“Just Some of the Things He Loved”: An Art Collector’s Gift to the Fort Wayne Art School

Suzanne Slick, Collection Information Specialist

When the name Hamilton is mentioned in the context of Fort Wayne history, we tend to think of the famous female cousins – Agnes, Edith, Alice, Norah, and sometimes Jesse, but most are less acquainted with their cousin, James Montgomery Hamilton.  James (1876-1941) was the son of Allen and Cecilia (Frank) Hamilton.  Though his name is not as familiar, and details of his life are less known, his generosity and devotion to his boyhood home left a lasting mark on Fort Wayne and on our Museum.

After James graduated from high school in Fort Wayne in 1894, he left to study architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later at L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris.  James traveled extensively in Europe in the early years of the 20th Century – documenting his journeys in watercolor and graphite, and collecting art along the way.

Though he had a great fondness for Fort Wayne, he did not return to his hometown. Instead, in 1901 he settled in Cleveland where he joined the architecture firm of Meade and Garfield, which would become Meade and Hamilton in 1911. Hamilton is still considered one of Cleveland’s finest architects and his firm’s elegant homes continue to be celebrated in neighborhoods like Shaker Heights.  His firm also designed the Cleveland Club, the Mayfield, the Hermit Club, and the Kirtland Country Club houses.  He never married and his bachelorhood was often mentioned in the Cleveland “society pages”.

“James Hamilton, one of Cleveland’s most prominent bachelors, is doing something few bachelors ever do. He’s building a house for himself, at the modest cost of $2,000,000. It’s thisaway:  Mr. Hamilton is an architect, and partner to Frank B. Meade, head man in the Hermit Club. The house he’s building is the new Cleveland Club, that gaunt steel structure on Carnegie Avenue at 107th that is now dotted with workers hopping nimbly about from beam to beam.  Mr. Hamilton is planning to move in when the club opens about next holiday season, and he has been chosen by the board to decide upon all furnishings for the place, to the last curtain and rug.  Even the decorations and furnishings for the women’s sections are to be selected by Mr. Hamilton.” – Cleveland Plain Dealer, Main Street Meditations by Eleanor Clarage, 1929

On New Year’s Eve 1940, the roads around Chicago were slippery from a mix of rain and snow – Hamilton’s car ran off the road and rolled several times. Though he appeared uninjured and returned to Cleveland, he perished from internal injuries several days after the accident. He was returned to Fort Wayne and buried at Lindenwood Cemetery along with other members of his family. A brief notice the following May announced the beneficiaries of his estate.

 “Fort Wayne Institutes Get Bulk of James M. Hamilton Estate

An inventory appraising at $523,816 the value of the estate left by the late James Hamilton, prominent Cleveland architect, was filed in Probate Court yesterday.

The bulk of the estate, representing $400,000, was willed to institutions in Fort Wayne, Ind. Two brothers, Walter G. and Edmund C., both of Chicago and nine nephews and nieces received $10,000 each.” – Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 3, 1941

There was a 3-week celebration of this transformational gift to the Fort Wayne Art School and Museum in the autumn of 1941. In the program are these words:

“Although these objets d’art fill a great need in an art museum, they were to James Hamilton just some of the things he loved. The pictures were not even hung properly in his unpretentious Cleveland apartment. They were just piled up on one of three davenports. When he wanted to look at one of them, he put it up on another of the davenports, and sat on the third to look at it. They are the gifts of a little boy grown up, who loved beauty all his life, and wanted very much to share it with others. They help to carry on the art tradition established by members of his family that has been fostered so loyally by the late Robert M. Feustel in his day and is being fostered by Theodore F. Thieme today. Assuredly the donor has left the world with more of beauty than he found in it and with the means to increase what there is. That is about all the true creative artist can ask of life.” – Paintings and Objects of Art from The James Hamilton Bequest, Fort Wayne Art School and Museum, 1941, introduction by Bessie Keeran Roberts.

Here are just a few of James Montgomery Hamilton’s beloved paintings that now reside in the Fort Wayne Museum of Art:

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