Monday, July 18, 2011

T. Dart Walker (1868-1914)

Thomas Dart Walker was born in Middlebury, Indiana, on December 11, 1868, son of Civil War veteran Charles W. Walker and his wife, Jennie M. Cooley. Walker attended schools in Goshen, Indiana, until age seventeen. In his youth he set off for Europe to study art. Once in Paris, he became a favorite pupil of William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), probably at the Académie Julian, where Bouguereau taught from 1875 onward. Walker's hawk nose and underslung chin allowed him to pose as Dante for his fellow students. After completing his studies, Walker "strolled over Europe" as young artists were wont to do. A promising career as a painter and illustrator had begun.

The facts on Walker's early life are otherwise scarce, but on April 11, 1893, he married Elisabeth Schioler, a Danish musician, in Allen County, Indiana, probably in Fort Wayne. Elisabeth and her sister Thyra--herself a composer--were active in Fort Wayne society at the time. Elisabeth (or Elizabeth) had also studied in Paris. Perhaps that's where she and her husband met. The couple had two daughters, Ruth and Eleanor, born two years apart in the late 1890s.

A second big event in Walker's life in 1893 was his assignment to cover the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. His illustrations of happenings in the unforgettable "White City" appeared in a Chicago magazine, The Graphic. Walker also worked for the publishing house of Harper and Brothers, creating illustrations for Harper's Monthly, Harper's Weekly, and Harper's Young People. In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Walker landed a plum job covering General Nelson A. Miles' campaign in Puerto Rico for Harper's Weekly. He was said to have placed himself in personal danger for the sake of a good sketch. In his two years attached to the U.S. Navy as an official artist, Walker witnessed other hazards, including the explosion of a gun turret on the U.S.S. Massachusetts. Thereafter, Walker was known as a marine painter. Perhaps his most famous picture appeared on the cover of Leslie's Weekly Illustrated on September 21, 1901. It depicted the assassination of President William McKinley two weeks earlier at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Walker had known McKinley personally and was working on a portrait of him when the president died.

T. Dart Walker lived the life of the artist. He resided in New Rochelle, New York, home of artists and writers, for some time. In the early 1900s, he helped establish the Artists' Association in New York City. The association, which included William Glackens, Victor Gillam, Arthur C. Goode, Ernest Fuhr, and R. Weir Crouch, was an attempt to create an art colony in the heart of the city with studios at 131 East Thirty-Fourth Street. At the time, Walker was the art editor for Leslie's Weekly Illustrated. He also contributed illustrations to Collier's, The Illustrated London News, and Puck. In 1906 and 1908, Walker acted as artist for the University of Notre Dame yearbook, The Dome. The class of 1906 made him an honorary member and described his room as "a meeting place for all that is Bohemian and Irish at Notre Dame." The class of 1908 called him "genial, big-hearted, friend-winning T. Dart."

The writer of his obituary was not so kind, though to be fair, he or she was simply reporting the facts. In 1910, Walker was in Philadelphia sharing rooms with two cooks and a newspaper reporter. His wife had left him by then, taking their two children with her. "She divorced him because of his drinking habits," that anonymous author of obituaries wrote. The artist who had been at the top of his field in his mid-thirties had fallen far. Four years later, on July 21, 1914, Thomas Dart Walker, "penniless and homeless," died at New York's Bellevue Hospital of acute gastritis, a disease often associated with heavy alcohol consumption.

T. Dart Walker was among the most accomplished of early Indiana illustrators. His depictions of life in America during the 1890s and early 1900s--in government, in the military, in society--have become invaluable references of that long-ago time. Some are almost iconic. His daughters were another triumph. In 1920, after living in Denmark with her mother for several years, Eleanor Walker returned to the United States to take up the post of secretary of the Danish Legation in Washington, D.C. Little else is known about the women who survived T. Dart Walker except that Elisabeth Schioler Walker lived into her nineties and died nearly half a century after her ex-husband.

General J.R. Brooke receives word at Guayama, Puerto Rico, that the United States has made peace with Spain, in a detail from T. Dart Walker's documentary illustration. The drawing is dated August 20, 1898, a month before the birth of Walker's younger daughter, Eleanor. From Harper's Weekly.
"Wall Street When the Bankers Shut Up Shop for the Day," an illustration from Harper's Weekly, 1897.
The assassination of William McKinley by T. Dart Walker, the defining image of the event. A little-known part of the story is that a bystander, James Parker (left), knocked the gun from the assassin's bandaged hand and helped subdue him.
"Spending Uncle Sam's Money," an illustration from the cover of Leslie's Weekly Illustrated and fitting for the debate this summer, more than a century after Walker's drawing was first published.

Note: T. Dart Walker (1868-1914) should not be confused with the illustrator and cartoonist Harry Grant Dart (1869-1938).
Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley

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