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The Art of JAMA
June 18, 2014

Black on Red: Florence Arnold

JAMA. 2014;311(23):2362-2363. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.279558

Music teacher and mom Florence Arnold (1900-1994) could not have imagined that a simple art lesson at age 50 would catapult her into one of the hottest modern art movements in the 20th century and lead her to an astonishing career in abstract painting. Her radiant works in blazing colors would in time be exhibited with those of modernist luminaries, but best of all, she had a ball, perhaps an encouragement for those thinking of reinventing themselves in mid-life.

Arnold was born in Arizona in 1900 to parents who included a mother active in women’s suffrage. Florence received education in music, and after her marriage to Archie Arnold, a pharmacist, the couple lived in Fullerton, California. Florence taught music at north Orange County schools and enjoyed her work. The arrival of her own child Adrienne around 1933 would eventually change her life in a dramatic way. It was in 1950 when Arnold’s life took an unexpected turn: “Adrienne was in high school and I was taking her down to summer school at Fullerton High School. As I was walking down the hall…an art teacher, saw me and grabbed me by the arm. She said, ‘Come in and sit down. I need twenty people to keep this class going this summer.…’ Being an accommodating person, I sat down; and she gave me a brush or a pencil and some paper.” (http://fullertoncollegecentennial.com/alumni-stories/florence-arnold.html)