Artist: Edna Merrill Van Frank 7 artifacts total
Edna Merrill Van Frank
Edna Ensign Merrill was born to a Mormon family on 4 August 1899 in Logan, Utah, where she grew up and was graduated from Utah Agricultural College, now Utah State University. Dissatisfied with the limits placed on art training at the college (particularly their refusal to allow drawing from nude models), in 1920 she persuaded her friends Nancy Finch and Helen Kearns to enroll with her at Columbia University in New York City, where she continued her studies in a more open-minded environment. Her mother, Effie Merrill, accompanied the young women as chaperone, and was herself a student along with them.
Miss Merrill showed considerable talent for the figure and for fashion illustration. She was soon employed by Bergdorf-Goodman in Manhattan as an artist, and after her marriage to Leslie Van Frank (previously Frank) in December 1922, and their subsequent move up the Hudson River to Newburgh, continued to work as a freelance fashion illustrator for various firms in New York.
With her children Roger and Connie grown, Merrill returned with Leslie to live in Utah in 1943. Well before this move, Western landscapes and other Western subjects had begun appearing in her work, and while she returned to certain ‘Eastern’ themes throughout the rest of her career, Western and particularly Utah subject matter, historical and contemporary, was more and more her concern in painting and drawing. She worked for Auerbach’s department store in Salt Lake City as an artist from 1945 to 1950, and executed for them a number of large historical murals commemorating the Utah Centennial in 1947, most of which have been lost. A few were returned to Merrill and hung in the Pioneer Craft House to aid her teaching. Others were donated to the collections of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum in Salt Lake City (and are now lost).
In 1950, Merrill went to work for the ZCMI department store in Salt Lake, where she also produced a number of murals (costume history) to decorate the store. ZCMI also exhibited and sold her work several times during the 1950s. She worked in the store’s fashion department at first, but by about 1956 she became an interior designer for them, and later worked with independent designer Sharon Mulholland until she ‘retired’ in 1973.
In the last decade of her life, Merrill Van Frank continued her important association with the Pioneer Craft House as a teacher and frequent exhibitor, and devoted her still considerable energies and still growing talent to painting. It was during this time that she produced some of her most fully realized and important work. She died 24 June 1985, after a life rich in friends and experience, but without having found the wide audience for her art that her best work shows she deserved.