Halsey C. Ives
Index to articles by Herbert A. Wisbey, Jr.
The ashes of Halsey Cooley Ives repose in the Ives family plot in the Montour Falls Cemetery next to that of Governor David B. Hill, the village's other famous person. Today the name of Governor Hill might bring a flicker of recognition but most likely a similar mention of Dr. Ives would only result in a blank look. Yet Halsey Ives was a world-renowned figure in art education and administration at the time of his death in 1911.
Halsey Ives was born on October 27, 1847, in Havana, Schuyler County, New York. His father was Hiram DuBoise Ives, listed as a lumberman in the Census of 1850, and his mother was Theresa McDowell Ives. Halsey was educated in his native village and attended Havana Union School. He was only fourteen years old when his father died on December 16, 1861. Evidently he had more than average artistic talent. An official biography notes that he took up drafting and states that in 1864, at the age of seventeen, he "entered the service of the United States Government and was sent to Nashville. " The wording of this seems to imply that he joined the army but this was not the case. It does not seem reasonable that the government would hire a teen-aged "draftsman" and send him to occupied Tennessee while the Civil War was still underway. Also the job description of "draftsman" seems to be an euphemism for the more prosaic occupation of house and sign painter and paperhanger.
Perhaps the most illuminating source about Ives's early life is an interview with a contemporary of his published in the Havana Journal in 1893. According to a Colonel Sam Paine, Ives had a natural artistic talent. "He was a dreamy boy who saw pictures in the glens, running brooks and waterfalls of his native village, but he had neither time nor money at his command to transfer these to canvas. " One of his earliest works was a "bright red vermillion picture" of "Queen Catherine Montour" painted on the side of a saloon within view of the Chemung Canal.
His work attracted the attention of Charles Cook, one of the wealthiest men in Havana, who got him a job as house painter, Paine declared. Cook was an ambitious dreamer who founded People's College in Havana as the site of New York State's land grant college. Cook was outmaneuvered politically by Ezra Cornell of Ithaca whose school became Cornell University. Cook was equally unsuccessful in winning for Havana the designation of county seat when Schuyler County was formed in 1854, even though he built a fine set of county buildings.
Paine wrote, "I met Halsey Ives in Havana in 1866 and became acquainted with him, because like him I had the Bohemian instinct which neither of us could shake off. " At the time "young Ives wore long hair, and there was a poetic expression about the Grecian contour of his face. " Ives's earliest paintings were of local scenes such as the falls near his home and were described as "works that most any sign painter could have produced. " Ives, called "the then crude artist," was very proud of them. In those days Ives wasn't very ambitious, according to Paine. He was an inveterate smoker, and loved to hang around a local restaurant and swap stories with the farmers who used to drop in from Odessa.
But then, Paine declared, Ives changed the course of his life suddenly by throwing his pipe away and vowing never to smoke again, a vow that he kept. He was working as a grainer when he packed his brushes and headed for St. Louis. A grainer was a person who painted on a flat surface to imitate fine wood or marble on three dimensional objects. The kind of work he did can still be seen in St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Montour Falls.
In St. Louis a sketch that he did on a piece of backyard fence attracted the attention of a benefactor who got him a job in the art school of Washington University. This account by Colonel Paine seems to make more sense than the standard biographical information in print.
His official biography states that in 1869, he became "a designer and decorator," travelling through the South and West. In 1872 he was said to have made a journey into Mexico and that two years later he showed up in St. Louis where he got a job as a teacher of art in the Polytechnic School of Washington University (founded 1853). His art education was continued abroad "under several teachers," none of which are identified. When he returned to St. Louis he became a member of the faculty of Washington University.
His administrative ability was quickly recognized and he is credited with founding the Washington University School of Fine Arts and the St. Louis Art Museum, formally inaugurated in 1879. Early in his career he came to believe that the applied or industrial arts should be included in the definition of Fine Art and he followed this idea throughout his long career. He was director of both the school and the museum when a new museum building was opened in 1881. For many years he gave courses of lectures on Sundays free to workers who could not afford the time for the study of art on other days of the week. He built outstanding collections for the museum, always emphasizing the applied and industrial arts.
In 1892, Ives was appointed head of the Art Department of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. This was the famous Chicago World's Fair, an unforgettable experience for the more than 27 million people who attended. This position brought Ives international recognition. The following year he was appointed by the National Bureau of Education to travel abroad and examine the courses of institutions and methods of work in various foreign art schools and museums. He was also selected to represent the United States as Commissioner of Art at various expositions abroad.
Another achievement was his work as head of the Department of Art at the Centennial of the Acquisition of Louisiana in St. Louis. The St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 rivaled that of Chicago a decade earlier. Ives was successful in having the art building of the fair built as a permanent structure that would serve as the city's art museum after the fair.
In 1897 he was elected to a four-year term on the St. Louis City Council where he used his expertise to promote public support for a city art museum. His efforts were successful in establishing the art museum as a public, tax-supported institution that won national recognition. As Director of the Art Museum of St. Louis, he "was known and recognized at home and abroad as one of the foremost personalities in the art world. "
He was the recipient of many honors. Washington University awarded him the honorary degree of L. L. D. in 1905. In a private audience with King Oscar of Sweden and Norway, he was made a knight of the Order of Wasa. His knighthoods eventually included the Orders of Daneborg of Denmark, of Saints Moritz and Lazar, of Leopold of Belgium, and of Christ of Portugal. He was also Commander of the Chinese Order of the Double Dragon and the Bulgarian Order of Saint Alexander and received the Iron Cross of Franz Joseph of Austria. These were in addition to commendations from the governments of France, Germany, Italy and Holland. "He was honored with many decorations by foreign governments and with numerous diplomas and medals from exposition and art organizations. "
He received a special commendation from President Theodore Roosevelt written from the White House, April 18, 1906. "My Dear Mr. Ives, I can hardly imagine that any good American would fail to feel interest in and hearty approval of the enterprise in which you are engaged. The artistic merits are sufficiently proved by the testimony of men like John La Farge, Augustus Saint Gaudens, Frederick Dielman, F. J. Skiff, D. H. Burnham, Charles F. McKim and the other architects, artists and sculptors who have written you. It seems to me that such a museum as is suggested would be one of the strongest factors in the development of art education and of the appreciation of art, not only in your own part of the country, but throughout the Union. I feel such a monument would not only have an excellent influence upon the development of an appreciation for good architecture in the Middle West, but throughout the entire country. I earnestly hope that you may find men wise and generous enough to enable you to undertake the work in question. " In spite of the various honors and endorsements, it was recorded that Ives, "oftentimes felt that his work was not appreciated and his sacrifices not realized. "
Dr. Ives never forgot the place where he was born and grew up. He sent back photographs from the Chicago World's Fair and from other expositions over the years to the Montour Falls Library, as well as barrels of statuary, pictures and copies of pictures. (The Havana Library Association was organized in 1872 and the name changed when Havana became Montour Falls by law on May 14, 1895. ) A story that may be apocryphal, suggests that Ives had a role in the name change. When people asked him where he came from and he answered "Havana," they often thought it was Havana, Cuba. This so annoyed him that he inaugurated the movement that brought about the bill to change the name. Whatever the veracity of this story, it is clear that he approved of the name change.
In 1886 Ives presented a life-size bust of Charles Cook to Cook Academy in a dedication ceremony attended by Governor Hill. This bust now has place of honor in the Montour Falls Library which also has on display a number of statues and paintings sent by Ives. Ives developed as an artist and did some painting of his own. A landscape painting, "Waste Lands," won a silver medal at the Portland exhibition of 1905. His most important achievements, however, were in teaching and administration. At the time of his death he was recognized as the dean of American art educators.
He was married to Margaret Lackland of St. Louis in 1887 and the couple had two children, a daughter, Caroline Eliot, and a son, Neil McDowell. Two maiden sisters, Misses Marion T. Ives and Edwina L. Ives, who lived in the family home, 225 South Genesee Street, in Montour Falls, survived him. This house, built about 1845 and extensively remodeled in 1885 and 1926, is still standing. He was also survived by several nieces and nephews.
Ives died suddenly in London on May 5, 1911, at the age of 64, while on a business trip. His ashes were returned to Montour Falls for interment in the family burial plot. Funeral services, conducted by the Rev. Francis Rice, were held at St. Paul's Episcopal Church on May 22, 1911. According to former Historian, Mrs. Mary Layton, a Viking Cross was brought from one of the international fairs and put on his grave. "It lasted a number of years but finally had to come down. " No trace of it can be found today. A simple stone now marks the grave of one of the most celebrated persons associated with Montour Falls.
© 1995, Herbert A. Wisbey, Jr.