|~ Newark Valley Historical
~ Early Artists of Newark Valley ~
|Local Historic Sites||Art has
always been an important part of Tioga County's culture. We are pleased
to present two authors who reflect upon artists who painted subjects in
and around Newark Valley. During the eighteen hundreds and early
nineteen hundreds, several inhabitants of Newark Valley left their
artistic mark upon our area. Click on the names to read about these
Alida Virginia Noble
This article first appeared in the summer of 1997, in the "Tioga County Courier", 59 Church Street, Owego, New York 13827.
Alida Noble was born on Feb. 13, 1849, at Newark Valley, the daughter of David W. and Esther (Bootree) Noble. She and her parents initially resided "in the large building torn down some years ago and formerly occupied as a store by the Noble family nearly a century ago." (Tioga County Herald, 1929)
At around the age of five, Noble's parents moved to her grandfather, William T. Noble's, former farm on the east side of Main Street, north of Hope Cemetery. Here she lived with her parents and three brothers, Charles L. and Lyman Bird Noble, and it was her home until her death.
Noble joined the Newark Valley Congregational Church in 1865, of which she remained a member all her life. She later attended Elmira College, and became a Mathematics teacher for ten years or more at Claverack College, on the Hudson (Owego Times, Feb. 1929), and at "other schools in the eastern parts of the state" (Arthur Livermore's column).
It was while teaching at Claverack that Noble "began studies in painting and developed an outstanding talent, so that in later years, she was widely recognized as perhaps the best American copyist of the Old Masters" (Owego Times).
The early part of the 1900s was spent by Noble in developing her art. According to her obituary, "She made four trips to Europe to copy pictures in the famous galleries of Paris, Florence, Rome, Dresden, and other cities, some of these copies being made on commission for American patrons and others for her own collection."
One of these early trips to Europe was detailed in the Owego Gazette.
It would appear to have been her first time abroad. A small item reads:
A later article reads:
According to a note written by former Newark Valley Town Historian,
the late Lena Bushnell, in one of her scrapbooks:
Noble's father died in 1890, her mother in 1894. According to Art
Livermore's column Noble "was a famous copyist and her paintings readily
found a market. At one time, her art classes were crowded with pupils
wishing to work themselves into fame." According to Noble's obituary,
In 1913 the town was presented by Noble with a great original work, a portrait of Lee Roy J. Tappan, poet and founder of the Tappan-Spaulding Memorial Library. Before his death in 1905 at the age of 25, from tuberculosis and meningitis, Tappan had willed nearly his entire estate toward the building of a town library, which was constructed in 1908.
An October 10, 1913 article in the Tioga County Herald, on the
upcoming unveiling ceremony for October 14, says:
The unveiling ceremony at the Congregational Church, detailed in an
October 17 article in the Tioga County Herald, featured a short address
by Rev. J. J. Hogan of St. John's Church; a short musical program; (an
organ voluntary by Mrs. W. E. Simmons); prayer by Hon. E. G. Nowlan;
selection by a brass quintet: Messrs. Joslin, Blatchley, Elwell, Snyder,
and Belden; and two songs "beautifully rendered" by Mrs. Barford and a
vocal duet by Mrs. Barford and Miss Roberts). According to the article:
Regarding the portrait, the article reads:
"The price paid for the portrait is not made public. It indeed would
be of no significance as it is but a nominal figure intended by the
artist as but a reimbursement for time and attendant expense. Neither
can any approximate value of the portrait be arrived at. The celebrity
of the artist to a great measure fixes the ordinary charges for
executing portraits. However, it might be said that the value has been
estimated at approximately $1, 000."
The 1913 article then proceeds to give a full rendering of both the
Rev. Knapp's, a former pastor of the Congregational Church and Lee Roy
J. Tappan's closest friend, and Noble's speeches. Noble begins her
address by saying:
"The making of this picture has been to me principally a labor of love. And the thought that by this work I could help to some extent, at least, in giving to those who did not know 'Roy' some knowledge of his kindly and intellectual personality, has been a constant inspiration.
"The art of portraiture in its varied forms is very old and seems to be a response to one of the most natural longings of the human heart..."
Noble then goes on to detail the long history of portraiture,
beginning with Greece and ending with the English school of the 1700's.
She says that the Mona Lisa "is one of the finest examples of highly
finished portraiture that exists", and concludes by describing her
working method and influences on the Tappan portrait:
"It was this picture that inspired my to believe that I could do this portrait in oil and I went to see it several times, while working to gain further inspiration. And it was these inspiring words, written by someone, sometime: 'The portrait of a helpful friend, like the earnest words of a great man, may often inspire us to render service to humanity to the utmost measure of our power.'"
Alida Noble died on Sunday, Feb. 3, 1929 at the home of John and Effie Cameron of Newark Valley, where she had been ill and cared for, for four weeks. According to the Tioga County Herald for Feb. 4, Noble "had been in failing health for some time and suffered a shock on Friday last." The funeral was held at the house on Tuesday, Feb. 5, Rev. D. Glynn Lewis, pastor of the Congregational Church officiating.
The burial was at Hope Cemetery. Noble was survived by her two brothers, Charles of New York City and Lyman of Battle Creek, Michigan; and a niece, Mrs. Neil Stevens, of Glen Cove, Long Island.
According to the Tioga County Herald, Noble "was a very kindly, affable woman, delighting in showing her pictures to many visitors who have wished to see them in the past years, and she has given much aid and encouragement to many young people in art studies."
Susan Catherine Moore Waters
She married at age 17 to William C. Waters, and after a few years, he encouraged her to develop her talent as a painter. During three years (1843-45) Mrs. Waters traveled through this region of the Southern Tier of New York and nearby northern Pennsylvania painting portraits. While there were other itinerant painters at the time, very few of them were women.
It was during 1844 that she worked in Newark Valley and surrounding parts. She painted many portraits in Berkshire, including those of Amanda and John Royce (Fig.2), and at least two portraits in Newark Valley.
One of these is "Dr. Lincoln's Daughters." Typical of the period, it included fruit, flowers, a pet, and a potted plant along with the children and is set against a partially draped background. (Fig.3) It was very recently discovered, and much to the shock of the owner it brought over $90,000 at auction. It now hangs in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Itinerant painters would often stop at a home without notice. Soon
the grapevine informed interested neighbors of the limner's arrival and
talent and appointments could be made for portraits. Most of the time,
the painter stayed in the home of the client for the few days that the
painting took to complete. Successful painters worked quickly for their
own benefit as well as for the sitter's. Generally, a portrait brought
the artist from ten to forty dollars. 1
Mary E. Jenks
A mid-19th century local painter whose large landscapes have been termed "Cole-ish" (after Thomas Cole, a founder of the Hudson River School) is Mary E. Jenks of nearby Jenksville. Some of her paintings, both in size and in theme, simulate the grand vistas portrayed by Hudson River artists.
Attached to the back of an 1854 landscape canvas, was a paper explaining that the artist had at one time wished to marry a "western" man. However, her father would not allow this, so she remained a maiden lady the rest of her life. She taught art in school and is considered a "Sunday painter" because she pursued her interests in art and music in her leisure time and not as a professional.
George Byron Sutton
He also sculpted a broken tree trunk as a foundation for this display
of seventy-five species of North American woodpeckers. This along with a
similar collection of skunk family specimens was presented to the
Cornell University museum in the 1890's. 2
Both these landscapes are the same size and style. They reflect the influence of the Hudson River School, whose typical scene included virgin landscape fading into the far-off distance. Sutton's approach combines Doughty's tranquil mood with Durand's adherence to naturalistic detail. Such accuracy complemented his work as a taxidermist and carried over into these paintings as well. Both hang in the Tioga County Historical Society Museum along with a self-portrait in charcoal of the artist (Fig.4).
LeeRoy J. Tappan
He spent many of his lonely hours painting, and as several examples show, had considerable talent for capturing detail. When one considers that these paintings were executed by a boy of 14 and 15 years of age, the degree of accomplishment can be even more greatly admired. His attention to components is especially evident in the pastel rendition of a mule, and the composition in oils of roses -- an especially difficult subject to capture realistically. (See Fig.8 & 9)
It is particularly difficult for a painter using an opaque medium to portray transparent containers, with or without contents. Tappan displays knowledge of techniques necessary to bring transparency across in his "picture of Dr. & Mrs. R.S. Fellows table, corner of Main and Brook St.". 4 (Fig.10) Since he dated the painting 1894, he was only 14 when he demonstrated this skill.
Two other small (approximately 8x12) oil paintings are seascapes. One is a lighthouse in moonlight and is simply signed "Roy". (Fig.11) While good, it does not approach the quality of a Dutch harbor scene painted in 1895, when Tappan was 15. (Fig.12) The latter shows mastery of both the water and the clouded sky. Again, attention to meticulous detail is evident in the buildings on shore as well as the ships. This composition expresses more unity than the others and could possibly have been influenced by master painters. I know of a Dutch painting in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston called Fort on a River done in 1644 by Jan van Goyen. It differs very little from Tappan's painting. Van Goyen's water is calmer, and the boats are smaller types, but a similar sky threatens a similar shoreline, including the faint windmill in the center distance. I postulate that Tappan saw this painting and either painted from memory or made his own changes in buildings and ships.
LeeRoy Tappan died at the early age of 25. It is tempting to
contemplate what more this talented young man could have accomplished,
had he lived longer. He is remembered, however, by the residents of his
village. In appreciation of the "efforts made by the civic minded people
of Newark Valley who had worked valiantly to maintain a library for the
public," 5 his will provided about $20,000 for a
library building to be erected and maintained in the village.
Tappan-Spaulding Memorial Library opened 3 years later in December of
Alida Virginia Noble
While in Europe she visited many famous cities including Dresden,
Rome, Paris, and Florence, to work in the galleries. She produced a
large number of paintings in her lifetime -- among them the previously
mentioned portrait of Tappan (Fig.7) who had been a
friend. Some were for her own collection, but most were commissioned by
patrons in America and abroad, including royalty. She distributed many
of her paintings to friends, churches and institutions.
Another painting (Fig.16) appears to be that of a Christian martyr, possibly Saint Agatha. Its canvas for some reason has an obvious seam running down through the subject's face. The painting itself is generally well done. The hand in the foreground is badly proportioned, but the drapery and especially the ruffles of lace are well represented. The painting is believed to be a copy of the 17th century Italian master Guido Reni. The subject has large sorrowful eyes reflecting her suffering. This treatment of the eyes is also a style of the Baroque period in which Reni painted, considered to be the final phase of the Renaissance. The original could otherwise been painted by Carlo Dolci, who painted in the 18th century and copied the style of Reni.
A small painting of a young girl in pink called The Age of Innocence (Fig.17) is also a copied piece. It is unsigned as are all the works which are copies, as required. Another requirement is that copied paintings measure 1/4 inch smaller than the original work.
Miss Noble continued to paint throughout her life and gave lessons as well. Miss Bertha Nowlan was known to have taken lessons in oil from Miss Noble in the 1920s, when Miss Noble would have been in her seventies. Miss Nowlan had her easel always set up in an upstairs room so that she could readily paint whenever she had the opportunity.
Belle Donley Smith
She also painted on china, a popular pursuit of her times. She shared these interests with several other ladies in Newark Valley. Mrs. Florence Fellows Bushnell painted china and oils. Another contemporary was Angeline Purple, a school teacher. She turned to oil painting in her later years after her husband passed away. Having had no lessons, she painted only for pleasure. Surviving paintings are of barnyards and pastoral scenes.
Mrs. Anna Rogers Simmons was also a school teacher and an accomplished organist for the Methodist Church. She, too, painted in oils and on china until becoming too ill to continue these endeavors.
Mrs. Verdi Howard Turner displayed talent as a painter of china and gave lessons to local students in the art.
This gives a fairly complete sampling of early artists of our area. Although most of these people painted at leisure, some employed their talents as a way to make a living: Mrs. Waters as a portraitist, Sutton in conjunction with his taxidermy, and Miss Noble as a commissioned copyist.
It is interesting to note how the prevailing styles of the times often found their way to Newark Valley. Apparently there was enough exposure to contemporary art, through travel and other means, to influence some of the works done here.
There are many residents now who are carrying on the tradition of painting our inspiring surroundings and each other. May future generations value and appreciate our efforts as we do those who have gone before us.
1 - Kinney, Jean and Cle: 21 Kinds of American
Folk Art, p.77.
Bibliography of Published Works
|Early Artists of NV|
|Looms and Wheels|
|Tioga County's Past|
|Misc. Historical Articles|