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P. M. Wentworth

Born 1893, Salem, Massachusetts

Died 1985, San Diego, California

 

P. M. Wentworth’s forty or so known drawings are as mysterious as they are riveting. His interpretations of iconic biblical themes such as the Creation and Crucifixion emphasize their cosmic scale through details like radiant beams streaming from stars and moon or the coils of an enormous snake that evoke Christ’s intense path to rapture. Other drawings show interplanetary dramas filled with futuristic elements and cellular units composed of eyes, fingerlike appendages, beaks, or tails. More abstract compositions have vigorously scraped surfaces and revel in patterns that seem simultaneously geological, protozoan, and graphic.

Few facts are known about Wentworth’s background beyond his activity in California during the 1950s. Nevertheless, interest in Wentworth’s drawings grew as Chicago artists Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson collected them after moving to California in 1968. While on the faculty at Sacramento State College, Nutt discovered Wentworth’s works through psychiatrist Tarmo Pasto, best known for his role in preserving the drawings of Martín Ramírez. In 1970 drawings by Wentworth and Ramírez appeared in American Primitive and Naïve Art at the San Francisco Art Institute, the first exhibition of self-taught art held on the West Coast. Curator Philip Linhares credited his vision for the show to his friendships with Nilsson and Nutt, members of the loose network of Chicago artists called the Hairy Who, whose work Linhares also exhibited two years earlier in a 1968 Hairy Who show at the same San Francisco venue.

 

Elaine Yau

 

Bowman, Russell. “Looking to the Outside: Art in Chicago, 1945–1975.” In Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art. Ed. Maurice Tuchman and Carol S. Eliel. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with Princeton University Press, 1992.

Larsen-Martin, Susan C., and Lauri Robert Martin. Pioneers in Paradise: Folk and Outsider Artists of the West Coast. Long Beach, CA: Long Beach Museum of Art, 1984.

Linhares, Phil. Interview with Jim Nutt. Currant Art Magazine (April–May 1975): 23–27.