Thursday, December 20, 2012

Walt Louderback (1887-1941)

The illustrations of Walt Louderback are filled with an atmosphere of romance and drama. Like Dean Cornwell (1892-1960), Louderback worked for Cosmopolitan magazine during the early 1900s. The two men (who may have been friends) shared a painterly technique and a flair for mood, intrigue, and dramatic action in their pictures. That approach came to Louderback and Cornwell honestly, for Cornwell was a student of Harvey Dunn (1884-1952), who was in turn a student of Howard Pyle (1853-1911), the father of American illustration. Both Louderback and Cornwell would have studied illustration at a time when Pyle strode the earth like a giant.

Walter S. Louderback was born on February 3, 1887, in Valparaiso, Indiana, and--like Dean Cornwell--studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. He illustrated stories for Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Hearst's International, and other popular magazines. Many of those stories were also printed in hardbound editions with Louderback's illustrations. Readers of the 1910s and '20s would have been well acquainted with the art of Walt Louderback, as he illustrated books by one of the most popular authors of the day, James Oliver Curwood. In addition to being an artist, Louderback also taught at the Art Institute of Chicago. Robert Patterson (a student) and John Clymer (a boyhood admirer) were among the illustrators of a younger generation influenced by him. Today, Louderback is a much under-appreciated artist.

During the 1920s, Louderback lived in Europe and delivered his assignments to New York by surface vessel. He also experimented with modernist and Cubist painting. As war loomed, Louderback left Europe with his family in May 1939. He died at a sanitarium in Socorro, New Mexico, on October 15, 1941.

An illustration by Louderback for an unknown story. If this scene was set in Monte Carlo, Louderback may have studied his sources from life, for he lived in Europe during the 1920s and '30s. 
A typical Louderback treatment with a high vantage point and details around the edges left out. Oddly, the artist's signature is on the man's clothing.
A moody and dramatic illustration that approaches portraiture. Note the Oriental motif in the background.
Another illustration for an unknown story. The painting is called "The Homecoming." I wonder if Louderback would have experienced such an event upon his return to the United States in 1939.
An illustration for "Tongues of Flame" by Peter Clark Macfarlane [sic]. The source for this image says: "probably Cosmopolitan, 1923." 
This illustration for an unknown story is one of the most striking I have seen by Walt Louderback. Romantic, atmospheric, melancholic, suggestive of menace, it could be the cover of a Gothic romance of today. Probably painted eight decades ago, this canvas is as fresh and contemporary as the day it was created. (Sorry for the red line through the image.)
Text copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, December 17, 2012

James H. Cloetingh (1894-1965)

James Henry Cloetingh was born into a family of Dutch-Americans on July 3, 1894, in Muskegon, Michigan. As a young man he worked as the advertising manager for the Muskegon Chronicle. In his spare time he was secretary of the Muskegon Kennel Club. In 1923, in Muskegon's first championship dog show, Cloetingh's airedale, named Guardian Trust, took home the best of show honors.

By 1930, Cloetingh was living in South Bend, Indiana, and operating a commercial art studio with a partner. Their firm was called Cloetingh and De Man Studio. I don't know who his clients would have been--perhaps businesses in northern Indiana and the Chicago area. In addition to being a commercial artist, Cloetingh was a painter. I have found two of his pictures. Both are of boats. Cloetingh's subject should come as no surprise considering he was born on and lived close to Lake Michigan most of his life.

Cloetingh exhibited in the Hoosier Salon in 1961. He died four years later in June 1965 at the age of seventy.

An oil painting (top) and a watercolor (bottom) by Michigan and Indiana artist James H. Cloetingh (1894-1965).
Text copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Mary and Wallace Stover (ca. 1903-?)

Wallace P. and Mary A. Stover were a husband-and-wife team of illustrators. Both were born in about 1903 in Indiana. Wallace Stover graduated from Elkhart High School in 1921 and received a scholarship to the Herron School of Art in Indianapolis. He graduated from Herron in 1925 with a diploma after four years of study. Oakley E. Richey (later a teacher at Arsenal Technical High School), Mabel Bott (artist and wife of Earl Wayne Bott), and Josephine Hollingsworth were among the other students in attendance in the early 1920s.

In 1929, Wallace Stover married Mary Alys Polk, also an artist and a teacher in the Franklin, Indiana, schools. He was then living on Long Island and working in New York as a commercial artist and designer of costumes. Not much is otherwise known of the lives of Wallace and Mary Stover. The 1930 census found them living in Queens, New York. Wallace was then working as a magazine illustrator. By the 1940s, the couple were working together, illustrating inexpensive children's books and coloring books in a number of popular series, including the Wizard of Oz, Uncle Wiggily, and Raggedy Ann and Andy. The dates and places of their deaths are unknown.



Revised April 12, 2016.
Text copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, November 5, 2012

Bessie Cronbach Lowenhaupt (1881-1968)

This is the birth month of Indiana artist Bessie Cronbach Lowenhaupt. Born on November 19, 1881, in Mount Vernon, a small town on the southwestern tip of the state, Bessie studied at the Art Institute of Chicago (1899-1903) and the Washington University School of Art. As a student, she created unpublished illustrations and other art. After marrying Abraham Lowenhaupt, an attorney, in 1910, she moved to Saint Louis and started a family. Bessie didn't let that keep her from her art however. Over the course of her long life, she created deceptively simple--almost primitive--paintings that place her squarely in the realm of modern art. To quote Robert E. Kohn:
Lowenhaupt revealed her artistic creed when she told [biographer Judith Saul] Stix that "a realistic picture . . . isn't interesting," and that abstract art, being "arid and lacking discipline," is also "not interesting."
Take that, American artists of the twentieth century! In any case, although she died in Saint Louis in 1968, Bessie C. Lowenhaupt is remembered even today. There was an exhibit of her work at the Saint Louis Art Museum in 1995 and articles on her life and art in newspapers and journals as recently as this year. Her papers are in the collections of the State Historical Society of Missouri Research Center in Saint Louis. The papers of her biographer, Judith Saul Stix, are in the Smithsonian Archives of American Art. Finally, my thanks to Joyce Schiller, who has written about Bessie Lowenhaupt, for bringing the artist to my attention. Ms. Schiller is curator at the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies, at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.



Text copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

William Momberger (1829-1895)

William Momberger was born on June 7, 1829, in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany. He studied painting and lithography in his homeland before emigrating to the United States in 1848, a year of revolution in Europe. Settling in New York City, he set up a lithography firm, Coughey and Momberger, as early as 1852. His partner was John Coughey (or Caughey), a wood engraver.

Throughout the 1850s and '60s, Momberger created lithographs and engravings for books, newspapers, banknotes, and other documents. He illustrated Duyckinck's Cyclopedia of American Literature (1856) and the Gallery of American Landscape Artists. He may have been in Indiana as early as 1855 when his illustrations appeared in the book New Purchase, or Early Years in the Far West by Robert Carlton (New Albany, Indiana: Nunemacher, 1855). Momberger also created images from the Civil War and traveled in Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. Extant lithographs place him in Fort Wayne, Evansville, and Vincennes, Indiana.

Momberger lived in Morrisania, New York, where he was counted in the 1860 census as an artist and in the 1870 census as a portrait painter. He was still active as late as 1888 and died on April 9, 1895. Momberger was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York. (Thanks to an anonymous reader for providing that information.) The obituary of a "retired illustrator" named William H. Momberger of Newark, New Jersey, appeared in the New York Times on December 12, 1933. That William Momberger may very well have been the son of the artist in question here, as he was born in New York in about 1851. 

A descendant of William Momberger has collected images and compiled a bibliography on the artist's works. You can see them at this website:


You can find more information on William Momberger in:
  • Appleton's Cyclopædia of American Biography, Vol. 4, edited by James Grant Wilson and John Fiske
  • Pioneer Painters of Indiana by Wilbur D. Peat (1954)
  • The New-York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America, edited by George C. Groce and David H. Wallace (1957)

Beldad y la Bestia, illustrated by William Momberger (New York: D. Appleton Co, 1864), from the collection of the New-York Historical Society.
Lithographs of Evansville (top) and near Fort Wayne (bottom), made by William Momberger and dating from the 1860s.
The landing of troops on Roanoke Island, 1862, a Civil War lithograph by Momberger.  

A poor reproduction of Momberger's depiction of the historic duel between the Merrimack and the Monitor of March 8 and 9, 1862 (from the New York Times). That battle took place 150 years ago this year. Although the two ships fought to a standstill, both were lost before the year was out, the Merrimack--the C.S.S. Virginia--on May 11, and the Monitor on December 31.

Thanks to Anonymous for providing the date of death and the place of burial for William Momberger.
Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, October 7, 2012

James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916)

The Riley Festival takes place this weekend, October 4-7, 2012, in Greenfield, Indiana. The four-day festival commemorates the life and work of "The Hoosier Poet," James Whitcomb Riley. Born on October 7, 1849, in Greenfield, Riley was at one time among the most popular and beloved of American poets. In addition to being a poet, Riley was a newspaper columnist, a public speaker, and--in his younger and leaner days--a sign painter and house painter. He is supposed to have painted the old house across the street from my family's home.

Riley authored scores of poems which were collected in more than three dozen books. Among his most famous poems are "The Old Swimmin'-Hole," "Little Orphant Annie," and "The Raggedy Man." The last two titles inspired two younger men--Hoosiers both--in their own works. Harold Gray created "Little Orphan Annie," a comic strip that ran in newspapers for nearly ninety years. Johnny Gruelle and his family were behind Raggedy Ann, the little rag doll so well loved by American children, and drew her name from those two poems. The poem "Little Orphant Annie" is memorable for its refrain

An' the Gobble-uns'll git you

  Ef you
    Don't
      Watch
        Out!

Riley was an artist himself, but he left the illustration of his books to those more accomplished than he. They included Howard Chandler Christy, Ethel Franklin Betts, E.W. Kemble, and A.B. Frost. Perhaps no other illustrator is more closely identified with Riley's work than Will Vawter (1871-1941). Though twenty-two years separated them, Riley and Vawter were friends, based in part on their shared memories of childhood in small-town Indiana. Born in Virginia, Vawter grew up in Greenfield, Riley's home town. In 1899, Riley wrote to Vawter: "Simply you are divinely ordained to succeed. And now as I forecast you must prove it." With that, Vawter became Riley's handpicked illustrator.

Other Indiana illustrators who contributed to Riley's books included Virginia Keep Clark (1878-1962), William F. Heitman (1878-1945), and two artists of the Hoosier Group, Richard Buckner Gruelle (1851-1914) and T.C. Steele (1847-1926). (R.B. Gruelle was Johnny Gruelle's father and a friend of Riley. The two men lived close by each other in Indianapolis and Riley was a frequent visitor in the Gruelle home.) Mary Catherine McDonald (1852-1897), about whom little is known, was another Riley illustrator. Riley was also a mentor and benefactor to younger authors, including poet and illustrator Evaleen Stein (1863-1923) of Lafayette, Indiana. Among the more accomplished of Riley's illustrators was Franklin Booth (1874-1948). His full-color drawings for Riley's fantasy poem-play, The Flying Islands of the Night (1913), are simply breathtaking. Booth's interest in and knowledge of architecture are on full display in these drawings. His trademark trees, clouds, and floating and flying objects can be found in almost every image. You can see all of Booth's illustrations on a blog called "Golden Age Comic Book Stories," here.

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913), an adopted Hoosier, an author, and an artist himself, defined reading as:

The general body of what one reads. In our country it consists, as a rule, of Indiana novels, short stories in "dialect" and humor in slang. (From The Devil's Dictionary.)
If you substitute "poems" for "short stories" (thereby throwing Riley into the mix) and recognize that George Ade was the leading author of "humor in slang," you'll see that Indiana authors were a dominant force in American literature in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. James Whitcomb Riley played his part in that. If he isn't well known anywhere else today, he is remembered at least in his hometown this weekend.

James Whitcomb Riley, "The Hoosier Poet," commemorated in a U.S. postage stamp in 1940.
And on a cigar box lid, on which he is called the "Hoosier Bard."
As a young man, Riley worked as a sign painter and house painter. Here is an advertisement in his own hand from 1871.
Riley was no mean artist, as this advertisement for McGrillus' Blood Tonic demonstrates. The image is from 1872 and was part of an exhibition at the Lilly Library in Bloomington, Indiana, in 2011. You can read more on the website of Indiana Public Media, here.
Will Vawter was Riley's hand-picked illustrator. This image is from Farm Rhymes (1903).
In my list of Indiana artists who illustrated Riley's poems, I shouldn't forget Cobb Shinn (1887-1951) of Fillmore and Indianapolis. During the postcard craze of the early 1900s, Shinn created hundreds of designs, including this one and the one below for a series entitled "Riley Roses."
Franklin Booth illustrated Riley's book The Flying Islands of the Night from 1913. The book was published by Bobbs-Merrill of Indianapolis.
The Flying Islands of the Night was a rare chance for Booth to work in color. The results compare favorably with the work of any American illustrator of his day. Like Riley, Booth was the son of a hard-nosed military veteran with little understanding of his interest in the arts. Both men got a comparatively late start in life and worked for newspapers before finally meeting with success. Interestingly, neither ever married.

Text copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, September 17, 2012

Grace L. Hamman (1895-1987)

Grace L. Hamman is another of countless artists who seem to have been lost and forgotten. Daughter of a jeweler and sister of a musician, she was born on December 29, 1895, in Goshen, Indiana. She served as art director of the Goshen High School Crimson, a monthly published during the school year. A member of her high school class of 1912, Grace went on to study at Goshen College and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. As an art student, she worked in animation for Camel Studios of Chicago. After graduating from the American Conservatory of Music in 1924, she sang on the stage, also in Chicago.

In 1927, Grace Hamman married the widower Ora A. Berkey and lived with him on his farm near St. Joseph, Michigan, until his retirement in 1966. Grace Hamman died on August 29, 1987, in Three Rivers, Michigan. Mr. Berkey lived nearly a century and passed away in 1989. Grace L. Hamman was a painter and an illustrator, but images of her art have apparently not yet made it to the Internet.

Copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Katharine Gibson (1893-1960)

Katharine Gibson was not an artist but a writer of children's books. I have decided to post a biography of her because I found a book by her at a secondhand store, a book by an author I didn't know as an Indiana author. The book is called Bow Bells, a beautifully made volume illustrated by Vera Bock (1905-?) and published in 1943. When I looked up Katharine Gibson on the Internet, I found nothing of value. Fortunately Bow Bells includes a book jacket bio. I also found her in Indiana Authors and Their Books, Ohio Authors and Their Books, and The Junior Book of Authors. This is her introduction to the Internet.

Katharine Gibson was born in Indianapolis on September 13, 1893, and grew up in a family of architects. She worked in the education department of the Cleveland Museum of Art from 1916 to 1946. In 1932 she married Frank Scott Corey Wicks, a Unitarian minister. The couple traveled "a good deal, especially in England." When not traveling, they lived in Indianapolis (as of 1951). Her first book was The Golden Bird and Other Stories from 1927. Fifteen others followed, including To See the Queen (1954), illustrated by fellow Hoosier Clotilde Embree Funk (1893-1991). She also wrote fiction and non-fiction for national magazines. Katharine authored a charming autobiographical sketch in the Junior Book of Authors (1951). Indiana Authors and Their Books lists her works, the last of which was Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Stamp Book (1957). Katharine Gibson died three years after its publication, in Cleveland. Today is her birthday. Happy Birthday, Katharine Gibson!


The frontispieces of Bow Bells by Katharine Gibson, illustrated by Vera Bock.
Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, August 27, 2012

Portia Howe Sperry (1890-1967)

Everyone knows Raggedy Ann, the little rag doll with red yarn for hair and a red felt heart pinned to her breast. Raggedy Ann was born from the imagination of Indiana illustrator Johnny Gruelle in 1915. Nearly a hundred years later, she is beloved by children (and grownups) everywhere. Far less well known is Abigail, the Log Cabin Doll, another Indiana doll created by Portia Howe Sperry and designed to help children learn to dress themselves. 

Portia Howe Sperry was born on June 21, 1890, in Chicago and educated at Milwaukee-Downer College as a teacher of physical education. She married Ralph W.E. Sperry in 1914 and lived in Fort Wayne, Indiana, from 1914 to 1917. She returned to take up permanent residence in 1929, at the outset of the Great Depression. When her husband's piano factory closed, Portia moved her family to the backwoods of Brown County, Indiana. Eventually she took over the management of a shop called Brown County Folks, where she sold handicrafts. Portia also began developing a doll called Abigail, with a face designed by local artist L.O. Griffith, manufacturing by local Brown County women, and packaging donated by the Quaker Oats Company. The doll was christened at the Nashville House on February 27, 1932. In 1938, Albert Whitman and Company of Chicago published a companion book, Abigail, by Portia Howe Sperry and Lois Donaldson and illustrated by Chicago artist Zabeth Selover. The inside dust jacket of Abigail summarizes the story:
A story of covered wagon days which the whole family will enjoy. Father, mother, two older brothers, Susan, a little girl of ten, and her baby brother travel overland from Kentucky to a new home in Brown County, Indiana. 
And who is Abigail? The most enchanting companion a little girl going to a new home could have--a cloth doll dressed as a little girl dressed in 1835.
Abigail is still made by the Sperry family, and the book named after her is still in print. You can read more about the doll, the book, the business, and the woman who created all three at the website Abigail Doll, at www.abigaildoll.com.

Portia Howe Sperry died on April 21, 1967. A plaque in Nashville, Indiana, commemorates her life and work.


The cover and the double-page spread that opens the story of Susan and her doll Abigail as they travel to Brown County, Indiana. These drawings by Zabeth Selover are from the seventh printing of the book, 1967. Note the container for the doll: the Quaker Oats Company provided a double-length oats carton for the original Abigail doll. Portia Howe Sperry and her helpers covered the cartons in wallpaper and affixed a handle to them for easy carrying.

Text copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Walter H. Gallaway (1870-1911)

Walter H. Gallaway was one of the most accomplished of Indiana illustrators from the early twentieth century. He drew cartoons and illustrations for the three main humor magazines of his day, Puck, Judge, and Life, while his talent for cartooning landed him in a tug-of-war between Hearst and Pulitzer papers in New York City. Because of that, he became one of the first artists from the Hoosier State to draw a Sunday comic strip. Sadly, Walter Gallaway died at age forty and his name has almost been forgotten.

Walter H. Gallaway was born in Pendleton, Indiana, on October 10, 1870, and moved with his family to Indianapolis at age fifteen. He didn't care for high school and left after two years to study art under William Forsyth at the Indiana School of Art. At age twenty, Gallaway set out for New York City, determined for a career in the theater. He studied at the Art Students League but was forced to return to his Indiana home for lack of finances after only a year. During the last decade of the nineteenth century, Gallaway drew pictures for the Indianapolis News, using his position as a springboard for a return to New York. By 1900 he was back in the Big Apple and sharing living quarters with Frederick Coffay Yohn, a fellow Indiana artist.

For the next several years, Gallaway bounced back and forth between the New York Journal and the New York World. He also cartooned for the New York Herald and the Boston Herald. In addition to drawing cartoons and illustrations for those two papers, Gallaway contributed to humor magazines, as well as to Munsey's Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post. He joined the ranks of early Sunday comic strip cartoonists with Citizen Fixit, Absent Minded Augie, Louis Laughs, and Was There Ever a Boy Like Barney Blue, all between 1903 and 1908. The only native-born Hoosier that I know to have preceded him as a comic strip artist was Roy W. Taylor of Richmond.

Walter Gallaway died on September 7, 1911, at his home in Westport, Connecticut, and was buried in Brooklyn.


Text copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Robert Weaver (1913-1991)

The 2012 Peru Amateur Circus and Circus City Festival are underway this week, July 14 through 21 in Peru, Indiana. To coincide with those events, I would like to write about an artist of the circus, Peru native Robert Weaver.

Robert Edward Weaver was born on November 15, 1913, in Peru, Indiana, winter home of America's circuses, now designated as the Circus Capital of the World and home of the International Circus Hall of Fame. Weaver earned his bachelor of fine arts degree in painting from the Herron School of Art in Indianapolis and studied fresco painting at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. Although he traveled to Mexico and Europe, kept a studio in Greenwich Village, and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Weaver always returned to Peru and his role of promoting the circus and his hometown's unique place in the culture of the circus.  

In addition to being a hometown booster, Weaver worked as a painter, muralist, sculptor, commercial artist, and illustrator. His work appeared in national magazines, including The Saturday Evening Post, Sports IllustratedGood Housekeeping, Child Life, Children’s Playmate, and The Brownie Reader. He executed a number of murals in Indiana and at the Alameda Naval Air Station in California. He also exhibited his work in Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, at the Hoosier Salon, and at the San Francisco World's Fair. Weaver earned numerous awards and honors over his five-decade career. He also taught painting, mural design, drawing, and illustration at the Herron School of Art and served as chair of the Department of Illustration.

In 1960, Weaver led a revitalization campaign in Peru that included a downtown beautification project and the establishment of the Circus City Festival, Inc. (CCFI), an organization in which he served as president. The CCFI was instrumental in the foundation and promotion of the Peru Amateur Circus and the Circus City Festival, held each July in Peru. Weaver died on July 18, 1991, in New Bern, North Carolina. His work was subject of a segment of the television show Across Indiana in 1995. In 2010, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra debuted a concert piece by James Beckel, Jr., the slow movement of which was inspired by a 1952 painting by Robert Weaver entitled "Daniel (In the Lion's Den)." And of course this week, young performers will display their talents in the Peru Amateur Circus, the handiwork of Peru's circus painter, Robert Edward Weaver.

"Circus Poster," an oil painting by Robert Weaver in the collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
"Bull Man," an acrylic painting by Weaver. Note that--oddly enough--the image of the eye of the elephant in the foreground is repeated not only in the eye of the elephant in the background but also in the cuff of the bull man's trousers. 

Written by Terence Hanley and Bridget Hanley of Proficient Pen
Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Roy Anderson Ketcham (1894-1969)

For an update on this article, see my article of November 21, 2014, here.

Roy Anderson Ketcham was born on November 11, 1894, in Sandborn, Indiana, and grew up in Indianapolis, where he delivered newspapers for the Indianapolis Star and attended Shortridge High School and the Herron School of Art. Ketcham furthered his art education in New York and at the Académie Julian in Paris. He returned to the United States feeling apathetic and suffering from tired eyes. Repairing to his parents' farm in Loogootee, Indiana, Ketcham spent the next five years behind a mule-drawn corn cultivator, mulling over his recent education and contemplating his future career. While on the farm, he took up painting again and got back into the game with studies at the Chicago Academy of Fine Art during the 1920s.

Described as "a strapping big blond--a good cross between an Apollo and a college football center," Ketcham painted landscapes and portraits, twice winning the Indianapolis Star prize for outstanding portrait at the Hoosier Salon. He lived and worked in Chicago for many years as an artist for the Chicago Sun-Times and an illustrator of children's books and magazines. His credits included illustrations (with Frank C. Papé) for the book The Child's Story of Science by fellow Hoosier Ramon "Uncle Ray" Coffman and for the magazine Junior Home.

Roy Anderson Ketcham died in November 1969 in Schoolcraft, Michigan. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures by Ketcham, but I have the following caricature of him by another Hoosier, Paul Plaschke. The image is from a blog called This Old Pallette.


Text copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cassilly Adams (1843-1921)

This month marks the 136th anniversary of the Battle of Little Bighorn, or as the victors called it, the Battle of the Greasy Grass. On June 25, 1876, a sizable force of American Indians camped near the Little Bighorn River in eastern Montana met and crushed the United States Seventh Cavalry under George Armstrong Custer, killing him and 267 of his officers, men, and scouts. The popular image of the battle at Little Bighorn comes from a lithograph made by the German-American artist F. Otto Becker (1854-1945) and mass produced in 1896 by the Anheuser-Busch Company of St. Louis, Missouri. Becker's image, entitled "Custer's Last Fight," is justifiably famous. Lost and almost forgotten today is the work that preceded and inspired it. Also called "Custer's Last Fight," it was painted by Cassilly Adams, an Ohio artist laid to rest in an Indiana cemetery.

Cassilly Adams was born on July 18, 1843, in Zanesville, Ohio. His father was a Massachusetts-born lawyer, descended from President John Adams. As a young man, Cassilly Adams served in the United States Navy during the Civil War, first as a Master's Mate, then as an Acting Ensign in the Mississippi Squadron, aboard the U.S.S. Osage. He studied at the Boston Academy of Art and the Cincinnati Art School and made his living as a landscape artist, designer, and engraver. By 1880, Adams was living in St. Louis. In 1884-1885, he painted a monumental canvas--16 1/2 feet by 9 1/2 feet--depicting the Battle of Little Bighorn. (There were also two end panels depicting Custer as a small boy and in death.) The idea was for the painting to be a traveling exhibition and subject of a lecture for paying customers. That venture fell through, and the painting went to a St. Louis saloonkeeper, and, upon his death, to the Anheuser-Busch Company. Otto Becker was brought in to turn Adams' painting into a popular lithograph. In his book One for a Man, Two for a Horse, author Gerald Carson called Adams' work "the most popular exemplar of American saloon art." It was also used to sell patent medicine. Unfortunately, Cassilly Adams' original painting, "Custer's Last Fight," is no longer with us. Anheuser-Busch presented it to the Seventh Cavalry, which proceeded to lose it despite its immense size. The painting was rediscovered, lost again, found again, restored during the Great Depression, and finally put on display at the officer's club at Fort Bliss, Texas. On June 13, 1946, almost seventy years to the day after the Battle of Little Bighorn, the painting was destroyed by fire.

Little is known otherwise of Cassilly Adams. He worked in Cincinnati and Toledo as a designer and engraver and painted numerous scenes of Indian life. The 1920 census found him in Marion County, Indiana. At age seventy-seven, he was occupied as a farmer. He died the following year, on May 8, 1921, in Traders Point and--like Custer and his men--sought the high ground, for Cassilly Adams now lies buried at Crown Hill Cemetery, located at the highest point in Indianapolis.

An adaptation of Cassilly Adams' painting "Custer's Last Fight," here used to advertise M.A. Simmons Liver Medicine. The original painting is now lost. Images of it can be hard to find. 
Instead we have Otto Becker's lithograph, also adapted from Adams' original painting. This image, from 1896, is often attributed to Adams. Robert Taft discussed images of the battle in the pages of the Kansas Historical Quarterly in November 1946 (Vol. 14, No. 4) and in his book, Artists and Illustrators of the Old West: 1850-1900 (1953). You can read Taft's article and see other images on the website of the Kansas State Historical Society, here.
Three images of Indian life by Cassilly Adams.
Postscript (July 15, 2012): "Custer's Last Fight" by Cassilly Adams, an image from Dr. Robert Taft's Artists and Illustrators of the Old West: 1850-1900 (1953). This version is from a restoration made in 1938. I wonder if there is an extant image of the original painting or of its two flanking panels.

Postscript (Feb. 5, 2015): Author Myron J. Smith, Jr., has cited this article in his new book, Civil War Biographies from the Western Waters: 956 Confederate and Union Naval and Military Personnel, Contractors, Politicians, Officials, Steamboat Pilots, and Others (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2015). Mr. Smith has given an interesting account  of Cassilly Adams' military career during the Civil War. You can see a preview of Mr. Smith's book on Google Books.

Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley