Daily Archives: May 15, 2013

Marshes and Mountains

Last week, I discovered yet another Salem-born artist of the mid- and later nineteenth century in the usual way–by browsing through auction archives (a relatively new pastime of mine that I’ve got to nip in the bud, as it is very time-consuming!) This particular artist, Sylvester Phelps Hodgdon (1830-1906) did not dwell in Salem in his adulthood, but I continue to be amazed at the creative environment that existed in this era, another aspect of Salem’s history that is overwhelmed by its Witch City reputation.

Hodgdon was the son of a wealthy Salem currier who had married into one of Salem’s older families, which explains the prominent Phelps in his name (although he usually signed his paintings “S.P. Hodgdon”).  He appears to have moved to Boston in his early 20s, where he studied with the well-traveled Boston artist Benjamin Champney and worked for the L.H. Bradford lithography firm. For most of his life, he lived in the Dorchester section of Boston, and maintained a studio at the Tremont Studio building downtown, along with a host of prominent artists and architects. He was clearly part of the Boston art scene and community, teaching classes and exhibiting his work at the Boston Art Club in its heyday. But like so many Boston-based artists of this era, Hodgdon was drawn to northern New England for his subject matter: there are few streetscapes among his works, but rather gilded landscapes of marshes, valleys, and mountains–predominately in New Hampshire. Therefore he is generally characterized as one of the “White Mountain Painters”, along with Champney, who created one of America’s first art colonies by inviting a succession of painters, including Hodgdon, to come to his summer residence in North Conway from the 1850s on. This was clearly Hodgdon’s preferred milieu, but I did manage to find a few local scenes among his digitized works.

Hodgdon On the Marsh 1861

Hodgdon, Long Beach Nahant

Hodgdon Echo Lake, Franconia

On the Marsh/A Salem, Massachusetts landscape,1861, Skinner Auctions Archive; Long Beach, Nahant, 1861, Carlsen Gallery Auctions Archive; Echo Lake, Franconia Notch, 1858, Collection of  John J. and Joan R. Henderson. Photograph courtesy of the New Hampshire Historical Society. All the sources indicate that Hodgdon preferred to work at the “extremes” of the day, in the early morning and at dusk.

This last painting is among the most acclaimed of his White Mountains works, and as you can see, it dates from early in his career, while he was still in his 20s and working as a lithographer by day/artist by night (and summer). I was able to gather a few other images to add some context to Hodgdon’s life, including some examples of his lithography for the Bradford firm and a photograph of the Tremont Studio building in Boston: all traces of his past that are now sadly gone.


Hodgdon American Antiquarian Society OMM


Hodgdon’s lithographs for L.H. Bradford: “Old Man on the Mountain”, Franconia Notch (whose visage crumbled to the ground in 2003) American Antiquarian Society; Tabernacle Church, Salem, 1854, Boston Athenaeum, and the Tremont Studio in Boston, New York Public Library: gone, gone & gone.

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