It's installation week at FWMoA! If you visit us before Saturday you'll have to pardon our mess as this week we are installing the exhibit we’re calling 1026 West Berry Street – The Fort Wayne Art School. Read on to see what Suzanne Slick learned while curating this exhibition and how the community came together to contribute!
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.
Surprising things often turn up in our archives, and the story of the first Director of the Fort Wayne Art School & Museum is one of those. When Theodore Thieme, president of the Wayne Knitting Mills, gave his home on Berry Street to the Fort Wayne Art School in 1921, he mandated some conditions before the transfer of his property could occur. One condition was that the Museum would become a formal part of the institution, others described the new board, constitution, and memberships, and, finally, it was agreed that the school would have a Director. Until then, the Board of Control had recruited an array of instructors, but had not appointed an executive. Now, with the added responsibilities of the Museum, a large endowment, and growing enrollment, it was necessary that the school and museum have a leader.
Whoever is shown in this painting, parts of it were painted well and parts of it show a great lack of skill or a disinterest in accurately depicting parts of the picture. This painting was commissioned to local painter Horace Rockwell, who made a modest living in the business of commercial portraiture and occasionally executed nearly life-sized family portraits like that of the Hanna family. Rockwell, exercising the style of the time that people should be depicted naturally and without idealization, paid special attention to the faces of the Hanna family and rather skillfully shows how these people probably looked in real life. Ironically, the bodies of these people look quite unnatural, lacking anatomically correct bone structure and proportion. Feet look more like wooden wedges, shoulders slump like shapeless sacks of flour, and the youngest Hanna in the portrait is shown to have only four toes. Rockwell has problems with his composition as well. An empty spot in the middle of the painting leaves an awkward division between the sitters, and almost no attention is paid to the background, which the artist has chosen to resolve by painting it a flat brown with no clue to tell us where this family is sitting.