The Gritty Realism of Genre Artist David Gilmour Blythe

2015-03-21T11:27:16+00:00 January 13th, 2015|

By Aaron Skirboll

In the 1940’s, a Pittsburgh steel baron named G. David Thompson began collecting the paintings of an obscure 19th century artist, David Gilmour Blythe. Thompson had stumbled upon the artist’s work hanging in saloons or gathering dust in cellars and attics around the North Side of Pittsburgh. When he introduced the paintings to Manhattan collectors, buyers were enamored with the hitherto unseen realism of nineteenth century America. Genre art captures snapshots of everyday life, and Blythe’s gritty social commentary, together with the scarcity of his paintings, helped the value of his work rise and has continued to do so today. 2015 marks one hundred and fifty years since the artist’s death. Today, his paintings are in the collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, and in 2013 at Sotheby’s a piece of his artwork fetched $100,000 at auction.

But during his lifetime, David Gilmour Blythe enjoyed little success.

 ***

Uniontown, Pa. 1850. His wife was dead.

David Gilmour Blythe and wife Julia hadn’t been married for even two years before Julia dropped dead of consumption. Blythe, a thirty-five year old self-taught artist and a restless spirit, threw himself into his work. He had already begun preliminary sketches for what was to be his “big thing” — his mark on the world, a moving panorama of the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia.

Moving panoramas were a precursor to the cinema or motion picture, and in the mid-nineteenth century one of the most popular entertainment forms in the U.S. and Europe. Artists first sketched, and then painted images, usually the picturesque, onto long canvas scrolls. The scrolls could stretch from a couple hundred feet in length to a few thousand. Viewing took place in a hall, theatre, or ballroom, with the artist’s canvas mounted onto sets of rollers and then wound, to be enjoyed by a seated audience. But a panorama was more than the mere painting; it was a production, played out on stage, replete with a script, a narrator (a paid actor, for the more stylish shows), and a piano accompaniment. And unlike a cyclorama or diorama, it was not confined to a fixed space. Moving panoramas were just that — mobile, and intended for touring. Mississippi River panoramas were especially in demand at the time, presenting the American progression into the West.

Lafayette

General Lafayette, Uniontown, PA

Hailing from East Liverpool, Ohio, Blythe built a reputation in Uniontown through the quality craftsmanship of his hand sculpted eight-foot statue of General Lafayette. The statue was hoisted to adorn the dome of the new county courthouse to great fanfare. Blythe was also a portraitist, traveling the countryside, often into West Virginia, capturing the likenesses of the area’s prominent citizens, or at least those with money enough to spend on such indulgences. These Uniontown portraits were nothing special, simple works really, though maybe this un-perfectness made the works all the more true to life, as occurred when a local judge, Nathaniel Ewing, was reported to have once bowed at a Blythe portrait as he passed it in a store window, and actually wished the likeness a “Good Morning.”

Portraits made Blythe a living, though the work failed to move his spirit. It was the panorama artists Blythe looked up to. They were making it big at the time. Blythe traveled the mountains of Southwestern Pennsylvania for inspiration for what he’d title “The Great Panorama of the Allegheny Mountains.” His sketching expeditions took him east to Albemarle County, Virginia, and as far west as the Ligonier Valley of Pennsylvania. He made up drawings of Jefferson’s tomb at Monticello, The Natural Bridge, Harper’s Ferry, the Potomac River, Big Rocks, Washington Springs, and Ohiopyle Falls, among others. He studied the land and the history. He traced General Braddock’s route during the French and Indian War. He imagined Army camp life, and he drafted a scene depicting Colonel George Washington’s regiment at Fort Necessity.

Panorama of Pilgrim's Progress

Panorama of Pilgrim’s Progress (Not Blythe’s work — details: http://bit.ly/1BW0WX8)

It took him the majority of two summers to complete the sketches. At his studio in Uniontown, he painted the scenes onto canvasses seven feet by fifteen, then sewed them together. Once finished, his panorama had grown to some two hundred feet in length.

He completed the panorama in late September of 1851, at which point it was previewed for the community of Uniontown over a two-day span. From there, a tour was scheduled to begin on October 3, in Cumberland, Maryland.

Uniontown buzzed with excitement as the panorama departed. As Blythe settled into a stagecoach set to leave town, joined by his moneymen and pals, James T. Gorley and P. U. Hook, a resident rushed forward and halted the transport with a last minute proposal for Gorley. He offered a staggering one thousand dollars to buy Gorley’s share of the action. But Gorley, like everyone else in Uniontown, believed the panorama was going to be a great hit, and he declined the offer.

From Cumberland, the great traveling show would pass from city to city, perhaps even, if success dictated, a stint abroad would follow, in London and beyond. A great windfall would accompany, no doubt, thought Blythe and most in Uniontown.

But it was an unmitigated failure. “The Great Panorama of the Allegheny Mountains” hit only a handful of cities, including Baltimore and Pittsburgh, before the exhibition died out in Cincinnati. The promotion was shoddy, and despite a favorable start and positive reviews in Baltimore, the execution of the moving picture grew increasingly shabby as the show wore on. So did Blythe, who drank and feuded with his partners. The money was pulled, the show was shuttered, and pieces of the panorama were sold off. The art would be cut to pieces for use as backdrop at Trimble’s Variety Theatre in Pittsburgh. (Today, not a trace of his art in the panorama exists, only a written description published in newspaper advertisements.) The effort busted Blythe financially.

For Blythe, the show’s demise meant he had to return home, back to Uniontown, a failure. All that fanfare, and to make it to a handful of cities only. Maybe he had been too busy, previously enthralled with the big project, to have dwelled on his wife’s death or allowed himself an opportunity to grieve, or maybe he stayed industrious for precisely that reason, he thought he could throw himself into his work. But he failed.

He attempted to confront his feelings through poetry.

“They told me you were dying,
And a tear, the first I’d seen
For years, flowed down my cheek,
And seemed to mollify the keen
Bitterness of departed hope.

Soon after the panorama debacle, Blythe disappeared from Uniontown.

He continued writing.

“Tis past! and I’m alone! alone!
There was but one unbroken link
That held me, trembling on the brink;
But that is gone,
And now I sink!
Alone! alone!”

***

David Gilmour Blythe was born in East Liverpool, Ohio on May 9, 1815, the fourth of six sons to John and Susan Blythe, father from Scotland, mother from Ireland. The pair came to America in the summer of 1811, settling into Columbiana County after traveling the Allegheny and Ohio rivers. Blythe had a carefree boyhood, the Ohio River a thoroughfare for the Blythe brothers to traverse in wood rafts. The family’s first inkling of his artistic gifts came when they found the likeness of the neighborhood basket peddler, Henry Davis, sketched in charcoal on the outside of a storage house door.

Young Musician

Young Musician

When he reached the age of sixteen he left for Pittsburgh, forty miles up the Ohio, where he found an apprenticeship with a woodcarver named Joseph Woodwell. He spent three to four years in the rustic, burgeoning city, earning money as a carpenter and house painter. In 1834, he joined his brother, John, and the two boated down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

In July of 1837, Blythe hiked to New York to join the Navy. He set sail on the USS Ontario on August 2, 1837. In a year’s time the Ontario carried him to Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Mexico, The Bahamas, and the Virgin Islands. He was in the Gulf of Mexico for the bombing of Veracruz, Mexico by the French Navy in 1838. By 1840, Blythe was in East Liverpool again, where he began earning a living painting portraits, and where he remained until the winter of 1846. Then, at age thirty-one, he left for Uniontown, Pennsylvania to call on a young lady.

Julia Keffer, like Blythe, was born in East Liverpool, where she lived before she moved to Uniontown with her family as a child. She and Blythe wrote poetry to one another and enjoyed a playful courtship. A family member recalled hearing stories that “Blythe had a teasing annoying nature,” and he would often write little notes inflected with raillery to his sweetheart. On September 30, 1848, Blythe and Keffer took to Pittsburgh where they were married at St. Paul’s Cathedral. A year or two later (exact date unknown) at approximately twenty-five years of age, Julia died of consumption in their room at the National House in Uniontown.

Blythe’s acquaintances noticed a change in him fairly soon after — “the beauty and the worth seemed to have departed out of his life” — wrote one friend, while Uniontown historian James Hadden wrote of a “gloominess” that “settled over the life of Blythe, from which he never fully recovered. He became extremely careless of his dress and utterly regardless of the opinions of his fellow man.”

***

Blythe turned inward upon leaving Uniontown. He had little to no money. His perspective had been irrevocably altered. Once a youth who’d yearned for social acceptance and an artist with a healthy capitalistic streak, he now spurned the material as a barometer for success. This new philosophy was pointedly at odds with a nation completing an industrial revolution.

He just didn’t care anymore.

From 1852 to 1854, Blythe wandered parts unknown. He became an itinerant, writing and studying. Blythe wrote a lot during this period, including on the pages of an old autograph book his wife once kept, a sweet little album teeming with notes and verse, many written by Blythe himself during their courtship, now preserved on microfilm at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

These wandering years were not spent entirely scribbling heart-sickened poetry, however; it’s believed he also spent time in Boston and in New York City, where he viewed the Dutch and Flemish painters, as well as the Hudson River School artists like Asher B. Durand, on display at galleries. All of this is mere conjecture, however, because in his writings he mentions nothing of the sort. Still, sophisticated traces would later come out in his own work, hints of Teniers, Wilkie, and Edmonds. Art historian and Blythe Biographer Bruce W. Chambers observed that his art during this period would soon move “from stiffness to fluency, from simplicity to complexity.”

[blocktext align=”right”]”He’s not self-conscious about style or quality. He just paints it.”[/blocktext]Blythe never had the luxury of an East Coast art education. He was just a hick from the frontier of an ever-expanding America. But as his itinerant days came to an end, he had a clear understanding of his vocation. Whatever shortcomings he might have had as a painter, “He just forges ahead,” says David G. Wilkins, professor emeritus of the history of art and architecture at the University of Pittsburgh, “and ignores the problems that he sometimes has with proportion and figure position and color. He’s not self-conscious about style or quality. He just paints it (or sculpts it) … He painted what he thought was interesting, fun, amusing. I don’t think he ever thought any of his works might end up in a museum.”

Blythe returned to East Liverpool in 1855, and returned to painting portraits. But he also started painting genre art, showcasing men of working class backgrounds. Then Blythe returned to Pittsburgh, and found a new muse: the dynamic, rapidly developing, churning, and slightly tattered city.

***

“You thought I left for parts unknown, well you were right,” Blythe wrote in a letter to a friend, as he resurfaced from exile. His writing, both in letters and poetry present a glimpse into his state of mind while traveling America. “Out from the cold, blank emptiness of a drunkard’s home,” he’d been searching for a new piece of earth to call home. He stared into the stranger’s face, probing, he wrote,

… I have grown
Almost gray and half-demented
In trying to find some place where I could
Get acquainted
Some place where man and man might dwell
Together in unity, and not tell
Lies on one another …
I’ve never found
Such place. And though I’ve hunted ’round
Perhaps with goggles on, I’ll jist
Bet my life it don’t exist
On top of ground.

He was forty-one years old when he came back to Pittsburgh. Rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1845, the city, the wild gateway to the west he once knew in the thirties, had been replaced by a city filled with smoke and industry.

Pittsburgh’s population had increased from approximately 12,500 in the Thirties to four times that number by the Fifties. Nearly 1000 factories (including across the river in Allegheny City, today the North Side) were roaring and in 1852 the Pennsylvania Railroad connected Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. On the verge of steel, the Iron City boasted more than fifty factories and employed eight thousand men producing iron. Foundries produced steam engines. Coal was plentiful. Along the river beneath Coal Hill (today Mt. Washington), coke ovens lit up the night. Everywhere, there were manufacturers, producers of glass and lead, buttons and brass. The middle and upper classes saw standards of living improve. But for the poor and working class, work, as well as life, was dangerous.

Blythe walked the streets in a homemade suit and a buffalo fur hat likewise stitched together by hand. The suit hardly fit. He wore it for the next several years. His gait was staggered, his red beard long. Elsewhere in the city, people with a dollar to spare sought to indulge — fine garments for men, crinolines for the fairer sex — but Blythe was uninterested. Besides, he was much too busy looking around anyway. Pittsburgh was unsparing. He saw man’s pain and suffering in the factories and on the streets, the poor chewed up by the machine.

He’d paint the drunks and beggars. Crooks and tramps. Tatterdemalions. Hooligans, ill-mannered boys, dour chubby faces, peasants making “kraut.” He shined a light on the faces of urban poor and the city’s background characters. Says David G. Wilkins, “Whereas other genre artists seem to subscribe to the idea that ‘vita brevis, ars lunga’ life is short but art is eternal, Blythe painted the real and the everyday, and gave us important insight into what life was really like.”

No other American artists were doing likewise, and none followed soon after. His work was unique.

Other genre artists of the period provided a white-washed, prettied up view of American society and life. Blythe showed the worm in the apple,” says Wilkins, “He told it like it is.”

Boy Playing Marbles by Blythe

Boy Playing Marbles by Blythe

In Youth and Sugar Bowl, Boy Eating Bread, Boy Playing Marbles, and Street Urchins, Blythe brought Pittsburgh street children into view; dirty, ratty, mischievous children. The Firecracker shows a well-dressed child, yet no less devious. With Post Office he painted a contrast in citizenry, the opportunistic mob rushing to the general delivery window of the Post Office on Smithfield and Fifth, creating a heap of humanity. A newsboy sits barefoot on the stoop in observance, smoking a stogy, while to his right; another unfortunate street child picks the pocket of a man with his head buried in a letter. We see honest, unfiltered images of the law and courts with The Lawyers Dreams, Courtroom Scenes, and Trial Scene. In Pittsburgh Horse Market, he focused on a withered horse, ribs exposed, the animal poked and prodded in survey at an auction. The setting, a well-known locale called “The Battleground,” is bustling with traders, while rustlers keep this and other horses in line with whips. Sympathy is with the animals. For Blythe his allegiance always seemed to align with the underdog.

When he wasn’t documenting the city’s harsher features, he captured the minutiae of the city, often satirically, with representations of the men and women and children he encountered on a day-to-day basis. Lemon Tom was an older chap from the neighborhood, as was the Town Crier, the Fruit Vender, and the simple peasants represented in Kraut Making. Ole Cezar was a caricature of a black man emerging from the underground, up the cellar stairs in order to empty a wash bucket into the alleyway. It’s a harsh, yet slightly cartoonish view of a worker, or perhaps a conglomeration of laborers. Blythe could play it straight or, as he was apt to do, he could tinge his re-creations with streaks of the absurd.

ArtVsLaw

Art Versus Law

Art Versus Law depicts a painter, canvasses under one arm, brushes and palette in his opposite hand, returning home to his attic studio, where a sign on the door alerts him to his eviction, of the room’s availability “To Let.” The painter has a hole in his hat, holes in his coat, and holes in his trousers and shoes. He also wears a familiar pointy beard. Discarded liquor bottles can be spied on the landing outside his door, signifying that the painter may not have been entirely without fault in the predicament. Bruce W. Chambers refers to this 1859 or 1860 painting as Blythe’s “public confession of guilt.” C. H. Wolff, a Pittsburgh art collector at the time, bought the piece for $35, and commented in his ledger that the portrayal was a “true incident” in Blythe’s life. Wrote Wolff, “His own form and suggestive features are admirably given. Poor Blythe; all knew his faults — few his virtues.”

Blythe lived in Pittsburgh for most of 1856 and 1857, and intermittently between the years of 1861 and 1865. He kept a studio at 60 Third Avenue, and later moved to the Denny Building on Fourth and Market. In time, he eventually became a part of the city’s art community, which congregated at J. J. Gillespie’s Art Gallery on Wood Street. Founded in 1832 (and still open today at a different location), Gillespie’s bustled with artists, and was a place where Blythe was able to get outside his own head for a bit when necessary.

Though he would always remain somewhat a loner, Blythe had begun to reengage socially. His closest friend was a sculptor named Isaac Broome, and Blythe and Gillespie, who was only a few years his elder, had been friends since Blythe’s apprenticeship days under Woodwell. Pittsburgh’s art scene was very much alive, with the likes of George Hetzel, Russell Smith, and Alfred Wall creating in the city.

Lincoln

Lincoln Crushing the Dragon of Rebellion

Gillespie was a champion of Blythe’s work, and showcased his pieces in his front display window. As Blythe’s art veered into the political realm, displaying qualities of the political cartoon, as well as a sense of humor, his work became an attraction for passersby, who stopped out front for a peak to see who’d be the next notable figure to be satirized. (See Lincoln Crushing the Dragon of Rebellion.)

Eventually, Gillespie settled in as Blythe’s dealer, handling all sales for the artist. Perhaps this is the key to Blythe’s survival and the reason his art ever left the studio at all. Blythe’s concentration was reserved for the work — observing, conjuring, creating — but it ended there, prior to selling. Fortunately, (or not, for he never relished when he lost his art to a buyer), Blythe was now able to tell interested parties to call on his dealer, Gillespie, to discuss matters of business.

When Pittsburgh’s dignitaries knocked on Blythe’s door it was more of the same. Blythe didn’t swoon in the face of high-fliers or luminaries. His art was held in high esteem and very much in demand in the city, so much so that he was offered an open account at Gillespie’s to draw from as needed to bankroll his artistic pursuits. But Blythe would only take a dollar out of graciousness; on a rare occasion he might have accepted a five. Art buyers insulted him despite themselves. For instance, when a swanky mine chief and local club president, Jas. M. Cooper, first laid eyes on the artist, he so insulted him that Blythe silently marched out of his presence. Cooper brushed off any culpability for the exchange, commenting that he had “taken him [Blythe] to be a party in need of a quarter of a dollar.”

***

When the first shots of the Civil War were fired in 1861, Blythe wasted little time quenching his urge to survey the battle for himself, setting out in April to accompany the Thirteenth Pennsylvania Regiment. Since he had a line of credit available to him at Gillespie’s, he could have easily withdrawn the necessary funds to finance the endeavor, but Blythe never considered it. He begged from camp to camp. The Army was hospitable, welcoming the strange bird of an artist into their midst to observe.

In all, he spent close to four months living with soldiers, basically as an embedded journalist. He was on hand in July when General Robert Patterson led his regiment across the Potomac. Though Blythe’s intention to witness battle did not come to fruition, his tour was not unproductive as his sketches were later turned into at least ten works of art featuring the War as a backdrop. His painting titled Libby Prison depicted the huddled masses of distraught souls within a dark and dank prison space. Libby Prison, which Blythe never actually saw himself, but rather learned of through word of mouth, newspapers, and prints, was a former Richmond, Virginia tobacco warehouse converted to Confederate jail. It had a reputation for its horrid, overcrowded conditions, a place where rats scurried between living and dead inmates. A living hell for the captured Union officers. Blythe’s Libby Prison has been complimented as “gruesome.”

Libby

Libby Prison

When he returned to Pittsburgh following his stint in the field, Blythe contemplated taking another shot at a grand panorama, this time using the Civil War as his story. He tossed the idea aside. His speculating days had passed. Instead, he bitched and moaned about fate. He lamented, “I was a mark for destiny — Or fate — or chance — (no matter what) To fling their poison’d arrows at.”

And he drank. He drank some more. And then he died. Mania Potu was the cause the doctors gave, or “delirium from drink.” Found in his bed, unconscious, he was taken to St. Passavant Hospital on Sunday May 15, 1865, where he died.

The Daily Pittsburgh Gazette reported the death the following day, noting “Mr. Blythe has resided in this city for many years, but was of a very retired disposition, and had not a large circle of personal acquaintances. He was a man of fine genius, both as an artist and a scholar.”

***

Until the 1930’s, Blythe’s work remained a relative secret, his name not extending beyond the hills, the Alleghenies, and three towns he called home. That would all change when G. David Thompson, a steel titan, but, fittingly, a self-made one, began running across Blythe’s art in Pittsburgh’s dark corners, the cellars and saloons. Thompson acquired a few and sold them to Manhattan gallery owners, and the international art world took notice. The oft subjects of Blythe’s satirical jabs, the industrialists, were now stockpiling his art.

Thompson, who had his hands in four major steel companies and headed Thompson and Taylor brokerage firm, built his collection one piece at a time. A shrewd negotiator, he believed that art could hold meaning to anyone. “There is nothing snobbish about art,” he once said: “Art is what appeals to a person. It belongs to everyone who can enjoy it.”

In the 1940’s, William H. Vodrey Jr., a proud East Liverpool resident, also began collecting Blythe’s artwork to give to members of the family as gifts. One of the first paintings he purchased came from G. David Thompson, a piece titled The Hideout. When Vodrey’s grandson, Jackman S. Vodrey, an attorney in East Liverpool like his father and grandfather before him, begins discussing this specific painting his eyes brighten, his affinity for The Hideout obvious. He then explains with a touch of chagrin that the piece is no longer in the family, at last inquiry in the hands of a private collector in Los Angeles, sold in 1982 for $50,000. The Hideout portrays a group of five tramps in various stages of morning preparation: cooking eggs, shaving, sewing, etc. The setting, their hideout, is a messy cellar with holes through the walls and a floor littered with discarded eggshells and playing cards. A cat laps up spilt milk. One man cooks ham and eggs in a frying pan by the fire, one shaves, while another puffs on a pipe and sews his hat.

Hideout

The Hideout

Vodrey followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and began collecting Blythe’s in the 1970’s. He is currently the owner of three pieces.

***

Today, Blythe’s art can be viewed in museums in Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington, and New York City, among other cities. One can also see his work at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, where General Doubleday Crossing the Potomac, a painting Thompson found in a Pittsburgh North Side saloon, is now prominently displayed. And in Uniontown, General Lafayette remains on guard at the county courthouse (now inside in the building’s corridor).

Room for Improvement

Room for Improvement

“When you come across one, it’s pretty rare,” Betty Krulik, a gallery owner in New York, says, remembering that she shook with excitement the first time she came across one of Blythe’s works. Krulik sold Room for Improvement in 2006 for an undisclosed amount and calls Blythe’s art “meatier” than his contemporaries. A Blythe piece first broke the six-figure mark at auction in 2006 with the sale of A Crinoline Incident. And in 2013, a pair of paintings, Portrait of Joe Cowell ($100,000) and Recruits Wanted ($93,750) both commanded top dollar at auction.

David G. Wilkins says he’s not surprised about the going rate on Blythe’s genre art. “Because he doesn’t fit the usual mold,” Wilkins says. “He’s the reality TV of his day, and there are no real rivals, so he should command high prices. He’s unique, which makes the value of the art soar.”

***

Today, East Liverpool is a desolate town, an elbow of earth along the Ohio River with a population of around 11,000. It’s a maze of rounding streets leading nowhere but out of town, or so it appears. Eight of ten storefronts are vacant. On a corner, Temporary Personal Services sits empty with dust from years gone by, a relic from at least the Nineties, its sign offers “temporary jobs” or “permanent recruiting.” Driving around, one passes a hodgepodge of odd shops and structures with their doors still open, like the Oriole’s Club and the Lou Holtz Hall of Fame. Bricker’s Cafeteria is still offering $1.99 breakfasts. On Fifth Street, at the site of a former funeral home now stands a bed and breakfast, where inside a small laundry room sits an even smaller mortuary museum. Hanging on the wall is the death mask of Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd. The busiest spot in town, by far, is the Hot Dog Shoppe, which bustles with customers and workers ask if you want your order with sauce (a mystery which upon inspection can be defined as a liquefied cheddar substance.)

Tim Brookes, an attorney and the head of the East Liverpool Historical Society, opens the doors of the Historical Society on a hot day in late June of 2014, offering the chance to view some of Blythe’s portraits. For decades, until the mid-Eighties, the artwork had been stored in an unlocked upstairs room at the local library. No upkeep, just rotting away in old boxes, without security. At some point a thief helped him- or herself to the art. It was somebody who was obviously versed to some degree on the value of the art, because the bandit did not make off with a haul, but rather selected only the most valuable pieces, including the lone genre painting in the lot, The Gouty Fisherman No. 1. Suspicion is that it was a local job, and that locally the work has remained, as it’s never turned up at auction, nor are there any records of sale. Perhaps The Gouty Fisherman decorates the kitchen of somebody’s grandmother, or it will turn up in a few years at a yard sale or flea market. The piece could fetch a nice price.

As for the rest of the Historical Society’s Blythe collection, it was eventually secured. When Allyn Rosser, a Cleveland restorer, caught sight of the artist’s work in such disrepair, with many portraits severely damaged, she was driven to tears. Rosser then volunteered her time to restore the artwork piece by piece (something she’s been working on since 1999). Still, there may be some Blythes yet to be found in bars or attics. People in Ohio and Pennsylvania may want to look twice at what’s in their grandmother’s attic.

Sources

wishing the likeness a “Good Morning.”  The Uniontown Morning Herald, 12-28-1966

They told me you were dying   Blythe’s poetry found in both Blythe File, East Liverpool Historical Society [ELO], and; Blythe/Hadden File, Uniontown Public Library, Pennsylvania Room [Hadden]

“Blythe had a teasing annoying nature”   Julia Keffer Blythe autograph book, Microfilm reel 2027, Archives of American Art Smithsonian Institution.

“the beauty and the worth seemed   “The Life of a Strangely Gifted East Liverpool Boy,” The East Liverpool Morning Tribune, 4-6-1904

“gloominess . . . settled over the life of Blythe”   “Sketch of David G. Blythe: Reminiscences of a Queer Genius,” No. 10. 14 part series, by James Hadden, Uniontown Daily Standard, April 4 – May 23, 1896. Accessed through Uniontown Public Library: Microfilm. [Sketch]

“from stiffness to fluency”   Bruce W. Chambers, The World of David Gilmour Blythe, [BC] p. 36

“He just forges ahead”    David G. Wilkins, author interview

“You thought I left for parts unknown”   letter from Blythe to Gorley, 1857, Hadden/ELO

“Out from the cold, blank emptiness”    “Pen Sketch of a Drunkard,” Hadden/ELO

I have grown Almost gray  letter from Blythe to Gorley, 1857, Hadden/ELO

“Other genre artists of the period”   David G. Wilkins, author interview

“public confession of guilt”   BC, p. 75

“true incident . . . His own form”    John O’Connor, Jr., “David Gilmour Blythe, Artist,” The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine. 1944

“taken him [Blythe] to be a party in need of a quarter”   Uniontown Republican Standard, 1-16-1879

“gruesome”    James Thomas Flexner, American Heritage, “The Dark World of David Gilmour Blythe,” 10-1962

“I was a mark for destiny”   poem “Another Night has Come”, ELO, Hadden.

“crust of bread”   Gorley, 3-21-1895

Mr. Blythe has resided . . .     Daily Pittsburgh Gazette 5-16-65

“It’s a beauty”     Jackman S. Vodrey, author interview

“There is nothing snobbish about art”   Frances J. Folsom, Dwell, “Peru Community Schools Art Gallery: The G. David Thompson Collection,” 4-13-2013

“When you come across one”   Betty Krulik, author interview

“Because he doesn’t fit the mold”   David G. Wilkins, author interview

Additional Sources:

Author Interviews: Jackman S. Vodrey; Betty Krulik of Betty Krulik Fine Arts; Heather Semple of Duquesne Club; Tim Brookes, East Liverpool Historical Society; Ken and Katherine Drews, Julia Keffer’s relatives; David G. Wilkins, Professor Emeritus of History Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh

“Sketch of David G. Blythe: Reminiscences of a Queer Genius,” 14 part series, by James Hadden, Uniontown Daily Standard, April 4 – May 23, 1896. Accessed through Uniontown Public Library: Microfilm; “The Life of a Strangely Gifted East Liverpool Boy,” The East Liverpool Morning Tribune, 4-6-1904; Dorothy Miller, The Life and Work of David G. Blythe; Pittsburgh Press, 12-17-1982; Pittsburgh Evening Gazette 5-15-65; Blythe/Hadden File, Uniontown Public Library, Pennsylvania Room; Panorama signed contract in Blythe/Hadden File, Uniontown Public Library, Pennsylvania Room;

Aaron Skirboll is a Pittsburgh-based writer and the author of The Thief-Taker Hangings: How Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Wild, and Jack Sheppard Captivated London and Created the Celebrity Criminal. Find him on Twitter @ajskirboll. More of his work can be found at aaronskirboll.com

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3 Comments

  1. connie dankmyer January 29, 2015 at 4:20 pm - Reply

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