Chapter XXIX

Art -- Photography, Painting and Music


A FEW years before this wonderful art was discovered and developed, a French scientist, lecturing on chemistry in Southern Europe, exhibited to his audiences images of natural objects as pictured by the use of the lens of the camera obscura, or darkened chamber. At the close of one of his lectures a woman with pale face and careworn features approached him and anxiously inquired he thought it possible to fix these beautiful camera pictures for preservation. He expressed the opinion that he thought it might be done, and the woman, apparently much relieved, said that her husband had been working at the problem until she feared that he might be crazy over it. This woman was the wife of Daguerre, who in 1839 gave to the world his invention of the silver daguerreotype, and received from the French Government a life pension therefor, of 6,000 francs. The daguerreotype was made on a silvered plate of copper, coated with a sensitive surface of iodide of silver upon which the image was received and fixed by development over the fumes of hot mercury. It is to this day undoubtedly the finest and most delicate miniature picture made by a pencil of light. Almost simultaneously with Daguerre's discovery, Wm. H. F. Talbot, of England, succeeded in fixing those camera images on paper, discovering the essential principle of photography, in September, 1840 —both processes having for their base of photographic action the sensitive salt known as iodide of silver. As early as 1814, Nicephone Niepce, of Chalons, France, began experimenting in heliography. He died in 1833, and Daguerre, who had been his associate in the investigation, continued the work and perfected his process—an exemplification of the sentiment expressed by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Truth is in the air, and the most sensitive minds are the first to seize upon it." In 1840, Dr. J. Draper, of New York, was the first person to apply this invention to the making of miniature portraits from life. Before this, it had only been used to make pictures of out-of-door views and scenery. In Draper's first experiments the sitter was required to remain motionless in bright sunlight for at least two minutes. To-day fine portraits are made in less than two seconds.

Less than six years after the publication of the results achieved by Dr. Draper, came the daguerreotype artist to Grand Rapids— D. Williams, who, in 1846, opened rooms in the Irving Hall block, being the first in that line, according to the published accounts. Next came A. H. Proctor, in October, 1848, whose rooms were in Mechanics' Hall. In November, 1849, S. B. Noble appeared, advertising "late and valuable improvements" in daguerreotypes. In May, 1850, C. M. Fox was in the business at Irving Hall, where in July of the same year he was succeeded by G. Hanchet. In April, 1851, A. H. Proctor removed to Irving Hall and in June following to Faneuil Hall; Charles F. Moore taking the Irving Hall place, and putting out his sign as an ornamental painter and daguerrean artist.

In November, 1851, Lorenzo Buell, so well known to all the older residents of Grand Rapids, opened daguerrean rooms in Faneuil Hall block, and in June, 1852, Proctor Buell joined in partnership at the same place. Proctor, a few years later, moved away, and Buell removed his establishment to the Taylor & Barns block, on Canal near Lyon street, where, in 1860, he was burned out, after which he went into the drug business.

Lorenzo Buell came to Grand Rapids in 1849. He was a genial, wide-awake citizen, always feeling a personal interest in public affairs, but holding aloof from public life. and universally esteemed. He died August 21, 1888, at the age of 82 years and is kindly remembered for his social virtues and sterling uprightness.

In August, 1852, among the pioneers here in that art, O. W. Horton opened operating rooms on Monroe street, in a wood building opposite the head of Waterloo street, and was the first here to fit up a skylight for photography. He continued in the work twenty-six years, when, in 1878, he retired from all but the enlarging of portraits, in which he is still doing a thrifty business and making some fine pictures.

In 1853 D. D. S. Nestell opened daguerrean art rooms on West Bridge street, in connection with "Scribner's Arcade Hall of Pharmacy. "

About 1855 began the supplanting of the old-fashioned but beautiful daguerreotype by the ambrotype; a sun picture at first made on white glass and backed by a black surface underneath; afterward made on black or colored glass, and then for fragile glass was substituted a thin iron plate with enameled black surface, constituting the "tin-type" of the present day. Until the paper photographs came into general favor and use, these miniature daguerreotypes and ambrotypes were put up in neat cases of morocco and velvet, to adorn parlor tables; the cheapest at the date last mentioned being made for $1 to $1.50 each, and few homes in this city are without such souvenirs.

About this time also came the process of enlarging miniature pictures, for making portraits in crayon or oil finish. Several such painted by Harting are extant, and much prized.

In September, 1855, A. C. Alger opened daguerrean rooms in Backus block. From 1857 to 1859, in this work of making sun pictures were O. W. Horton, Lorenzo Buell, Fred G. Heath, Carlton Neal, B. F. Pierce and Edward S. Wykes, and in 1857 one of these artists first advertised here "A new style of picture, the Photograph on Paper! A beautiful picture which excels the steel engraving." Nevertheless this class of work did not fully supplant the others until some four or five years later. Fred. G. Heath opened rooms at first in Luce's block, in 1857, removed to Lovett's block, where the firm was Heath & Neal, then to 21 Monroe street, and afterward to the McReynolds block, continuing in the business until 1874. In the spring of 1860 J. H. Tompkins and his brother, Ira G. Tompkins, came from Buffalo and opened a gallery on Monroe street, opposite Waterloo, subsequently removing to Canal street, where they severally continued in the business ten to fifteen years. Ira G. Tompkins, of the "Star Gallery," on Canal street became well known in this line, about 1870-72, in connection with his large group of pictures of old settlers, and with another, "The Bar of Grand Rapids," several copies of which are now extant, and are highly prized. He also, as early as 1866, produced a large number of outside or landscape views for use with the stereoscope.

Edward Wykes had his gallery on Monroe street, north side, a little above Waterloo, and was succeeded in 1864 by Warren Wykes, who came here from Pittsburg, Pa. is still one of the leading photographers here, and whose name is familiar to all in the city and the country round about.

During the war time, from 1860 to 1865, the principal photographers in the city were known about as follows: Fred. G. Heath, 21 Monroe street; O. W. Horton, 41 Monroe; L. A. Merrill, 15 Monroe; Edward Wykes (succeeded by his brother Warren), 46 Monroe; J. H. Tompkins, 30 Canal; I. G. Tompkins, 35 Monroe. Space will scarcely permit mention of all the later artists in this line. Some of the well-remembered names including several now in business, are. H. W. Boozer, J. G. Barrows, L. G. Bigelow, H. T. Fletcher, J. F. Minkler, A. A. Baar, L. V. Moulton, Samuel Sharpsteen, .Simon Wing, Flutchinson & Bayne, James Bayne, B. D. Jackson, J. B. Goossen, D. H. Hamilton, T. B. Perkins, David Thoms, Edward McDermand, Andrew Hansen, A. A. LeClear.

During the exciting war time a large business was done in photography. The departing soldier in his uniform and the sorrowful wife, parent or child at home exchanged photographs, and by many a suffering heart in later years these little gems have been prized beyond measure. Thus did this art bless the nation, with its mementos of loved ones, almost above anything else cherished in the homes of affection. During that time photographers reported incomes of from $3,000 to $5,000 per annum for each operator. At the present time, with twenty or more galleries in the city, besides much work in the furniture line, the aggregate of business done annually is estimated at from $40,000 to $50,000, giving steady employment to more than half a hundred persons. The wholesale trade in photographic supplies amounts to upward of $20,000. If a Grecian column in the public square is as beneficent as a church, how much could be said of photography; or who could put a limit upon its emotional or artistic influences, in the development of taste, culture and refinement in the hearts of the people?


Though comparatively a young city, and engaged most largely in the rugged pursuits incident to a formative period and material upbuilding, Grand Rapids is not without a goodly number of fine-art devotees. Her people appreciate the beautiful in art, and especially as displayed in drawing, in pencil sketching and painting, as well as photographic productions. Forty years ago Chas. F . Moore showed taste and talent in portraiture, and some of his amateur pieces were much admired. He removed to Florida, which was afterward his home.

Mrs. Ezra T. Nelson quite early attracted attention as a delineator in water colors and in oil, and still retains her love for the art.

In the fall of 1851 a class in monochromatic painting was taught for some time in rooms at the National Hotel, by teachers from the preparatory class at Ann Arbor, and a number of young ladies and gentlemen there cultivated their tastes and talents in that line of work.

Marinus Harting, who came to Grand Rapids in 1854, and resided here during the rest of his life, was an artist of much genius. He was a native of Delft, Holland, and received his early education at Rotterdam. Landscape painting was the specialty in which he was drilled, but later in life, after coming to America, he developed taste and aptitude for portrait work also. His first studio here was on the north side of Monroe a little west of Division street, from which he removed to the corner of Ottawa and Pearl, and thence, about 1856, to a small cottage just north of Lyon street on Ransom, where he resided and kept a studio during the rest of his life. He soon gathered a class of ambitious young students, among them Fred. Church and Lawrence Earle, who have won much more than local distinction, Annette Henry, Sarah Nelson, Mary Cuming, Maria Winslow and Mollie A. Kingsbury. Several of the larger landscape pieces painted by Harting are still preserved and highly valued by the owners. Personally, he was a very attractive man, his countenance aglow with the enthusiasm born of love for his art, an eager student of Nature in all phases and moods, imaginative, kind, genial and loving in spirit, gentle and deeply religious in feeling. He died in the spring of 1861, just prior to the breaking out of the War of the Rebellion, at his cottage home on the brow of the Lyon street hill, much beloved and greatly mourned.

In 1857 A. J. Conant, a painter of considerable merit, opened a studio and made some fine portraits from enlarged daguerreotypes. He remained but a short time.

Mrs. William Ashley, a daughter of John W. Squier, did some clever work in china decoration, by the firing process, and also produced very pretty flower pieces in water colors.

Among other local artists have been Mrs. L. H. Randall, Mrs. B. A. Harlan (now of Washington), Mrs. Tinkham (landscape painter and teacher), Mrs. G. C. Fitch Mary Luther Barclay, Mrs. Torrey and Mrs. E. M. Coppens.

Miss Hattie M. Drake (the late Mrs. Swensherg) came to Grand Rapids in the fall of 1866, and opened a room for teaching painting and drawing; also exhibited some fine samples of her landscape work at the County Fair.

Fred. Church, of well-known celebrity in New York, and who has a national repute in the line of art illustrations, and Lawrence C. Earle, whose specialty is game painting (flesh, fish and fowl), were both students of Harting, and have won enviable distinction in their lines.

William Howe who of late has taken honors in Paris for fine animal pictures, was for a time, when he began his studies, a resident of Grand Rapids, and clerk in the dry goods trade. In 1888 he was awarded a medal at a Paris exposition.

Peter E. Rudel, a self-taught artist in the beginning, not many years ago a worker at the plasterer's trade in Grand Rapids, has become noted in Parisian art circles.

J. G. Fisher, of Grand Rapids, has of late won marked distinction in New York as a crayon sketch artist, in which profession he began the exercise of his taste and development of his skill while employed as an engineer in this city.

William Kortlander has lately produced some paintings of Ottawa Beach scenery which have attracted the attention of art connoisseurs, and been much admired.

Mrs. E. M. Coppens and Miss E. S. Hutchins have a very pleasant and attractive art studio on Ottawa street, where they give instruction to many pupils, and where many fine pieces in painting and pastel work are shown.

Frank Selzer is budding into prominence as an animal painter, of cattle, horses and sheep, and as one nears the pictures of the latter, it almost seems as if the wool might be pulled, so natural appears the fleece.

Art work, and the trade in art goods and artists' materials, are increasing much as the city grows. Among the attractive rooms are those of Mrs. P. C. Tabor, Miss Julia Kirk, Mrs. R. C. Graves, and A. H. Fowle, the latter a well supplied establishrnent, both for exhibition and sales.

W. L. Knowles and O. W. Horton have also a neat and tasty studio in which may he seen many fine samples of enlarged and shaded photograph work, especially in portraiture.


It is not easy, to give a local history of music. Every neighborhood and circle has its musical genius, vocal or instrumental, who in the opinion of somebody is the best, or at least the peer of any, in all the country round. The natives of this valley were not a musical nor music-loving people; yet even among them now and then one was known to possess musical talent susceptible of cultivation. The white people of this community, from its start, have been lovers of music, furnished their share of trained musicians, and been liberal patrons of the art. As early as 1837 were singing societies or choirs, often with instrumental accompaniments, that for some years thereafter held rehearsals and sometimes amateur concerts, in an upper room of a store on Waterloo street in the old Yellow Warehouse near by, or in the National Hotel. Inasmuch as every church society has its singers, it is needless to dwell on the growth and multiplication of singing classes and choirs. Of the first regularly organized choir in St. Mark's Church, some forty-six years ago, two are living at the time of this writing—Mrs. Thos. B. Church and Amos Hosford Smith. Vocal music as an art, as well as for worship and a means of recreation and amusement, has been assiduously cultivated in this community. January 23, 1852, the choir of St. Mark's Church gave a concert which drew an audience that filled the building. The choir members then were: Mrs. T. B. Church, organist; Mrs. P. R. L. Peirce, soprano; Leonard Bement and Charles McConnell, tenor, Misses T. M. Moore and Emma S. Rathbone, alto; A. Hosford Smith and P. R. L. Peirce, bass. The first church organ in this part of the State was set up in St. Mark's Church, in September, 1849.

In 1840 was organized the Harmonian Band, comprising: Henry Stone, fife; John W. Peirce and Henry G. Stone, snare drums, Leonard Covell, bass drum; Harvey K. Rose, bugle; A. H. Smith, piccolo; Abram Snively, violin, and somebody played or screeched the clarinet. Though not quite to the modern finish in the art of instrumental melody, this amateur band made merry music for young and old, on holiday occasions and balmy evenings during several years.

Among early teachers of vocal music— singing masters they were called—were H. H. Philbrick, O. B. Galusha and Edmund Bement. The fashion was to secure a list of pupils and charge to each a given sum per quarter for tuition. As the town grew, the organization of private classes, or the giving of private lessons, including piano instruction, became more the custom. In 1856 Miss M. A. Farnham, Mrs. D. Ives, and others were thus teaching, and at the rooms of a musical association in Collins Block, H. J. Danforth gave lessons in vocal and instrumental music.

Mrs. John C. Wenham, and others of the Bliss family, were prominent in musical circles and at concerts about this time. Mrs. Wenham was gifted with a fine voice, enriched by enthusiastic cultivation; and after coming to Grand Rapids she sang as soprano some eighteen years in St. Mark's Church. Mr. and Mrs. John C. Wenham came in from Ohio in 1855. Here he platted Wenham's addition, and has accumulated a handsome real estate property. They are yet residents, and she still exhibits much interest in vocal music.

Among singers of local celebrity in later days, the names are familiar of the Misses D'Ooge and Buell, and Mrs. Levanche Shedd (nee Stone); the latter, especially, gifted with an enchanting and finely cultivated voice. To attempt a further singling out of names among the multitude of good singers and scores of teachers, in our now populous town, is needless, and would appear invidious. But here it may be remarked that upward of twenty years ago Emma Abbott drew her first appreciative and encouraging audience in Grand Rapids.

The Neill Conservatory of Music has been an established institution of Grand Rapids since 1884, when it was organized by the united efforts of Mrs. E. S. Neill, G. C. Shepard and F. M. Lawson. Of some 150 pupils about one-third are from abroad. Its chief branches are instruction upon the piano and pipe organ, and cultivation of the voice. The rooms are in the old Shepard cottage, on Ottawa street. It is managed jointly by Mrs. Neill and Mr. Shepard, assisted by others in different departments.

Reverting to early musicians—undoubtedly the first bugler in Grand Rapids was Alanson Cramton, in 1835, and he appears to have held the field some five years, so far as entertainment of the public with bugle music was concerned. Robert M. Barr was the first fiddler, and after him were John Ellis, Fidius Stocking, John Powell, Chester B. Turner, and others—these, with a few associates, furnishing music for dancing parties here and about until the town grew to city stature. Mortimer Jeffords was with them, with flute, fife, piccolo or cornet, as occasion required.

In 1845, a Mr. Marston, from Detroit, opened a school in instrumental music, and organized the Grand Rapids Brass Band, which furnished musical entertainment for a fair held December 30, in Irving Hall, by the ladies of St. Mark's Church, and gave a "grand concert" January 26, 1846, in the Congregational Church. The first silver instrument band—full-dressed, doublebreasted, bullion-bedecked, with two rows of gilt buttons—was organized in 1855 by W. H. Barnhart, and named the Valley City Cornet Band, and this kept up a lively existence till near the breaking out of the civil war. Joseph W. Weller was its second leader. It was in much demand at political parades and festive gatherings.

The German people are lovers of good music, and enthusiastic in musical training as an art. And very quickly after their immigration here began, they began also to become citizens and to form musical associations. Their influence has done more than any other agency to cultivate and improve the taste for and appreciation of classical and the higher orders of music. Among them Peter Schickell, nearly forty years ago developed expertness on string and brass instruments. In 1854 he was teacher of the Valley City Band, the predecessor of Barnhardt's Valley City Cornet Band. In 1857 Ferdinand Siegel was regarded as the best violin performer in the city. A German Brass Band of twelve pieces was organized in 1857, under the leadership of Franz Blasle. Valentine Rebhun, as an expert with the drumsticks, as Drum Major, and music teacher, is well remembered. He went to the war, and afterward died at Kalamazoo. Of band organizations in more recent years have been: Pioneer Band, A. Siegel, leader, in 1872. Arion Gesang Verein, H. Baroth, director, in 1873. Commandery Band, C. H. Jones, leader, and Hubbard & Barker's String Band, H. E. Barker leader, in Z 875. Knights Templar Band, W. Babcock, director, 1876. Gernlallia, W. S. Turner, leader, 1878. Second Regiment Band, C. T. Hennig, leader, 1880-82. Powers' Opera House Opera and Squiers' Cornet Band and Orchestra, 1882. Squiers and Guthan's Brass and String Band, 1884. In 1886 there were half a dozen, and in 1888 a dozen or more hands and orchestras. The business has so grown that only on rare occasions and with performances of superior character do the musical pageants almost daily and nightly on exhibition excite general and enthusiastic attention. The principal musical societies of 1888 are: Alberta, Germania, St. Cecilia, Harmonie and Oratorio Singing Societies; Schubert Club and Maas Choral Society. There are others of more or less note. The list of professional music teachers numbers fifty or more. Among the more prominent are A. H. Morehead, Henry C. Post, Francis M. Lawson and Wilbur Force.

Dealing in music and musical instruments began in a small way more than thirty years ago, and it now amounts to a large trade in the aggregate. Julius A. J. and Paul W. Friedrich have been in the business many years, a portion of the time in partnership but of late Julius by himself is handling large stocks in pianos and parlor organs, as well as other instruments and all sorts of musical wares. George D. Herrick & Co. have a handsome business in this line. James W. and Frank W. York (father and son) are music publishers and manufacturers of band instruments. They have also published a journal devoted to the craft.


"Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast," and Grand Rapids contributes her share of the civilizing element, in a large and growing piano factory; in fact one of the largest in the country. In 1858 the Chase Piano Company was started in Ripley, Ohio, by M. J. Chase, for the manufacture of pianos under his patents; he and his four sons constituting the force. In 1867 they removed to Richmond, Indiana, where for seventeen years they continued the enterprise. Early in 1884 the increase of their business and need of better shipping facilities, induced them to come to Grand Rapids. Buying out the plant of Mclntyre & Goodsell on Ionia street, in July of that year they began building a factory on South Front street at the corner of Valley. This was a four-story building, 75 feet front by 92 feet deep, which in the spring of 1888 was enlarged by a three-story addition, 75 by 92 feet, with abundant yard room for seasoning lumber before placing it in the dry kilns. The factory is equipped with the best of machinery for the manufacture. In this enterprise there is an invested capital of $85,000 or upward, giving employment to 125 skilled men, and enabling the company to put out about $150,000 worth of goods annually. The business office and showroom are on Monroe Street. Owing to the length of time it takes to make a piano, complete in all its parts, and the difficulty of securing the skilled labor necessary, the enterprise, although firmly established, is of slow growth. The factory is large enough for making twenty-five pianos weekly. The have standing orders for their product in widely separate sections of the country, in numbers of five to ten pianos a month; carload shipments to Maine, California, Texas and other distant States being an event of frequent recurrence, as they make no retail shipments to points outside of the State. They make a specialty of upright and parlor grand pianos; and with the advantages of skilled labor, the cheapest and best point for procuring all kinds of lumber used, honest work, and scientific brain-work producing certain distinctive features in their instruments covered by patents owned by the Chase Brothers, it is not to be wondered at that they have attained a superior reputation for their pianos. When the factory moved to Grand Rapids, the name of the firm was changed to Chase Brothers Piano Company. It is composed of Clarence A. Chase, who superintends the mechanical operations in the factory; Braton S. Chase, in whose charge is the finishing and action of the piano; Leon E. Chase, whose attention is given to regulation of the tone, and Milos J. Chase, having the general management of the business.

Document Source: Baxter, Albert, History of the City of Grand Rapids, New York and Grand Rapids: Munsell & Company, Publishers, 1891. (Name Index)
Location of Original: Various.
Transcriber: Jennifer Godwin
Created: 28 December 1999
Last updated: Monday, 01-Oct-2001 13:23:08 MDT