Edwin Romanzo Elmer

USA / 1850 - 1923 / wikipedia
Edwin Romanzo Elmer; American portrait, genre and still life painter. Known for his attention to detail, he was also an inventor of a machine for braiding horsewhips.

Spending most of his life in Ashfield, MA, Elmer is best known for his painting Mourning Picture....

...He grew up in a poor rural family, but with a brother he really liked, Samuel, who shared his enthusiasm for drawing. The two of them tried various ways to make their fortunes, selling silk thread in Cleveland, opening up a billiard hall back home in Massachusetts, and later taking up the manufacture of butter churns. Samuel went back to selling silk thread; Edwin tried to pursue art. He also made various inventions, including the one in his painting.

As part of his attempt to make a career as an artist, he invested in a wagon and traveled the countryside, doing crayon portraits. (He also would retouch photos for people who couldn't afford portraits.) He gave up the attempt after a few years, though, and traveled to New York to study art privately. When he returned, he painted landscapes and had a few shows--but also sold picture frames (and silk thread!) to supplement the family income. His last show show was in 1907; after that he was mainly farming. Diagnosed with abdominal cancer and in debt to the hospital, he took his life in 1923, "so as not to dissipate further the small estate that would have to sustain his wife."

He and his wife were described as "a gay and lively couple," but the author of the biography I have says:

Elmer does not, however, seem to have been a colorful town character about whom stories were told. Rather, he appears to have been the object of gentle condescension. People just didn't regard him as someone of importance. His origins in poverty and his limited education would have been known to all, but it was probably his lack of success at business that really....
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Suzan Hamer


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