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Charles Erskine Scott Wood

American, 1852-1944



Occupation or Type


Northwest artist

Oregon artist


C.E.S. Wood was a soldier, lawyer, writer, poet, art patron, art critic, bibliophile, and artist. This man of many talents and interests was raised in the East. After graduating from West Point he was assigned to a post in the West, participating in the 1877 campaigns against the Nez Perce and the Paiute. He helped negotiate the surrender of Chief Joseph, recorded his famous speech at Bear Paw Mountain in Montana and subsequently developed a deep friendship with him. The unjust treatment of the Native Americans was one of the reasons he resigned his commission in the military. Wood went to Columbia Law School and returned to Oregon in 1884 to establish a law practice in Portland. He specialized in maritime law, but also served clients whose cases tested civil liberties – Margaret Sanger was one. His reputation as a social activist grew as he co-authored Oregon’s Initiative and Referendum Measures, the first of their kind in the nation. He lobbied for women's right to vote and became the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator. Wood’s writing appeared in many forms. He was an art critic, whose essay Art a Threadbare Topic was published in the Pacific Monthly; "Art is useless except in the sense that it makes the world more beautiful, life more enjoyable ... A good landscape or portrait does not imitate, it suggests the beauty of the view, or the quality of the person and it does more. There has been put into it something of the artist's soul, something of the man himself ... art work is man's soul speaking to man's soul." His Poet in the Desert, about his love for the Harney Desert in Eastern Oregon, is his most famous poem and Wood felt it was his major creative work. His book, Heavenly Discourse, is also well-known. He recounted his experiences in the Indian campaigns in a publication of 1901. He was a frequent contributor to the Spectator and in 1911 he called for the public to purchase a permanent art collection. By this time the Portland Art Association was established with Wood as one of the founders. He encouraged a permanent collection to replace the frequent loan shows that had occupied the exhibition space. Wood had developed friendships with several eastern artists. Childe Hassam was a friend whom Wood invited to come to Oregon. On their trip to Eastern Oregon in 1908 both artists produced landscapes. In some cases Wood's paintings are so similar to Hassam’s that one has difficulty distinguishing them. Wood called himself an amateur painter, but his watercolors were especially good. His son, Erskine Wood wrote about his father’s favorite subjects: scenes of the desert, ranches, buttes of Eastern Oregon, rivers, lakes, and ocean. He also enjoyed painting the Portland harbor, grain ships, stern wheelers, the Columbia River, and duck hunting on Sauvie Island. His friendship with J. Alden Weir, who also visited him in Oregon, inspired Wood to use watercolor. Wood was a founding member of the Portland Art Association in 1892, and a participating member in several arts organizations. He exhibited in the Fine Art Section at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland in 1905. A cover for Pacific Monthly featured his painting View of Portland, which is now in the Huntington Gallery in California. His role as art patron should not be overlooked. He was responsible for bringing Olin Warner, the sculptor, to Portland to execute the city’s first public sculpture, the bronze Skidmore Fountain. Wood also participated in the early affairs of the Portland Art Museum and the Library Association. Wood left his wife and family in 1919 to settle in Los Gatos, California with the poet Sara Bard Field. Their home became a gathering place for artists and intellectuals. Wood concentrated on his writing, revising old poems and composing new ones, until he died in that city at the age of 91. He signed with his monogram C.E.S.W.



Related People

Associate of: Childe Hassam (American, 1859-1935)

Grandfather of: Marian Wood Kolisch (American, 1920-2008)

Associate of: Olin Levi Warner (American, 1844-1896)

Associate of: Julian Alden Weir (American, 1852-1919)

Father of: Erskine Biddle Wood (American, 1879-1983)

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