In the summer of 1896, Elmer MacRae arrived at the Holley Inn. He was a student from the Art Students League who was there for a class in outdoor painting, but he also found Constant Holley. They fell in love. From the beginning Constant encouraged Elmer to draw and paint flowers. In a letter dated July, 1897, he wrote, “The flowers you told me to sketch, brought me a good criticism.” His style of painting changed over the years, but flowers continued to be a central theme in his art.
His early work was strongly influenced by the art of Japan both in technique and subject. This was partially due to the general interest in things Japanese at the time, but he was also influenced by a close friendship with fellow student Genjiro Yeto.
Two other subjects inspired his paintings, pastels and sketches: Constant, his wife, and Constant and Clarissa, their twins born on October 31, 1904.
In 1913, Elmer was one of the primary organizers of the Armory Show, the international exhibition that introduced European modernism to America. After this show, his style changed dramatically. Flowers were simplified and negative spaces activated with strong shapes and bold colors.
Beginning around 1915, his art took another direction. This time it was not in subject but rather in medium. With his interest in the Arts and Crafts movement—and the possibility of selling his work to the wealthy people moving to Greenwich—Elmer began working in wood producing chairs, screens, book covers and panels as well as boxes and tables.