Seeing “100 Years of Art: Celebrating Columbus’ Legacy” at the Riffe Gallery has been on my to-do list for weeks. When I read a post on the Ohio Historical Society Collections Blog that “Hocking Valley Picnic,” a painting from the Society’s fine art collection, was part of the exhibition the Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery organized in tribute to Columbus’ Bicentennial celebration, I finally made tracks to High and State Streets.
The exhibition is based on curator Melissa Wolfe’s curiosity about the legacy of Columbus’s contemporary art world. Wolfe, curator of American Art at the Columbus Museum of Art, has chosen works that offer a sense of how the city’s art community changed over the years. Whether highlighting the creations of local heroes like Columbus Dispatch cartoonist Billy Ireland and barber-woodcarver Elijah Pierce or nationally recognized talents like Roy Lichtenstein and James Thurber, the exhibition suggests that Columbus offers an engaging environment that encourages artistic creativity. The works on display also allow viewers to learn about the clubs that local artists formed for socializing and exhibiting their works. These include the Pen and Pencil Club, the Kit-Kat Club, and the Paint and Clay Club (all founded in the late 1890s), as well as the Columbus Art League, formed in 1909 by 40 graduates of the Columbus Art School (now the Columbus College of Art & Design).
As soon as I walked in and saw “Hocking Valley Picnic” hanging on the wall behind the gallery attendant, I wondered why it took me so long to see this delightful painting and the other works in this interesting exhibition. He gave me permission to take some photographs to illustrate my blog post, and I was off to discover Columbus’ artistic legacy.
“Hocking Valley Picnic” was my first stop. Reading the exhibit label, I learned that David Broderick Walcutt (1825-1885) was one of John M. Walcutt’s 17 children. John ran a carpentry shop at the southwest corner of Town and High Streets in Columbus; later, he opened the city’s first art gallery there, displaying artwork and souvenirs to entice people to enter his shop. Although David did not receive any formal art training until later in life, he painted popular everyday scenes. During an artistic study trip to Paris in 1854, David painted “Hocking Valley Picnic.” In this charming scene, a group of people are gathered in the center of the painting. Nearby, you can spot a man pushing a woman on a swing, a couple holding hands, and two couples preparing for a picnic. “Drawing on the newly minted word ‘picnic,’ the painting depicts a well-dressed ‘citified’ group participating in the current rage of the day by returning to their less cosmopolitan roots for a nostalgic day in the woods,” the label said. The oil painting was shown at the 1855 Salon in Paris and also received the Ohio State Fair’s medal for “Best Oil Painting.”
Next, I discovered “Cow and Calf,” from the collection of the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown. John Jay Barber (1840-1910) was a self-taught painter who earned a reputation for his likenesses of prize-winning cattle like “Pride of Eastwood,” a Jersey cow better known locally as “Fannie.” A native of Sandusky, Barber was trained as a lawyer, but became interested in painting after returning home from serving in the Civil War. He came to Columbus in 1871 and opened a studio at 87 Wesley Boulevard in Worthington. While he first painted landscapes of the Muskingum Valley, he eventually specialized in painting “bucolic scenes of bovines in central Ohio landscapes,” according to the label. Barber won a prize for one of his cattle portraits at the 1884 World’s Fair at New Orleans. In 1910, he committed suicide with a pair of scissors at the Columbus State Hospital.
Works by two art teachers from Columbus School for Girls are included in the exhibition. “Sicilian Salt Bark” (1905), from the collection of the Columbus Museum of Art, is by Albert Fauley (1858-1919), who taught at CSG from 1912 to 1917. Educated in Paris, Fauley was also known for his scenes of Holland and Venetian waterways. “View of Provincetown” (ca. 1935) is by Harriet Kirkpatrick (1877-1962), who was the head of CSG’s art department and the art director of the Ohio State Fair in the 1920s. According to the exhibit label, Kirkpatrick was a childhood neighbor of George Bellows. She bribed the important 20th century painter and Columbus native with figs from her father’s grocery to entice him to draw circuses and trains for her. She studied first with Alice Schille, a Columbus artist who is regarded as one of the foremost women watercolorists, and later at the Provincetown Summer School.
Michigan-born Edna Boies Hopkins (1872-1937) achieved acclaim for her color floral woodblock prints, like “Purple Asters” (c. 1910) and “Spotted Dahlias” (c. 1915). Trained at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and at the Pratt Institute in New York City during the late 1890s, Edna and her husband, James Roy Hopkins, relocated to Columbus when James became artist in residence at Ohio State University in 1923. Spending summers in Provincetown, Massachusetts led Edna to become part of a group of women artists who developed a woodblock printmaking method referred to as the white-line, or single-block, woodcut. Instead of the Japanese technique of carving individual blocks for each color, these artists cut grooves in a single printing block to create separate color areas, distinguished with a narrow, unprinted space between colors, which resulted in a clean, modern look. To discover more of her work, see Edna Boies Hopkins: Strong in Character, Colorful in Expression, by Dominique H. Vasseur (Ohio University Press, 2007), a book that I reviewed for the Winter 2008 issue of Ohioana Quarterly.
Other works in the exhibition include “My Flower Garden, Grandview” (ca. 1916), by Ray Kinsman-Waters (1887-1962), who studied with Schille at the Columbus Art School, and William Parker Little’s “Winter Scene,” a photograph taken circa 1905 from the second story of a house at South Grant Avenue and East Long Street. Little (1850-1937) was a graduate of Heidelberg College who was a vice president of the Huntington National Bank until he retired in 1925. According to the exhibit label, he began photographing in the 1890s, using his children, his backyard, and his family travels as the subjects of his work. Three thousand negatives of Little’s work were stored at his daughter’s house and pulled out of a dumpster in 1993, when an auctioneer suggested that they might be of interest to someone.
My greatest discovery came just before I left the Riffe Gallery. Beside the gallery’s door, there’s a small, simple plaster bust of a child by May Elizabeth Cook (1864-1951), from the Columbus Museum of Art’s collection. Cook studied in Paris, then worked as a designer for Roseville Pottery in Zanesville. In 1918, she enlisted in the Women Volunteers of the Army and developed a method of creating ceramic masks of faces of injured soldiers to help surgeons with reconstructive surgery. She also worked with patients to make pottery and other ceramics to encourage their psychological and physical rehabilitation, the label revealed. Cook is best known for the Peter Pan statue in front of the main branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library. Unveiled on May 18, 1928, the statue is the centerpiece of a fountain in memory of George Peabody Munson, who died at the age of six.
When I read the exhibit label, I noticed that the bust was titled “Molly Brown” and dated from 1914. This wasn’t a bust of just any Molly Brown. This was a bust of Molly Brown Caren Fisher (1913-2005), one of my grandmother’s childhood friends.
An only child descended from James Kilbourne, founder of Worthington, Ohio, Molly grew up on a 150-acre fruit farm that was located three miles north of Worthington on Route 23, near present-day Highbanks Metro Park. Molly’s grandfather bought the farm as an investment in 1911 and gave it to her parents when they were married. Although the Browns primarily grew apples and sold them at their roadside market, they also harvested sour cherries, gooseberries and currants.
After attending St. Joseph Academy with my grandmother, Molly went to Immaculate Conception School in Clintonville. When she was older, she went to boarding school in Connecticut. Molly attended Trinity College in Washington, D.C. for two years, then transferred to Ohio State University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1935. She earned a master’s degree in sociology from Catholic University of America in 1936.
In January 1937, Molly married John Caren, whose father owned the John M. Caren Company, a store once located at 169 North High Street, that was also where my great-grandfather worked. As her husband practiced law in Columbus, Molly managed and operated the fruit farm. The Carens lived on the farm for 25 years, until they moved to Bexley in 1962. Molly sold the farm to Planned Communities in 1980. In 1984, Molly returned to Ohio State and studied agricultural economics, livestock and animal science. After her first husband died, Molly married Fred Fisher.
Molly also inherited another family farm located off Route 40 near London (Madison County), Ohio. Now known as the Molly Caren Agricultural Center, the 992-acre farm is the home of the Farm Science Review, one of the largest agricultural shows in the country that is held during the third full week of September each year.
Seeing the exhibit also provided me with the opportunity to look up these artists in two of my favorite reference books: Ohio Art and Artists (Garrett and Massie, 1932) and Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900: A Biographical Dictionary (Kent State University Press, 2000). It also reminded me of a connection I have to Robert Chadeayne, another artist featured in the exhibition. I’ll be writing about that soon.
“100 Years of Art: Celebrating Columbus’ Legacy” has been on view since January 26 and will continue until April 15. You can also see a video about the exhibition, with comments by Melissa Wolfe, here.