Kentucky Historical Society: Paul Sawyier

February 26, 2012

Paul Sawyier remains one of the most popular artists in the Commonwealth, although his work is relatively unknown outside of the region.

Big Eddy

Perhaps this might change a bit with the recent addition to KOAR of more than 120 images from the Kentucky Historical Society’s collection of his works, including many of the impressionistic landscapes of Franklin County and nearby surroundings which have long been local favorites. Painting these mainly in watercolors, Sawyier sensitively captured ephemeral lighting effects and subtle color contrasts in his idyllic Kentucky scenes.

Winter in Kentucky

During his final years, however, Sawyier lived and worked in New York City and the Catskill Mountains. It is here that he began painting primarily in oils and produced what many consider his most mature work. While living with his sister in Brooklyn, he painted views of the many parks and waterways in the area. After moving to the Catskills, he concentrated on the mountains and neighboring villages. But he also worked from photographs of the old familiar settings in his home state, sending these paintings back to the faithful Kentucky patrons who had commissioned them.

Railroad in the Catskills

The Sawyier family home in Frankfort was located where the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History on the KHS campus now stands, with a historical marker honoring Paul Sawyier near its main entrance. Several of his paintings are being rotated through the KHS Great Revivals exhibition at the Old State Capitol if you would like to see them in person. (Images from Great Revivals are also in KOAR.)

And you can read more about Paul Sawyier in two exhibition catalogues on the KOAR Publications page, which has been expanded by the addition of more than sixty-five items.  First, click on this link: http://www.koar.org/publications.htm
Then select Individual Artists and Makers at the top of the page. Works are chronologically arranged by publication date. Scrolling down, you can find the catalogue for a 1940 exhibition at The Speed Art Museum, Paintings by Paul Sawyier, and Willard Rouse Jillson’s Paul Sawyier and His Paintings, which contains a more detailed account of the artist’s life and works written to accompany the 1965 centenary exhibition commemorating Sawyier’s birth.


Kentucky Silver…Sort of

August 6, 2010

Since at least the 1920s and likely much earlier, collectors of early Kentucky antiques have loved the work of the state’s early silversmiths.  Kentucky silver is beautiful and less perplexing than furniture. Kentucky furniture, with some exceptions, is often mute–pieces can’t be tied to specific cabinetmakers. Silver, though, was typically marked by its maker.

That said, though, I’ve always wondered how much Kentucky silver was truly made in Kentucky. Certainly most of it came out of workshops in the state. For pieces bearing the marks of Kentucky jewelers, though, the situation can be less clear. Often they were retailing the work of others, some of it produced locally, no doubt. Some, though, came from other places. Here are a few examples from the Speed Art Museum’s collection:

Pitcher and goblets marked Kinsey, photo by M.S. Rezny

The pitcher and goblets, among my favorite examples of “sort of” Kentucky silver, were presented around 1850 to John Dobyns by “the farmers of Mason County.” Dobyns was a prominent merchant and entrepreneur. Both the pitcher and goblets bear the mark “E. & D. KINSEY” for Edward and David Kinsey of Cincinnati.

The Kinsey brothers wholesaled a great deal of silver in Kentucky through retailers in the state, so one isn’t surprised to see their mark on a piece associated with Kentucky. But the story here is more complicated. The pitcher is identical to one retailed around the same time by Tiffany and Company in New York City and was no doubt made in New York City. So here we have “sort of” Kentucky silver times two: made in New York City, acquired wholesale by the Kinseys, marked by them, and presented to a Kentuckian.

Pitcher marked by Akin and Krider

This pitcher, presented as an agricultural fair premium (prize) in 1859, bears the mark of John Akin, a jeweler who operated in Danville in Boyle County, Kentucky. Many of the hollowware pieces with Akin’s mark, though, also bear the mark of Peter Krider, a Philadelphia silversmith whose firm produced silver in fairly substantial quantities. Philadelphia merchants had strong business ties to Kentucky. The Lexington silversmith Asa Blanchard, for example, traded with Hildeburn and Woolworth in Philadelphia.

Dessert service marked Wood and Hughes and Kitts and Werne

I’ll end with a set of flatware acquired in 2009. It’s a dessert service made by Wood and Hughes of New York City around 1865 but retailed by Kitts and Werne of Louisville. Census records list John Kitts as a watchmaker and Joseph Werne as a jeweler. (This was one of many partnerships Kitts formed during his career.)

Here are the markings on the knife blade:

Marks on dessert knife

So are there less obvious examples out there of silver made elsewhere but marked and retailed in Kentucky during the nineteenth century? No doubt, pointing out the need for more research not just on individual artisans, but on the broader trade in silver. Get to work!