Waverly, Ohio in 1859 (091112_002)

Waverly, Ohio in 1859

Artist: Richard H. Sheppard, (1819–1895)
Oil on canvas
32¾” x 45″ image size  (37½” x 49½” frame)
Ref. No. 091112_002

Sheppard depicts James Emmitt (1807–1893) in heroic pose with cane raised to the stars as conqueror, accompanied by his wife Louisa, grandchildren, and perhaps a daughter-in-law. Emmitt commissioned the Baltimore, Maryland ornamental artist Richard H. Sheppard to paint his Waverly, Ohio, which the artist gratefully signed and dated R.H. Sheppard 1859 to viewers’ lower right. A year later Emmitt persuaded the Ohio legislature to move the county seat of Pike County from Piketon to Waverly. Emmitt gifted the land to the city that year for the courthouse and constructed the new building by 1862 at his own expense. The considerable cost of such an endeavor was enabled by his conglomeration of vertically integrated business ventures, many of which are depicted in this painting; the anchor enterprise being the distillery complex with tall brick smokestack in the forefront. The distillery was supplied with corn and grain by Emmitt’s vast agricultural acreage, transported by his shipping company in canal boats of his manufacture, built from plank from his forested holdings, which were cut at his sawmill. The grain would then be processed through his gristmill before being conveyed the short distance to the distillery in the adjoining building. The opening of the Ohio and Erie Canal in 1832 eventually led to these extensive holdings, which began simply as farming and transportation. Vision and unbridled ambition drove Emmitt into the husbandry of large herds of cattle, sheep, and goat. Naturally, he also operated a tannery not content to lose control of any key stage of the manufacturing or distribution chain. Cattle can be viewed in a field supplied with mash by-products, which were distributed by a long tipple descending from the distillery. Mules can be seen grazing below the subjects, an integral element in moving bulk short distances on land. Workers are loading large sandstone slabs unto one of the five canal boats, only two of which are of the same design indicating specialty functions for his many products destined to various markets. Undoubtedly the stone signifies a quarry among his holdings. The open suspension bridge crosses a waterway to Emmitt’s Hotel where the artist may have stayed and possibly this painting hung. That building survives today. A year after completion of this painting, Floyd R. Emmitt was listed as a 19-year old miller living in his father’s household on the Federal Census. His older brother Joseph was listed as a distiller indicating the personnel division was augmented by seeding that department. This incredible painting is a fortunate legacy from an early industrialist who arose mostly unchecked by pesky legislation during the era. We would encourage the viewer to click the cursor on the image so to expand and explore the minutia of detail and activity showcased in this work.

Richard H. Sheppard is listed as working in Baltimore, Maryland in the 1840s and 1850s as a miniature artist, ornamental, and sign painter. Professions, which were common in the day to have their artisans deliver their work unsigned. We are unaware of other signed works by Sheppard during his Ohio visit, although such an ambitious commission as the one shown here was seldom offered to any artist working at this time. Probably the more typical requests, which filled an ornamental artists working day would not be signed, so his other work in Ohio (which includes two other views of Lebanon, Ohio) have been attributed on the basis of this signed painting. The Maryland Historical Society does have examples of Sheppard’s ornamental work done for a local fire company.

The painting survives having a superb surface with vivid color and minute detail not unexpected from an artist who painted miniatures. Even a light haze of horizontal smoke clouds is depicted above the smoke trails ascending the two chimneys. Sheppard’s view of Waverly is probably an accurate representation of all structures existing there in 1859. There are scattered losses of paint mostly to viewers’ lower right where a buckling of the canvas has occurred. There are four stabilized punctures with no attempt to in-paint the losses. One may click the cursor on the image to expand and see detail of paint loss, which comprises less than one percent of the canvas in non-critical areas. The original silver leaf (gold appearance) frame is spotted but has never suffered an added finish. Overall the painting is well preserved having never experienced a harsh cleaning.