In a 1988 interview with The New York Times, Atlanta Sampson, then ninety-one, said of her career as an artist: “It was just as necessary as eating and sleeping for me to paint. It was an obsession all my life. It was an inner drive all my life. It was God’s plan.”
Sampson was born on a farm north of Toeterville, Iowa, near the Minnesota border. As a child she obtained watercolor paints by mail-order from Chicago in order to start painting. After high school it took her two years to convince her Norwegian born parents that it was important for her to study art at the University of Minnesota, from which she received her degree in 1923. Upon graduation Sampson moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she taught art in the public schools for twenty years. In 1947 Sampson moved to New York City to pursue a career as an artist, which proved to be a struggle. Although she sold few works and had to take temporary jobs to get by, Sampson never gave up. She continued to study, taking classes with famed artist and teacher Hans Hoffman in Provincetown, Massachusetts in the summer, and enrolling in the Art Students League in New York with teachers Theodore Stamos and Thomas Fogerty, among others. At age eighty-four she received a full scholarship to attend the Art Students League. At the age of ninety, and in failing health, Sampson resigned herself to moving back to Iowa, her dream of a one-woman show in a prominent gallery having eluded her. The deli downstairs from her tiny apartment offered to give her a farewell show, at which she was at last discovered. True Colors: The Paintings of Atlanta Constance Sampson, 1896-Present opened in May of 1988 at the National Arts Club in New York City, and many exhibitions followed, including one in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. on her ninety-sixth birthday. Sampson finally succeeded, before she died, one year short of her hundredth birthday. Her work is owned by collectors across the country, and her art and
her spirit are celebrated in the Unionhurst Gallery in Toeterville, Iowa, which is overseen by her nephew, Fred Langrock.
Gregory Jaynes, “About New York; An Artist at
91: Her First Show Outside the Deli,” The New York
Times (April 20, 1988)