Henry Varnum Poor was born in Chapman, Kansas in 1888. As a boy, Poor showed an aptitude for drawing and strong interest in nature. He received his B.A. in art from Stanford University before going to Europe in 1910. Particularly significant for his development as an artist was his stay in London, where he worked under Walter Sickert and visited the Grafton Gallery exhibition “Manet and the Post-Impressionists.” French modernism had such an impact on Poor that he moved to Paris, studying at the Académie Julian for five months.
After he returned to the United States he worked in various modes. Although Poor considered painting his primary medium, after the stock market crash in 1929 he focused mainly on ceramics, which brought him fame and numerous awards. He also worked successfully as an architect, designer, furniture maker, sculptor, muralist, author, illustrator, and educator. Self-taught in many of these disciplines, Poor created art that was close to nature, instinctive, vigorous, and well-crafted. He was a founder of the American Designers Gallery in New York and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. Among the first ten artists to receive federal funding for murals, Poor painted frescoes at the Departments of Justice and Interior in Washington, D.C. Their success led to commissions for the Land Grant Frescoes at Pennsylvania State University. Poor died in 1970 in New City, New York.