Town Diary - August 2003
Valuable Paintings Discovered in D.E.P. Field Office
This summer the Department of Environmental Protection (D.E.P.)
virtual "gold mine" in 10 long overlooked paintings hanging on the walls and stored
in the attic of their Pleasant Valley field office in Barkhamsted! It all
began with a phone call from the James Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania,
where they were planning a major Harry Leith-Ross retrospective art show.
A small mention in
one of Leith-Ross' scrapbooks describing a series of forest landscapes he was commissioned
to paint in 1934 for the Connecticut Forestry Department had started the museum
searching. The paintings and the hand-carved chestnut frames that surround
them, done by Richard Perry, were part of a federal Civil Works Administration project,
one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs during the Great Depression.
The paintings were
easily found, many still hanging on the walls of the office, covered with 75 years
of dirt, grime and cigarette smoke and still looking pretty good in spite of it.
Since they are now worth much more than the $244 Leith-Ross was paid in 1934 to
paint them, they have been taken to the William Benton Museum of Art on the Storrs
campus of the University of Connecticut for safe keeping and display. A professional
appraisal will be done soon, but estimates range to $250,000 or more.
So who was Harry Leith-Ross
He was born in 1886
in the former British colony of Mauritius, an island off the southeastern coast
of Africa, and grew up in Scotland and England. He came to the United States
in 1903 at the invitation of one of his uncles. After studying in Paris, London
and America, he worked in commercial art and advertising. In 1913 he
quit advertising and attended the Art Students League summer school in Woodstock,
Harry Leith-Ross worked
primarily in oils and watercolors. He taught classes in landscape painting
in Woodstock and in Rockport and Gloucester Massachusetts. While attending
the Art Students League, he first heard of the New Hope Pennsylvania art community
and visited there in the summer of 1914. He returned often to visit artist
friends, especially John F. Folinsbee whom he met while they were students at Woodstock.
This New Hope art community was home to a group of painters known as the Pennsylvania
Impressionists; in recent years prices for their works have been increasing in galleries
in New York.
permanently in New Hope in 1935 when he temporarily took over teaching duties for
his friend John F. Folinsbee who was summering in Maine. Harry and his wife
Emily lived in the Jericho Valley area of Solebury, near New Hope. During
his career Leith-Ross won many awards for his works from the Pennsylvania Academy
of Fine Arts, Phillip's Mill, the National Academy of Design, the American Watercolor
Society, the Salmagundi Club and others, and wrote "The Landscape Painter's Manual"
in 1956. Harry Leith-Ross died in 1973 in Pineville, Pennsylvania.
time here in Barkhamsted, our own Doug Roberts was a bicycle riding youngster who
struck up an acquaintance with the painter. Doug saw him at work and knew
where the artist had a studio in People's Forest (the studio was located in the
"Skinner cottage" which is still standing near the Farmington River at the main
area of People's Forest). Leith-Ross painted all of the commissioned paintings
between January and March of 1934. During this time he apparently lived in
Litchfield, Connecticut. At least two of the paintings were of locations in
Barkhamsted: The Big Spring Road and The River Road, both in People's
Forest. The paintings that included people (e.g., Log Team and Tractor
and Saw) were thought to have been done in Paugnut State Forest where
there was a CCC camp near Burr Pond. Correspondence to and from Leith-Ross
during this time indicates that he traveled to Paugnut to paint. These letters,
nineteen in total, were found in local DEP archives and preserved by DEP employees
Walt Landgraf and Marilyn Aarrestad. The letters provide further details of
the artist's time spent in this area. One letter, not by Leith-Ross but from
the People's Forest Ranger to his boss in Hartford, said "Mr. Leith-Ross has another
good sized one (painting) which is about 18 x 24. He considers this
last one about the best of the group...". This reference was to the painting
entitled The Big Spring Road which apparently Leith-Ross highly regarded.
Keep your eyes open
as you travel through Barkhamsted; some believe there are twelve Leith-Ross paintings
that were done in this area. If true, that means two have yet to be found!
Above- The River Road was painted by Harry Leith-Ross in Barkhamsted on East
Above- An August 2003 photo showing the Farmington River (through the trees at left)
near East River Road. This location is in Barkhamsted between Riverton and
Pleasant Valley and is thought to be near the site where Leith-Ross painted The
Above- The Big Spring Road was also a scene in Barkhamsted, in Peoples Forest
on what is now called Greenwoods Road.
Above- Log Team is thought to depict a scene with Civilian Conservation Corps
(CCC) workers in Paugnut State Forest, probably near Burr Pond in Torrington.
A CCC camp was located there and was in operation during the time Leith-Ross did
these paintings. The CCC camp in Barkhamsted (Camp White) was not up and running
at this time.
Above- This work, Tractor and Saw, was also probably painted in Paugnut State
Forest. This photo clearly shows the carved frames made out of chestnut wood.
All the frames for the Leith-Ross paintings were also contracted out as a Civil
Works Administration project. They were hand carved by Barkhamsted resident
Richard Perry who lived in the Squire's Tavern building and was the father of Allan
Perry, the first ranger at People's Forest.
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