Category Archives: Art

“Novelties in Art”

Trade card for Hoyt & Peters, Wellington, Ohio. Possibly ca. 1886. Author’s collection.

I have written on several occasions of my love of nineteenth-century trade cards. These small, paper advertisements were distributed by businesses of the time, and were often brightly colored and sometimes humorous. As a result, they were collected by consumers, and a large number of them have survived. I once worked in a special collections department at Harvard that had a magnificent collection of trade cards.

Over the years, I have amassed a very small batch of Wellington-related trade cards, and I thought it would be fun to share them in a single post. The image above is a card promoting Pioneer Prepared Paints, sold in the village by business partners Norton G. Hoyt and David J. Peters. I explained in a post in 2014 why I believe this card to date sometime around 1886.

In 2015, I relayed the life story of Freeman Battle (1850-1897). He was a merchant who sold sewing machines, and coincidentally worked in Hoyt & Peters building on Mechanics Street–now East Herrick Avenue–which still stands today. While Hoyt & Peters went to the expense of having their business name professionally printed on their trade cards, Freeman Battle merely ink-stamped his information on the reverse of a card likely printed in Cleveland.

Another local merchant about whom I have written rather extensively is John Watson Wilbur (1839-1936). Originally from Canada, Wilbur settled in the village as a young man and operated a hardware store, both with partners and alone, for thirty years. Wilbur had his trade card for stoves, tinware and dairy apparatus professionally printed, and the slapstick roller skating scene from this  particular example is copyrighted 1883.

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Trade card for J.W. Wilbur, Wellington, Ohio. Post-1883. Author’s collection.

Just steps away, on Liberty Street (today West Herrick Avenue) William Vischer had his piano and organ selling business. If one looks very carefully at the tallest brick building on the south side of the street–129 West Herrick–the ghostly remnants of the painted words, “Vischer & Sons Pianos” are still visible on the mansard roof today. At some point in the late nineteenth century, Vischer was the local agent for McCammon piano fortes, imported from Albany. He had his name printed on their cheerful card.

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On the ground level of that same Liberty Street building, Erwin Wright Adams operated a pharmacy for more than thirty years. In addition to pills, powders and tonics of all sorts, Adams also served as the ticket vendor for the nearby Opera House, after it opened in 1886. Adams ink-stamped his authorization to serve as “sole agent” for a medicine called Cas-Car-Ria on this trade card. I presume Cas-Car-Ria is a concoction made from cascara, the bark of a tree native to the Pacific coastal region still used in supplement form today as a mild laxative.

The final card I would like to share with you is a bit of a cheat, in that it is not for a Wellington business. It is a beautiful printed business card for James Fitzallan Ryder (1826-1904), a photographer in Cleveland who served as Archibald Willard’s business partner. It was Ryder who made Willard famous in the city by featuring some of Willard’s early work in his gallery windows and selling inexpensive chromolithograph versions for sale. It was Ryder who encouraged Willard to paint a large work for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, which we have come to know as “The Spirit of ’76.”

Interestingly, this card is stamped “Mastai Collection” in very tiny letters on the lower left corner of the obverse. I did some research and determined that the card must once have belonged to Boleslaw Mastai and his wife Marie-Louise d’Otrange Mastai, famous connoisseurs of Americana from New York. The Mastais spent more than forty years collecting and researching, eventually amassing one of the most highly regarded groupings of early American flags ever gathered, and publishing a 1973 reference book still considered a classic in the field. The bulk of their “Patriotic Materials” estate seems to have been auctioned off by Sotheby’s in 2002. How this lovely little item traveled from Cleveland, to New York, and now back to Ohio, is a wonderful mystery.

“3 Paintings for Use of Lodge Room”

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The signature “A.M. Willard” as it appears on the lower right corner of the masonic tracing board referred to as “Quarrying the Stone.” Photograph courtesy of Galloway Art Conservation.

Back in October, I wrote about the painter Archibald Willard and his relationship to Wellington’s Masonic Lodge #127. Willard was a member from 1867 until 1891 (more than a dozen years after he moved away from the village) and began his tenure there by decoratively painting the interior of their new hall on South Main Street, sadly no longer standing. I undertook this research nearly a year ago, at the request of the lodge, when they came into possession of three enormous painted panels, full of Masonic symbology and with at least one panel signed by Willard.

I have continued to research the provenance of these extraordinary objects. In the museum world, “provenance” is the term indicating the unbroken record of ownership of an object, which can be used to authenticate its origins (i.e. prove that it was created by a particular person, or in a particular region or time period) and that, in turn, may affect its value. It’s rather like a chain-of-deed on a house. In establishing an object’s provenance, the researcher builds a record of ownership with supporting evidence like bills of sale, letters, photographs, etc. The goal is to move backward in time, from the present day to the theoretical day the object was created. And it can be just as challenging as it sounds.

I debated how to construct this post. Would it be easier for readers to follow the thread of the narrative moving forward or backward in time? I decided that since the flow of the research progressed from present to past, that is how I would lay out the story. I hope that this structure will illuminate not only the timeline, but also the research process itself.

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The Masonic tracing board referred to as “Quarrying the Stone,” the panel signed by Archibald Willard in its lower right corner. The photograph has been rotated to enable easier viewing of the scene. Photograph courtesy of Galloway Art Conservation.

2016
Our journey backward in time begins in early 2016. Wellington Lodge #127 took physical custody of three oversized paintings on canvas, rolled together on one tube, from the Ohio Masonic Home in Springfield, Ohio. Staff at the OMH knew that they had held the three objects for some time, but the Wellington Lodge was not immediately able to connect to anyone with first-hand knowledge of how long the panels had been in Springfield, nor where they had come from previously. The Wellington lodge reached out to me to ask if I would assist them in conducting historical research to try and answer those questions.

Over a process of many months, we were eventually able to speak with several past and present staff members of OMH, and learned that there was a folder of information somewhere within their offices, which was thought to hold the key to solving the mystery. The folder was eventually located, and though it did not contain everything we had hoped for, it did hold the clue that took us one step further back in time: thank you letters to members of a now-defunct lodge, West Mansfield #588, for donating “these absolutely beautiful, historical murals” to the Ohio Masonic Home. The letters were dated June 2004.

2004
In chasing down information about the now-defunct West Mansfield Lodge, I reached out to Knowlton Library in Logan County, in the hopes that they had a local history room. They forwarded my query to the Logan County Historical Society, which was incredibly fortuitous for me. Ms. Beth Marshall, the Archivist/Assistant Curator of the society, has been invaluable in her assistance and generous in the donation of her time. The LCHS not only maintains a local newspaper collection, but also holds a collection of local Masonic materials. And incredibly, one of Ms. Marshall’s most dedicated volunteers is a man named Donald Corwin, who was both a member of West Mansfield Lodge #588, and remembered the panels personally. Mr. Corwin provided a wealth of oral history leads to follow.

1996
West Mansfield Lodge #588 merged in 1996 with East Liberty Lodge #247. Mr. Corwin informed me that in the interim period, between the 1996 merger and the 2004 donation of the panels to the Ohio Masonic Home in Springfield, the panels “adorned [the] Harriet Chapter OES.” OES is the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic-style organization open to men who are Master Masons and female relatives, spouses, and descendants of Master Masons. Mr. Corwin was kind enough to send a few snapshots showing the panels hanging on the walls of the hall.

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Image showing the panel referred to as “The Temple of Solomon” on display in the Harriet Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star. Date unknown. Photograph courtesy of Mr. Donald Corwin.

1906
We now take our biggest leap backward in time. Mr. Corwin recalled that the oral history of the panels within the West Mansfield Lodge was that they had been on display for “nearly a century” and had been given to West Mansfield by a lodge in nearby Bellefontaine. The transfer of the panels was accomplished using a horse and carriage, so the story said. Bellefontaine no longer needed the panels because they had supposedly acquired a state-of-art magic lantern for projecting images.

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Map showing the relationship between Bellefontaine, West Mansfield and East Liberty, Ohio. Bellefontaine Lodge #209 donated “scenery” to West Mansfield Lodge #588 in 1906, and ninety years later West Mansfield merged with East Liberty Lodge #247. Approximately fifteen miles separate Bellefontaine from West Mansfield; approximately ten miles separate it from East Liberty.

In order to establish the provenance of the panels, we must try to back up each assertion with documentary evidence. Mr. Corwin was able to gain access to the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century meeting minutes for Bellefontaine Lodge #209, and found several entries that seem to substantiate the particulars of the story.

An undated entry from 1904 reads, “On motion, the Trustees of the Lodge were appointed as a committee to conf[er] with the Chapter, as to the purchase of the Stereopticon and views, and report to the Lodge.” (Stereopticon is another period term for a magic lantern.) And then on January 16, 1906, this: “Also moved + seconded that we present (with our compliments) such scenes of ours as would not [be] need[ed] in new lodge rooms to West Mansfield Lodge #588, West Mansfield, O” (pg. 274). One day later, a follow-up notice reads: “Transfer of scenery to West Mansfield 588 With compliments of the Lodge members” (Minutes of the Bellefontaine Lodge, 1897-1911, pg. 275).

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In the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries, stereopticons or “magic lanterns” were the state-of-the art in electric projection. Sets of Masonic slides were available for commercial purchase, some manufactured in Ohio.

1875/76
The astute reader will note that we have not yet connected Archibald Willard to this narrative, nor have we definitively connected our written record to our physical objects. Though the 1906 entries I have just noted, coupled with the oral history of a lodge member, provide a strong circumstantial case, there is still work to be done to strengthen the chain of ownership.

Mr. Corwin was able to locate earlier entries within the Bellefontaine Lodge #209 minutes that also appear relevant to our story. On December 21, 1875, the lodge voted to donate “Twenty Five Dollars, towards buying 3 paintings for use of Lodge Room” (Minutes of the Bellefontaine Lodge, 1897-1911, unnumbered page). The following year, in April 1876, this note appears: “Broth[er] Elmer was granted an order on the Treas. for 5.00 for amount he had paid Mr. W.B. Soudare [sic] for work done on paintings” (ibid.). W.B. Soudaire was apparently a decorative painter and paperer who died in Toledo shortly after this entry was recorded.

What was Soudaire’s relationship to Bellefontaine’s interior decoration project? Did he know Archibald Willard? Were they working together, or at least during the same time frame, Willard on the panels (probably in his Cleveland studio; more on that below) and Soudaire on-site in the Bellefontaine lodge room? Was Soudaire doing the finish work on the rest of the room? Or was he in fact originally hired to paint the three massive panels, and his death left an unfinished commission that Archibald Willard eventually completed? At present, we do not know.


What we do know about Archibald Willard is that 1875/76 was a crucial moment in his career. Since at least 1873, he had been working with a Cleveland photographer called James Fitzallan Ryder (1826-1904). When Willard painted his “Pluck” works that year, Ryder caused a public stir by displaying them in the newly-installed plate glass windows of his studio, and offering inexpensive chromolithograph versions for sale. Ryder encouraged Willard to create a work for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, to be marketed on the same model, and the iconic “Spirit of ’76” was the result. This is what Willard was working on during the period the panels were first commissioned.

Ryder’s studio was located at 239 Superior Avenue in Cleveland. Willard appears in the 1875 Cleveland City Directory, listed as a “Fresco Painter,” with a studio at nearby 205 Superior Avenue. By the following year he had relocated even closer to Ryder, into the second-floor commercial spaces of Cleveland’s City Hall, then located at 233 Superior Avenue (present-day location of the Cleveland Public Library main branch).

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The Case Block, which was serving as Cleveland’s City Hall in 1876, when Archibald Willard rented studio space there. The building was demolished in the early twentieth-century and that block is now the location of the main branch of the Cleveland Public Library.

Also operating nearby on Superior Avenue that same year was a man called Max R. Cooks. He was part of several “fresco painting” firms before settling into a family business called Cooks Brothers. By 1883, his company had relocated one street over, to Euclid Avenue, which in that era was known as “Millionaires’ Row.” Cleveland was home to many of the nation’s most wealthy and powerful industrialists (including John D. Rockefeller), sustaining multiple interior design firms in operation in the city.

In his book, The Spirit of ’76…An American Portrait (1976), Willard F. Gordon–a descendant of the artist–asserted that Max Cooks was a close friend of Archibald Willard and considered him a “genius.” He employed Willard, presumably as a sub-contractor for the Cooks Brothers firm, to “paint frescos and stucco reliefs in many northern Ohio churches, homes of prominent citizens, and public buildings” (56). Gordon cites the painting of the New Cleveland Opera House and the creation of three murals in Washington Court House, Ohio in 1882 as specific examples of their professional partnership.

I was not able to learn much about Max Cooks, nor substantiate the business connection to Willard through other primary sources. In 1947, Cooks’ widow, Clara, was on a bus tour which passed through Washington Court House and asked to see the murals painted by Archibald Willard under her late husband’s employment. No one apparently remembered that Willard had created the murals, and the story proved so popular that it was periodically featured in The Plain Dealer over the following decades (for example, 2-24-1957, pg. 9 and 11-21-1976, pg. 38). Mrs. Cooks’ obituary noted her membership in the Alice Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star.

Was Max Cooks a mason? Was he the conduit through which Willard obtained the commission to paint three enormous Masonic teaching boards? Did Willard execute the commission in his Cleveland City Hall Studio? How long did it take to complete? Were the enormous paintings shipped back down to Bellefontaine via train or wagon, or both? For every question that seems answered, five more crop up to take its place.

Summary
The three Masonic tracing boards currently housed at the Spirit of ’76 Museum in Wellington were apparently created at the request of Bellefontaine Lodge #209, sometime after 1875. We do not know how Archibald Willard came to be connected to the project; at present, only his signature on one of the three panels provides evidence of his authorship. Willard was operating out of studios in Cleveland from this time until the end of his life, so it seems most likely he painted the panels there, in the absence of any evidence of a protracted stay in Logan County. Given the evidence of the Bellefontaine Lodge minutes, I presume the “3 paintings” they ordered are the same three objects now housed 140 years later in Wellington. The work was therefore completed prior to 1906, when Bellefontaine donated them to West Mansfield Lodge #588. Archibald Willard died in Cleveland in 1918.

Archibald Willard and Wellington Masonic Lodge #127

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Self-portrait by Archibald Willard, completed circa 1876. Original work held in the collection of the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH.

When I began writing this blog three years ago, I made two promises to myself. 1) I would never stray outside of the nineteenth century. 2) I would never write about Myron T. Herrick or Archibald Willard. The reason for this second promise was simply that Herrick and Willard are, by far, the best known figures from Wellington’s past, and both have had articles and books aplenty published about their lives. I did not feel that I could contribute anything new to either story, so I vowed to steer clear.

I can cheerfully report that I have since broken both of those promises, wandering back into the eighteenth century and forward into the twentieth…and beyond. I have even written about topics that brushed gently against the lives of both Herrick and Willard. But today I offer up something unprecedented: a post dedicated to the life of Archibald Willard and, I believe, on an aspect of his biography that has never before been documented.

Regular readers of the blog will recall that for some months past, I have made reference to an ongoing research project of a larger scale than that for my standard posts. Early in 2016, I was contacted by members of Wellington’s Masonic Lodge #127. They were about to come into possession of something wonderful: three enormous and previously unknown paintings by Archibald Willard. They wondered if I could assist them in researching the history of the pieces, and in having them “restored.” As it happens, I worked for a number of years at a regional art conservation center based in Cleveland. I put the lodge in contact with a talented, AIC-accredited paintings conservator and in March of this year we all came together to study these unusual objects.

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Paintings conservator Heather Galloway of Galloway Art Conservation examines one of three oversized Masonic tracing boards painted by Archibald Willard. Photo by author, taken March 3, 2016.

Wellington Lodge #127 has always known that Archibald Willard was once its member. They have beautiful, leather-bound ledger volumes from the nineteenth century that record his joining, and faithfully paying dues even years after he moved away from the village. But there is even more to be told about Willard’s connection with the Wellington Masons. And since October 11th is the 98th anniversary of his death, now seemed a perfect time to share that story.

The first meeting of a potential Masonic lodge in Wellington occurred in a garret under the eaves of the Wellington House–later called the American House–in 1844. It would be eleven more years before young Arch Willard, then aged nineteen, moved to the village with his family. The teenager had some nascent artistic talent, and got a job at Tripp’s Carriage Depot, where he was soon employed doing decorative painting on the vehicles. (He was also later employed by the Couch furniture company for the same purpose.)

September 13, 1858 is a day that is remembered in local and national history as the day of the Oberlin-Wellington Slave Rescue. What is less well remembered is the fact that so many people were present on the village green and able to participate in the famous rescue, because they were already there observing a large fire as it swept through the business block on the west side of South Main Street. Most of the buildings were completely destroyed, including the large brick building on the corner, owned by Dr. Eli Boies. By 1858, the Masons had relocated their meeting hall into Boies’ building, and consequently lost everything in the fire. It was to be the first of several such devastating fire events for the Wellington lodge.

Dr. John Rust also lost his wood-frame building in the September 13th fire. Masonic records indicate that in October, the lodge discussed the fact that “Do. J. Rust was about to rebuild his Drug Store and had offered the Lodge the priviledge [sic] of putting on the thrice Story he putting on the roof and the Lodge paying him One Hundred and fifty Dollars ground rent” (Wellington Masonic ledger, vol. 1, 10-26-1858 entry). The group voted to accept the offer, and began raising funds to pay for the third-floor addition.

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Image of the building erected in 1859 by Dr. John Rust, and later owned by Dr. John W. Houghton. This building housed Houghton’s Drug Store for a half-century, and the second floor was home to “The Wellington Enterprise” for decades while Houghton and his wife, Mary, were its co-editors. Wellington Masonic Lodge #127 occupied its third floor for forty-three years (note the Masonic symbol displayed on the third-floor facade). The building was demolished in the 1960s for what is now the Farm & Home parking lot. Photo 970885 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

The building was erected in 1859 and its third-floor Masonic Hall was dedicated and celebrated with a special event at the Congregational Church on January 17, 1860. The nation, meanwhile, was careening toward four years of war, during which time Archibald Willard would serve two tours of duty in the Union army, marry local girl Nellie Challacombe, and see the first of their five children born.

By 1866, the war had ended and Wellington’s Masons were already having problems with their facilities. The chief issue seems to have been inadequate space, and a committee was formed in June to determine “what a new Hall will cost, what we can sell our present Hall for~” (Masonic ledger, vol. 1, undated pre-6-30-1866 entry). Instead, less than a month later, the committee reported that conditions for building were “unfavorable” but “propositions have been made to enlarge our own Hall by extending to the west” (7-24-1866 entry). The lodge voted to agree to the extension proposal, and once again commenced fundraising to pay for the work.

On September 12, 1866, The Lorain County News reported that “the Masons are enlarging their hall by putting on twenty-one feet to the length and raising the roof, adding a Reading and Reception Room, which will make it a very fine Hall” (pg. 3). And then, for the first time, Archibald Willard makes an appearance in the records of the lodge, petitioning for membership on February 2, 1867. The committee formed to review his petition reported favorably, and he was elected into the lodge in March, when he was thirty years old.

One day after Willard’s election, the following notice appeared in The Lorain County News:

“Masonic Hall. The new Hall just finished by the Free Masons is one of the best in the State. The furniture, carpets, chandeliers &c., are all new and of a splendid quality. The walls and ceiling are frescoed in the finest manner. Four large paintings decorate the walls. The one in the east represents the rising sun reflecting its rays upon the ruins of castles on the distant hills. The one in the south represents midday with the trees and plants of the tropics. The north represents icebergs with a frail ship dashing among them and overtopping all is the Aurora Borealis sending up its glare to the blue sky above. The west represents rocky hills and extension [sic] plains, with wild scenes almost to the setting sun. The ceiling overhead represents the blue sky interspersed with clouds with twinkling stars glistening beautifully in the light of the splendid chandelier. Several miles of striping around the pannels [sic] on the walls and ceiling add greatly to the beauty of the whole—This work was done by our young townsman, Mr. A. Willard, and reflects great credit to him as an artist. The plans and designs of the hall and all its fixtures were mostly by Mr. L. Bowman who has been indefatigable in his labors to have every thing well done and in good taste. It will repay any one to visit this beautiful Hall” (3-20-1867, pg. 3).

The “Mr. L. Bowman” mentioned as being responsible for heading up the expansion and redecoration was Levi Bowman, a Jewish businessman born in Germany who was treasurer of the lodge. He and his wife raised eight children in Wellington, and Levi owned a clothing shop in the building immediately adjacent to Houghton’s. (Lepha Sherman Houghton was employed in Bowman’s shop when she moved from Massachusetts to Wellington; it was there she met married tailor Jack Brown and became pregnant with his child. She later died from a botched abortion attempt.) Bowman was a member of Lodge #127 for more than forty years, until he moved to Dayton just before the end of his life in 1900.

It is Levi Bowman’s name that is listed in Masonic records as the person who recommended Willard for membership in the lodge, and Willard’s profession is noted not as “mechanic,” as might be expected for someone working in a carriage shop in the period, but as “painter.” Masonic rituals and symbology were closely-held information in the mid-nineteenth century, and I am tempted to wonder if Willard in some sense had to become a Mason in order to secure the lucrative job of decorating their hall. He progressed through the three degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and finally Master Mason, finishing on May 21, 1867. On July 16th, a list of bills presented to the lodge for compensation included “One by A.M. Willard $75” (Wellington Masonic ledger, vol. 2, pg. 28). This was presumably the bill for painting services. But then on September 10th, this curious entry appears: “It was then moved, sec’d + carried by vote of Lodge that the fees for conferring the Degrees of E.A. F.C. + M.M. be remited [sic] to Bro. A.M. Willard” (pg. 33). I examined thirty years worth of Masonic records and this is the only instance I found of any member having his initiation fees returned by the lodge.

Willard paid annual dues to Lodge #127 until he withdrew in December of 1891, thirteen years after he left the village and moved his family to Cleveland. If he was an active member of the group during his residence in town, it is not reflected in existing records. I can find no mention of him ever serving as an officer–except for one day in 1872, when he stood in for an absent member. The only committee I found any reference to him serving on was also formed in 1872, to assess “the condition of the hall” (pg. 194). The building was experiencing water leaks, and it makes sense that the artist who painted the space was asked to inspect the impact on his work.

The Masons endured the water leaks, and another fire in 1881 that damaged, but did not destroy, the Houghton building. In 1900, a massive fire leveled the three-story brick building on the corner of Main Street and what is now West Herrick Avenue. A group of Masons decided to pool their resources and build a “splendid business house…The third floor is to be finished off into one large room, and would be ideal quarters for the Masonic fraternity, the members of which have hoped to secure it for the blue lodge and Chapter” (Wellington Enterprise, 3-26-1902, pg. 1). Ironically, as this modern edifice was being erected, the Masons’ first home in Wellington, the American House, was being demolished to make way for a new public library, a gift to the community from none other than Myron T. Herrick.

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Postcard image showing the relationship between the Houghton Building (far left) and the Reserve Building (far right). The Houghton building was demolished in the 1960s; the Reserve Building is still standing–and still home to Lodge #127–today. Postmarked January 1909. Author’s collection.

The Reserve Building was erected over the course of 1901 and 1902. In December 1902, The Wellington Enterprise reported that “the contract for finishing off the third floor of the new Reserve building will be let soon, and before spring the new Masonic quarters will be in readiness for the fraternity. When these rooms are finished Wellington Lodge F. & A.M. [i.e. Free and Accepted Masons] will be as comfortably quartered as any society in Lorain county” (12-24-1902, pg. 1) Unfortunately, there is a gap in the surviving copies of the Enterprise, so we know only that the Lodge was comfortably settled by the spring of 1904.

What, then, of the enormous paintings acquired by Lodge #127 this year? They have been donated by the lodge to the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, also known as the ‘Spirit of ’76’ Museum; the two groups are now working together to secure conservation funding. We know the panels were painted by Willard, as one of the three is signed by him. They appear to be Masonic tracing boards, teaching objects produced in groups of three and used for instruction within a lodge. The precise provenance of the panels has not yet been established; we can say only that they were painted by Willard and so must date within the span of his artistic career, ca. 1860 to 1918. My research is ongoing and will hopefully be the topic of a future post.

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“A meeting of Freemasons for the reception of apprentices: the junior warden introducing the candidate to be initiated and entered apprentice. Lithograph published 1st March 1812, by Thomas Palser, Surry Side, Westminster Bridge.” Early nineteenth-century depiction of an English Masonic initiation, showing a tracing board in use.

The Importance of Being Patient

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Detail of “Village of Wellington” (1857) by Archibald Willard. Original painting owned by Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

The massively popular website GeneaBloggers has been running a program this year that it calls the “2016 Genealogy Do Over.” The basic premise of the program is to give oneself permission to set aside all previous assumptions made during years–if not decades–of genealogical research and start fresh. Reexamine your primary source material with clear eyes and see what new information presents itself.

I have often wondered what I would learn if I had the time to go back and reread all the materials I have gathered since 2005, in the larger context of what I (think I) know now. Through pure happenstance, in recent weeks I had two instances in which this very scenario occurred. I was looking at materials I had gathered for research on other topics, and found unrelated answers for which I had been searching.

The image above is a detail of Archibald Willard’s study, “Village of Wellington.” For ages I have been attempting to use documentary evidence to determine precisely what each of the depicted buildings was used for when the painting was made in 1857. Then, while gathering information for my recent post on Wellington’s Seminary, it suddenly struck me: the massive “Map of Lorain Co. Ohio From Actual Surveys by John F. Geil” was also created in 1857. And there, printed right on the map, is a clear set of labels indicating the purpose of every structure in the painting. The Wellington House hotel-later called the American House-sat on the intersection, with a book store and post office directly adjacent. Next came a store, followed by the Presbyterian Church, then the (second) town hall and finally the (first) Methodist Church.

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Detail of “Map of Lorain Co. Ohio From Actual Surveys by John F. Geil. 1857” showing the east side of South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio.

The second mystery I recently solved was perhaps of less general interest than the one described above, but was immensely satisfying for me. Early readers of the blog will recall that I began this research when my family bought an 1876 Italianate house on North Main Street in 2004, a house built by businessman Noah Huckins. Over the years I have learned an enormous amount about Huckins’ life story. I know that he was born in Canada; that he attended college at Baldwin University (now Baldwin Wallace University) in Berea, Ohio; that he enlisted in a Civil War regiment from Oberlin but only served three months; that he was a successful entrepreneur in both Wellington and Oberlin, where he died.

What I was never able to discover was what brought Huckins to Wellington after his military service. Then, again while reviewing materials for my recent post on the Wellington Seminary, I found a Lorain County News item on the state of Wellington schools during the war. Buried in seven paragraphs, I discovered eight words that answered my question. “Our schools for the past term, though taught in three different houses, have been managed on the plan of the ‘Union Schools,’ with a corps of four teachers, under the superintendence of N. Huckins of Berea, and it has proved a success beyond that of any former period in the history of Wellington schools” (emphasis added, 12-30-1863, pg. 3). So Huckins came to Wellington to serve as superintendent of the village’s educational system, and ended up staying for two decades. I had the answer in my grasp for who knows how long, but somehow missed it.

Speaking of the virtues of patience, I must beg the pardon of regular readers. I have been posting less frequently of late, but I hope for good reason. I have a few blog-related projects in the works at present, including two print publications and a possible exhibition. Most exciting, perhaps, is that my assistance has been requested on an upcoming conservation project involving three newly discovered panels painted by Archibald Willard. Local folks may have seen recent press coverage. All of that “tangential” research is taking a fair amount of time. But if the nineteenth-century history of Wellington is a topic that interests you, I trust your patience will ultimately be rewarded.

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Candid snapshot of three oversized panels painted by Archibald Willard, on public display at Wellington’s Masonic Hall, May 22, 2016. Photo by author.

“Painted by W. F. Sawtell”

Oil painting on canvas by William F. Sawtell. Before treatment photograph by John T. Seyfried, on behalf of Galloway Art Conservation LLC. Object in author's collection.

Oil painting on canvas by William F. Sawtell. Before treatment photograph by John T. Seyfried, on behalf of Galloway Art Conservation LLC. Object in author’s collection.

A few months ago, I acquired a small oil painting created by William Sawtell in 1892. I have written about Sawtell’s photography studio and his lesser-known artistic talents before, but I had never handled one of his pieces until this little study came into my hands. It is about twenty inches high and ten inches wide, painted on a canvas that Sawtell apparently fabricated himself. The canvas was brittle, with small splits and holes, and a few of the wooden keys (used to keep the canvas appropriately tensioned over the wooden stretcher) were missing. The image had darkened with time and there were several areas of loss where the paint had been damaged over the years.

It just so happens that I know an excellent paintings conservator, Heather Galloway of Oberlin, Ohio. I took this little oil painting to her for an assessment and treatment proposal. She determined that the painting was in good condition and that its appearance could be improved by the removal of a varnish layer she did not believe was original. The varnish had been applied over “a significant deposit of dirt” and the way in which it was applied suggested that the painting was already in a frame at the time. We agreed that she would remove the later varnish, repair breaks in the canvas, and fill the areas of paint loss.

Oil painting on canvas by William F. Sawtell. During treatment photograph by John T. Seyfried, on behalf of Galloway Art Conservation LLC. Object in author's collection.

Oil painting on canvas by William F. Sawtell. During treatment photograph by John T. Seyfried, on behalf of Galloway Art Conservation LLC. Object in author’s collection.

The image above is a “during treatment” photograph that shows the difference made in the appearance of the painting by a partial removal of the darkened varnish and dirt layer underneath it. Once the varnish was totally removed, Heather could fill the areas of paint loss.

Verso of oil painting on canvas by William F. Sawtell. After treatment photograph by John T. Seyfried, on behalf of Galloway Art Conservation LLC. Object in author's collection.

Verso of oil painting on canvas by William F. Sawtell. After treatment photograph by John T. Seyfried, on behalf of Galloway Art Conservation LLC. Object in author’s collection.

The verso, or back, of the painting features a prominent black signature, “PAINTED BY W. F. SAWTELL.” (There are also small red initials painted in the lower, right-hand corner of the landscape.) Heather created new wooden keys for the stretcher, visible in the upper right. She fashioned a backing board with a window cut through it, so the signature would remain visible even while the verso of the painting was protected. What is difficult to see with the naked eye, but shows up nicely in conservation photography, is an additional inscription painted on the left side of the stretcher, shown below.

Detail of inscription on verso of oil painting by William F. Sawtell. After treatment photograph by John T. Seyfried, on behalf of Galloway Art Conservation LLC. Object in author's collection.

Detail of inscription on verso of oil painting by William F. Sawtell. After treatment photograph by John T. Seyfried, on behalf of Galloway Art Conservation LLC. Object in author’s collection.

The inscription reads, “Painted For Mrs. E. F. Webster. 1892.” William Sawtell was lifelong friends with Edward Webster, a founding partner of Horr, Warner & Co. The two men served in the Civil War and it was Webster who handled Sawtell’s financial affairs when the photographer began to suffer from mental illness in later life. Identified as Sawtell’s guardian in his probate documents, Edward Webster served as administrator of the estate and paid for expenses including “getting body of Wm. Sawtell home from Cleveland” and clothing it in a new shirt for burial. This little oil painting was apparently crafted as a gift for Edward’s wife, Flora Ladd Webster (1846-1917).

1870 wedding portrait of Flora Ladd and Edward Webster, taken in Wellington, Ohio. Photo 970674 of

1870 wedding portrait of Flora Ladd and Edward Webster, taken in Wellington, Ohio. Photo 970674 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

After the conservation treatment was completed, Heather assisted me in the selection of a modern frame, the original frame being lost. We chose one that had a period feel to it, gold toned and slightly ornate. Heather lined the new frame with felt to prevent abrasion, and secured the painting in place with modern metal mending plates. I am very pleased with the results.

Oil painting on canvas by William F. Sawtell. Photograph by Heather Galloway. Object in author's collection.

Oil painting on canvas by William F. Sawtell. Photograph by Heather Galloway. Object in author’s collection.

It makes me happy to think that this little jewel is back hanging in a Wellington home. If you have local history treasures that you believe should be preserved, post a comment or send me a message. I can put you in touch with a terrific conservator!

UPDATE: Per an exchange in the comments below, here is a candid shot of the back of the object. The outermost, cream-colored rectangle is the modern frame. The dark rectangle nestled inside that is the original canvas on its stretcher. The white, central rectangle is a backing board made of a conservation material called Coroplast; this protects the fragile back of the canvas and does not give off any chemicals that might harm the painting over time. You can see that Heather cut a window through the Coroplast (covered with transparent Mylar) so that the signature remains visible. She also attached the metal mending plates to the new frame, so that they neither touch nor damage the original wooden stretcher of the painting.Back of Sawtell

Artless

Detail of mural, attributed to Mr. Lesley Tripp, in the basement of 326 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Detail of twentieth-century mural in the basement of 326 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

When my family first moved into our home on South Main Street a few years ago, we were constantly asked about the Archibald Willard murals in the house. Some folks had only heard about the murals and wanted to confirm whether they actually existed. Some claimed to have seen the paintings with their own eyes and wanted reassurance that they survived unscathed. The one constant in all these narratives was the attribution: everyone called them “the Willard murals.” It is completely understandable why this should be so. Archibald Willard was, after all, a nationally-known artist with a connection to the town. But while the commonly-held belief may be understandable, it is almost certainly incorrect.

Archibald Willard died in Cleveland in 1918, aged 82, following nearly a decade of ill health. Our bungalow was completed barely a year prior to his passing. Numerous notices in The Wellington Enterprise explicitly named the decorator, interior house painter, even the man who laid the stone walkway from the house to the street in the summer of 1917. Nowhere is there a mention of a famous painter visiting the construction site, let alone executing a massive and time-consuming mural commission.

Detail of mural, attributed to Mr. Lesley Tripp, in the basement of 326 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Detail of twentieth-century mural in the basement of 326 South Main Street, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Beyond this evidence “by omission” is a stronger clue that Willard was not the responsible party. In 2013, we were paid an impromptu visit by a member of the Schweller family, who occupied the house from the mid-1930s to the mid-1980s. Mr. Robert Schweller informed us that his father, Florian, hired a man called Leslie Tripp from Rochester, Ohio, to beautify three areas of the bungalow: the dining room; another small room on the ground floor; and a basement space that runs the width of the house. (Schweller, Sr. reportedly liked Tripp’s work well enough that he also retained him to decorate two of the family’s downtown businesses.) The dining room frieze of ducks in flight, and the four seasons encircling the walls of another ground-floor room, are now covered over by contemporary paint and wallpaper. Only the basement mural remains. If there is any signature on the work, we have not yet found it.

Does Mr. Schweller’s telling of this story prove that it is absolutely correct? With every respect to the man, it does not. Human memory, of both the short- and long-term varieties, is demonstrably unreliable. But weighing all the evidence currently in hand–Willard’s advanced age and ill health; no timely press coverage of such a notable project; and a first-person account fleshed out with numerous detailed anecdotes–the most reasonable working hypothesis is that local artist Leslie Tripp is our man. The next logical step would be in-depth research to disprove or substantiate that claim.

Why am I relating this story? The Wellington Enterprise recently published a full-page, heavily illustrated feature in which it reported that “the village’s oldest house” at 308 East Herrick Avenue is now for sale, and quite possibly contains three original vignettes by Archibald Willard. I was not intending to offer any public comment on the matter, but I have since been asked on several separate occasions for my opinion of the article’s accuracy, so I decided to write this post in response.

Let me begin by saying that I am not an art historian. I can only assess the available evidence as I understand it. Nineteen-year-old Archibald Willard moved to Wellington with his family in 1855. By 1857, he was capable of producing work that looked like this:

"Village of Wellington" (1857) by Archibald Willard. Original painting owned by Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

“Village of Wellington” (1857) by Archibald Willard. Signed and dated by the artist. Original painting owned by Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

When the house at 308 East Herrick Avenue first became available for sale, I made an appointment with the realtor and went to see it. It is known in local lore as the “Alanson Howk House” and I was very interested to look at some of the architectural details up close. I took snapshots of the small paintings at that time. Here is an example of one of the panels in question:

Panel in west front room of 308 East Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Undated, unsigned panel in west front room of 308 East Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

If we stipulate that Willard came to Wellington in 1855, and we acknowledge that he was a painter of some technical and aesthetic accomplishment by 1857, then it seems to me that we are left with two possible conclusions about the East Herrick panels. The first is that Archibald Willard painted them after he arrived in town, but before he (rapidly?) developed the talents evident when he painted Village of Wellington. Remember though that Willard did not begin to enjoy commercial success or a measure of renown until fifteen years later, with his Pluck paintings and lithographs. His earlier work is not likely to have been so prized, and therefore protected, prior to that time. The second possible conclusion is that Archibald Willard did not paint the East Herrick panels. They were created by someone with less sophisticated artistic abilities and later incorrectly attributed to the town’s most famous citizen. In the absence of further documentary evidence, I favor the second theory.

Panel in east front room of 308 East Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Undated, unsigned panel in east front room of 308 East Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Regarding the claim that 308 East Herrick Avenue is the village’s oldest house, I can only say that it was not built in 1815, as the article asserts. Alanson Howk is popularly credited as the builder of that house. He was among the first white settlers to arrive in the area we now call Wellington in late 1818, but he continued to live in his older brother’s household until at least 1826. This is shown by census documents and corporation tax records. Howk married Theadocia Clifford in October 1828; it is not improbable that a house was constructed to shelter the new family. Again, until further research can be conducted, I would only be comfortable stating that–if Alanson Howk was indeed the builder–the house was erected prior to his death in 1850. An architectural historian might have been able to offer a significantly tighter date range, but the Enterprise article indicates that major changes have recently been made to the interior of the structure.

Did Archibald Willard paint the three small works inside 308 East Herrick Avenue? Connoisseurship and artistic authentication are not my fields of expertise. But if you are asking for my best guess, I have my doubts.

Sawtell’s “Most Famous Pupil”

Hand-painted ceramic plate attributed to Laura Tissot, held in the collection of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, "The Spirit of '76" Museum. Photo by author.

Hand-painted ceramic plate attributed to Laura Tissot, held in the collection of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum. Photo by author.

“While in the hospital [Sawtell] took up china painting as a diversion and has followed this line of work at intervals, and when in fair health, since. With his fine artistic taste he soon acquired wonderful proficiency in this line. He never offered his work for sale, but many homes are adorned by his beautiful workmanship in china, given by him in token of friendship” (The Wellington Enterprise, 4-28-1909, pg. 7).

In my last post, I gave a brief biographical sketch of Wellington photographer William F. Sawtell. One element that I did not touch on in that account, because I wanted to give it a fuller treatment, was Sawtell’s artistic pursuits. According to his obituary, quoted above, he first took up painting while in a voluntary, two-year commitment at the Newburgh State Hospital.

I do not know the dates of his stay, but his obituary seems to suggest that his time in the hospital occurred after he discontinued the photography business in 1888. Either I am misreading the obituary or else it is incorrect. I have found several notices in the Enterprise dated much earlier than 1888 that mention Sawtell’s painting. Here, for example, is part of a small piece entitled, “Ceramics at Home,” from January 15, 1880: “Mrs. W. R. Santley, who has for years done a good deal of creditable work with pencil and brush, and Mr. W. F. Sawtell, our photographer, who is an artist in a larger sense than in the skillful use of camera and chemicals, we find have each learned the different methods of painting upon chinaware and porcelain at a school in Cleveland, and have done some handsome decorating of single pieces and sets, the annealing or burning in of the colors being done at Rice & Burnett’s, Cleveland” (pg. 3).

And this, from three months later: “W. F. Sawtell frequently changes off from his regular art work for a diversion in color painting and silk, satin, leather, tin, everything ministers to his decorative skill” (4-29-1880, pg. 3). It may be coincidental, but I also located an advertisement for a Miss Watkins offering “lessons in charcoal, sketching and crayon drawing” from her studio “in front of Sawtell’s gallery” in 1882.

Local historian Robert Walden published several columns that mention Sawtell, and two in particular discuss his work as a painter. He wrote, “In photography, Mr. Sawtelle [sic] excelled and was prominent in that field, but it was in the decoration of china that he did his finest work. He was successful as an instructor in this media. His most famous pupil was Miss Laura Tissot, so proficient and prolific in her art that scores of homes still have and cherish the sets of china dishes she decorated for them. Mr. Sawtelle [sic] signed all of his china decorated dishes with his initials, WFS, on the back of each piece” (Robert Walden Notebook, #B16).

This was the first mention I ever read about Laura E. Tissot (1863-1943) but Walden helpfully provided more detail about her in a separate column. Tissot was “an institution in herself. She has never had and will never have a duplicate here,” he gushed. He dubbed her one of the “unique personalities who have helped in shaping the mentality of this town” (Notebook, #B35). Walden places her studio on the second floor of the Wells Insurance Building, on the east side of South Main Street, next to the Herrick Memorial Library. I have also seen an image of a now-demolished wood-frame structure on the west side of South Main Street, currently the parking lot of Farm & Home Hardware, identified as “Miss Tissot’s shop in the ’30s.” Perhaps both are correct.

Laura Tissot was one of the organizers of the Wellington Cemetery Association, and was passionately committed to the preservation of both the “Pioneer” and Greenwood Cemeteries. Interestingly, William Sawtell’s obituary notes, “He was deeply interested in the beautifying and improving of our cemeteries, and the present cemetery organization really owes its existence to his untiring efforts” (The Wellington Enterprise, 4-28-1909, pg. 7). Walden never mentions Sawtell in his description of the launch of the cemetery association; it is impossible to know which painter developed the interest first or whether s/he influenced the opinions of the other.

The Tissot family headstone in Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

The Tissot family headstone in Greenwood Cemetery, Wellington, Ohio. Photo by author.

Around the turn of the century, Laura and her brother, Will H. Tissot, purchased a painting from local milliner Mary Cady. It was a pretty street scene of the town and some Wellington residents believed that Miss Cady herself had painted it. It was, however, the work of artist Archibald Willard, now called simply “Village of Wellington.” After Laura Tissot died in 1943, her estate made a gift of the painting to the Herrick Memorial Library. It hangs there still.

So, gentle readers, check your china cabinets and attics. Look for anything with the initials “WFS” on the base, or any ceramics hand-painted with bright, floral motifs. Without even realizing it, you may hold a small piece of nineteenth-century Wellington history in your hands.