During my research I have focused on 5 avant guard artists who contributed to the early development of the art program at Dalton. These individuals evolved highly personal styles rooted in the cubist and post cubist experiments of early modernism. They approached art making with a fervor and commitment to the new vocabulary of abstraction, moving away from the stagnancy of the 19th century art academies. These 5 Dalton artist / teachers from the 1920s-1940s represent a diversified group, bringing various permutations of modernism to New York City from art centers in Munich, Vienna, Kiev (by way of Paris), and Mexico City. When they arrived in New York they were part of a small group of contemporary artists striving to bring new ideas to a rather provincial American art world.
Helen Parkhurst must have been attracted to these individuals and their dedication to a progressive modernist spirit. Like her, they were ready to bring new ideas to the discussion and to reevaluate the status quo. Parkhurst deliberately wanted a global approach to learning, with many opinions and experiences to help broaden the learning base.
Dalton’s ties to modern art may have come from Helen Parkhurst’s close association with Mrs. Josephine Boardman Crane who was Parkhurst’s unflagging supporter, confidante, and spokesperson for the Dalton Plan. Crane had employed Parkhurst to educate her own three children in Dalton, Massachusetts and so believed in her theories of progressive education that she provided the financial underpinnings for The Children’s University School that opened on West 72nd Street in New York City. Crane moved to New York in 1922 after the death of her husband, U.S. senator and governor of Massachusetts, W. Murray Crane. Mrs. Crane would become one of the founding members of the Museum of Modern Art and was elected to the Board of Trustees in October 1929. As well as amassing a personal art collection, she also opened her home on Park Avenue for a weekly literary salon, which attracted writers and poets of the time (Marianne Moore and Gertrude Stein to name two).
I would like to believe it was in the bond between Parkhurst, the educator, and Crane, the New York philanthropist, and their collaboration on the founding of the school, which eventually became Dalton, that included a fundamental component in the arts. Their determination was that this way for children to explore and express personal creativity is so important in the education of the whole child and as a citizen of the world.
Parkhurst definitely saw the values of the arts in education. She personally hired all the early art teachers and even recruited Konrad Cramer to be one of the first department heads in 1926 (he was eventually commissioned to paint mural(s) for the new building on 89th Street in 1929). The five art teachers were:
Konran Cramer studied in Munich and taught at Dalton from 1926 – 1928. He was also commissioned to painted a mural for the mathematics classroom in 1929 for the newly constructed building at 108 East 89th Street.
Erika Giovanna Klien studied with Franz Cizek, the "Father of modern art education" in Vienna. She taught at Dalton between 1932 – 1935.
Vaclav Vytlacil was born New York. He was one of the first Americans to study with Hans Hofmann in Munich. Vytlacil taught at Dalton from 1937 – 1943. He was also part of the faculty from 1947 -1954.
Alexander Archipenkpo studied in Kiev, Ukraine before moving to Paris and then Berlin. In 1923 he emigrated to the United States. Archipenko taught at Dalton in the early 1940s.
Rufino Tamayo was born in in 1899 in Oxaca de Juarez, Mexico. He moved to Mexico City in 1911 and then to New York City in 1926. Tamayo taught at Dalton from 1940 - 1947.