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History in the Hills: Artistic accomplishments

I never have considered myself very creative. The times spent in art classes in school seemed to me to be part of some penance I was tackling for being a less than perfect pupil.

It wasn’t until I went off to college that my art classes changed from “creating” art to “appreciating” art, which in my very limited experience in the matter proved to be much easier than the former.

These courses greatly aided me when I was blessed to go to Italy on a tour and see in person beautiful master works I remembered from my time in art appreciation at WVU. In graduate school, any budding museum professional is required to take another art appreciation course. Presumably if one is lucky enough to acquire a museum job, one should be able to identify with a fair amount of accuracy the painted works by the great masters should one come across their desk in their career. Except, the chances of that happening are extremely slim.

The most important thing I gained from those classes is what the upper level hoi polloi call connoisseurship. Actually, it means that one can look at any piece of decorative arts, a painted work, or rather anything collectible for that matter, and decide if it is the best example of whatever one chose to collect. Will this item hold pride of place in your collection?

In graduate school, my wife and I studied decorative arts using the book “Evaluating Your Collection” complied by Dwight Lanmon for the Winterthur Museum, in which he imparts the 14 points of connoisseurship which are: Overall appearance, form, ornament, materials, finish, color, craft techniques, trade practices, function, style, attribution, history of ownership, condition and evaluation.

With all of that said, I also need to keep in mind the words my father would say from time to time quoted from someplace else: “There’s no accounting for taste.” While that also is just as true, in my field I like the idiom I recently heard, “Taste is personal, style is measurable.”

Returning to art, Steubenville has quite a few artists to claim as its own. Specifically, I am referring to painters and sculptors, etc. I previously wrote about sculptor artist James Wilson Alexander MacDonald, who was born here in 1829. He created many works of art in marble and bronze. Many are in public parks, especially in New York City. There also are some of his works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but he is not the only artist from this area who made it big.

One of the most famous artists to come from Steubenville was Eliphalet F. Andrews. A prolific artist, Andrews was born in Steubenville in 1835. Not just articles, but books could be written on his life, art and work. He studied in Germany and France, among other places, but still felt a strong connection with his hometown. His home and studio were located on the corner of Fourth and Slack streets, and it was here that he inevitably painted some of his well-known early work.

His artistic accomplishments are numerous and hang in the best museums and historic sites in our country. Most interestingly, albeit not surprisingly, he exhibited several works at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876. Around 1877 Andrews became instructor and director of the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington, D.C., a post he held until 1902.

Andrews rubbed elbows with the who’s who of the period, from presidents like Rutherford Hayes, who he was personal friends with, to other artists of his own caliber. Primarily a portrait artist, Andrews did paint more than several pieces in the emerging impressionist style in the last half of the 19th century.

In 1878, Andrews created one of his master works and one that has been seen by countless visitors, presidents and heads of state since it was completed. His monumental, 96-inch-by-59-inch, portrait of Martha Washington hangs today in the East Room of the White House, separated by a window from Gilbert Stuart’s 1797 portrait of George Washington, the one Dolly Madison reportedly saved from the burning White House during the War of 1812. Other notable decorative arts in the East Room include an impressive Steinway & Sons grand piano and other paintings by celebrated American artists. Today, the Smithsonian Institution holds 14 of his works, in addition to works held by the White House, U.S. Capitol and the Ohio State Capitol, among others.

But, one does not have to travel to the nation’s prestigious museums to see his work. According to Sandy Day and Alan Hall in their book “Steubenville Bicentennial,” the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County has on display several of his portraits, including Baron Von Steuben, John Paul Jones, George Rogers Clark and Bezaleel Wells, in addition to the figures of St. John and St. Paul inside of St. Paul’s Church in downtown Steubenville.

Andrews died in 1915 in Washington, D.C., but his remains were brought back to Steubenville, and he is interred in Union Cemetery.

Several years after his death, his former students donated a bronze memorial plaque to the Corcoran, now in the possession of the National Gallery of Art, which states “Organizer and for years Director of the Corcoran School of Art — in appreciation of his ability as instructor, his inspiring influence and his generous effort in their behalf, this tablet is affectionately dedicated by his pupils ‘The Genuine Endures Throughout The Ages,’ Goethe.”

If one were to evaluate Eliphalet Andrews’ work using the 14 points of connoisseurship, I think most of it would rate very high and take pride of place in any collection, but then again, “there is no accounting for taste.”

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