Montclair’s magnetic appeal to artists
By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
By the late 1800s, a “colony” of artists had flocked to Montclair, taking advantage of the mostly farm- and parklike landscapes to use as backdrops in their works of art.
The colony would become influential in the creation of the Montclair Art Museum, opening in 1914, and Montclair’s art community to this day.
During the period, art colonies were forming across the globe where artists sought scenic landscapes and other like-minded colleagues. As industrialization set in, artists sought conclaves close to nature outside of the cities. Although many of the colonies were formed along coasts, Montclair, only a train ride away from New York City, drew many artistic city dwellers.
The most famous was George Inness Sr., who opened a studio in Montclair in the 1880s and was soon joined by other painters, sculptors, stained glass artists and engravers, according to the Montclair History Center’s Erin Benz, who held a Zoom lecture on “Montclair’s Art Colony” on May 13.
The center has also created an eight-mile walking/biking tour of the sites of the homes and studios of these artists, many of which still exist, throughout Montclair. The tour begins at the Montclair History Center.
A small path — Dike’s Lane — takes visitors to impressionist, etcher and lithographer Thomas Manly’s studio. Manly was considered the dean of Montclair artists, having moved to the township in 1893 to Mount Hebron Road, where he set up a studio behind his home.
He got his start creating etchings for New York City newspapers and magazines.
“He was known to mix his own paints and crayons for his landscape pieces,” Benz said.
Thomas Ball was the first American sculptor to patent and cast in bronze affordable domestic statues for middle-class homes. He moved to Montclair when he was 78 and was considered a great mentor to other artists.
His “Emancipation Group” sculpture, which depicts Abraham Lincoln and a slave, was recently removed in Boston for “perpetuating harmful prejudices,” according to the decision. There is another statue in Washington, D.C., and the smaller version is at MAM, Benz said. The home is at 29 South Mountain Ave.
Ball’s son-in-law, William Couper, followed in his footsteps and also became a sculptor, creating the busts of famous scientists for the American Museum of Natural History. He was one of MAM’s founders, Benz said. Couper, his wife and father-in-law moved to an Italianate house in 1908 at 105 Upper Mountain Ave.
Manfred Trautschold lived briefly at 60 Upper Mountain Ave. beginning in 1897. While many of the artists of the times and in Montclair followed impressionism, Trautschold’s style was more realistic, Benz said.
Illustrator and engraver Harry Fenn was one of the first artists to move to Montclair, in 1865, and lived on Upper Mountain Avenue at “The Cedars,” but the house has since been moved to 208 North Mountain Ave. Known for his attention to detail, he was commissioned to illustrate “Picturesque America,” “Picturesque Europe” and “Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt.” The History Center has a copy of “Picturesque America,” Benz said. He later moved to a home at 284 Park St.
Emilie and Walter Greenbough, painters and stained glass artists, moved to Montclair in 1890 to be part of the colony and worked as stained glass designers in the studio of John LaFarge. They held pageants, poetry readings, concerts and plays for their fellow artists at their home at 340 Highland Ave., but were most known for their tableaus, in which they organized models to represent a historical scene for artists to paint. After Walter Greenbough died in 1898, Emilie, known for her realistic flesh tones, supported the family by selling paintings.
Frederick Judd Waugh moved to 110 Montclair Ave. in 1907 and took over Inness’ studio, but only spent winters in Montclair. As a plein air artist, he headed to Maine in the summers to be close to the ocean to paint his famous seaside paintings.
Considered one of the greatest American sculptors of his time, Jonathan Scott Hartley moved to Montclair 1885 and lived at 158 Grove St., next door to Inness, who lived at “The Pines on Grove Street.” As Hartley was married to two of Inness’ daughters, first Rosa, who died in childbirth, then Helen, the two homes shared a walkway for the family to make frequent visits. Both homes have been demolished, Benz said.
Inness, who moved to Montclair in 1885, is credited as one of the most influential landscape artists of his time. His works were his interpretations of nature, “his emotional reactions to the scenery,” and were not meant to imitate, Benz said.
He cared little for appearance and would forget to eat, she said. MAM has a room dedicated to his works, which reflect the people and landscapes of Montclair and, some say, his spiritualism.
Samuel C.G. Watkins, who spent time with him in his studio, wrote of Inness in his book “Reminiscences of Montclair:” “He was placing his soul on that canvas.”
Inness died in Scotland in 1894 as he stood on a cliff overlooking the Scottish countryside after declaring: “My God, oh how beautiful,” Benz said.
Lawrence Carmichael Earle and his wife, Nellie, moved to be part of the Montclair Art Colony in 1889, living at 48 Walnut Crescent. Earle was a prolific painter, Benz said, doing landscapes, portraits and still lifes. He created the Dutch Boy painter — still used at the Dutch Boy paint company’s logo.
Michael Brady, who lived at 192 Forest St., served as Earle’s model. As he sat for the portrait, he decided he wanted to be an artist and later became a political cartoonist for the Brooklyn Eagle, Benz said.
George Inness Jr. lived down the street from Earle on Walnut Crescent in a home that has since been demolished. Although less well known than his father, he painted landscapes and included animals in them to differentiate his work from his father’s. After his father’s death, Inness Jr. reportedly destroyed all of his own work and focused on religious paintings.
Don Miller, who moved to Montclair in the 1920s and lived here until his death in 1993, is best known for his Martin Luther King Freedom Mural, displayed at the Martin King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. Miller painted the mural in his studio at 180 Bloomfield Ave.; a copy is on display at the Montclair Public Library.
Benz said that in the 1960s, Miller noticed the lack of diversity in his son’s educational books. It led to his creating works for Silver Burdett, an educational textbook publisher, she said. Florence Rand Lang, born in 1862 and a Montclair High School graduate, was a wood-carving artist who laid the foundation for MAM. She not only donated $50,000 to build the museum, but also gave it her extensive collection of Native American art, mostly baskets that were coveted during the Arts and Crafts Movement. She also donated funds to create the amphitheaters at the high school and Rand Park.
James S. King was considered one of the best portrait etchers of his time. His best-known piece is a portrait he did of Lincoln. He lived at 798 Valley Road.
The art museum holds many of the colony artists’ works. The George Inness gallery features nine of them. Jonathan Scott Hartley’s bronze sculpture “Music” and William Couper’s “Crown for the Victor” are on view. The George Inness Jr. painting “Landscape and Cattle” is in the “Uncaged: Animals in the Collection” exhibit currently on display, said Gail Stavitsky, chief curator.
The museum opened an art school in 1924; Margaret Tyler Yard founded an art school in 1927. The schools merged in 1999 and became the Yard School of Art.