Windham Life and Times – February 5th and 12th, 2015

The Famous Artists Born in West Windham NH

A view of West Windham, New Hampshire

A view of West Windham New Hampshire

There must have been something in the water of West Windham, that was the catalyst for two children that were born and raised here, to become noted American artists. Mary Braddish Titcomb and Howard E. Smith both spent their early childhood in this scenic village overlooking Beaver Brook. Miss Titcomb lived here for much of her early life, becoming a teacher in the Windham schools. Smith lived in the village until he was fourteen and his family moved to Boston Massachusetts.

This blog post was inspired by an article in the Exeter News-Letter, written 100 years ago, by William Harris in 1915.

Self Portrait

Self Portrait

“WINDHAM, February 9.— A native and former resident of Windham has painted a picture which has been purchased on its merits by President Wilson and now hangs in the White House. Miss Mary Braddish Titcomb as a girl in West Windham had no unusual advantages except such as came from her excellent parentage and her own ambition and persistence. In 1880 and 1881 our correspondence to the NEWS-LETTER shows several commendatory references to Miss Titcomb as teacher in Windham Center school and as an elocutionist. Even then she was interested in painting. Later she was a teacher of drawing in the schools of Brockton Mass. Now as we learn from last Saturdays’ Boston Journal, Miss Titcomb has a studio on Clarendon Street in Boston where she does work which is seen at all large exhibitions throughout the country. The particular painting which took the president’s fancy as he saw it at the recent biennial exhibition at the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington is entitled, ‘Portrait of Geraldine J.,’ and shows a pretty young woman wearing a beautiful mandarin coat of blue. The Journal article refers to Miss Titcomb as a conscientious and painstaking artist who ‘has worked while others played, and painted better each year.’ Miss Titcomb was born here September 27, 1858, the daughter of Edward and Sarah Jane (Abbott) Titcomb.”

Examples of Mary Braddish Titcomb's work. "Two Girls on Right sold for $120,000 in 2011.

Examples of Mary Braddish Titcomb’s work. “Two Girls on right, above, sold for $120,000 in 2011.

“Mary Bradish Titcomb was described as an independent woman. She is listed as a portrait painter but is best known and appreciated for her impressionist paintings of rural and coastal New England scenes. She is described as taking the traditional stylistic ideals of the Boston Impressionism and infusing it with a modern sensibility. Mary was born in Windham, NH and supported her artistic education by teaching school in the Boston area. She studied at the Boston Normal Art School and the Boston Museum School under such well-known American painters as Edmund Tarbell, Philip Leslie Hale and Frank Benson. She was a frequent exhibitor at the Copley Society.”

"Gerraldine J." now hangs of over a bedroom fireplace in the Wilson House in Washington D.C.

“Gerraldine J.” now hangs over a bedroom fireplace in the Wilson House in Washington D.C.

“Although primarily associated with New England, Mary was known to have gone on sketching trips to Arizona, Mexico and California.In 1901 Mary left teaching to dedicate her life to painting. After living in the Fenway studios she bought a house in Marblehead, MA where she could paint the kinds of coastal scenes she loved. President Woodrow Wilson admired Titcomb’s “Portrait of Geraldine J.” and bought it to hang in the White House. Mary died in Marblehead, MA in 1927.”

Self Portrait

Self Portrait

“WINDHAM, February 23.— Since writing the little story of Miss Titcomb’s success as a painter, we have been informed by Mrs. M. Eva Pratt of Revere, Mass., formerly of this town, that another Boston artist of distinction, Howard Everett Smith was also born at West Windham, scarcely more than a stone’s throw from the birthplace of Miss Titcomb. He was one of several children born to Charles Smith and his wife, Sarah (Goodwin) Smith, while the father was the proprietor of the village store at Wes Windham and postmaster. He also served the town several years as selectman. The son, who was born April 27, 1885, received a scholarship for travelling abroad from the Boston Museum School, and is a teacher in the School of Drawing in Boston. He is especially good a illustrating, but also paints; he has recently married and gone to the Northwest to paint winter scenes. Perhaps the picturesque surroundings of the little hamlet of West Windham, with its babbling Beaver Brook flowing between pine and hemlock crowned ridges, had their influence in awakening the artistic sensibility in these now noted artists, whose childhood was passed there.”

“A portrait painter, illustrator, etcher, and painter. Born in West Windham, NH on April 27, 1885.  His mother encouraged his interest in art, and he studied both drawing and watercolor at a young age. One of his earliest instructors was a veterinarian, who had Smith closely study the anatomy of his subjects. This was to stand him in good stead, as he later became recognized as a master of portraiture. In 1899, his family moved to Boston. He attended Boston Latin School before continuing his art studies, first at the Art Students’ League in New York and then two years with Howard Pyle. Returning to Boston in 1909, he studied with Edmund Tarbell at the School of Art of the Boston Museum. His illustrations appeared in ”Harper’s” and ”Scribner’s” between 1905 and 1913, and for several years he taught at the Rhode Island School of Design.”

“Having been awarded the Paige Traveling Scholarship in 1911, he left for Europe. The scholarship enabled him to study and travel throughout Europe for two years. Smith financed additional year’s travel through his profitable and long time association with Harper’s Monthly. In 1914, he returned to the United States and began teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design. Here he met Martha Rondelle, whom he married later that year. They were to have three children, Jeanne, Jacqueline and Howard E. Jr. Smith’s  career took off in the teens and twenties. He won numerous prizes including the Hallgarten Prize in 1917 and the Isidor Medal in 1921, both from the National Academy. In the twenties, he and his family spent many of their summers in Rockport and Provincetown. He was one of the founders of the Rockport Art Association. While in Provincetown, the family became friends with Eugene O’Neill, who asked Smith to illustrate his first published play.

“In 1936, the Smith family visited Carmel and in 1938 settled there. His work continued to be exhibited on the East Coast, while he became active in the local art community of the Monterey Peninsula. He served on the Board of Directors of the Carmel Art Association from 1942 to 1949 and again in 1963 and 1964. After his wife’s death in 1948, he moved to Mexico for a number of years, often spending summers in Carmel. He returned to Carmel, living there until his death in 1970”

“Smith was an American impressionist who was known for his illustrations, his portraits and his equine paintings. He worked not only in oil and watercolor, but did a wide variety of graphics, often using as subject matter the horses and cowboys of the West. Jacqueline Cagwin said of her father ”He was a gallant, a gentleman in every sense of the word. People always mistook him for a banker. He always said he would loathe going to an office and keeping rigid hours, yet he worked in his studio until five and spent his evenings etching and reading.”



2 thoughts on “Windham Life and Times – February 5th and 12th, 2015

  1. Henry Gilson farm,his wife was librarian in the 1930s ,Henry gilson of somerville ma. served in the spanish american war one of the the three gilson giants,valle,howard and henry all serving in the spanish american war, When I was young, there was a framed picture of the Gilson farm on the windam libray wall.I am looking for more family history they are buried in windam. My father 91 year old Richard Earl Gilson tells me the stories of farming in windham in the 1920s and 30s


    • Hi Rick,

      Thanks for making a comment. I would love to learn more about your family and their farm in Windham. I have a picture of the Gilson farm. Would like to know exactly where it was located. (Street) If you could jot down some of your father’s stories about Windham, I would love to publish them here and in my column. My grandmother’s family was from Somerville and she would have been in school there about the time of the Spanish American war. (Johnson)



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.