Brush Strokes from the Past

Tucked along the shady banks of Wolf Creek in the village of Castile were the homes of two pairs of sisters—Annie and Jennie Myers and Frances and Jane Judson. Extraordinarily, all four had highly respected reputations in the art world. Recognition of their work was as early as the 1890s lasting well into the 20th century. Influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement that spread from England to the United States in the 1880s and 1890s, they focused on nature and natural materials in their art. The four women were not only skilled artists in different mediums, but they were tireless in their good works for the village and beyond. Never married, the Judson and Myers sisters’ lives intersected for a time as neighbors along maple-lined Clinton Street, which is now Park Road West.

Annie Minerva Myers and Jennie Chace Myers were the first to take up residence in Castile in 1907. Annie was born in Warsaw, New York on April 19, 1858 and Jennie was born on August 18, 1861 in Avon, New York. Daughters of Jacob Myers and Minerva Chace Myers, they grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey where their father operated a successful Hudson River excursion steamboat business.

Their mother, Minerva, was a daughter of George B. Chace and Lauretta Martin Chace, who settled in Castile in 1826. George became a wealthy man who owned large acreages and was an early railroad baron. He was a major investor in the Erie railroad, along with several other railroads in the 1840s and 1850s. He was also one of the first people to ride the train across the newly constructed wooden bridge over the Upper Falls in what is now Letchworth State Park in August, 1852.

Annie and Jennie, the only children of Jacob and Minerva graduated from Jersey City High School, both valedictorians of their respective classes. Jennie showed an early interest in music, studying piano and voice. Painting captured Annie’s heart from the start, which eventually led Jennie to the same passion. They took lessons from prestigious artists of the day in New York City. They studied drawing and painting under the tutelage of Granville Perkins and W. J. Whittemore, both well-known landscape artists in the early 1880s.

After the death of their parents, Jacob in 1881 and Minerva in 1886, the pair determined to dedicate themselves to the study of art, and what better place than Europe? They were women of independent means, which opened many doors. Annie and Jennie were accepted at the Académie Delécluse in Paris, France founded by Auguste Joseph Delécluse. A still life and portraiture painter, Delécluse was supportive of training women artists, making the school extremely popular with American and British women in the late 1880s through the early 20th century. In fact, preference was given to women. There were two studios for women and one for men. Annie focused on painting flowers and landscapes, while Jennie found painting miniature portraits on ivory and watercolor landscapes her niche. Both studied further with other artists while they were in Paris and then traveled extensively in Europe during this time.

Upon returning to the United States, they resided in Rochester, New York for a time, not far from their Uncle Emory B. Chace, a lumber distributor. It was during those years they participated in their first art shows. In 1888, Annie’s landscapes were part of the Rochester Art Club’s exhibition and Jennie entered the following year. Annie gained more recognition when she displayed her paintings at the Society of Washington, D. C. Artists show in 1892. In 1894 or 95, the sisters once again traveled to Europe to tour, paint, and receive more instruction. They returned to the States in June1895 to continue their work. Jennie then took part in the American Watercolor Society’s exhibition in 1898. The sisters were members of the Rochester Art Club and regular exhibitors at the club’s annual shows until 1924.  Annie’s and Jennie’s artwork was displayed in 29 shows with nine joint shows over that period. They participated in many other shows, both in New York and other states. They also had a considerable network of artist friends throughout the country.

Family ties were strong, and they often visited family in the Castile and Silver Springs areas. Now, well into their 40s, Annie and Jennie decided they preferred the pastoral setting of Castile to urban life in Rochester. And they decided it was the perfect place to paint. They purchased a building lot along Wolf Creek from the Cordelia A. Greene Library Association in 1906. The Elitsac Manufacturing Company was given the contract to build their home, which the women designed themselves. The house, named Sunnyside Bungalow was completed in the fall of 1907 and the Myers sisters officially joined Castile society.

Annie and Jennie were active members of the Methodist-Episcopal church on Main Street (where the fire hall is today) and took a special interest in the children of the village. They opened their lovely home filled with antiques, dolls, and artwork to host musicales, youth activities, to teach art, and tell of their journeys throughout Europe. The sisters worked diligently to raise funds for the church’s Foreign Missionary Society and were involved with the formation of the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester. Friends of Dr. Mary Greene, they often provided music programs and travel talks for the patients at the Castile Sanitarium. They painted on the banks of Wolf Creek and around the Letchworth State Park area.

Winters proved tedious for them, so each year they traveled to warmer climes painting and visiting friends for several months. California, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia were some of their favorite destinations. Generous in every way, Annie and Jennie not only gave of their time, but also donated beautiful paintings to the Methodist-Episcopal Church, Castile Sanitarium, and Cordelia A. Greene Library over the years. Ardent antique collectors, they were always on the hunt for the perfect piece of china or furniture to add to their collection.

The Myers sisters were well established in Castile by 1908, which is when the Judson sisters first arrived. Frances and Jane became acquainted with the village the same way hundreds of others did in those days—through the sanitarium. Ill health brought Frances as a “bed patient” to the sanitarium in December 1908 from Beaver, Pennsylvania. She was still there in June 1909 and her sister, Jane came to visit, renting rooms at the Christian Ministers Home on the corner of East Mill and Main Streets. Although Frances returned to her teaching position in Beaver, she was once again under Dr. Mary Greene’s care by May 1913. It was this second round of treatment that persuaded the sisters to relocate to Castile.

In the fall of 1914, Frances and Jane rented rooms at the Christian Ministers Home, now called Sunnycrest since its purchase by Dr. Mary as a rental property. The sisters became business partners and quickly established the Sunnycrest Workshop, selling cards, paintings, handmade jewelry, and household linens.

Frances A. Judson was born in 1866 in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Jane Berry Judson was born in 1868 in Poughkeepsie, New York. They were the two oldest daughters of the large family of William B. Judson and Harriet Berry Judson. The family moved frequently, landing in Kansas City, Missouri in 1881. Frances went into teaching and Jane studied design at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. She also took drawing and painting classes from William Chase in New York City. By the early 20th century, Jane was making a living as an artist.  The sisters had lived together for several years, and the move to Castile seemed a natural one with good medical care available for Frances. Jane was captivated by the lovely scenery in Castile and Letchworth State Park. It is certain that the Judsons and the Myers became acquainted through the sanitarium and the Methodist-Episcopal Church.

In 1915, the Judson sisters were still living and working at Sunnycrest.  Jane and Frances had broadened their skills, learning how to weave cloth on a colonial-era loom, using hemp and linen. They wove pillow covers, table linens, and decorative pieces for the gift shop. Frances and Jane also designed original children’s clothing—the Frances frocks and Pollyanna Pinafores. Art students took lessons from Jane while Frances gave inspiring talks about birdlife to the many clubs in Castile and at the sanitarium. The Judsons were members of the Guild of Allied Arts of Buffalo and their fine textiles were sent to the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. The huge event was to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal.

In August 1915, the Myers and Judsons collaborated to hold Castile’s first art exhibition. Annie Myers displayed her landscapes painted from her travels around the country, Jennie offered her exquisite miniature paintings on ivory along with a collection of figure sketches. The Judsons presented their hand-loomed textiles, clothing, and Jane’s paintings. The paintings were said to be “full of sentiment and atmospheric effects.”  

The Judsons’ flourishing business required more space in less than a year and the creative sisters desired their own home to accommodate those needs. They purchased a house on Clinton Street, just a few doors away from the Myers sisters. The house was built by Ziba Hurd in 1846, the founder of Castile. They named the property Applefield for its lovely orchard, settling into life on the picturesque street. By the spring of 1916 they had added a tearoom to the business. Serving delicate pastries, sandwiches, teas and coffee, Applefield quickly became a destination. Customers motored in from all around New York State, Pennsylvania, and even further to sit at elegant tables under the apple trees on the sweeping back lawn. Soon lunches and dinner were on the menu. The Daughters of the American Revolution held a regional meeting at Applefield, bridal showers, and other special occasions were celebrated on the newly-installed porch and beautiful lawns.

All wasn’t celebratory at Applefield when in the fall of 1916 Frances organized groups of women each Tuesday to cut and roll bandages for the Red Cross. World War I raged in Europe and Americans were called upon to help supply the bandages needed for the thousands of wounded soldiers. Donors supplied muslin, linen, and surgical gauze for the war effort. The United States entered the war in April 1917 and hundreds of thousands of men were drafted to serve. The U.S. government began advertising for women to fill the thousands of essential jobs now empty. Jane heeded that call, determined to do her bit for the war effort. She went to Washington, D.C. in late 1917, working at the Department of Labor until January 1919.

Frances managed the business alone, continuing her service to the church in training Sunday school teachers at various conferences, and hosting “Fresh Air” children so they could enjoy a respite from city life. However, by the fall of 1918, she and Jane made plans to relocate to California after Jane completed her commitment to the government. Applefield was sold to Clara Schwartz, a teacher from Buffalo.

Frances told Castile friends they planned to open another tea room and art studio once they were settled. They purchased a house in San Diego, but sold it in the early 1920s. It was then the sisters traveled independently to Europe for two or three years, also spending time in New York City and Boston. Jane furthered her art studies in Italy and England. She studied under Professor Allen W. Seaby of Reading University, one of the leading woodblock-color print makers in the world at that time.

Jane became an expert in the Japanese method of woodblock-color printing. Usually three craftsmen were needed—the designer, cutter, and printer. She was skilled in all three and felt this particular medium best expressed her sense of color and design. Her expertise was repeatedly recognized by the art world.

In 1925, Frances returned to Castile and Jane joined her in 1926. The Judson Studio and Gift Shop opened at the Halliday Bungalow on South Main Street in November 1927. Through the sanitarium, Jane met Anna Gordon, President of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1928. Gordon offered Jane the opportunity to accompany her to Switzerland for a WCTU conference as her secretary, which Jane accepted. After the conference, she took the opportunity to again travel and paint in Europe, spending additional time in Italy and in Reading, England before returning to the States in 1929.

Frances became a member of the Castile Grange during that time, arranging programs and giving talks, even as she struggled with frequent illnesses. Jane exhibited her work and gained a glowing reputation especially for her woodblock color prints. Always a good business woman, Jane made just 100 prints of each scene, destroying the blocks afterward which increased prices.

As the 1930s ushered in the Great Depression, Jane continued to exhibit and market her art. Frances’ health failed completely, and she sold the gift shop in 1931. Life had changed for the Myers sisters too. Now in their seventies, Annie and Jennie no longer participated in art exhibitions, leading a quiet life at Sunnyside Bungalow. Their mark was made in the art world. Both are listed in the Who’s Who in American Art. Jennie died on August 19, 1934 and Annie died on January 8, 1952 at the age of 93.

In 1935, at age 67, Jane prepared to exhibit her artwork at the Rochester Art Club, although both she and Frances had been hospitalized. Just days before her show in Rochester, Jane was diagnosed with pneumonia and died on June 12, 1935. Jane Judson had won numerous national and international awards for her work over her lifetime, achieving recognition beyond many of her contemporaries. Her sister, Frances’ support and encouragement no doubt enabled Jane to excel, but it was more than that. Frances shared one of Jane’s poems after her death that expressed Jane’s faith in God that fueled her passion to create.

My Father, GOD, Who didst entrust to me

This song of joy in line and color wrought,

My heart’s deep gratitude I bring to Thee.

Spirit of Beauty, breathe upon my thought

That this, Thy gift, may, as it were, release

A light by which some cramped and tired heart

May catch at least a glimpse of Thy blest peace,

Which hill and valley, sky and trees impart.

So teach my hands to find their fullest powers,

So guide my mind in truth and purity

That ‘spite its flaw, this work of happy hours

Worthy be found to dedicate to Thee.

This Thou has given me is still Thine own;

Strengthen and use it for Thyself alone!

Frances sold her house and goods in 1936, moving to Albion to live with family for several months. Her health was fragile and she returned to the care of the Castile Sanitarium in 1937, but later that year moved to Blocher Homes, a nursing home in Williamsville, New York. She remained there until her death March 14, 1950.

Today, it’s difficult to find Annie and Jennie’s artwork, although Jane Judson’s woodblock prints appear on the market occasionally. In 1939, a collection of Jennie’s ivory miniatures was stolen from the Edgerton Museum in Rochester and never recovered. However, several paintings and prints by these three women are on display at the Castile Historical House, which safeguards their lovely legacy.

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