In 1880 Eliza Barchus and her husband came to Portland from Utah. She took lessons from William Parrott in 1884 by observing him paint, and began her artistic career in 1885. Her first sales was a work entitled Mt. Rainier, bought by someone who paid $1 and promptly retitled it Mt. Tacoma (the mountain's original name). Early awards from the Portland Mechanics Fairs encouraged her to continue her painting in earnest. In 1899 she became a widow with a family to support, and soon learned how to market the romantic scenes that she remembered or imagined. Her landscapes -- particularly her mountain views of Hood, Rainier, and Shasta -- spread the beauty of the West to the rest of the country and even to the world. In 1890 her Mt. Hood was exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York. The work impressed viewers not only because of its subject but because of the gender of its painter, a rarity for the time. In the early years, she worked at home, then moved to a studio at Third and Yamhill. She eventually moved to Fifth and Yamhill, now the Corbett Building. In 1905 she was awarded a gold medal for her painting at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition; it was also here that her entrepreneurial skills surfaced. She introduced color postcards to Portland, featuring six scenes, which continue to be popular with collectors. She also produced a catalog offering 8 x 10 paintings, "nicely framed for 75 cents," receiving orders from across the country.
Financial pressure forced her to produce thousands of works. Although she received criticism for her assembly-line style, she displayed considerable ability. Her larger works revealed a talent that was lacking in some of her smaller paintings. Her style was very realistic. Her favorite story was that of a friend's released canary, which hopefully batted its wings against the water pictured in one of her paintings. During her most prolific period, from the late 1880s to about 1920, she sold many works through the B. B. Rich cigar and tobacco concession at the Portland Hotel.
In 1935 failing eyesight and arthritis combined to bring her painting career to an end; she died twenty-four years later in 1950 at the age of 102. In 1957, on her one hundredth birthday, she was the subject of nostalgic newspaper articles and interviews, including one in "My Day", the nationally syndicated column by Eleanor Roosevelt. Fifteen years later, largely through the efforts of her daughter Agnes, the Oregon Legislature named Eliza Barchus "The Oregon Artist." Agnes also wrote a biography of her mother, Eliza R. Barchus: The Oregon Artist, published by Binford & Mort in 1974. Even today, Barchus continues to grow in popularity and her work is very collectable.
Biography from Oregon Painters The First Hundred Years (1859-1959) by Ginny Allen and Jody Klevit, OHS Press
Mt. Hood, signed Eliza Barchus, c.1900, Framed oil on canvas