Frankfort Friends: Paul Sawyier and the Browns

By Kate Hesseldenz, Curator

Another View of Frankfort photo by Gene BurchAnother View of Frankfort, Paul Sawyier, watercolor on paper, ca. 1895, Liberty Hall Historic Site Collections

Liberty Hall Historic Site owns eight Paul Sawyier paintings.  Six of these were likely collected by Brown family members.  Though not born in Frankfort, Paul Sawyier (1865-1917) and his family moved to the capital city in 1870.  While living in Frankfort, Sawyier created watercolor landscape paintings of his central Kentucky surroundings. He also painted portraits and worked in oils. Sawyier was influenced by American Impressionism and studied with Impressionist artist, William Merritt Chase, in New York City in 1889.  

Four of our Sawyier paintings appear on 1950s inventories, indicating they likely belonged to members of the Brown family.  Also, two of our paintings depict the garden behind Liberty Hall and the Orlando Brown House.  What were the connections between Paul Sawyier and the Browns?

Sawyier knew several Brown family members including Mason P. Brown, Hord Brown and Sam Brown.

Mason Preston Brown IIPhotograph of Mason Preston Brown, ca. 1915, Liberty Hall Historic Site Collections Mason Preston Brown (1873-1941), the great-grandson of John Brown, was Paul Sawyier’s close friend and a patron of his work. [i] Mason grew up in the Orlando Brown House and later owned the Frankfort Drug Company that was located on the ground floor of 238 West Main Street.  He owned the company from 1905 until his death in 1941.

Mason was a member of the Elks Club and the grand commandery of Knights Templar, No. 4. [ii] Sawyier, too, was a member of the Knights Templar and he held exhibits at the Elks Club lodge and other local organizations. [iii] Prior to entering the drug business, Mason worked at Guy Barrett’s bookstore on Main St.  Barrett was one of Sawyier’s close friends. [iv]  During a re-matting project in 2018, the discovery of “Mr. Brown” written in pencil on what was likely the original mat board of the painting Path to the Creek, suggests that one of the Brown men originally owned this painting; it was likely Mason P. Brown.

Path to the Creek photo by Gene BurchPath to the Creek, Paul Sawyier, watercolor on paper, ca. 1890-1900, Liberty Hall Historic Site Collections

Sawyier moved from Kentucky to Brooklyn, New York, in 1913 and then he moved to the Catskill Mountains where he died from a heart attack in 1917. [v] In 1923, he was reinterred in the Frankfort Cemetery. Mason P. Brown was one of the pallbearers. [vi]

The one oil painting in the collection, The Rose Garden, depicts the Liberty Hall gardens with a small portion of the home visible in the left-hand corner.  Sawyier began painting more frequently with oil (vs. watercolor) when he moved to New York in 1913, and it is possible that he painted this scene from a photograph while in New York. [vii]  The depiction captures the Liberty Hall garden as it looked in the early 20th century.[viii]  The painting’s title, though, is a bit misleading.  While there certainly were many roses in the garden then, the orange poppies take center stage at the front right-hand side of the painting.

Rose Garden oilThe Rose Garden, Paul Sawyier, oil on canvas, ca. 1913, Liberty Hall Historic Site Collections

Hord Brown (1871-1909) and Sam Brown (1875-1926), brothers of Mason P. Brown, also appear to have been friends with Paul Sawyier. Hord and Sam are pictured with Sawyier in a tintype produced June 3, 1900, in Coney Island, New York.  It is possible that the three men traveled together, or the Brown brothers could have met Sawyier in New York.  Two of Sawyier’s sisters lived in New York and he could have been visiting them.[ix]

Sawyier Hord and SamTintype photograph of Paul Sawyier, Hord Brown and Samuel Brown (from left to right), 1900, Liberty Hall Historic Site Collections

The paintings in the collection that were once owned by the Browns are: Another View of Frankfort (pictured at the top of the blog), Path to the Creek (pictured above), The Orlando Brown HouseOn a Sunday AfternoonMoonlight Mooring, and The Rose Garden (pictured above).

To view all of the Sawyier paintings in the collection, click here.

Endnotes

[i] Coffey, William Donald, Paul Sawyier Kentucky Artist: An Historical Chronology of His Life, Art, Friends, and Times from Old Frankfort to the Catskills, (2010), Frankfort Heritage Press.

[ii] Mason P. Brown obituary, 1941, Liberty Hall Historic Site Collections.

[iii] “Brought Home for Burial,” The Frankfort Roundabout, January 21, 1899 and Coffey, William, Paul Sawyier Kentucky Artist: An Historical Chronology of His Life, Art, Friends, and Times from Old Frankfort to the Catskills, (2010), Frankfort Heritage Press.

[iv] Coffey, William Donald, Paul Sawyier Kentucky Artist: An Historical Chronology of His Life, Art, Friends, and Times from Old Frankfort to the Catskills, (2010), Frankfort Heritage Press.

[v] Buchta, David, The Enchantment of Paul Sawyier: Brush Strokes from the Pinnacle of Kentucky’s Beloved Impressionist catalog from Kentucky’s Governor Mansion exhibit July 17-December 21, 2015.

[vi] Coffey, William Donald, Paul Sawyier Kentucky Artist: An Historical Chronology of His Life, Art, Friends, and Times from Old Frankfort to the Catskills, (2010), Frankfort Heritage Press.

[vii] Buchta, David, The Enchantment of Paul Sawyier: Brush Strokes from the Pinnacle of Kentucky’s Beloved Impressionist catalog from Kentucky’s Governor Mansion exhibit July 17-December 21, 2015 and Pennington, Estill, Kentucky: The Master Painters from the Frontier Era to the Great Depression,(2008), Cane Ridge Publishing House.

[viii] Photographs of the garden, ca. 1900, showing roses; Mrs. S.I.M. Major map of Liberty Hall garden showing rose jungles, 1937; and gardening journal of Mary Yoder Brown Scott, 1866-1913 about growing poppies, Liberty Hall Historic Site Collections. 

[ix] Coffey, William Donald, Paul Sawyier Kentucky Artist: An Historical Chronology of His Life, Art, Friends, and Times from Old Frankfort to the Catskills, (2010), Frankfort Heritage Press.


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