There are many honors an artist can receive in his or her lifetime; awards, acclaim, a spot on a museum wall. For some though, it is enough to be honored by one of your peers, especially if that peer happens to be Henri Matisse.
Edgar Yaeger, who now is an acclaimed 20th century master in the modernist style, had humble beginnings as the son of a shoe store owner in his hometown of Detroit. His love of art emerged from lessons from his grandfather, and soon he could find no other calling in life except that as an artist. After high school he earned scholarships that allowed him to attend influential Detroit art schools such as the John P. Wicker School of Fine Arts and Robert Herzberg’s Detroit School of Fine and Applied Arts. Later in his career, he would secure the means to complete a European tour, learning from their schools as well.
One of Yaeger’s earliest big breaks was an invitation to contribute in the prestigious 1930 Carnegie International Exhibition in Pittsburg. He competed as one of 48 artists chosen from more than 1,000 applicants. The jury consisted of such well known contemporary artists as Glyn Philpot, Karl Sterrer, Horatio Walker, and Henri Matisse. Yaeger had contributed the painting “Figure Reclining,” and though he won no prizes, one of his best memories was Matisse liking his painting.
Yaeger would go on to become a master in his own right, an influential member of the Scarab Club, a frequent contributor to the Detroit Institute of Arts’ Annual Michigan Artists Exhibition, and a Works Progress Administration muralist in his home state.
He never limited himself to one medium, doing work ranging from paintings to mosaics, murals to linocuts. Many of his murals have been destroyed, but examples remain in the Brodhead Naval Armory, University of Michigan West Quad Dormitory, and Grosse Pointe South High School. His mosaics can be found at many local churches including St. Bonaventure Monastery, Grosse Pointe Memorial Church, and the former St. Martin of Tours parish.
Yaeger passed away in 1997 at the age of 93, leaving behind an artistic legacy that still needs its due in the textbooks. Beyond the art work, what remains is his honest and hardworking spirit, a man who cherished praise from a well-known, influential artist without taking into stock that he was one too.
– Katelyn Jedro, Wayne State University Graduate Student