“Dear Gellatly, Did you leave a pair of dark leather gloves here? Church.”
Writing to his friends, the artist Frederick Stuart Church (1842-1924) was a man of few words. Most of his letters were full of casual thoughts, questions and updates on the weather. Known for his love of animals, Church enlivened his letters with colorful cartoons featuring bears, birds, and cherubs. Small collections of his correspondence exist in a number of archival repositories, and have been highlighted by other museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
After serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, Church enrolled at Chicago’s Academy of Design. He made the move to New York City in 1870, where he finished his education at the National Academy of Design. Church was also a frequent visitor to the circus and the Central Park Zoo, where he would spend hours studying and sketching animals to perfect his creations. Church worked primarily as an illustrator for a variety of publications in New York, including Harper’s Weekly.
Church’s letters in this collection at N-YHS are all addressed to his friend John Gellatly (1853-1931). Throughout the letters, he speaks of mutual friends and details about business, but more importantly, he writes about lemon meringue pie. Apparently Gellatly’s cook was known for her desserts and would frequently send sweets to Church. In one letter, he asks Gellatly, “Which shall I take the lemon meringue pie or baked apple dumplings?” A brown bear, a common character that is believed to be Church himself, is included in the letter. Perhaps Church had a bit of a sweet tooth? With their charming sketches and dreams of lemon meringue pie, his letters are certainly full of cheerfulness.
This post is by Erin Weinman, Manuscript Reference Librarian.