Katherine (Kate) Madeline Ball

1859, Reading, Pennsylvania – 1952, San Francisco, California

Coming to Omaha, Nebraska in 1888 from the East Coast where she had attended the Cooper Union Art School in New York City, Katherine Ball began seven years with the Omaha Public Schools as writing and drawing teacher and art supervisor. From her first year in the state, she played an active role in the formation of the Western Art Association. Its purpose, as explained by art collector George W. Lininger, was: “To advance the knowledge and love of the fine arts through the exhibition of works of art, the acquisition of books and papers for forming an art library, and lectures upon subjects pertaining to art.” (Wakeley 369)

At the first Association meeting on September 20, 1888, “Miss Kate M. Ball” was elected Secretary. She had responded to an Omaha daily newspaper request for persons “interested in the study and promotion of art to meet at Mrs. Meyer’s Art Rooms on the corner of Sixteenth and Farnam streets.” At that meeting, a committee was appointed to visit the artists of the city and enlist their cooperation in the movement. The group acted quickly because by November 1888, the Association’s first exhibition was held at the residence of Mr. Lininger, who had built an art gallery onto his residence at 17th and Davenport Streets. Ball’s exhibition entry was a painting titled Study on Birchbark.

In what became a pattern of many early women artists active in Nebraska, Katherine Ball moved on to California which had a more active art scene and certainly more diverse landscapes, including ocean and mountains. For Katherine, this move meant locating even farther west from her native state of Pennsylvania where her parents, Henry and Carolyn Diehl Ball, lived in Reading. She arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area about 1895 and for 30 years, until 1924, was a drawing teacher and art supervisor there. In addition to her classroom career, she became quite distinguished for the quality of her public lectures on Japanese prints.

For a time, she lived in the city as a lodger in a rooming house with seven other people, and spent time in Monterey and Carmel where she was a member of the Carmel Art Association. Adventurous, she crossed the Pacific Ocean several times to Japan, including her last trip in 1936 when she was age 77 on the RMS Empress of Japan. Five years later, a broken hip caused her to be bedridden for the next 11 years until her death in 1952 at age 93.

She was the author of several books, Animal Motifs in Asian Art: An Illustrated Guide to their Meanings and Aesthetics, republished in 2004; Bamboo, Its Cult and Culture: Paintings by Wang Tseng-Tzu; and Decorative Motifs of Oriental Art, republished in 1969. The latter book was described having as “sources the many Chinese and Japanese scholars living in California,” and is commended for the “skill of the author in presenting real or fanciful animals and linking them to designs in Oriental porcelain, bronzes, prints and other artistic expression.” (Decorative Motifs)

Katherine Ball is not represented in the Museum of Nebraska Art collection.

Ancestry.com, Apr. 2014
Dawdy, Doris Ostrander, Artists of the American West, Volume III, Print
“Decorative Motifs of Oriental Art,” Amazon.com, Apr. 2014
Falk, Peter Hastings, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art, Volume I, Print
Hughes, Edan Milton, Artists in California 1786-1940, Volume I, Print
Wakeley, Arthur Cooper, Supervising Editor, Omaha: The Gate City and Douglas County, Nebraska, Volume I, p. 369, Print

Researched, written, and copyrighted by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier
Museum of Nebraska Art Project:
Their Place, Their Time: Women Artists in Nebraska, 1825-1945