family to Europe. There, the Tilton’s oldest daughter, Florence, married William Pelton, a wealthy American expatriate from Louisiana. The Pelton’s only child, Agnes Pelton, was born in Stuttgart in 1881. But young Agnus’ parents were unhappy. Soon mother and daughter moved to Brooklyn and her father to New Orleans, where he died of a morphine overdose in 1891.
In Brooklyn, Agnus studied art and she demonstrated a talent that led to an invitation to participate in the 1913 Armory Show. Seeking solace after her mother’s death in 1920, Agnes moved to the Hayground Windmill, where she was introduced to Samuel Parrish. While living alone in the windmill, Agnes developed an inwardly-focused, intensely-spiritual abstract style. In 1932, at the age of 50, Pelton moved to the California desert outside of Los Angeles, where her paintings were inspired by the desert scenery and her spiritual beliefs. In 1938 she helped found the Transcendental Painting Group, which was committed to spiritual abstraction. Pelton died in 1961 and her ashes were spread in the San Jacinto Mountains. Considered by some to be one of this country's pioneering abstract painters, Agnes Pelton has been favorably compared to Georgia O'Keefe. Agnes’ work is currently the subject of a traveling exhibit, including a stop at the Whitney Museum. Unfortunately, the opening of the Whitney exhibit has been postponed due to the Coronavirus.