Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 289 – Grace N. Wishaar and Marian Smith Oliver

Part 289: Grace N. Wishaar and Marian Smith Oliver
In 1909 Grace N. Wishaar collapsed from overwork and exhaustion. Her house had recently burned to the ground, taking her entire art collection with it. Her doctor advised a “rest trip” for treatment.
Grace N. Wishaar’s Piedmont home and art collection were destroyed by fire in 1909.
This meant travel to escape all of life’s demands and worries. I am sure that there are many of us who would appreciate this type of medical treatment right now. I would, especially if it meant leaving on a world tour to sketch. Fortunately, Wishaar had a traveling companion who had also been prescribed travel for health reasons. Her friend was quite wealthy and could fund their entire trip.
Under the advice of a physician, Wishaar’s friend Marian Smith Oliver had already left for Australia during August 1909. She was not gone for long after learning of Wishaar’s series of unfortunate events. Oliver returned to California and planned an extended trip around the world with Wishaar. In 1910, Wishaar and Oliver journeyed to the South Sea Islands, New Zealand, Australia, the Orient, Mediterranean countries, and elsewhere. They ended up in Paris.
Mrs. Roland Oliver (Marian Smith Oliver), travel companion of Grace N. Wishaar.
Marian Smith Oliver married Roland Oliver in 1907. Oliver was the manager of the Leona chemical company, one of F. M. Smith’s properties. Marian was a former ward of F. M. Smith, a multimillionaire known as the Borax King. Oliver started as a miner without and funds or prospects when he stumbled upon the wealth of chemicals in Death Valley. There he staked out the wonderful borax deposits that paved the way for his immense fortune. In Oakland he developed the scheme Realty Syndicate, a plan that issued certificates carrying guaranteed interest against the enormous realty holdings the syndicate acquired with high finance. Out of borax was a future in Oakland real estate and a series of big investments. But of the most importance, the Realty Syndicate building housed Ye Liberty Playhouse where Wishaar painted scenery.
Mrs. F. M. Smith raised and educated several wards as her own children. Marian was one of her wards who received $250,000 worth of jewels and a few articles of her costly and famous wardrobe. When Marian married Roland Oliver, F. M. Smith also gave her an independent fortune in securities and realty holdings. The Smiths ensured Marian’s financial independence from her husband. It was this financial independence that funded her world trip with Wishaar, as no one could demand her return but cutting off her funding. There must have been a reason for the Smiths to provide financial independence for Marian. Maybe they knew he was a creep.
The San Francisco Call on October 16, 1910, reported “Wife’s Long Stay Abroad Gives Rise to Gossip” (page 31).
Gossip resulted from the extended absence of Marian Smith Oliver and Grace N. Wishaar on their world tour.
The gossip was that Oliver would stay abroad indefinitely to study music and performance. By 1911, Oliver was studying music in Paris while Wishaar set up an art studio. Newspaper articles began to report that Oliver’s health had greatly improved and that she was enjoying life upon the stage. By April 6, 1911 the Oakland Tribune noted that Mrs. Roland Oliver “has taken a career before the footlights” (page 1). The article also reported, “Her fascination for the stage led her to spend time among theatrical folk, and it was partly in this way that her friendship with Miss Grace Wishaar, the long time the scenic artist at Ye Liberty theatre formed.”
Grace N. Wishaar was the scenic artist at Ye Liberty Theatre in Oakland, California from 1904-1909. In 1910 Wishaar departed on a world tour with Marian Smith Oliver.
During August 1911, Oliver returned to the United States and was living in the home of F. M. Smith at Shelter Island.
The trip never really ended for Wishaar. By 1914, she was still living abroad and painting portraits in Paris. The April 5, 1914, issue of the Oakland Tribune mentioned Wishaar’s extended absence under the heading, “Oakland Artist Gains Triumph” (page 29). The Tribune reported that Wishaar was exhibiting three portraits at the Salon des Beaux Arts in the Grand Palais, beginning on April 12, 1914. Two of her portraits featured Giralamo Savonarola and Countess Walewska.
The article explained that exhibiting at Salon des Beaux Arts was an honor all artists look forward to, “a goal for which they strive.” It reported, “Miss Wishaar may be considered in every sense to have definitely arrived.” Her arrival at the Salon also meant her departure from the world of scenic art and painting on a bridge high above the stage. Fourteen years later, she would again be featured in the Salon, along with fifty-three other artists during May 1928.
Wishaar was lucky in many things, but certainly not in marriage. She soon married Archibald C. Freeman in Ceylon. This was her fourth marriage. Freeman was a dual British-American citizen who committed suicide in Bandarawella in the March 1931. It was her marriage to Freeman that granted her British citizenship, something she retained throughout the remainder of her life. After Freeman, Wishaar married and divorced Henry James Bromley. Not much is known of this relationship, other than it was disclosed on her sixth marriage certificate to Alexander Alekhine, the world chess champion.
To be continued…

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