Markham moved to Port-au-Prince in Haiti as a widow in 1960. This later work reflected Markham’s new home. While living in Haiti, Markham continued to paint and established a salon for local celebrities, American expatriates, and island visitors. Markham died in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1967.
Influenced by her career in theatre, Kyra Markham’s paintings, drawings, prints, and murals explore the fantastic and the macabre aspects of modern politics and society. Markham was born Elaine Hyman, the daughter of a Chicago jewellery merchant. Around 1907, she left high school to study drawing at the Art Institute of Chicago and two years later, she was acting in Chicago’s experimental Little Theatre. In 1913, Markham met the author Theodore Dreiser (1871–1945); the following year, she moved to New York to live with him and to pursue acting. Dreiser’s repeated infidelities caused her to leave him in 1916, although he remained an important friend. That year, she joined the Provincetown Playhouse theatre company in the artists’ colony at Provincetown, Massachusetts. Later, she travelled with a theatrical troupe to Los Angeles. She also occasionally designed book covers and served as a movie art director. Around 1922, Markham was briefly married to the landscape designer and architect Lloyd Wright (1892–1972), son of the renowned Praire School architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959).
A young Kyra Markham
In 1927, Markham married to scenographer David Stoner Gaither, who encouraged her to paint. She executed striking mural decorations for several New York restaurants, jazz clubs, and nightclubs until the 1929 stock market crash eliminated such commissions. In 1930, she studied with Alexander Abels (dates unknown) at the Art Students League. A year later, her work received favourable notice at the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors exhibition. In 1934, her first solo exhibition took place in Ogunquit, Maine. Markham also resumed mural painting, and took up lithography and portraiture. The following year, she began to achieve success as a printmaker. A lithograph of hers won a prize at the Philadelphia Print Club’s annual exhibition, and impressions of her prints were acquired by the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Library of Congress. In 1936, she joined the Federal Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a government relief program, which sponsored her lively lithographs of backstage scenes. The prestigious annual publication Fine Prints of the Year cited her prints in 1937 and 1938. Markham excelled in dramatically rendering scenes extracted from daily life or dream-like fantasies with detailed realism.
In the late 1930s, Markham began her two-decade association with the greeting card publisher American Arts, Inc., which promoted her art in reproduction. For the 1939 New York World’s Fair, she executed forty dioramas for the Hall of Inventions. In 1941, Loew’s Ziegfield Theatre in New York exhibited her allegorical paintings and drawings of legendary women. During World War II, she created paintings and prints to boost home front patriotism and satirize Nazism. Following her 1946 move with her husband to a farm in Halifax, Vermont, Markham ended her printmaking career, yet she continued to paint and draw. In 1960, after her husband died, she moved to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where local scenes inspired her last works.