Josephine Homan Catlin

1842, Huntington, New York – 1924, San Diego, California

(Mrs. Charles Catlin)

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Introducing American modernist art directly from New York City to Omaha, Nebraska and establishing in 1877 the first formal art instruction in Omaha, Josephine Catlin organized a class which was so successful that it “soon filled to the utmost extent of its capacity.” (Savage 449) She focused on black and white figure drawing, with members taking turns posing for each other. Enrollees, six men and six women, committed themselves to serious participation as they met for two evenings each week for the next two years, except summer months. She had started the class initially with the aid of three men: Charles Huntington, Frederick Knight, and William R. Morris ‒ “all well known for their high attainments.” (Savage 449) Two other men joined, Lieutenant Schuyler and Professor Landeryou, and then women participants enrolled: Fanny Butterfield, Woodie McCormick, Selma Balcombe, Christina Ross, Gwynnie Gwyer, and Carrie Wyman. Their meeting place was a studio set up in the large dining room of the Catlin home in Omaha at 122 Chicago Street.

Before organizing the Omaha art class, Josephine had lived in New York City for about a year where she studied at the newly formed Art Students League, which had been organized in 1875 at Fifth Avenue and 16th Street. Its members were in rebellion against traditional teaching methods of the long-established National Academy of Design. Counter to the Academy approach, the League welcomed women, was communal in sharing of ideas, and placed much emphasis on sketching and drawing. Josephine based her Omaha art class on similar methods.

Josephine Homan was born in Huntington, New York to Annie (also known as Emma or Amy) Coles Homan (1809-1870) and George Washington Homan (1807-1886). In 1860, when she was 18, she and her family were residents of Omaha, then a river settlement in Nebraska Territory. Josephine’s husband, whom she married in 1866, was Charles Franklin Catlin (1841-1928), a prominent Omaha merchant from Quincy, Illinois. He “brought the first stock of books, stationery and wallpaper across the Missouri north of St. Joseph, Mo. in 1863” (Omaha World-Herald, Jul. 11, 1924), and established a store at 14th and Douglas Streets. Like his wife, he was active in fine art promotion in Omaha, which included membership in the Western Art Association. In the 1890s he was a statewide speaker who gave an 1893 Chicago Exposition program with stereopticon slides titled “The Beauties and Wonders of the World’s Fair.”

In 1879, just after her art class ended, Josephine took on another leading role in art activity when she became Supervisor and Gallery Superintendent for Nebraska’s first major art exhibition, sponsored by the Social Art Club, a group of women affiliated with the Trinity Episcopal Church. She had been a founder of this Club, and then took on the responsibilities of its first project, which was a large-scale exhibition of art objects from personal collections of Omahans. As Gallery Superintendent, she oversaw a huge number of entries: 232 oil paintings, 192 ceramics and pottery, 273 bric-a-brac, 167 lace and textiles, 58 Indian relics, and 236 ancient books and manuscripts. Evident was “the degree of wealth already attained by many and the measure of cultivation and refinement expressed in the elegance of their homes and the abundant means of mental improvement and aesthetic enjoyment.” (Savage 449)

In 1880, Josephine and Charles Catlin left Omaha for a decade, moving to New York City where she took art classes at The Art Students League. The couple also lived in Chicago, where she enrolled at the School of The Art Institute. From 1890 to 1898, the Catlins again lived in Omaha, and Josephine made connections with art activity in Lincoln and its first community art organization, the Haydon Art Club. “Mrs. Charles F. Catlin” was listed as an exhibitor of artwork at the Fourth Annual Exhibition of the Haydon Art Club, December 1891 into 1892 at the Armory Building of the State University in Lincoln. This exhibition included paintings from The Art Institute of Chicago and Mr. George Lininger of Omaha. Indicative of Josephine’s ‘avant-garde’ leanings in this time period is her use of a palette knife instead of a brush in her painting of a head of a man submitted to the Omaha Western Art Association exhibit in 1890.

In 1898, the Catlins left Omaha permanently, this time becoming residents of Salida, Colorado. On July 4, 1924 while on a pleasure trip with her husband to San Diego, Josephine Catlin passed away. In her Omaha World-Herald obituary dated July 11, 1924, it was written that she was “an artist of national reputation.” Text of another World-Herald obituary on July 12 had the headline: “Was Prominent in Art Circles of New York and Chicago: Left Omaha 25 Years Ago.”

Josephine, her husband, and her parents are buried in north Omaha at Prospect Hill Cemetery.
Sources:, Apr. 2014, “Art Students League” Glossary, Apr. 2014
Gerdts, William H., Art Across America, Volume III, p. 73, Print
Find A, “Josephine and Charles Catlin,” Apr. 2014
Omaha World-Herald, newspaper: 11/16/1890, 7/4/1924, 7/11/1924
Savage, James W., John T. Bell, Consul W. Butterfield, History of the City of Omaha and South Omaha, p. 449, Print
Wakeley, Arthur Cooper, Supervising Editor, Omaha: The Gate City and Douglas County, Nebraska, Volume I, pp. 368-369, Print
Walsh, Stacey, Collections Manager, Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, Nebraska, Haydon Art Club Exhibition Information

Researched, written, and copyrighted by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier

Museum of Nebraska Art Project:
Their Place, Their Time: Women Artists in Nebraska, 1825-1945