Art and Literature (previous segment)
Art and Literature (cont.)
Art has not been without its representatives in Springfield, but with few exceptions these have been born elsewhere, and generally have elsewhere gained their fame, though we are bettering that of late years in an increasing number of painters in oils and water colors. Our most distinguished artist of the earlier days was Chester Harding, who made his home in the town from 1830 to his death in 1866, when he was nearly 74 years old, and as full of honors as of years. Harding belonged in the Connecticut valley, for he was grandson of a Deerfield farmer on the father's side and of a Whately farmer on the mother's, while he himself was born in the adjoining town of Conway, Sept. 1, 1792. He had a youth of petty adventure in peddling, and scrambled into portrait painting through sign painting, with little education of any sort and none in art. Yet he became the vogue in Boston to so great a degree that, in 1822, when 30 years old, as he has recorded, he had a long waiting list, and "Mr. Stuart, the greatest portrait painter this country ever produced, was at that time in his manhood's strength as a painter, yet he was idle half the winter. He would ask of his friends, 'How rages the Harding fever?'" And he had as great a success in Great Britain, not only on one visit, but on several, painting royal highnesses and so on. These facts are worth recalling, because Mr. Harding should not be forgotten in the town which he chose as his home in his prime and in which he died. Among his intimate friends were George Ashmun and Daniel Webster. His "Egotistigraphy," which he wrote for his family and which was published with further notes by his daughter, Mrs. White, ought to be known as a record of a noteworthy man. His personal appearance was remarkable, for he was six feet three inches in height, nobly proportioned, and his portrait in the city library will indicate how it was that he, with his air of Nature's nobleman, won so well in life.
Mr. Harding had a pupil in William S. Elwell, whose career as artist was cut short in his prime by paralysis though he continued to paint throughout his life, producing beautiful miniature landscapes. He learned in the school wherein the painter made his own palette, and used a score or two of colors, mixing them as he chose, and there was a fashion of delicacy and refinement which critics of the "Hudson River School" have characterized as feebleness. Yet if one of these critics should look upon Asher Durand's great mountain view in the Metropolitan Museum, or Frederick E. Church's "Cotopaxi" in the Lenox library galleries, he would be hard put to it to tell where the work could be improved. This is only to say that Mr. Elwell painted beauty in the way in which he could with his limited opportunities to behold it, and was to his last bit of gray matter an artist. One who has a miniature Elwell may value it highly. Mr. Elwell died in 1881, at the age of 71, and his body was buried in Springfield cemetery, where a rude granite boulder, overgrown by vines, as he desired, marks the place. His name and dates are cut in a palette-shaped place on the rock; while not far away is the freestone monument of Harding.
The artists of Springfield have grown to greater numbers than of old. Among them one pays respects first to Roswell G. Shurtleff, who, like Mr. Elwell, paints with careful elegance, and is particularly fortunate in his portrayal of autumn scenery in the hills. An artist long associated with Springfield, by years of residence, by friendship and by neighborhood is Willis Seaver Adams, who lives now in the house where he was born, in Suffield close by the old Enfield bridge, and there paints wondrous landscapes, such as would make him famous if he exhibited in the great cities, as he sometimes does in Hartford and Springfield. He is a great artist, in both oils and water colors, but he would like to conceal it from the public. He studied and sojourned in Antwerp, Munich, Venice and elsewhere in Europe; was associated with Whistler, David Neal, Otto Bacher, the late Robert Blum and others in those years. The portrait painter of our region is Miss Irene Parmelee, who has assured her lasting fame by her excellent portraits of Justice Justin Dewey, in the court house; Judge William S. Shurtleff in the probate court room; Henry S. Lee, and many more of prominent citizens. She divines character while she depicts likenesses, and her technical work is broad and strong. Among the elder landscapists now is to be reckoned Edmund E. Case, faithful in his presentation of mountain brooks and forest interiors and also of the stern scenery of the north shore. Mr. Case and Miss Parmelee studied in Paris with noted masters. Joseph J. La Valley has grown close to Nature in his years of devotion to the brush, and he also paints with skill those still life artificialities which are so much liked, and the fruits of each season. George N. Bowers has been industriously following art a long time; and loves the seashore; one of his truthful representations of Gay Head, Martha's Vineyard, with its colored clays, is properly placed on the walls of the Science museum, where there ought to be more such canvases to illustrate Nature's phases. Among other artists who have been associated with the city may be named Henry H. Ahl, a native of Agawam, who studied in Munich; George S. Payne, Bertus P. Pietersz - who has gained repute in New York by his cattle pieces especially, - George Harrington and Luther Knight, the pansy painter.
When John Cotton Dana was librarian of the City library, he entertained the notion of making the city a center of artistic industries, by means of a yearly exhibition which should comprise the artists of the valley north and south, in crafts as well as in pictile and sculptural art - if indeed anything in that last line should ever be developed hereabouts. This would draw here as a common center the work of the Deerfield and Greenfield independent societies, painters like Augustus Vincent Tack, the great engraver and painter Elbridge Kingsley, and others. It must be hoped that this idea may yet be brought to fruition.
Continued: Art and Literature, Springfield on the Side of Letters