Rebecca Salsbury Strand James US, 1891-1968


"The living world about one—the skies, the land, people, grasses, trees—can be imbued with immediate life.”


- Rebecca Salsbury Strand James

Rebecca Salsbury Strand James was born in London in 1891, the daughter of Nathan Salsbury, manager of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. She was raised in New Jersey and was working as a medical secretary in New York when she met the photographer Paul Strand, a member of the Photo-Secession circle. They were married early in 1922. She modeled frequently for her husband and for Alfred Stieglitz, typed submissions to MSS and articles for Marsden Hartley, and became a close friend of Georgia O'Keeffe, whom she was said to resemble in looks and personality. The Strands first visited Taos in 1926 as the guests of Mabel Dodge Luhan. Rebecca Strand returned there for three months in 1929 with Georgia O'Keeffe, and the Strands spent the following three summers in Taos, while Paul Strand worked on a series of Southwestern photographs.

Encouraged to paint by her husband, Rebecca Strand developed a technique of painting on glass, perhaps suggested by the earlier experiments of Marsden Hartley. Her work included portraits of Indians and a series of large-scale flower compositions. In February 1932, the Strands held a joint exhibition of their New Mexican work at An American Place. One reviewer commented that Rebecca's paintings were "freshly felt and painted with a refreshing naivete and precision." Rebecca and Paul Strand were divorced the following year, and Rebecca moved to Taos permanently.

In 1949 she married William H. James, a local businessman and founder of the New Mexico Angus-Aberdeen Cattlemen's Association. He had one adopted daughter, Vera James, who died in an automobile accident in 1949. Throughout the 1930s, James continued to paint, exhibiting her work at An American Place and other galleries and holding several one-woman shows, mostly in the West. In the late 1940s she became interested in the recently revived technique of colcha embroidery and produced many of these decorative hangings, often on Southwestern themes. Some of her embroideries were displayed at the Museum of International Folk Art in 1963. She also published a small collection of biographical sketches of Taos natives, Allow Me to Present 18 Ladies and Gentlemen and Taos, N. M. 1885-1939.

James spent the last few years of her life in semi-retirement due to her poor health, although she contributed comments to the exhibition catalogue of the William and Rebecca James Collection and, in 1966, wrote an introduction to Dorothy Benrimo's Camposantos. Rebecca Salsbury James died in Taos in July 1968.


- Courtesy Yale University Archives