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Orpha Mae Klinker 1891 - 1964

Orpha Klinker, an accomplished and well known artist of western scenery and portraits was quite busy in her hilltop Hollywood studio. Although painting portraits of Hollywood stars and politicians gave her a comfortable living, her true passion was painting California history and the California's deserts.

Orpha Klinker Valley Oaks and Mountain with frame
Valley Oaks and Mountain
oil on canvas, 25 x 30
Orpha Mae Klinker 1891 - 1964, Etching, "Winter Touches the Desert" (A gift to Howard Hughes)
Etching, "Winter Touches the Desert"
(A gift to Howard Hughes)
Orpha Klinker Portrait of Will Rogers and Wiley Post
Orpha next to her portrait of Will Rogers and Wiley Post,
done from a photo after their plane had crashed in 1935

She became the only female member of an elite fraternity of famed desert painters including Maynard Dixon, Jimmy Swinnerton, Clyde Forsythe and John W. Hilton.

In 1960, Orpha was the only woman in Ed Ainsworth’s notable book, Painters of the Desert. Ainsworth wrote, "this notable painter finds her greatest artistic expression in her annual jaunts into the arid wilderness of the West. The call of the desert is the most compelling challenge she heeds in her painting endeavors."

It was just a year or two before the legendary Death Valley Scotty died that he invited Orpha to his castle for a month or so to paint his portrait.

The castle did not belong to Scotty, but it was an opulent desert get away nestled in the comparatively cooler western slopes of the mountains just east of Death Valley.

She was not there alone, some of her desert painting companions were there too. As it turned out, Oprha's portrait of Scotty was the last done of him, as were the color photos taken of Scotty by fellow artist John W. Hilton.

Orpha Klinker Portrait of Death Valley Scotty
Scotty's Castle, Death Valley
scene of her portrait of Death Valley Scotty
Sam Hyde Harris with fellow artist Orpha Klinker having fun at a costume party.
Fellow artist and friend, Sam Hyde Harris, pretends
to paint a portrait of Orpha at a costume party
while Orpha poses inside a framed box.

Orpha said of the experience, "I felt like a princess rattlng around in that huge palace. Scotty would come up from his own little shack in the back and pose for me by the front gate. He spun one yarn after another about the early days of Death Valley, about getting shot at. But he never told me the secret of his gold."

Orpha was born with parents who had an affection for Biblical names. Orpha is a reference to Ruth, Naomi, and Orpah, but her father changed the last two letters around to come up with Orpha.

Her brother was named Zeno after an ancient philosopher, and two others were named Elza and Rex. Zeno became a writer for ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, leading Orpha to do a portrait of Edgar and his daughter Candice.

When Orpha was a child, the family settled in northern California at the foot of the Sierra in the town of Chico. Orpha's mother's health concerns caused the family to move south ... by covered wagon. Her father told the family it would be like a picnic the entire 800 mile trip, and for little Orpha, it was just that. She drank in the scenery of the mountains and desert, and she later said it was on that covered wagon trip that she learned her love of nature which fed her artistic interests later on.

Early in her career, she studied in Europe at the Julianne Academy, returning to America to work in commercial art including the Ladies Home Journal in Philadelphia. From there, she came back to California to pursue her interests in California history and the California desert. She was widely exhibited, and her paintings were in the collections of both Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Early in her career, she had an exhibit at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. In 1963, she was honored by the Los Angeles City Council. She was the vice president of the California Art Club, and an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Fine Arts, was on the Board of The Artists of the Southwest, and had been president of The Women Painters of the West for three terms.

Souces: Ed Ainsworth, Painters of the Desert, 1960; Askar

In Our Newsletter, Mar '12
Death Valley Scotty Portrait by Orpha Klinker
Death Vallery Scotty's Portrait
by Orpha Klinker
Returns to Scotty's Castle
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