A collection of 19th century portraits painted by William Abraham Greaves, "Good Company: Works of 19th Century Warren Artist William A. Greaves," is on display in the Wetmore Gallery of the Warren Public Library. It's a fine selection of historic figures in regional history, and the portraits are framed in ornate gilded work worthy of their own exhibit.
"We feel that having the Wetmore Gallery available enriches the library experience of the Warren community," said library director Patty Sherbondy. "It's invaluable to give exposure to art and ideas to people of all ages, and especially young people, and it's also important to be able to provide a venue to artists and organizations."
Greaves, an American artist, was descended from family that lived in Bradfield, Yorkshire and Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England. He was born in 1847 in Watertown, N.Y., and died in 1900 in Kansas City, Missouri. He married Sarah Gertrude Dale in 1871 in Tionesta.
Barb Tubbs with the portrait of “Rock” Wilcox, Mountain Man of Yankee Bush
Greaves was educated in and a graduate of the public schools of Watertown, N.Y., and became an instructor at age 14. He was instructed in art by the well-known artist Thomas LeClair, and he was a student at the Cooper Institute in New York City. He lived for several years at Utica, N.Y., and moved to Warren in 1873, where he lived until his death.
According to his biography, Greaves was a notable portrait artist, and the show attests to that. Among the most notable of his works are the portraits of Hon. Samuel J. Randall, Hon. Galusha A. Grow, Hon. Matthew Stanley Quay, Gov. Fenton of New York, and Gov. James A. Beaver of Pennsylvania. He also painted many other portraits of men well known in public life. In 1892, two of his paintings of past speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives, Samuel Randall and Galusha Grow, were added to the display of past speakers in the Speaker's Lobby, House Wing, U.S. Capitol Building, in Washington, D.C.
Although Greaves was best known for his portraiture, he did paint landscapes and still lifes and was accomplished in art photography, according to Penny Wolboldt, reference/documents librarian.
"We have learned from newspaper articles from his era that, while best known for oil portraits, he also worked with pastels/crayon and charcoal and of course the camera," Wolboldt explained. "It seemed any surface might also be used, canvas, china, glass. etc... He advertised that he could paint your portrait on a button so a loved one could always have your portrait with them."
"As a result of the library's first Greaves exhibit in 2006, three paintings of special interest have been brought to our attention and are included in the current exhibit," Wolboldt said. "One is the painting of Tommy Struthers Wetmore as a child, a second is a portrait of Mary Brown, daughter of Hon. W. D. and Lucy Rogers Brown. Both of their daughters died within weeks of each other during an epidemic in Warren. Finally, the landscape, Freemonts Peak, painted in the Hudson River School style," was added.
"We also have on exhibit a life-size portrait of Dr. Curwen who was the first superintendent of the Warren State Hospital, which has not been available for public viewing for a very long time," Wolboldt added, "and a life size rendition of the portrait of Rock Wilcox, Mountain Man of Yankee Bush. Some newly discovered photographs taken in the Greaves Studio next to the Episcopal Church are on display along with numerous portraits of notable figures from Jamestown's early history. It has been learned that (Greaves) painted huge political banners depicting four-foot by five-foot portraits of candidates of both parties. These banners were suspended high above and spanned the streets and were displayed throughout the county."
Also included in the show is a portrait of Robert B.Brigg, a local Civil War veteran and a charter member of the Conewango Men's Club, a map indicating the extent of the artist's popularity nationally and photos of an exhibition he prepared for the 1895 Warren Centennial Celebration. Also, there is a slide show included in the exhibit of all of the Greaves works the library has been able to locate so far, about 100 of the 1,000 he is known to have painted, and a listing of approximately 200 of his paintings they know were done because the newspapers noted them by name.
The show continues through Nov. 15 during regular library hours. If you know of any other Greaves work, please contact the library.