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Armstrong, John (13 October 1717–09 March 1795), soldier, surveyor, and member of the Continental Congress, was born in County Fermanagh, Ulster, Ireland. The identities of his Scotch-Irish parents and circumstances of his youth are unclear, but his father may have been named James. A trained surveyor, John Armstrong evidently received some education fairly early in life. Sometime in the mid-1740s Armstrong immigrated to America, settling initially in Delaware and then in Pennsylvania, where he worked as a surveyor. It was probably at some point after his arrival in America that he married Rebeckah Armstrong. The couple had two sons (the younger, ...

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Barnum, P. T. (05 July 1810–07 April 1891), showman, was born Phineas Taylor Barnum in Bethel, Connecticut, the son of Philo F. Barnum, a farmer and storekeeper, and Irena Taylor. While attending public school in Bethel, Barnum peddled candy and gingerbread. He later wrote that he had always been interested in arithmetic and money....

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Bingham, George Caleb (20 March 1811–07 July 1879), artist and politician, was born on a plantation near South River, in Augusta County, Virginia, the son of Henry Vest Bingham and Mary Amend, farmers. In 1819 the family moved to Franklin, Missouri, where Bingham’s father opened a tavern and bought a farm near Arrow Rock, Missouri. In 1821 he became a county judge but died in 1823. A year later Bingham’s mother established a girls’ school in Franklin and two years after that moved with the family to a farm in Arrow Rock. In 1827 Bingham was apprenticed to a carpenter and Methodist minister in Boonville, Missouri, but when he saw a portrait painter at work, he decided to become one himself. He also studied religion, preached, and read law until 1830, after which he became an itinerant portrait painter. In Columbia, Missouri, he painted his four earliest surviving portraits (1834), including one of ...

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Bradley, William Czar (23 March 1782–04 March 1867), politician and attorney, was born in Westminster, Vermont, the son of Stephen Row Bradley, an attorney and U.S. senator, and Merab Atwater, who died soon after his birth. He contracted scarlet fever at age two, and it is likely that the disease resulted in hearing loss, which became pronounced. During his early years Bradley lived with his grandparents in Cheshire, Connecticut, and began school at Charlestown, New Hampshire....

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Bresci, Gaetano (11 November 1869–22 May 1901), silk weaver and regicide, was born in Coiano, Italy, the son of Gaspero Bresci, a peasant/artisan, and Maddalena Godi. At age eleven Bresci was apprenticed to learn the art of silk weaving; he later attended a Sunday school to acquire a specialized trade. While still a youth, Gaetano participated in an anarchist group. First arrested for disturbing the peace in 1892, he was subsequently confined to the penal island of Lampedusa for more than a year for his role in organizing a strike. Now identified as a “dangerous anarchist,” Bresci had difficulty securing employment....

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Browne, Carl (1846–16 January 1914), political agitator, reform journalist, and organizer of "Coxey's Army", political agitator, reform journalist, and organizer of “Coxey’s Army,” was born in Springfield, Illinois. (The date and place of his birth are sometimes less reliably given as 4 July 1849 in Newton, Iowa). Browne was working as a sign painter in western Iowa in 1869 when he suddenly decided to move to California. At that time he desired more than anything else to paint a gargantuan panorama of the Yosemite Valley. He later exhibited this painting up and down the Pacific Coast, such panoramas being a popular form of folk art in the nineteenth century. One unfriendly critic observed, “As an artist Carl Browne belongs to a distinct school. In fact, he constitutes the entire school.” Browne’s response to critics was to affirm that as a young man he had apprenticed with a carriage and house painter (an experience that probably accounted for his love of huge panoramic images and garish colors such as might adorn a circus wagon)....

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Bulfinch, Charles (08 August 1763–15 April 1844), civil servant and architect, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Bulfinch, a physician, and Susan Apthorp. Scion of long-established and wealthy colonial families, some members of which had been recognized amateur architects whose books were available to him, Bulfinch graduated from Harvard College in 1781. Apparently it was at Harvard that he learned drafting and the geometrical construction of linear perspective. After a period in the counting house of Joseph Barrell, where, as he later wrote, the “unsettled state of the time” produced “leisure to cultivate a taste for Architecture,” he spent the period from June 1785 to January 1787 on a grand tour of England, France, and Italy, “observing … the wonders of Architecture, & the kindred arts of painting and sculpture.” Described by Louis XVI’s director general of gardens and buildings as “un gentilhomme américain” who was already “plein de goût et de connaissance dan [ ...

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Bulova, Arde (24 October 1889–19 March 1958), businessman, was born in New York City, the son of Joseph Bulova and Bertha Eisner. His father emigrated to New York from Bohemia and in 1873 started a small jewelry manufacturing business that eventually became the Bulova Watch Company. Bulova attended school in New York and in 1905 began working as a salesman for his father’s company. The family business prospered and in 1911 was incorporated, with the father as president and the son as vice president and treasurer. The firm was reincorporated in 1923 as the Bulova Watch Company, Inc. Bulova became chairman of the board in 1930, a position he held until his death in 1958....

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Cahill, Holger (13 January 1887–08 July 1960), author and curator, was born Sveinn Kristjan Bjarnarson, in Snifellsnessyslu, Iceland, the son of Björn Bjarnarson, a laborer, and Vigdis Bjarnadóttir. Cahill, however, later claimed he was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1893. In the 1890s the Bjarnarsons emigrated to North Dakota, where they hoped to obtain land. Unable to purchase property, Björn worked as a hired hand. Vigdis, whom Cahill later described as a stern “peasant woman” with a poetic streak, and Björn, “a failure in almost everything he did,” quarreled frequently, separating when Cahill was eleven. Struggling to support her son and his younger sister after Björn departed, Vigdis sent the boy to live with an Icelandic family on a nearby farm. After the family removed him from school, put him to work in the fields, and pressured him to be confirmed in the Lutheran church, he ran away. Settled with another family, Cahill finished high school and then set off for Canada, where he worked as a farm laborer and cowherder. By 1907 he was back in the United States, holding a job as a railroad clerk in St. Paul. While there, he later recalled that he read “Tolstoi by the acre” and took a correspondence course in journalism. This was followed by short stints as a watchman on a Great Lakes steamer and as an insurance salesman in Cleveland....

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Clark, Abraham (15 February 1726–15 September 1794), surveyor, politician, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth), New Jersey, the son of Thomas Clark, a farmer, town alderman, and county judge, and Hannah Winans. Although he was referred to as “the poor man’s counsellor,” as far as is known he had no formal education or legal training, having turned as a young man to surveying and writing land conveyances because a “frail” constitution made him unfit for active farming. He did transact a good deal of legal business, including drawing up deeds, mortgages, and other papers. He married Sarah Hatfield (or Hetfield), probably in 1749. They had ten children, six or seven of whom survived childhood....

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du Pont, Henry Francis (27 May 1880–11 April 1969), art collector and horticulturist, was born in Winterthur, Delaware, the son of Henry Algernon du Pont, an army officer and U.S. senator, and Mary Pauline Foster. After taking an A.B. at Harvard College in 1903, the young du Pont spent a number of years traveling throughout the United States and Europe, the du Ponts’ financial success having released him from career obligations. In 1914, however, his father asked that he take over the day-to-day management of the dairy farming operation at “Winterthur Farms,” the family farm in rural Delaware. Under du Pont’s meticulous direction the farm developed a nationally famous and prize-winning herd of Holstein-Friesian cattle, specimens of which were consistently voted among the best of breed in the country, serving as the foundation for many other registered Holstein herds throughout the United States. The spectacular success of the cattle herd, in combination with du Pont’s unusual willingness to experiment with innovative new practices in soil conservation and crop production, allowed Winterthur Farms to develop a reputation as the model of a modern American dairy farm....

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Ferguson, John Calvin (01 March 1866–03 August 1945), educator, art historian, and Chinese governmental adviser, was born in Lonsdale, Ontario, Canada, the son of John Ferguson, a Methodist minister, and Catherine Matilda Pomeroy, a schoolteacher. Because of his father’s itinerant occupation, he rarely lived in one location longer than two years. This did not dissuade him from pursuing a career in the clergy, however. He attended Albert College in Ontario before moving to Boston University, where he received the bachelor of arts degree in 1886. After some further study at the school of theology there, he was ordained a minister in the Methodist Episcopal church....

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Robert Gwathmey. Left, with his wife. Courtesy of Michael Kammen.

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Gwathmey, Robert (03 January 1903–21 September 1988), artist and activist, was born near Richmond, Virginia, an eighth-generation native of Welsh descent, to Robert Gwathmey, a railroad engineer, and Eva Harrison Gwathmey. Following brief stints at North Carolina State College (1922–1923) and Maryland Institute of Design (1925–1926) and at sea on a commercial freighter, he attended the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA, 1926–1930), where he was awarded several prize fellowships and met his future wife, also an aspiring artist, Rosalie Hook of Charlotte, North Carolina. They married in 1935 and had one son, Charles Gwathmey, who became one of the most prominent architects of his generation. When Charles was born, Rosalie Gwathmey took up photography, acquired professional skills, and later earned public recognition for her work. Beginning in the 1940s Robert Gwathmey often asked Rosalie to photograph rural scenes in their native South and used those images as the basis for some of his most striking paintings. Despite that collaboration Gwathmey was typical of his generation in regarding photography as an inferior art form....

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Hanks, Nancy (31 December 1927–07 January 1983), arts administrator and civil servant, was born in Miami Beach, Florida, the daughter of Bryan Cayce Hanks and Virginia Wooding, both farmers and entrepreneurs. Hanks received her college education at Duke University, graduating in 1947. It was there that she began her long career in public administration by working actively as a member of student government throughout her attendance and as president during her senior year. In 1951 Hanks moved to Washington, D.C., and began working as a secretary in the Office of Defense Mobilization. She worked there until 1953, when she became acquainted with ...

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Havemeyer, Louisine Waldron (28 July 1855–06 January 1929), collector, patron, and suffragist, was born Louisine Waldron Elder in New York City, the daughter of George William Elder, a merchant, and Mathilda Adelaide Waldron. In 1874 Louisine accompanied her sisters and recently widowed mother to Europe. She and her sister Adaline resided in Paris at the fashionable Del Sartre rooming house favored by women art students. ...

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Hull, John (18 December 1624–30 September 1683), goldsmith, mintmaster, and merchant, was born in Market Hareborough, Leicestershire, England, the son of Robert Hull, a blacksmith, and Elizabeth Storer. He came to Boston with his family in 1635 and was trained as a goldsmith (synonymous with silversmith) by Richard Storer, his half-brother, between about 1639 and 1646....

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Jarves, James Jackson (20 August 1818–28 June 1888), journalist, diplomat, and art connoisseur, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Deming Jarves, the inventor of Sandwich glass, and Anna Smith Stutson. Jarves received some formal education at Chauncy Hall School in Boston and enhanced his knowledge by extensive reading. At fifteen he was bedridden by what was diagnosed as a “rush of blood to the head” that left him temporarily blind and unable to continue at school. Gradually he improved but when the doctors recommended that he live in a milder climate than New England he had to forgo a Harvard education....

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Kaufmann, Edgar Jonas, Sr. (01 November 1885–14 April 1955), retailer and patron of architecture, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Morris Kaufmann, a merchant, and Betty Wolf. Kaufmann’s grandfather was a horse trader in the Rhineland town of Viernheim, Germany. Two of his uncles left Germany in 1868 for Pittsburgh, where they were first peddlers and then tailors. In 1872 the two brothers were joined by Kaufmann’s father and another uncle. In 1877 the four Kaufmann brothers opened a department store in downtown Pittsburgh, doors away from the cast-iron Mellon Bank. In 1905 Edgar Kaufmann attended the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University, after which he spent two years as an apprentice at the Marshall Field store in Chicago, at Les Galeries Lafayette in Paris, and at the Karstadt store in Hamburg. He returned from Europe in 1908, and by 1913 he held or controlled a majority interest in the family store. In 1909 he married his cousin Lilianne Kaufmann; they had one child....

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John Mercer Langston. Courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society.