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Bertha E. Jaques
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Covington, Ohio
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
A founder of the Chicago Society of Etchers, painter, printmaker and author Bertha E. Jaques is best known for her many etchings of landscapes, urban scenes and botanicals and for her cyanotype photographs of plants. Bertha Evelyn Clauson was born in Covington, Ohio in 1863 and was educated in schools in Covington and Indianapolis. In 1885 she was working as a writer and illustrator for “The Railway Conductor’s Monthly” in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She married Dr. William K. Jaques in 1889, after which they moved to Chicago where he established a successful medical practice. At Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, she was enthralled by the etchings of James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), James Tissot (1836-0902) and Anders Zorn (1860-1920) and quickly decided to pursue etching. Her husband gave her two instruction books on etching. Unable to find etching tools in Chicago, Dr. Jaques made them from surgical instruments. The top floor of their house became her studio. Jaques etched her first plate in 1894, but found printing with rudimentary equipment unsatisfactory. In 1897 they bought a used printing press and modified it so she could print impressions. Jaques studied drawing under Caroline Wade at the School of the Art Institute for two months in 1900, but was otherwise self-taught. In 1900 she met Anders Zorn, who has visiting Chicago. He used her etching press—apparently the only one in Chicago—to print proofs of two plates. The Chicago Society of Artists accepted eleven of her prints for its 1903 exhibition, the first time the Society had exhibited prints. Jaques had a great interest in plants, and was a member of the Wild Flower Preservation Society. Between 1906 and 1908 she made over a thousand cyanotype photographs of plants, made by placing a specimen on sensitized paper and exposing it to light. A 1909 gathering at her home with three other artists led to the 1910 formation of the Chicago Society of Etchers, followed by an exhibition featuring the work of Jaques and other initial members. The next exhibition in 1911 was held at the Art Institute of Chicago. The Institute hosted annual exhibitions of the work of Society members through 1931, after which annual exhibitions were held in commercial galleries. Jaques served as secretary of the Society until 1937, with major responsibility for organizing its exhibitions. She frequently traveled to California, made several trips to Europe and visited her friend Helen Hyde (1868-1919) in Japan, all reflected in her art. In 1912 she published “Concerning Etchings,” an instructional text that remained in print for decades. She also wrote “Helen Hyde and her work: An Appreciation (1922) and “A Country Quest” (1924). Jaques was a charter member of the California Society of Etchers (now the California Society of Printmakers), exhibited in the Society’s first exhibition in 1913 and continued to exhibit with the Society through the 1920s. Jaques exhibited twenty prints in San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, where she was awarded a bronze medal. She was given solo exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington in 1923, 1930 and 1941, and by the Chicago Society of Etchers in 1939. Over her career Jaques created 461 etchings, both black-and-white and color. She died in Chicago in 1941. (TNB 11/2015) Selected bibliography: Patterson, Joby. Bertha E. Jaques and the Chicago Society of Etchers. Madison and Teaneck, N.J.: Fairlleigh Dickinson University Press and London: Associated University Presses, 2002.