Daniel Folger Bigelow, who was to become a nationally-known
landscape painter, was born on a farm in Peru, New York in 1823. The old
John Arnold home where he was raised is still standing. His parents were
of Quaker descent. He was the son of Nathan 6Bigelow
and his mother was Clarinda Folger Barker. She was a Folger from Nantucket
and distantly related to Benjamin Franklin, whose mother was Abiah Folger.
Daniel had three brothers and a sister.
The name of Folger is difficult to pinpoint. All of the family records say that Clarinda Folger Barker was Daniel Folger Bigelow's mother. They repeat that she was a cousin of Abiah Folger, Benjamin Franklin's mother. In that generation there were many Clarinda Folgers-mothers, dajighters, aunts, sisters, cousins. The federal census of 1850 states that the "Clarinda Folger Barker, married to Nathan Bigelow" (Daniel Folger Bigelow's parents) was from Dutchess County, New York. There are, however, insufficient grounds to suppose that the Quaker records were in error. For example, Clarinda could have come from the Folgers of Nantucket before moving to Dutchess County, New York.
As a child, Daniel used to stand on a chair and study a painting on the wall. As a boy, between farm chores he would sit on a fence and look across Lake Champlain, watching the magnificent change of colors on Mt. Mansfield. His pencil sketches pleased his parents, but they did not take his talent seriously, believing it was an impractical way to make a living.
As a teenager, in order to earn money for paints, he gained a local reputation by designing leaves and folded hands for gravestones at a marble quarry Some of the old tombstones in the local cemeteries of that era may contain his designs.
He also painted some portraits and thought they were "the worst." He did them only to obtain money for paints, but his first love was to record nature. He later stated that he had a "passionate love" for the colors of his native northern New York. As a young man he was fortunate to meet Asahel Powers, the itinerant folk artist and portrait painter. Asahel was the brother of the noted Vermont sculptor, Hiram Powers. Bigelow gave Asahel Powers credit for teaching him "the delicacy of colors"
When he was 20 years old, Bigelow went to New York City. There he saw the work of other artists for the first time and decided to make painting his life's work. At 35 years of age, Daniel Bigelow gave up farming in Peru and in 1858, with another artist, he established a studio in Chicago in the Crosby Opera House. This studio burned in the great Chicago fire of 1871.
His western career began in Chicago, yet his painting was influenced by the Hudson River School of design in the East. His skillful brush would paint every leaf twig and pebble. The colors were soft, misty and restful. His work was not startlingly imaginative but rather almost photographic. There is a harmony of color that is "beautifully therapeutic." The art correspondent for the Chicago Tribune in the 1870s labeled his paintings "gems:' Most of his landscapes have a lake, stream, pond or brook. Some of these early paintings were sold "off the wall" at exhibitions.
During the summer and autumn he would roam, sketching, through northern New York and New England. He would spend the winter in his Chicago studio working from his sketches by first outlining the landscapes made dring the summer and then painting the colors from memory. On the summer jaunts, he would lead classes of sketchers in New York and Vermont. When he returned to Chicago in the autumn he would sometimes take a sketching class to Wisconsin. He mixed his own pigments with mortar and pestle. Since painted dishes were popular in the Victorian era, Bigelow also spent some of his time painting beautiful china.
His studio was often empty because so many of his works were away on exhibition. He had as many as 20 to 22 paintings "hanging on the line" at one time. About 1887, he was asked to become a charter member of the Academy of Design, which developed into the Art Institute of Chicago. In his 80s he was honored at a banquet given by the Society of Artists for his services to art in Chicago.
One of the reasons for the popularity of his work in the Midwest was the interest of the new wealthy industrialists and railroad promoters who originally came from the East. They could afford to buy landscapes of New England and scenes of old homesteads back East.
In the great Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893 Bigelow exhibited an autumn painting of Lake George. A landscape of the AuSable Valley with Whiteface Mountain in the background is now at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, New York. This can be seen upon request if it is not on exhibit. According to the accession folder, the Whiteface landscape was discovered in Bennington, Vermont. It was restored by Gustav E. Kiliman of Boston, "lined with wax adhesive on aluminum and linen, cleaned, treated and resurfaced". It is dated 1895 and signed D. F. Bigelow.
Another signed painting, dated 1905, of the Barker farmhouse near Peru is owned by Virginia M. Burdick. On the back are historical notes which are as interesting as the painting itself One of the notes reads: "The house to which Phoebe Ketchum Edgerton, maternal grandmother of Charlotte Barnes Bigelow (Daniel Folger Bigelow's wife), was carried on a bed from her home in Plattsburgh and remained during the battle of Plattsburg". The other note reads: "For Nicholas Barker, painted by his cousin, Daniel Folger Bigelow, in the eighty-second year of his age, June 1855-1905." The date reveals that the painting was a gift for the 50th wedding anniversary of Nicholas Barker and Hanna Irish, his wife.
Some of the other Bigelow paintings include, in Peru, an orchard, Davis Pond and Hilliard Brook (now Macomb Park); Whiteface Mountain from many angles; AuSable River near Clintonville, New York; Paradox Lake; Morning in the Berkshires; many views of Lake Champlain, and Lake Fairlee in Vermont. In the Midwest he painted Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Daniel Bigelow exhibited in a wide range of galleries. Among them were the National Academy of Design, World's Columbian Exposition, And the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876.
In 1865, at the age of 41 years, Bigelow married a Schuyler Falls girl 21 years his junior. Charlotte Barnes, born in 1844, was the oldest daughter of Dr. Melvin A. Barnes and the sister of Dr. Ethan Allen Barnes of Brinkerhoff Street in Plattsburgh. Mr. and Mrs. Bigelow had three children, all born in Chicago which became their permanent home. The oldest child was Folger Allen Bigelow. This son was accidentally shot by a friend in 1891 when he was only 23 years old. The son painted still-life pictures. At the time of his death, his peers said that if he had lived, he would have surpassed his father. Father and son had taught and painted together in their Chicago studio.
The only daughter, Florence Edgerton Bigelow, was born in 1871. She painted flowers with watercolors and exhibited in several galleries around the city. She taught art at Hyde Park High School in Chicago for more than 40 years. She died in 1951; the two older children never married. The third child, son Louis Barnes Bigelow, never painted; though he had four children, none followed art as a career. There are six grandchildren (no artists) and 12 great-grandchildren (as of 1990), with two possible artists emerging.
According to his wife, Daniel Bigelow was a fussy dresser, always wearing neat, clean, starched white shirts-not the typical artist in a soiled smock. It may have been a psychological compensation because his legs were short-not deformed like Toulouse -Lautrec's, but not of average length. His torso was of normal size, but his legs were too short for the
rest of the body.
The painter-artist had a great deal of complimentary "press" in his lifetime. His daughter kept a scrapbook of all of the newspaper clippings, from which much of this article is taken. One of the art critics in the 1870 wrote that he was a conscientious painter. Bigelow was never critical of his contemporaries. He was considered "a delightful man with a mild manner and a kindly face.
Daniel Folger Bigelow painted up to the day he died. In his 80s his brush strokes were broader and there was not as much detail. His later subject-matter was the sand dunes of Lake Michigan since he was no longer able to travel to his beloved Adirondacks. The Peru painter died in his sleep in Chicago on July 14, 1910, atter a 50-year career. The Adirondack artist had lived long enough to record on canvas the scenery and magnificent colors of his beautiful home country.
Caroline Bigelow Gregorovius, a resident of Plattsburgh, is the granddaughter of the artist about whom she writes. This article about a noted native of Peru,, New York, was dedicated to the Peru, bicentennial of 1992.