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.