November 28, 2020 – Decatur Public Library
In recognition of his history in Decatur, Illinois, the Decatur Public Library has included in its section on Local History a photograph of William A. Harper with a link to this website. The Library has also included a post regarding Harper on its Facebook page.
The Library’s website link to Harper is: https://www.decaturlibrary.org/local-history-digital-display-william-a-harper. Its Facebook post is: https://www.facebook.com/decaturlibrary/posts/4699545050087230. (Scroll down to November 15, 2020.)
Thank you to the Library for recognizing Harper’s importance and his connection with the city of Decatur!
November 27, 2020 – Decatur Mystery
According to various Decatur, Illinois newspaper articles of the time, a significant number of Harper’s paintings remained in Decatur, Illinois, following his death in 1910. Many of those paintings were owned by prominent members of Decatur society. 1922 the Decatur Art Institute held an exhibition which contained, among other items, thirty-four paintings by Harper. According to the newspaper review of that exhibition, the paintings were loaned by the following individuals:
Mrs. Harry Haines – Twenty-nine paintings.
Mrs. Adolph Mueller – One painting (“Golden Autumn”).
Mrs. J.W. Osgood – One painting.
Mrs. Eda Pegram – Two paintings.
Mrs. Charles Willis – One painting.
In 1910, Charles Laux, owner of St. Nicholas hotel in Decatur, is reported to have purchased a painting described as a “Pastoral scene” to hang in the lobby of that hotel.
A few of these paintings have been located, but where are the rest? Are they still in Decatur resting forgotten in attics or basements, or have they left the city? Are they in the hands of the descendants of the original owners, or have they been sold?
The location and documentation of these paintings is crucial for Harper’s biography. If you are related to any of the above individuals, or know the history or whereabouts of any of these paintings, please contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 29, 2020 – Watercolor Found
It has long been known that Harper executed a number of watercolors in his later years. In fact, he displayed a selection in Decatur, Illinois at a 1908 exhibition at Millikin University. Until this year, however, none have been located.
Surprisingly, one was discovered this spring in a flea market in Austria of all places, and is very much in the nature of the watercolors of old houses described in the 1908 review of the exhibition at Millikin. Best guess is that he sold it while on his second painting trip to France. The watercolor somehow managed to get lost in the U.S. mail for several weeks which certainly had me biting my nails. But it finally arrived, and has been added to the Paintings Gallery.
August 17, 2020 – Thank You!
Although my work is ongoing, this might be a good time to thank some of the people who have guided, helped, and encouraged me over the years. So many have given their time to discuss Harper with me, to direct me to resources, and to share their own research that I am truly awed. If I have overlooked anyone, my apologies in advance. This has been an amazing and overwhelming project, and I will add to the following as appropriate:
– Nigel Freeman of the Swann Auction Galleries in New York was kind enough to listen to my discovery story and to introduce me to individuals familiar with Harper and the few books with meaningful information on Harper.
– Wendy Greenhouse PhD shared with me her research for the book Chicago Modern, 1893-1945, and gave me invaluable guidance with regard to the material in Ryerson Library of the Art Institute of Chicago. The discussion of Harper in that book ultimately let me to the archives of Albert Kreihbiel at the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institute – a truly magnificent resource.
– The staff of the Ryerson Library at the AIC and Bart H. Ryckbosch, the Glasser and Rosenthal Family Archivist at the AIC, have patiently responded to numerous questions and requests for information and documents.
– Sylvia Weaver, a researcher of Canfield, Ontario, Canada history, provided invaluable assistance with regard to Harper’s family history.
Others have also smoothed my way, and to that end I would like to thank:
– David Tovey, Cornish Art Historian (https://www.stivesart.info/), for his wonderful insight on Cornish artists and Americans studying in Cornwall.
– Sarah Cash, Associate Curator at the National Gallery of Art, for allowing me a glimpse into the vaults of the National Gallery to view their Harper painting even though in storage.
– The DuSable Museum of African American History for likewise allowing me to view their Harper painting in storage.
– Allan Giron, University of Houston student, for translating Harper’s death notice from Mexico City.
– Joel Dryer, Director, Illinois Historical Art Project, (www.illinoisart.org) for research advice and assistance.
– Ingrid Grant, MLS, Collection Development Librarian of the African American Library at the Gregory School, for guiding me to the resources in Houston.
– Beth Baker Simeone, the author of The Art of Oregon.
– Will Smith and Janet Blake, authors of In Nature’s Temple: The Life and Art of William Wendt.
– Lesley Duncan of Bellus Fine Art for assistance with locating paintings.
And perhaps most importantly, my daughter Callie Beard for first spotting the description card for the Harper painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and my husband John Beard for putting up with being dragged through innumerable art museums.
June 2, 2020 – Worthy of the Antiques Road Show
A number of people have asked me how I got interested in Harper. Well, here it is:
One Saturday a number of years ago my husband and I spotted a sign for an estate sale near our house. The following discussion ensued: Me: “Look, an estate sale.” Husband: “Do you want to stop?” Me: “Sure. Since it is the second day, though, everything is probably pretty well picked over. But you never know.” So we stopped.
Over the fireplace in the living room was what appeared to be an old landscape painting. The room was rather dark, so I took the painting off the wall to get a better look. It did look old, but the back was covered by a foam board. The hanging hardware was fairly new, and the painting did not have a visible signature. I put it back on the wall and continued my walk through the house.
By the time that I reached the garage, two things were going through my mind. First, the painting was definitely an older oil painting. Second, it was hanging in pride of place over the fireplace. I figured that I could easily risk a few dollars to get a better look at the painting at my leisure in a brighter environment. Besides, it was half price.
When I got the painting home and removed the foam board, I found the name “Harper” written in large letters across the back of the canvas. After several hours of googling various combinations of “Harper”, “painter”, “artist”, “oil”, and “landscape”, I found an auction record from the Swann Auction Galleries in New York for a painting that looked remarkably similar. With that, I had a name: “William A. Harper”. That name led me to other auction sales, all of similar landscape paintings.
In the spring of 2016, while my daughter was visiting a friend in New York, I received a text from her saying that she was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She sent a photo of a painting description card from a wall in the American Wing with the question: “Is this your dude?” Well, darned if the Met had not just acquired a painting by Harper!
Information available at that time about Harper was frustratingly limited, and much of it was redundant. He did not even have a Wikipedia page. I was fascinated by the fact that Harper had taught in the Houston public school system, however, and decided that since I was in Houston I might be able to add some original research to the discussion. One thing led to another, and, with the kind guidance and assistance of so many far more knowledgeable than I, this website is the result.
Interestingly, my painting did not originate in Houston – even though Harper taught there from 1901-1903. It was painted sometime later, and had been in Houston less than 10 years when I discovered it.
March 3, 2020 – Lost Harper Paintings – The Houston Connection
William A. Harper taught in the Houston public school system for two years, from the fall of 1901 through the spring of 1903. Given that he exhibited in the annual juried Exhibition of Works by Chicago Artists in both 1902 and 1903, he was clearly painting while he was in Houston.
Did Harper sell any of his paintings in Houston? Or did he give any as gifts? If so, are they still in Houston? And where?