Zoray Andrus

Zoray Andrus is often identified with the artistic fortunes of Virginia City. A native of Alameda, California, she attended California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, and studied with a number of influential artists including Hans Hoffman at the University of California–Berkeley. Andrus arrived on the Comstock in 1935. She soon opened the Welcome Grant gallery (honoring President Grant's 1879 visit to Virginia City) and exhibited many of the most inventive artists in the region. Andrus also organized a popular life-modeling class in Virginia City.

Below is reprinted with permission from the Nevada Historical Society Quarterly.

Nevada Historical Society Quarterly

Volume 33, Summer 1990, Number 2

P. Ana Gordon

ZORAY ANDRUS (1908-1990)

Zoray Andrus, who lived and painted in Virginia City and Carson City during the twenty years beginning in 1937, was among the first professional artists in Nevada to concentrate on contemporary abstract painting. Like many other Nevada artists, however, Andrus was not a native. She was born in Alameda, California, on April 27, 1908, to a mother who designed hats and a father who was a contractor and brick mason. An only child, she grew up in the days when little girls wore elaborate white-lawn dresses and white stockings, but her amusements included playing with mud, which shocked the tidy children of her neighborhood. When her artistic talent became apparent during childhood, her father brought home clay from local potteries, and she designed and sculpted clay animals, which her grandmother fired, using her oven as a kiln.

Following graduation from Alameda High School, Andrus attended the California College of Arts and Crafts (CCAC) in Oakland. She studied with some of CCAC's founding instructors, including Isabel West and Frederick Myers, and with contemporary painter Xavier Martinez during summer sessions. Sculptor Alexander Archipenko at Mills College and painter Hans Hofmann at the University of California at Berkeley were also her mentors. She was graduated from CCAC with a BA degree in 1930.

During the early 1930s, Andrus lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she met and painted with a group in Berkeley. Through a job with the Public Works Administration, Andrus assisted Bay Area artist Joe Sheridan with the execution of the Father Junipero Serra mural at Piedmont High School. She also worked with the San Francisco Community Theatre, and later served as designer and costume supervisor for the Federal Theater in San Francisco, a Works Progress Administration project. Andrus's own paintings were semiabstract, which she presented in group shows, including the San Francisco Museum of Art Annual Show and those at the Ansel Adams Gallery. She always signed her works "Zoray" or "Zoray Andrus."

Andrus was introduced to the visual possibilities of Nevada in the mid-1930s, when she attended a watercolor exhibit in San Francisco that featured paintings of Virginia City by the Britton sisters of Alameda. She first visited Virginia City in late 1935 at the invitation of her friend Muriel Goodman Corbett, a Reno High School art teacher. During this stay Andrus met her future husband, Eric Kraemer, a mining engineer. They were married in January 1937, and Andrus moved to Virginia City. Andrus and Kraemer purchased the Nevada Brewery, located in Six Mile Canyon, and the building became their home and Andrus's studio. Their only child, Peter, was born in Virginia City in 1943.

At the time Andrus came to Virginia City, Nevada painting was dominated by the Latimer Art Club, a group primarily engaged in traditional, realistic portrayals of landscapes. Although Andrus produced some conventional paintings for display, her more contemporary pieces and abstract representations were in stark contrast to the Latimer tradition. In 1940 Andrus was included in Who's Who in American Art, where she continued to be listed until 1966.

Near the end of World War II, Andrus was one of many artists who were painting on commission for Gump's in San Francisco, and when she opened her art gallery in Virginia City, she invited many of the Gump's artists to exhibit. The gallery was named Welcome Grant, inspired by some placards that had been left on the premises after President Grant's 1879 visit to Virginia City. In this brick building, located on C Street, Andrus showed carefully selected professional artists, and exhibited collage, weaving, pottery, jewelry, and contemporary painting. She rarely exhibited her own work. In addition to featuring work of local artists, the gallery sold art books provided by Spann's Bookstore in Reno, and thus contributed to the nascent artistic community in Virginia City. Because of the needs of her growing son, Andrus closed the gallery after two years, but by that time, other artists, including Robert Caples, had opened their own galleries in Virginia City.

Andrus coordinated one of the first life-model classes in Nevada, using a friend who had modeled for Salvador Dali. Open only to artists who had studied professionally, the original classes included Nancy Bowers and Joanne de Longchamps. Eventually painter Craig Sheppard and ceramicist Edward Yates, both professors at the University of Nevada in Reno, attended these sessions, and brought some of their students. The Virginia City life-model classes ran from 1945 into the mid 1950s.

Andrus worked alone and with other artists on various murals in Nevada, including the Village Market in Reno, the Virginia City Movie House, and the Reno Veterans' Hospital. In the late 1950s Andrus contracted with the Ford Times, a periodical published by the Ford Motor Company featuring travel itineraries, to produce a series of thirteen original realistic watercolors of Nevada locations. The watercolors were planned for publication, and included scenes of Ichthyosaur Park, the Sharon House Restaurant in Virginia City, and Monitor Pass. A watercolor of Piper's Opera House in Virginia City was accompanied by an article by Lucius Beebe. Also during this time, Andrus was exhibiting paintings in the Washoe County Library, the Nevada State Library, and the Reno Little Theatre.

After leaving Virginia City in 1957, Andrus lived in Carson City for a short period while she worked for the legislature. She later moved with her son to Mexico, where they stayed for seven years. Returning to the Bay Area in the late 1970s, Andrus settled in her hometown of Alameda in 1980. She worked with the Fort Mason printmakers in San Francisco, and participated in their 1987 group exhibition in Reno. She also exhibited and sold her work through the Oakland Museum Collector's Gallery.

* * *

Zoray Andrus was interviewed for this article in Alameda, California, in January of 1990. She had been ill during most of 1989, but enthusiastically agreed to discuss her years in Nevada. We met only twice, making tentative plans for the future. She talked about everything from watercolor styles, writing, and World War II to hopes, memories, and men. After both meetings, she telephoned with more thoughts about her life and art in Nevada. Vibrant, colorful, strong-willed, and honest, she stated that she preferred this article to project her professional rather than personal life. Zoray Andrus died in Alameda on February 21, 1990, two months before her eighty-second birthday.


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