Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A'Cousining In San Francisco with Julian Walbridge Rix, Landscape Painter, Part 2, by Susan Kinsella

(In which I "interview" Julian and compare our experiences as cousins living in San Francisco in different centuries - see genealogy in Part 1)

See Part 1, Julian’s Early Years in San Francisco, here

(Also note that if you click on the photos, many will open in much larger formats on a photo page - especially many of the paintings.)

Julian Walbridge Rix, about 21 (~1872)
When Julian arrived in San Francisco at 17, he needed a profession. His father, Alfred, put him to work in his law office but it soon became clear that Julian was not suited to the copying work required. So within just a few weeks, Alfred apprenticed him to Charles Hopps & Son, a business that painted houses, signs and decorative scenes, such as on the doors of safes. 

A San Francisco document from 1868 locates the Hopps business at 212 Sansome Street, in the heart of today's financial district, at the corner with Pine Street. Again, it is an area I know well. For several years, I worked for an environmental paper company with its offices in an old railroad engine roundhouse by the wharves at the end of Sansome. 

Julian turned his apprenticeship in house painting into his entrĂ©e into the artistic life that he craved. He had already begun drawing during his teen years when he lived in Vermont. Now, as a house and sign painter, he soon blossomed into also painting on canvas, and went from etchings into oil paintings, watercolor and pastels. When Julian announced his intention to become a full-time artist, his father was appalled and refused to help him financially. But his little brother, Edward, stood by him. Later, when Edward graduated as a mechanical engineer in the first class of California’s new university in Berkeley, he started his own business and made good on his promise, helping Julian when finances were tight. Julian, in turn, repaid him with gifts of his landscape paintings.

The first record of Julian’s success was in 1872, when he exhibited an oil painting at a city art gallery, the Snow and Roos. The local newspaper praised it, noting that it “has great merit for a first attempt from nature and gives promise of talent.” 

Sunshine and Shadows, Julian Walbrige Rix, 1876
SUSAN: Julian, tell me about how you learned to paint landscapes. Some people today think that you might have studied with Albert Bierstadt because he often worked closely with your Uncle Edward, his brother, who was a photographer and printer. Both of them were in San Francisco when you were there. 

JULIAN: No, I met Albert a few times and I greatly admired his paintings, but I did not study with him. I gained all my artistic ability on my own. San Francisco was bursting with talented artists in the 1870s – painters, poets, writers, actors, musicians, so much creative talent when I was living there! After New York City, San Francisco was the most prolific art center in America, even though the city had actually only burst into being a couple of decades before. And what a time it was! Robert Louis Stevenson was there, and Oscar Wilde came through at one point as well. We were all great friends, sharing art studios and painting techniques and learning so much from each other. 

Sunset In Yosemite
Julian Walbridge Rix
Indeed, Julian was quite popular. He and his friends lived decidedly bohemian lives, living for the moment, drinking lavishly and smoking cigars, reveling with their fellow artists whenever one of them received payment for a painting or a story, and running tabs at their favorite cafes when times were tough. They shared other kinds of expertise, as well. The wife of one of Julian’s artist friends described him as, “A big, fair New Englander, [he] taught us to cook codfish and Boston brown bread.” 

In 1876, Julian was invited to join the recently founded Bohemian Club, originally a gathering of journalists, artists and musicians. Today it is better known for the heavy-weight politicians and wealthy businessmen who join its secret summer revels - men only - in the woods north of San Francisco. But in Julian’s day, it fit right in as an extension of the wild artistic life that he and his friends created in the city. Each year it held an art exhibition, where artists displayed and sold their paintings and drawings. In the summers, it organized exuberant and often ribald revels in the woods by the Russian River, 75 miles north of San Francisco. 

Many of Julian’s closest friends were fellow Bohemian Club members. When not carousing in San Francisco, the artists often made extended trips together up and down the Pacific Coast and throughout California, camping for weeks at a time while they turned out dozens of glorious landscape paintings. 

JULIAN: Ah, yes, two of my favorite places to paint were the Sacramento River valley and Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate.

SUSAN: I totally understand. I lived for several years in Sacramento and now for the past more than 20 years I have lived in Marin County. You’ll be glad to know that the whole western half of the county has been preserved as open space, so many of the places you painted probably still look just as they did when you were here. 

Sacramento River At Sunset, Julian Walbridge Rix, 1876
Jules Tavernier, 1844-1889

Julian was especially close to Jules Tavernier, a wildly talented painter from France and a firecracker of a guy who lived a particularly dissolute life. Many of Jules’ considerable troubles seemed to stem from his belief that tasks such as paying bills were just too mundane to hold his attention.

A Balloon In Mid-Air, Jules Tavernier, 1875

SUSAN: Julian, tell me about when you and Jules shared a studio in San Francisco. 

JULIAN: Oh, yes. Life was always wild with Jules. Our studio was at 758 Montgomery Street, near the corner of Jackson Street. He did magnificent paintings, and sometimes we even did paintings together. He always had something going. He couldn’t sit still for a minute; he always had to be moving. 

SUSAN: Apparently part of why he was always moving was because he often skipped out on his bills. 

JULIAN: Well, yes, he was a bit loose with those kinds of things. Most of the time, we made our rent enough to keep our place, but then . . . . I guess it doesn’t matter anymore if I tell this story . . . . We were down on our luck, for about the hundredth time - you know, starving artists and all. Actually, to be honest, we were desperate to figure out how to bring in enough money to pay our rent. We’d run out of time. In fact, our rent was overdue and we were being threatened with losing the rest of our paintings to make good on it. But Jules had a patron who agreed to pay $300 for a painting we had made together. So he went to the patron’s house to collect the money. 

On his way back, he noticed that Roman’s bookstore was having a sale of rare books, so he stopped in, just to look, you know. But before he left he’d spent $245 of our $300.

SUSAN: You’re kidding! Your rent money!?!

JULIAN: Yes, and not only that, after spending most of it, he figured the rest didn’t matter anymore, so he stopped into some more shops along the way home. I didn’t know anything about this until he got back and danced excitedly through the door of our studio, with a big book under each arm and a parade of clerks carrying armfuls more. 

I got a horrified suspicion and screamed at him, “Where’s the money?” A huge grin spread across Jules’s face and he told me, as if this was the best present ever, “Here are the books! And the wines and cigars will be along presently!” I nearly fainted. I was sure that all was lost. 

And, indeed, it was. Next day the Sheriff came, put a huge lock on our studio door, and stationed a guard outside, preparing to empty out all our paintings and equipment. But Jules . . . he was certainly the most intensely creative person I have ever known. He also realized that the Sheriff didn’t know that our studio had a large window in its roof. That’s why we loved that studio, it had such great light. 

So Jules got one of his young pupils, a Spaniard, and convinced him to come up on the roof with us. There, he opened the window, tied a rope to a hook and lowered the pupil into the studio. Forthwith, the student gathered up everything we had in there of value and, one by one, tied them to the rope so we could hoist them up. At the end, we hoisted him up, too, and quickly got away. So when the Sheriff arrived to unlock the big lock he had put on that fiercely guarded door . . . he opened our studio to find that it was empty!

Jules Tavernier was also a magnetic leader within their artistic community. When, in 1876, he decided to move to Monterey, then just a small sleepy fishing village, to concentrate on painting its quaint fishing scenes and beautiful coastal landscapes, Julian moved with him and opened a studio in the French Hotel. So many of their other friends moved with them as well that they established an influential artist colony there. Even Robert Louis Stevenson joined the colony in late 1879, spending several months there writing Old Pacific Capital. Today the French Hotel is called the Stevenson House and is a California State Park. 

While in Monterey, Jules Tavernier married, although the relationship was always volatile. Julian, however, had no such luck.

La Barranca Honda, Carmel Valley, Monterey, Julian Walbridge Rix, 1877

SUSAN: Julian, if you’re willing to talk about this, I’d like to know what happened with Nellie Hopps.

JULIAN: Oh, now you’re really slaying me. My heart aches just thinking about her.

SUSAN: I’m sorry. If it’s too much, I have lots of other questions to ask you.

Ella C. (Nellie) Hopps, 1855-1956
Forest Scene by Nellie Hopps
JULIAN: No, no, after all this time, I might as well talk about her. She was the daughter of Charles Hopps, the house painter I was first apprenticed to. My father figured that I’d get to play with paint there and give up my notions of being a fine artist. Instead, I quickly graduated from painting signs to selling landscape paintings in the San Francisco art galleries. And over time I fell in love with Nellie. She was the most beautiful and fascinating woman I’d ever known.

SUSAN: Apparently you were pretty handsome yourself. I found an article about local artists in the San Francisco Chronicle that refers to you, when you were 26, as “the Adonis of the Profession.”

JULIAN: Where did you ever hear that?!? I am shocked that something like that would not be kept private!

SUSAN: Ha, ha! Not only is the San Francisco Chronicle still around, but there is no privacy left these days. You wouldn’t believe the kinds of things that get printed! But tell me more about Nellie.

JULIAN: I only wish she’d agreed with the newspaper article . . . . She was a mighty fine painter herself. We used to go off on rambles in the country – Marin County and Mt. Tamalpais were among our favorites - and set up our easels wherever we found a scene that pleased us. Then we would paint all day and often camp for a couple weeks at a time, producing painting after painting.

SUSAN: Oh, I love Mt. Tamalpais, too! I used to lead hikes on the full moon there for many years. Every one of them was different, even when we went on the same trails, and all were such great adventures! I can understand why you two loved it. It sounds like you were made for each other. Whatever happened?

Mt. Tamalpais Landscape, Julian Walbridge Rix

JULIAN: She knew I wanted to marry her and she turned me down. Then she went flaunting her supposedly broken heart all over San Francisco. But secretly, she was seeing another man. Eventually she told me she was in love with him and they were going to be married. That’s when I bolted. Just got on a train – because by then the railroad had been finished across the country – and left for the East Coast. At the time, I thought I was just going for a few months. But I ended up staying there and opening a studio in New York City. I had to get away from all the pain I left behind in San Francisco. 

SUSAN: Ah, yes, well, San Francisco is known for being the place where people leave their hearts. 

JULIAN: I never did get over Nellie, never found anyone else I wanted to marry. My one regret was that I didn’t tell my Aunt Clara before I left San Francisco, and for years she thought I had run away from her, too. 

In 1881, Nellie may have motivated Julian to run away from San Francisco. But a financial slump had also hit the art world, the city’s art collectors had shifted their allegiance from local artists to European scenes and artists, he was down to his last dollars, and his friend Jules was descending into alcoholism.  Fortunately for Julian, a businessman from New Jersey, William T. Ryles, traveled to San Francisco and was quite taken with his paintings. He loaned Julian $6,000 to establish a new studio at his summer estate in Patterson, NJ and another later in New York City, and became his art patron for the rest of Julian’s life. Ryles and his wife also became close friends with Julian and, ultimately, Julian left most of his artistic estate to them when he died.

Winter, Julian Walbridge Rix, 1880

California Coast, Sunset by Julian Walbridge Rix
Once he moved to New Jersey, the painting rambles and camping trips shifted from California and the Pacific Coast to Maine, the Adirondacks, and all the beautiful places in between. But Julian kept ties to San Francisco, sending loads of paintings back to its art expositions for sale each year and occasionally returning for new painting inspirations.

In 1885, Julian created a series of forest drawings to illustrate an article in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. In 1888, a number of his etchings were used to illustrate a widely popular book titled Picturesque California, the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Slope, which was edited by the famous naturalist, John Muir. 

SUSAN: Julian, it’s now more than 110 years since you died in 1903. Do you know that your paintings are still in demand? They’re in great art museums all around the country, and they still sell well at the big art auction houses. 

JULIAN: Really? I sure wish they would have sold better when I lived in San Francisco.

SUSAN: You might also be interested to know that many of the businesses that you probably knew in your San Francisco days are still here. I drop into the Boudin Bakery when I’m in the city for their French sourdough bread that they developed here in 1849, and I often give Ghirardelli chocolates as gifts. Everyone still wears Levi's jeans - including women! I even wonder if you might have had a bank account at my bank, Wells Fargo, which opened here the year before you arrived as a toddler. 

JULIAN: It would have helped if I had had enough money to put in a bank when I lived in San Francisco!

SUSAN: And Julian, you won’t believe this, but I also have a copy of the journal your parents wrote together when you were born.

JULIAN: What! Now you’re really flabbergasting me. How could you possibly have that?

SUSAN: It was passed down in your father’s family and eventually shared with an archivist who transcribed, edited and published it. Your parents’ stories about your first steps, your first haircut, and your first words are now available for everyone in the world to read. For the record, by the way, your mother said that some of those first words were “horse and wagon” and, when asked about your father, “Papa in Fannyforny.”

JULIAN: I am dumbfounded. I don’t even know what to say. 

SUSAN: Well, I just want you to know that you’re not forgotten, not by your family nor by the larger world. And I’m so delighted that we could spend this time a’cousining together. Thanks, Cuz!

JULIAN: Hey, how about rambling with me on Mt. Tamalpais in Marin? 
SUSAN: Next full moon - It’s a deal!

California Sunset, Julian Walbridge Rix, 1885

Friday, October 14, 2016

A'Cousining in San Francisco with Julian Walbridge Rix, Landscape Painter, Part 1, by Susan Kinsella


Julian Walbridge Rix, about age 21 (~1872)
In the spring of 1868, Julian Walbridge Rix, just 17 and traveling alone, arrived in San Francisco, California for the second time in his life from his home in far-off Vermont.  This was no simple undertaking. For one, it was expensive. His Aunt Clara had sent him the $400 needed to finance the trip, equivalent to more than $11,000 in today’s dollars.

With comings and goings, this was actually the third time Julian had crossed the continent. The first time, he had just turned two years old. His mother, Chastina Walbridge Rix, and his Aunt Clara Walbridge were bringing him to San Francisco to reunite with his father, Alfred Rix. That time took a month, sailing by steamer from New York to Panama, crossing the mountains of the isthmus by mule, and then sailing up the Pacific Coast to San Francisco. Alfred and several of Julian’s uncles from both sides of the family, as well as more than 20 additional young men from their Vermont farming area, had left more than a year earlier to join the Gold Rush. 

Four years after arriving in San Francisco, Julian’s mother died and his Uncle Dustan Walbridge took him back across Panama to Peacham, Vermont to live with his grandmother and get a good New England education. But once done with his schooling, Julian immediately returned through Panama. The thirteen years he lived here in San Francisco formed the direction and foundation of his life, and that’s where we meet up. 

SUSAN: Julian, I’m so thrilled to meet you! Did you know that we’re second cousins three-times-removed?

JULIAN: Well, I’m right proud to meet you, too, ma’am. But, truth be told, I had no idea that you even existed. 

SUSAN: Of course you didn’t. I wasn’t alive in your day. In fact, we were born almost exactly 100 years apart. 

JULIAN: What makes you want to look me up now, then?

SUSAN: I notice that we have both lived our formative years here in San Francisco and I thought it would be fascinating to compare our experiences. For example, I know that you were born in Vermont. What brought you here?

JULIAN: The first time, I didn’t have much say in it. My mother was what was called in Vermont a “California widow” after my father and uncles left for the gold fields in 1851. A little over a year later, when I was two, we crossed the continent through Panama and joined him. How did you get to this fine city? 

SUSAN: I grew up in New York State, near where your mother’s cousin, Daniel Taylor, lived near Batavia. In my late 20s, I wanted to see more of the world and go as far west as possible, so I joined a cousin who was driving to California. It took us about five days to drive all the way across the country but I could have flown here in just a few hours. 

JULIAN: Drive? Fly? You must be just shootin’ your mouth off. 

Julian was born on December 30, 1850, the great-nephew of my great-great-great-grandmother Phebe Walbridge Taylor. Her son, my great-great-grandfather, Daniel Rockwell Taylor, was Julian’s mother’s first cousin. Julian’s mother, Chastina Walbridge Rix, was part of Phebe’s large family in Wolcott, Vermont, where Phebe had been born and married before moving with her husband 400 miles away to western New York (or “York,” as they called it). But the family was very close and determinedly stayed in touch over the distances and decades by writing frequent letters and visiting back and forth every few years. We are fortunate to still have a number of those letters and have included several stories from them on this TaylorBakerCousins blog. 

SUSAN: I’ve seen a daguerreotype of the house you lived In when you were here the first time as a youngster. In fact, you’re standing in front of the house, on the sidewalk, with your dog. Here, look at this. Do you remember that house at all?

JULIAN:  Bosh, you’ve got a picture?!? Let me see it. Well, I’ll be! That’s the old homestead on Market Street, just a few doors up from the corner with Kearny Street! Look, there’s my Ma and my Pa, and my little brother, Neddy. And my aunts and uncles up on the balcony! Wherever did you find this?

A daguerreotype of the Rix home in 1855, made by Robert H. Vance. Parents Alfred and Chastina are at the front door, with baby Edward in the carriage by the steps, next to 4-year-old Julian with his dog on the sidewalk. Chastina’s brother Dustan and her sister Clara are standing on the balcony. Two of Alfred’s brothers are also in the photo. The wooden sidewalk was the only one on Market Street between Kearny and Montgomery Streets. Courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California

SUSAN: It’s in a museum in Oakland, the city across San Francisco Bay that was just being founded when this picture was taken. 

JULIAN: That was a great neighborhood. Lots of houses of all sizes, dirt packed hard in the streets except for a big sand hill a block away in the middle of Market Street. Wagons had to detour up a block to Geary Street to get around it. ‘Course when it rained, the streets all turned to mud. I remember the water wagon coming ‘round to fill the water barrel that we had in our kitchen. Everybody walked to a nearby barber shop to take baths once a week. Great location – we were only two and a half blocks from the Bay. 

SUSAN: But now, you know, your house is no longer there and Market Street is in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district. It’s lined with stores and office buildings, many of them more than 20 stories tall. And Market Street is paved, extending at least six more blocks into the Bay now. 

Lotta's Fountain, San Francisco
I know that place where Julian’s family house used to be. Several years ago, when my son Alex was in high school, we got up in the middle of the night on April 18th and drove in to San Francisco to join a crowd at Lotta’s Fountain. We were all there at 5:12 a.m. to commemorate the anniversary of the great 1906 earthquake that had flattened and burned down much of San Francisco. Lotta’s Fountain had been a meeting point for the desperate earthquake survivors back then. Since Lotta’s Fountain was installed on Market Street in 1875, Julian would have known it. However, the great earthquake occurred after he had died. I had not realized, when I was there for that earthquake commemoration, that Lotta’s Fountain is only a few doors down from where Julian’s family home had stood.

Despite the century that exists between us, I am delighted to find that Julian and I share a love for this beautiful, fascinating city of San Francisco, and for the land of California.  

JULIAN: I loved San Francisco. Lived there all through my twenties. Such an exciting place. Pretty tough to make a living there, but trying to was so full of grand adventures. 

SUSAN: I know, it’s still exciting even though it’s completely different now. I arrived here in the late 1970s with only $100, carrying my clothes in a paper bag. I felt like it was a crucible, putting me through the fire and forming me as I tried to find work and a path to my future. 

When Julian arrived at 17, he went to live with his father, Alfred Rix, and stepmother, an Irishwoman named Margt, and their children. Julian’s brother, Edward (Ned), four years younger, had been living nearby with his Aunt Clara and her husband, Russell Rogers, and now he moved in with his brother and his father’s family, too. 

JULIAN: Do you know Laurel Hill Cemetery out on Lone Mountain, on the edge of the city? My mother is buried there. When I first went to see her grave, I was angry that my father hadn’t had the decency to put a stone marker on it to honor her. 

SUSAN: Oh, Julian, I don’t know how to tell you this. I do know Lone Mountain but it is no longer a cemetery. What happened to it is shocking.

Soon after Julian arrived in 1868, he went to his mother’s gravesite on the outskirts of the city. Despite the plot being precisely described by the funeral home that had buried her, Julian had trouble finding it. Eventually he realized that it was overgrown and anonymous because his father had never placed a headstone for her, only outlining the plot with some random boards that had not fared well in the eleven years since her death. Julian vowed that when he had enough money, he would place a stone to commemorate her and make her grave one of the most elaborate in the whole cemetery. I do not know whether he actually got to do that.

More than a hundred years later, I lived on Lone Mountain, possibly right near where Chastina had been buried. But now there is no cemetery. In the early 1900s, the city of San Francisco, bursting at its seams, voted to move its cemeteries south, beyond its borders, in order to make room for the city’s expansion out to the Pacific Ocean. After decades of civic arguments (so typical of San Francisco!), the transfer of nearly 47,000 bodies was accomplished by the early 1940s. Most likely Chastina was not identified, especially if she had not had a stone placed on her grave. Even elaborate crypts and mausoleums were broken up and their marble used to reinforce seawalls, while their inhabitants were moved to a new city just south of San Francisco that is mostly graveyards. 

Eventually, Lone Mountain became the site of a Catholic women’s college and then of the University of San Francisco, a private Catholic Jesuit school. My apartment on Lone Mountain was right behind the university’s law school and a block from Golden Gate Park. Julian and I probably walked many of the same streets, although the lanes of the cemetery that he knew were quite different from the residential streets of my neighborhood. 

My apartment building on Grove Street when I lived on Lone Mountain. The arrow points to the bay window of my apartment, with my kitchen window just to the right of it. My Mom (Aunt CB) used to climb out my bay window onto the fire escape to smoke cigarettes when she visited. 

JULIAN: What?!? You lived where my mother’s grave was? Why, that’s a sacrilege! 

SUSAN: Yes, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know the history at the time; I didn’t know that it had been a cemetery. But now I realize why the coffeehouse down the street was called Sacred Grounds.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Cars, By Evelyn Taylor

Evelyn has been a Taylor for almost 74 years. She married Aunt CB’s first cousin Bryant (son of Floyd Taylor, twin of Lloyd) on October 9th, 1942 (Happy Anniversary two days early, Eve!). She always comes up with terrific story ideas and memories.

          What a change in cars in my lifetime! It has spanned a period from the Model T Ford to the Ford Fusion and all the foreign names such as Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan that we have today.

Young Evelyn and her mother, Hazel Laufer
 on a Camping Trip to Washington, DC driving in 
their 1924 Model T Ford

     My family, with the exception of my grandfather (Oldsmobile), were Ford owners.  Dad traded every three years.  He did not go to a Dealer to trade, as a salesman from Holly would automatically appear with the new car when it was time to trade.

     I remember our black Model T which was the only color made then.  Dad would have to hand-crank it to start it.  When it took hold, he would run to do something at the steering wheel.  Perhaps it was to choke it or feed it some gas.  I was just a little girl, so I do not know what exactly he was doing, but he was real busy doing it.

Bryant Taylor by Bryant and Evelyn's
 First Car, a 1946 Ford

     These cars were so high that you had a birds’ eye view of the road. When the lower Model A arrived, at a traffic stop, it was easy to look down from the Model T and see the whole interior. This new model did not need to be cranked.

     At 17 I obtained my driver’s license and borrowed my parents’ car.  Even when Bryant and I married in 1942, we had no car.  However, in 1946 we had the first 1946 Ford delivered to a Dealer in LeRoy, NY.

     Over the course of our married life of 51 years, we owned 22 cars, some new and some used; Ford, Plymouth, Chrysler, and Oldsmobile.

Bryant by their Last Car
1983 Oldsmobile

      I miss those big cars with chrome trim and bumpers, white sidewall tires and distinctive styling.  They can still be seen today in Vintage car shows--restored and gleaming.

Those were the days!