About the State Historical Society > News > 2008

State Historical Society of Iowa Press Release

For immediate release December 15, 2008

Contact: Jeff Morgan, Jeff.Morgan@iowa.gov, (515) 281-3858

New exhibit of Iowa’s historical paintings opens Saturday

Twenty works of art on display at State Historical Museum

(DES MOINES) – A new exhibit of 20 historical paintings rescued from age and environmental deterioration opens this week at the State Historical Museum.

“Recovered Treasures: Saving Iowa’s Painted Past” opens Saturday, Dec. 20, 2008, at the State Historical Museum 600 E. Locust Street in Des Moines ’ Historic East Village. Hours are 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday and Noon-4:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free and open to the public.

“The State Historical Society of Iowa recognized the importance of visual works of art as documents of history and began collecting paintings as far back as 1857,” Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Cyndi Pederson said. “These paintings are important historical artifacts because they provide clues about the activities, attitudes, ideas, interests, prejudices and status of the people who created and displayed them.”

The museum holds in its collection more than 300 historical paintings, most of them suffering from decades of exposure to sunlight, tobacco smoke, coal dust and fluctuations in temperature and humidity. Aging varnish and a build up of grime also combined to obscure the images.

The vast majority of the collection had been on display or in storage at the former Historical Building (now the Ola Babcock Miller Building) at 1112 E. Grand Avenue before being relocated in 1988 to the current location, where they are now protected in a climate-controlled storage area.

For two decades, museum staff has identified a select number of paintings to be conserved and displayed in exhibits, but a comprehensive effort targeting the entire collection had been too costly until recently.

In 2004, museum staff contacted Illinois conservator Barry Bauman, who began offering complimentary services to museums and non-profit organizations in 2003. He charges only for supplies.

Bauman, who operates Barry Bauman Conservation in River Forest, Ill., is an Elected Fellow of the American Institute for Conservation. He was formerly the Associate Conservator of Paintings for the Art Institute of Chicago and the founder and owner of the Chicago Conservation Center.

“Recovered Treasures” showcases a selection of 20 paintings conserved by Bauman, and highlights a cross-section of the works in the museum’s collection. These paintings represent almost $100,000 in donated services from Bauman. Treatment images of the exhibition paintings can be viewed on Bauman's Web site: www.baumanconservation.com.

Eighteen of the paintings come from the museum’s climate-controlled storage area, and the other two have been on display at Terrace Hill in Des Moines and Governor William Larrabee’s home, Montauk, which is a historic site near Clermont, Iowa.

“Recovered Treasures: Saving Iowa’s Painted Past” exhibit contents list:

Benjamin Franklin Witmer, 1841-1916
Oil on canvas
c. 1870

Subject: Peter Russell was born in Concord, N.H. He was a pastor in the Disciples of Christ Church and served as chaplain in the 39th Iowa Infantry in the Civil War. He also served in the 9th General Assembly.

Artist: Benjamin Franklin Witmer was born in Marion County, Ind., and came to Iowa in 1855. He lived and painted in Des Moines. In the late 1870s, he traveled to Europe to study. He died at Colfax in 1916.

Benjamin Franklin Witmer, 1841-1916
Oil on canvas
c. 1870

Subject: Adelgertha Russell was from New York State. She married Peter Twiss Russell in Michigan on October 20, 1842. The couple moved to Des Moines in 1868. Adelgertha was active in the Suffrage Movement and wrote for local newspapers.

Artist: (See Benjamin Franklin Witmer entry above.)

Stephen Seymour Thomas, 1868-1956
Oil on canvas
Painted in Paris, France
June, 1896

Subject: Frances Cooper was the niece of author James Fenimore Cooper. She came to Iowa with her family in 1845. They settled near Des Moines, where she married Frederick M. Hubbell. In the late 19th century, she and her husband traveled to Europe where this painting was made. Frances Hubbell died at Terrace Hill in 1924.

Artist: Stephen Seymour Thomas was a native of Texas. He was born in San Augustine in 1868. His parents were among the first settlers of San Augustine. Thomas was a “known” artist in Texas at an early age and at 16 had a successful exhibition in New York City. He studied at the Art Students League under William Merritt Chase and in 1888 went to Paris to study. He remained there for the next 25 years. He was a successful and sought-after portrait and genre painter. He won many awards in France and in the United States. In 1915, he moved to southern California where he lived until his death in 1956.

Att. to Rufus Wright, 1832-1900
Oil on canvas

Subject: In 1856, the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River was completed. Only two weeks after completion the steamboat Effie Afton ran into the bridge and it burned. The bridge was rebuilt, but court cases involving the railroad’s right to span the river followed. In 1857, Abraham Lincoln defended the railroad against the steamboat interests. The jury failed to reach a verdict and the bridge remained open.

Artist: Rufus Wright studied at the National Academy of Design in New York City. He was a portrait, genre and still-life painter as well as a lithographer. In the 1850s, he made a trip west where he painted views of Davenport and other cities. He is best known for his portraits of 19th century political figures. By 1860, he was living in New York City where he remained until his death in 1900.

John Newton Parks, 1848- after 1917
Oil on canvas

Subject: Samuel J. Kirkwood was Iowa’s Civil War governor. He served from 1860 to 1864. He was born in Harford County, Md., in 1813 and, after practicing law in Ohio, he came to Coralville in 1855. He was elected governor in 1860. He was appointed Minister to Denmark by President Lincoln but declined. In 1866, he served in the United States Senate until 1867. He was elected Iowa’s governor again in 1876-1877. He resigned to become United States Senator from 1877-1881. He later served a term in the House of Representatives. He died in 1894.

Artist: John Newton Parks came late in his life to art. He was born in 1848 in New York State; came to Iowa in 1858 and in 1870 took up painting while living in Grinnell. He studied in Chicago and at the Art Students League under C.Y. Turner. By 1880, he was living in Michigan and in 1900 he was living in Rochester, N.Y.

Attributed to Isaac Wetherby, 1819-1904
Oil on canvas
Circa 1860

Subjects: In the autumn of 1857, John Brown began recruiting men in Kansas for his planned raid into Virginia. Two of his earliest recruits were Aaron Stevens and John E. Cook. Stevens was a native of Connecticut who had served in the army during the Mexican War. He also served as colonel of the Second Kansas Volunteer Regiment in the fighting in “Bloody Kansas.” Cook was likewise from Connecticut. He attended Yale University and law school in New York. He moved to Kansas in 1855 to fight the extension of slavery. He was described as “… highly erratic in temperament and not over-stocked with morality. He was the best pistol shot I ever saw…” said John Brown’s son, Salmon. This portrait was initially identified as being Aaron Stevens, but it bears a striking resemblance to period photos of Cook.

Artist: Isaac Wetherby began his career in Maine and Massachusetts and ended it in Iowa City. He worked as a self-taught portrait artist in Maine, Boston, and Milton, Mass., before heading west in 1854. In that year, he moved to Eureka, Iowa, and settled in Iowa City in 1857. Wetherby set up an early daguerreotype studio in Iowa City and produced a large number of photographs. At the start of the Civil War, he was asked to produce portraits of John Brown and the Martyrs of Harpers Ferry. This painting is one of those produced. Wetherby continued to live and work in Iowa City until he died in 1904.

Charles Atherton Cumming, 1858-1932
Oil on canvas

Subject: Black Hawk was born in 1767 near the Rock River in Illinois. He grew up to be a warrior and eventually a “War Chief” of the Sauk (Meskwaki). In 1832, he, along with the Winnebago chief, White Cloud, led more than 400 warriors across the Mississippi River from Iowa into Illinois. This move caused mass panic among white settlers and the militia was called out. Among those serving was a young Abraham Lincoln. The situation deteriorated and both Indian and militia were killed. The “Black Hawk War” began in earnest. Black Hawk was joined by Winnebago and Potawatomi warriors and many small villages and farms in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin were raided. Black Hawk was trying to get back across the Mississippi River when his band was attacked by the militia in August 1832. In the battle called “The Bad Axe Massacre,” more than 350 Sauk (men, women and children) were killed. Black Hawk survived and surrendered. He was taken prisoner; shipped East and paraded through eastern cities. Instead of being considered a blood-thirsty killer, Black Hawk was viewed as a brave, romantic symbol of the wild frontier and treated as a hero. He returned to Iowa in 1835 and died in 1837.

Artist: Charles A. Cumming is perhaps Iowa’s best-known artist. He was born in Rochester, Ill., and attended local schools, eventually ending up at Cornell College in Mount Vernon. His talent as an artist was evident early on and he attended The Art Institute of Chicago. Returning to Cornell in 1880, he taught art. In 1885, he traveled to Paris and studied at the Acadamie Julian with Boulanger and Lefebvre. Cumming returned to Iowa and eventually settled in Des Moines in 1895. He became Director of the Des Moines Academy of Art and in 1900 established the Cumming School of Art in the newly built public library. Cumming was also instrumental in the establishment of the art program at the University of Iowa. He died in 1932, but the Cumming School of Art continued until 1954.

George Upp, 1844-1924
Oil on canvas
Date Unknown

Subject: Governor Byrl F. Carroll, 1909-1913, has the distinction of being the first Iowa Governor born in Iowa. He was born in Davis County in 1860. During his life he served in various offices in Iowa including State Senator and State Auditor. He also served as postmaster of Bloomfield. In 1910, while governor, he was hailed as a hero for entering a burning house and rescuing a trunk full of valuable property. The incident was hailed as far away as New York City: it appeared in an article in the New York Times. After leaving office, Carroll entered the real estate and insurance business. He died in 1939.

Artist: George Upp was born in New York in 1844. After service in the Civil War, he went to Chicago and studied portraiture under G.P.A. Healy. He spent his life painting portraits. He first came to Des Moines in 1869 and painted portraits of prominent men of the city. According to an article in 1919, Upp, “…has painted actually thousands of pictures, his portraits alone number 1,729.” He died in Hamilton, Ill., in 1924.

Alice Mckee Cumming, 1890-1965
Oil on canvas
Date Unknown

Subject: Jennie Dodson was born in Kirksville, Mo., in 1858. She was married to Governor Byrl F. Carroll and was active in organizing the Iowa Ladies Legislative League and the P.T.A. She died in Des Moines in 1946.

Artist: Alice Mckee Cumming, 1890-1965, was the wife of Charles Atherton Cumming. She was born in Stuart, Iowa; graduated from Iowa State University; enrolled in the Cumming School of Art and in 1926 married her teacher. She was a practiced artist and upon the death of her husband continued to run the Cumming School for Art until 1954. She retired to Paradise Valley, Ariz., where she continued to paint until her death in 1965.

George Upp, 1844-1924
Oil on canvas
Date Unknown

Subject/Artist: He was described in 1919 as, “Seventy-five years young and with something of the eternal boy in him, George Upp looks forward to many years of painting.” This painting reflects that image.

George Harvey, 1835-1920
Oil on canvas
c. 1855

Subject: Born in Richmond County, Ky., in 1814, Lacon Stockton came to Burlington, Iowa in 1836. He was a lawyer and served as Mayor of Burlington in 1855-56. In 1856, he was appointed to the State Supreme Court by Governor Grimes and served until his untimely death in 1860. He has the distinction of being the first member of the court to die before retirement.

Artist: George Harvey was a home-grown artist, having been born in Somerset, Iowa, in 1835. He studied in the East with his uncle, George Harvey (1800-1878), and Thomas Hicks. His studies were interrupted by the Civil War and, after the war, he returned to Burlington where he lived the rest of his life. He painted landscapes and portraits. His most famous work is an enormous view of Burlington, commissioned for and exhibited in the Iowa Building at the 1893 Worlds Fair. The painting is currently at the Burlington Public Library.

David J. Gue, 1836-1917
Oil on canvas
c. 1890

Subject: Samuel Merrill had a long and distinguished career in public service. He served in the legislatures of two states (New Hampshire and Iowa), served in the Civil War rising to the rank of colonel of the 21st Iowa Infantry, and served as Governor of Iowa, 1868-1872. It was under his administration that the initial funds were appropriated for the State Capitol in Des Moines, and he participated in the laying of its cornerstone.

Artist: Another Iowa artist who came late to his work, David Gue did not start painting until past his 50th birthday. He was born in 1836 in Brooklyn, N.Y. He came to Iowa in 1852, settling in Fort Dodge. Here he practiced law and was a pharmacist. He was self-taught and is best known for portrait work. He died in 1917.

Wilbur A. Reaser, 1860-1942
Oil on Canvas
c. 1910

Subject: Many historians consider James Wilson the greatest of all U.S. secretaries of agriculture. Born near Ayshire, Scotland, in 1835, he and his family immigrated to the United States in 1852, eventually settling near Tama, Iowa. Wilson attended Grinnell College, farmed, taught school, served in the Iowa legislature, was a professor of agriculture at Iowa State University and in 1897, was appointed Secretary of Agriculture by President McKinley. He served in that position for the next 26 years, until 1913. He received the nickname, “Tama Jim,” to differentiate him from U.S. Sen. James Wilson of Iowa (no relation). As Secretary of Agriculture, he laid the groundwork of the modern USDA. He was a pioneer in the establishment of research facilities and inaugurated programs in agricultural economics, farm credit, soil conservation and reforestation.

Artist: Wilbur A. Reaser was born in Ohio but later moved to Iowa. He studied drawing and painting at the San Francisco Art Institute and the Academies Julian and Colarossi in Paris. He won gold and silver medals at the California Exposition in 1894 and a prize at New York’s National Academy of Design in 1896. He was a successful painter of prominent men and painted many public figures. He died in Minneapolis in 1942.

Wilbur A. Reaser
Oil on canvas

Subject: Jonathan Prentiss Dolliver was born before the Civil War in what would become the state of West Virginia. He grew up in Preston County and attended the University of West Virginia, graduating in 1876. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1878. Like many young men, he sought his fortune in the West, ending up in Fort Dodge. In 1880, he was elected city solicitor for Fort Dodge. He went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives for five terms and in 1900 was appointed to serve out the term of U.S. Sen. John H. Gear. He was elected on his own in 1901 and 1907. He died in office in 1910.

Artist: (See Wilbur A. Reaser in the entry above.)

Nicholas Brewer, 1857-1940
Oil on canvas

Subject: In May 1916, a tragic accident ended the promising career of a rising golf star. Jennie Vie Jones was killed by a racing police car on the streets of Sioux City. Three years earlier, on July 11, 1913, she had become the first woman State Golf Champion. This portrait was probably painted sometime between the win and her tragic death.

Artist: A prominent portrait and landscape painter of the late 19th and 20th centuries, Nicholas Brewer was born in Olmstead County, Minn., and was raised on a farm in southwestern Minnesota. He studied in New York with Dwight Tryon and Charles Noel Flagg at the National Academy of Design. He returned to live in Minneapolis for the rest of his life.

E. Bassett
Oil on canvas

Subject: Views of Washington, D.C. were extremely popular in the mid-19th century. In this view, the still uncompleted Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol can be seen.

Artist: No information on the artist can be found.

Homer Henderson, 1840-after 1900
Oil on canvas
c. 1880

Subject: Dr. Farquharson was born in Tennessee in 1824. During the Civil War he was in charge of a hospital in Nashville and in 1868 moved to Iowa, settling in Davenport where he continued to practice medicine. He was an early member of the Davenport Academy and other scientific groups, and an amateur archaeologist and ethnologist. He was the first secretary of the Iowa Board of Health in 1881. He died in Davenport in 1884.

Artist: Little is known of Homer Henderson. He was apparently born in Ohio and lived most of his life in Columbus. The 1880 census lists him as “artist.” He never married, and in the late 1880s, he supposedly supported himself by working as a supervisor at a stove pipe and oil-can factory. He always listed his occupation as artist. In 1883, he won first prize at the Ohio State Fair for “Best Portrait in Oil [from] sittings only.”

George Simons, 1832-1917
Oil on canvas
After 1865

Subject: George Simons served in the 29th Iowa Volunteer Infantry during four years of the Civil War. While in the war, he sketched his surroundings and later produced paintings based on these sketches.

Artist: Born in Canada, George Simons was raised in Streeter, Ill., where he met a man named Grenville Dodge. Dodge would later become the chief surveyor for the Union Pacific Railroad. In 1853, Simons joined Dodge in Council Bluffs as a part of Dodge’s railroad survey party and made his home there for 50 years. Simons traveled extensively, prospecting for gold in Colorado, hunting buffalo with Indians, traveling the Oregon Trail into California and doing stage sets for Brigham Young in Utah. In 1900, he retired to California and died in Long Beach in 1917.

KANESVILLE (Now C. Bluffs) 1849 To ’51 LOOKING NORTH
George Simons, 1832-1917
Oil on canvas

Subject: Council Bluffs was Simons’ home from 1853 until the early 1900s. He painted several views of the developing city. In I854, Isaac Wetherby produced a daguerreotype of this painting and painted a copy of it. The daguerreotype and copy are currently in the Putnam Museum in Davenport.

Artist: (See George Simons in entry above.)

William Bradford, 1823-1892
Oil on canvas
Before 1885

Subject: “It was a rare scene of ever-changing beauty, assuming new shapes as we glided slowly by, and one long to be remembered.” – William Bradford. In 1885, soon-to-be Governor William Larrabee purchased this and another painting from the artist, William Bradford. The two paintings have since hung in the parlor of the Larrabee home at Montauk, near Clermont, Iowa. Montauk is a state of Iowa historic site. This painting expresses the fascination artists and art lovers had with the beauty, danger, and overwhelming power of the polar landscape during the 19th century.

Artist: As an artist, William Bradford was supreme in his ability to capture the stark beauty and omnipresent peril of the Polar Regions in his paintings. Bradford was raised in an area famous for whaling and other marine activities. He was born and raised in New Bedford, Mass. In the early 1850s, he launched his career by painting portraits of ships for $25 apiece. In the mid-1850s, he was joined by Dutch immigrant painter, Albert Van Beest. Van Beest became Bradford’s teacher and partner until Van Beest’s untimely death in 1860. In the 1860s, Bradford made many trips to Nova Scotia, Greenland, and Iceland to paint and photograph arctic ice. He continued his travels in the 1870s and 1880s. He established a studio in San Francisco and traveled and painted extensively in the West. While never copying photographs, he would use them in his work and this is reflected in the realist style his work possesses.


The State Historical Society of Iowa is a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and is a trustee of Iowa's historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa's past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa's historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state. Visit www.iowahistory.org or call 515-281-5111 for more information.


©2013 The State of Iowa, All Rights Reserved | Policies | Accessibility | Non-discrimination and Accommodation | Website Feedback