Elizabeth Saltonstall’s life and career encompassed the art world from several key angles. She was prominent artist who excelled in printmaking, a patron of the arts from a blue blood Boston family, and an art teacher for nearly four decades.
Born at the beginning of the twentieth century, Saltonstall resided most of her life in Chestnut Hill and Nantucket. Daughter of a onetime Middlesex County district attorney, her family tree stretched back to Sir Richard Saltonstall, who landed in the New World in 1630. She attended the Winsor School, the art school of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where she studied fine and graphic arts with a focus on the natural world for inspiration. She became a major supporter of the Boston Society of Independent Artists, and studied briefly in Paris. Although she painted in oils, acrylics, and watercolors, stone lithography became her principle medium.
At age twenty-two, Saltonstall journeyed to Nantucket to study with Frank Swift Chase. She soon rented a Florence Lang studio at the beginning of Swain;’s Wharf (now Commercial Wharf) with other waterfront artists in the Harbor View building, the original counting house for a 1800s whale oil and candle business. She then moved into her beloved cottage next door, Wateredge, on the shore of South Beach. She summered there for over five decades, excepting a summer in the 1930s spent in Maine studying lithography with the nation’s foremost practitioner of the technique, Stow Wengenroth.
“I never owned a press,” said Saltonstall in a 1981 interview preserved by the Smithsonian as an hour and a half oral history. “So I used to get my stone in New York from George Miller, which is where Stow Wengenroth got his. And then I would send my stone by railway express to New York and go myself so as to be there with George when he printed. “
Saltonstall taught painting at the girls school at Milton Academy for 37 years, where she was affectionately nicknamed Salty by her students and educational peers, which included Nantucket artist George Thomas for a time. Upon her retirement in 1965, she said: "I've loved it. Seen lots of girls come and go. Mothers as well as their daughters.”
She was one of the first artists to join--and so found--the Artists Association with good friend and fellow printmaker Ruth Haviland Sutton. “It all started with Elizabeth Saltonstall,” said artist Bobby Bushong about the integration of artists and art patrons during the Artists Association’s formative years. She sat on its first executive committee and many thereafter, and headed many committees and events. Saltonstall was also an active member of the modernist 45 Group on island, despite her focus on naturalistic subjects in her art.
Now recognized as a master of stone lithography, an exacting medium that suited her exquisite drawings of the natural world, her lithography stones were printed by master printmaker George C. Miller. She exhibited at the Audubon Society of Students, Brooklyn Museum, Carnegie Institute International, National Academy of Design, and National Association of Women Artists. On Nantucket she exhibited at the Easy Street Gallery, the Candle House, the James Hunt Barker Galleries, the Main Street Gallery, and the Kenneth Taylor Galleries. AAN held a memorial exhibition of Elizabeth Saltonstall’s work in 1990.