Sunday, November 23, 2008

Success and Tragedy... Thank You, Ellen...

Have you ever wondered about the people behind the art in the many Vintage images we're fortunate to find in our searches for hidden treasures?

I often find myself trying to imagine what those artists were like... How did they discover and cultivate their talents?... What did their space to create look like?... How did their lives play out?... Today I'd like to share with you about one such artist by the name of Ellen Hattie Clapsaddle. She was the artist behind all of the Vintage post cards in this post... Before I go any further, though, I want to let you know that what you're seeing here is exactly how I found things... Normally, before I share images on my blog, I "clean" them up... I'll spend quite a bit of time airbrushing creases out... covering up dirty spots... filling in white spaces where the original image has chipped or worn away... and sometimes altering the intensity of the colors in order for all of the fine details to be better seen... It's alot of work, and tedious at best, but I often cannot stop myself from wanting to bring things back to their original glory...

Born on January 8, 1863 in the town of South Columbia, New York, Ellen Hattie Clapsaddle was destined to become the most prolific post card and greeting card artist of her time. A shy and delicate child who loved to draw, she displayed artistic ability from an early age. She was encouraged in her artistic endeavors by her Parents and teachers.

After graduation from the Richfield Springs Seminary in nearby Richfield Springs, New York in 1882, she rounded out her art education with a couple of years training at the Cooper Institute in New York City. She then returned home to South Columbia and, after placing an ad in a local paper, began offering painting lessons in her home.

Ellen's Father, Dennis L. Clapsaddle, died January 5, 1891. Ellen and her Mother then moved in with an Aunt in Richfield Springs. Ellen spent her next fourteen years giving art lessons, doing illustrations, landscapes, portraits, and some freelance work through the mail. One of the Companies she free lanced for was International Art.

At the expense of International Art Company, she spent several years in Germany. Ellen returned to New York around 1906 and was hired by the Wolf Company, a subsidiary of International Art Company. Ellen was 40 years old when she accepted the position with Wolf Co. She'd been free lancing for International Art for six years. She soon became the sole artist and designer for the Wolf Company. Few women were hired as full-time illustrators during this time, and this was a great accomplishment for Ellen. Her Mother, Harriet (Beckwith) Clapsaddle died on March 2, 1905, sadly while Ellen was in Europe.

During her time with Wolf, her success reached such a peak that there seemed to be no limit to the growth potential for either the company or the post card industry. Ellen invested heavily in German post card firms on the advice of the Wolf Brothers, who did likewise. The company was doing so well they sent her to Germany to work with their engravers.

In August, 1914, Clapsaddle was in Germany at the outbreak of World War I. Factories were destroyed, records burned, and messages never received or answered. Almost all of her original art and prints were destroyed during the Great War. It wasn't long before she became a displaced person, penniless and alone in a foreign land. Ellen designed about 2,000 post cards, which she signed. Unfortunately, there were many that she'd not signed, and those cannot be directly attributed to her.

Back in the United States, the Wolf Brothers had been cut off from supplies coming from Germany. Most firms, Wolf Brothers among them, went out of business or were severely financially handicapped as a result of the war. At the end of the war, one of the brothers borrowed money and went to Europe in search of Ellen, who was finally found some six months later wandering the streets. Hungry and sick, she barely recognized Mr. Wolf when he approached her. She was 55 years old.

Wolf brought her back to New York where he could take care of her. She no longer had the ability to earn a living, and her health declined rapidly. Mr. Wolf himself died desolate and poor a few years after bringing Ellen back. She was left alone and mentally incapacitated.

Admitted to the Peabody Home in New York City in January 1932, Ellen had lost all capacity to reason. Sadly, she sat and played with toys until her death, two years later. She passed away on January 7, 1934, one day short of her 69th birthday. Ellen Hattie Clapsaddle died penniless and alone. She had never married, had no children and no Sisters or Brothers.

It wasn't until after World War II that her body was reinterred, and she found her final resting place next to her parents in Lakeview Cemetery, in Richfield Springs. Her marker simply reads, "ELLEN."

Ellen Clapsaddle’s artistry often evokes the innocence and purity of childhood. The artistry of her post cards brings back an era much cherished in retrospect for its civility and gentility. Her life is a story of both success and tragedy ~ success in the beauty, innocence and expansiveness of her artistry ~ tragedy in the destructiveness of war towards all that we hold civilized and dear.

Her story is one all too common amongst artists of all kinds... the rosy, fresh-faced innocence of her girls and young women, which has made her celebrated to this day as the greatest of the pre-war postcard artists, was a painfully ironic contrast to the tragedy of her later years.

But how wonderful her work is! There is no doubt that were she alive today she would want us to accept her early images of pretty, childlike joy in the spirit in which they were painted.

The image above is an example of what is believed to be an unsigned piece of art by Ellen Clapsaddle. Please note the name of "Wolf" in the lower left-hand corner. All images can be clicked and enlarged in order to view the fine details of Clapsaddle's talents.

It breaks my heart to think of how she must have suffered in the last years of her life. Yet, I remain so grateful that she lived... that she created... that she was so amazingly gifted... and that she left behind so many awesome illustrations for those of us she may never have even dreamed would exist to savor all that she had to offer...

Thank you, Ellen...
may you be painting on the clouds of Heaven now...

God bless...

Until another time... Pearl

All images and information were gathered from various Google searches.

19 comments:

Simply Dandy said...

Hi Pearl,
I'm sorry I haven't been by...it was not intentional. That is a very interesting story you have told. I wondered where you found all of your vintage postcards and pictures. You always take so much when you do your posts. I hope you are doing better.

Hugs,
LeAnn:)

Pearl said...

To LeAnn 'n anyone else reading... the post cards in this post were all found via Google searches... However, the majority of the Vintage post cards that I share are from my own collection. My Mom left me a scrapbook of her collection... other post cards were given to me as gifts... and many of them I have purchased for myself... I'm pretty well addicted to them! Thanks so very much for visiting, LeAnn... You're one very special person in my book! ~Big Hugs~

Twyla and Lindsey said...

What a sad, but very interesting story. I wish Ellen could have been given the aclaim that she so richly deserved. Her art work is beautiful and now I want to go looking for her postcards. I bet they are hard to find. Thank you for this insight into a great collectible. Thank you also for visiting our blog and leaving the nicest comments! May you have a blessed Thanksgiving. Twyla

luvmy4sons said...

Wow. It is alwyas amazing to hear someone's full life story all at once...we live ours one moment at a time and I wonder how mine will sound as a complete story on someone else's ears. She certainly was gifted.

ksarra said...

Thanks for sharing the bittersweet story of such an amazing artist. I LOVE postcards too. I think it's the innocence of the times, and the fact that people actually took the time to write to each other!

Scooterblu's Whimsy~Rhonda said...

Hi Pearl, Great post and sweet pictures! It is so good to see you posting! Hope you are feeling much better!

I wanted to wish you and your family a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving! I am so thankful for our friendship. You have richly blessed my life! ~love ya, Rhonda :)

Picket said...

Oh Pearl What a sad ending for such a beautiful soul...Gosh girl that was so enlightening...loved the history behind these gorgeous cards! Hope you and yours have a beautiful and blessed Thanksgiving sweetie!

Maryjane - The Beehive Cottage said...

Hello Pearl!

What a post! I love all the beautiful postcards of this sweet soul. Thank you so much for sharing. Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving!

Hugs,
Maryjane

Maryjane - The Beehive Cottage said...

P.S. Pearl, I love the untouched postcards. I have been collecting vintage postcards for years and these are precious! Thanks you dear! Hugs, Maryjane

GARAGE SALE GAL said...

Hi Pearl,
That was so interesting and sad. I love those little children postcards and didn't realize that you cleaned them up.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING FRIEND.
Fondly,
Deb

Marie Antionette said...

Hello Pearl,Just dropped by to wish you a very Happy thanksgiving .I love these cards,and i do wonder who makes them and thought about their lives.It was a hard life back then,and they proably did not get much for these beautiful works of art.Hugs Marie Antionette

Tiffany said...

Thank you for sharing this story. I love her artistry. She had an amazing gift, and I wish she knew how much she touched others lives. I too am addicted to vintage art/postcards, ect. That's partly why I love your blog so much. What a touching behind the scenes look. Hope yo are having a blessed day!

Tracie~MyPetiteMaison said...

Hi Pearl,
Thank you for the history lesson. I really enjoyed this post. I always wonder when I'm searching an antique mart or a flea market and touching an object what its history might be or who could have loved it in a previous life. This post definitely spoke to my heart.
Just think what Ellen might think - all of us being able to view her art all over the world on the internet...
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.
xoxo~Tracie

Kathi said...

This is a sad and touching story Pearl. I'm glad you shared it. What innocent little faces she painted on those dear children. I could get addicted to them too.

It's official. My dear black pearl colored car is named "Pearl," in honor of you Dear Pearl. I will show a picture sometime soon. Hugs, Kathi and Happy Thanksgiving.

Deb said...

Hi Pearl, interesting story and very beautiful cards. Deb

Deb said...

Hi Pearl! I'm back to say stop by, I'm using the Christmas Banner that you made me. It is soooooooo beautiful!!!!! Deb

Michelle said...

Pearl,

What an amazing story. I never knew the story of Ellen. I've always loved her postcards. They had such a sweetness and innocence to them and how very sad the last years of her life were and the hard times she had gone through. Thank you for educating me. :)

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Maree said...

You have been tagged!!

Rue said...

Hi Pearl :)

That was such a sad story, but I'm glad she is remembered and her art is recognized.

I was thinking about you and popped in to see how you were. I've been out of town and I'm so sorry I haven't been by. I hope you're over your cold now.

(((hugs)))
rue