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Friday, September 9, 2016

Walter Emerson Baum

Art teacher, Alyce Grunt, and Superintendent, Joseph Bruni,
are seen moving out of storage Walter Baum's oil painting
titled Late Afternoon, 1930.
Anyone who dreams of finding a valuable artwork hiding in plain sight at a garage sale or flea market, the rediscovery by a school district in the western suburbs of Philadelphia of a long-forgotten winter scene painting could give them hope. In the midst of the Great Depression, a well-known Bucks County impressionist took a collection of his paintings to schools, gave talks, and sometimes sold them his works. In the early 1930s, a school group used money raised at a bridge party in the Lansdowne High School gym to buy a winter landscape to present to the school. The oil painting, by Walter Emerson Baum, hung in the building's front hallway, for several years. Unfortunately, the name of the artist and the painting's origin were eventually forgotten. In 2011, the painting was rediscovered in storage at the school, now named Penn Wood High School. The economically troubled William Penn School District decided to sell the 40 X 50-inch painting, hoping to bring in at least $20,000.
The same scene, painted two years apart from two slightly
different angles. There's no indication as to which came first.
In the late 1940s, the American impressionist painter, Walter Emerson Baum, a lifelong resident of Sellersville, Pennsylvania, helped create the Bucks County Traveling Art Gallery. He started out with 17 paintings of his own and 53 from other artists. Today the group has more than 350 pieces. The program, now called, "Art on the Move" takes paintings to area schools for display and art outreach programs. All his life, Baum was quite passionate about developing art appreciation among the younger generation. He wanted to make art accessible to all. Bucks County's Quakertown Community School District owns eight Baum paintings around which they've formed a permanent exhibit at their high school. Other school districts have used their Baum paintings in fundraising efforts reaping several thousand dollars. The Philadelphia School District has eighteen Baum oil paintings and six watercolors in a collection of more than 1,200 artworks. The district debated whether to sell some or all of the collection, which it valued at between $5 million and $30 million; but unlike the William Penn District, they decided in 2007 to keep theirs.
I love snow scenes, and apparently, Walter Emerson Baum did too.
The heroine in the case of the William Penn School District Baum painting was Penn Wood High School art teacher, Alyce Grunt. She was the one who noticed that the painting hanging over the door of the school office looked like one of Baum's works she'd seen at a college art exhibit. A stepladder and a little investigation soon found Baum's signature on the bottom of the painting (along with that of several former Penn Wood students). The painting was removed from the school and taken for appraisal. Further research turned up two articles about the painting in the archives of the high school newspaper.

Painter, illustrator, writer, critic, and art educator.
Apparently, in May of 1933, Baum displayed 28 paintings at the school. According to the student newspaper he came back several times to explain his work. The exhibit also traveled to other area schools followed by the fundraising bridge party a few months later. In rediscovering the painting, the school district's superintendent reasoned that they would be unable to properly care for the painting and that it would be better to put it in the hands of someone who valued and understood it. The hope was that the proceeds from the sale of the painting would be used to promote arts education in the district, rather than going into the budget's general fund. Unfortunately, I could find no further information on the actual sale of the painting (or even if it occurred).
Winter in the days before snow plows and four-wheel-drive SUVs.
Walter Baum was born in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, in 1884, one of the few Pennsylvania impressionist artists actually born in Bucks County. Starting in 1904, Baum studied with William B. T. Trego. Baum attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1905 and 1906, where he studied under Hugh H. Breckenridge, William Merritt Chase, and Cecilia Beaux. With the responsibilities of a wife and four children, Baum took odd jobs to support his family. He worked in the family's barbershop, and as a photographer for The Poultry Item, a magazine which focused on chickens, ducks and geese. In 1921, Baum became editor of the local newspaper, the Sellersville Herald, for which he continued to write columns on art until 1942. As he and his paintings became better known, Baum taught art classes at his home and at the local high school. His art classes eventually became the core of the Baum School of Art in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which he founded in 1926. Today the school boasts a faculty of 30 instructors and over 3,300 students.
Country Gentleman proved to be a steady source of income for
Walter Baum during much of the 1930s.
Like his contemporaries N.C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell, who painted covers for The Saturday Evening Post for many years, Baum also worked as an illustrator. His first cover appeared on Curtis Publishing Company's Country Gentleman magazine in February, 1931 (above). During the 1930s, Baum also helped establish the Allentown Art Gallery, and in 1949, the Bucks County Traveling Art Gallery, a program whose goal was to expose school children of Bucks County to the artwork of the New Hope School and the Pennsylvania Impressionist movement. (The Penn Wood School District painting came as a result of this effort.) Baum died in July, 1956 at the age of seventy-two.
Red Sleigh - Bucks County, 1935, Walter Emerson Baum
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 1924, Walter Emerson Baum

Baum also painted covers for Curtis
Publishing's Country Gentlewoman,
this one from October, 1936.

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