December 6, 2022

Adelia Armstrong Lutz's Westwood: "There is No Other Such Room In or About Knoxville"

We can only speculate as to how Adelia Armstrong Lutz’s guests reacted when they first stepped into Westwood, her newly built home in Knoxville, on December 31, 1890. Lutz, by then established locally as a successful artist and art teacher, and her husband, businessman John Edwin “J.E.” Lutz, celebrated the completion of their new residence—a 14-room, Queen Anne-style brick mansion adorned with Richardsonian Romanesque stone accents—by throwing a glitzy New Year’s Eve party.

It hardly feels like a stretch to assume, however, that much of the talk that evening revolved around Westwood’s signature feature: Adelia’s grand painting studio, with its high, cathedral ceilings and skylights and red walls—a space unlike any other in the city. The studio also had a fireplace and provided Adelia plenty of room, not only to paint, but to store her art materials. A reporter from the Knoxville Journal and Tribune who visited Westwood in August of 1895 wrote of the studio, “There is no other such room in or about Knoxville, rich and elegant as many of them are. There is no room in which one who is blessed with a love for the beautiful, in nature or in art, can get so much genuine enjoyment, so much unalloyed pleasure.”

It is largely on account of that unique space that Westwood became one of seven sites accepted in 2022 to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios (HAHS) program.

Exterior of a stately red brick home with a large circular front porch off to the side.

photo by: Mike ONeill Photography, 2022

Exterior view of Historic Westwood and its front lawn in Knoxville, Tennessee.

But it wasn’t just the opulence of Adelia Armstrong Lutz’s studio that would have dazzled the who’s who of Knoxville’s high society that turned out for her New Year’s Eve bash in 1890, but the fact that Westwood had a studio at all, according to Hollie Cook, director of education and research at Knox Heritage, the nonprofit that operates what is now known as Historic Westwood.

Valerie Balint, director of HAHS remarks, “It was highly unusual in this period to have a woman play such an active role in the design of her house. She wanted to ensure that it included a defined space for her to work and to exhibit her paintings, and that it met her aesthetic vision of what a classical studio should look like—vibrant red walls and all. And even more rare—that it survives today.”

Adelia Armstrong Lutz, Art Prodigy

One of the first professional female artists in Tennessee, Adelia Armstrong Lutz and her twin sister, Lizzie, were born to Robert and Louise Armstrong in 1859, on the eve of the Civil War. Though her parents’ sympathies during the war are not well established, East Tennessee was generally pro-Union and during the Siege of Knoxville in 1863, Adelia, Lizzie, and Louise were present when their home, Bleak House, was taken and turned into the headquarters of Confederate General James Longstreet.

The Armstrong family wealth came from Lutz’s grandfather, Drury Armstrong, who owned significant tracts of land around Knoxville and 50,000 acres in what is now Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Armstrong was also a businessman who served as a registrar for the East Tennessee Land Office, a bank director, and was a trustee of what was then the East Tennessee College (now the University of Tennessee). This wealth afforded the family domestic help that included—prior to the Civil War—enslaved people.

Lutz exhibited her gift for art early on in life; at the age of 14, she placed first in a local contest with a pencil drawing. A combination of her talent, her family’s position and wealth, and particularly her father’s support and interest in the arts allowed Lutz to develop as an artist. After attending boarding schools in Maryland and Virginia as a girl, she went on to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. She made a name for herself copying masterworks and even exhibited her art at the New Orleans World’s Fair of 1884-85.

“Art is something accomplished,” Lutz once said in 1893 at a talk in Knoxville. “It is the birth of a new joy into the world. Art teaches you the philosophy of life— it shows you that there is no perfection. There is light and there is also shadow. Everything is in half-tints.”

Lutz returned to her hometown in 1886 to teach art and embroidery out of a studio in Market Square in downtown Knoxville. It was upon her return that she met and married John Edwin. Construction on Westwood began a couple of years later. The land on which Westwood sits was gifted to Lutz and her husband, who hired the firm Baumann Brothers, the first professional architectural firm in Knoxville, to design the house, which featured a slate roof, pine floors, and stained glass windows.

A black and white image of a woman painting in a room filled with art work and supplies.

photo by: Historic Westwood Art Studio and Gallery

A view of Adelia Lutz painting in her studio c. 1895 at Westwood.

In addition to copying masterworks, she also created original portraits and floral still life paintings. More specifically, she became known for painting hollyhocks, which were among the flowers that were planted at Westwood and became closely associated with the property.

In 1898, Lutz became one of the founding members of the Knoxville Art Club, which blossomed into a prominent visual-arts organization. It was considered a progressive organization at that time because it included both male and female artists, though such a club would have had a membership that was largely white and, during its first few years, it was led by a former Confederate general, Hunter Nicholson, an agricultural professor. When Nicholson passed away, the group was renamed the Nicholson Art League. Lutz became the league’s president in 1903. Occasionally, she hosted group events at Westwood, turning it into a gathering place for local artists.

“She was very influential, socially and civically,” Cook says of Lutz. “She was very involved in the art community in Knoxville.”

“It’s Lutz’s involvement with the Art League which also made this site attractive to HAHS. In accepting Historic Westwood into the network, we are intentionally giving agency to women artists like Lutz who were often also arts educators, a role which been historically downplayed despite the key impact that arts educators play in the forming of subsequent generations of professional artists,” states Balint. “Together, the studio, the home, and the gardens—which often served as inspiration for her artworks—allow us to witness Lutz’s creativity extending far beyond the confines of her canvases.”

Interior of an art studio with pink-hued wallpaper and various paintings on all the walls with wooden bookshelves along the side.

photo by: Mike ONeill Photography, 2022

Interior of the studio at the Historic Westwood Art Studio and Gallery.

Historic Westwood Today

Westwood was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Knox Heritage acquired the property in 2013, as a donation from the Aslan Foundation, which purchased the home from a fourth generation member of the Lutz family. Today, Westwood is open for public tours and visitors are able to see Adelia Armstrong Lutz’s work in the place where it was created: The studio that was once the talk of the town, and was her workspace up until her death in November 1931, currently houses 32 of her paintings.

Since acquiring Westwood, Knox Heritage has raised more than $1 million dollars to restore the property. And in the process, they’ve discovered even more artistic treasures: frescoes created by another local artist, C. Mortimer Thompson. It is believed that Thompson and Lutz collaborated on the design of the frescoes, says Cook.

“During the renovation, we uncovered a lot of the frescoes around the house, with the caveat that there was one room that was still intact with the frescoes,” she says. “So when you go into the family parlor, you actually get a good idea of what it looked like because it's all still intact.”

Some aspects of Westwood look similar in 2022 as they did during the artist’s lifetime. By examining old photographs, including some taken from the wedding of Lutz’s daughter, Louise Lutz Holloway, Cook has also been able to identify and return some of Lutz’s works to their original positions on the studio walls. The long studio table where she stored her books, paints, and brushes is still in the house, though it has been transferred to the dining room, just one room over.

The goal, says Cook, is to give visitors as an authentic an experience as possible of the space that so deeply inspired Lutz’s work: “Obviously things have changed over the years, with artwork and items that are now gone, but we try to make it look the way it looked when Adelia was there.”

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Nathalie Alonso is a freelance journalist and children's author based in New York City. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, Outside, Refinery29 and TIME for Kids. She holds a B.A. in American studies from Columbia University.

@Nathalie_Writes

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