Daniel Garber was only briefly a member of the Philadelphia Sketch Club, from 1914 to 1917. Still, his stature as perhaps the best of the Pennsylvania Impressionist warrants his mention here. He is described by Brian H. Peterson, Senior Curator at the James A. Michener Art Museum, as “the most accomplished of the Bucks County painters: the most masterful technician, with the most profound and ambitious vision.” I have spent long spells resting on the hard gallery benches of the James A. Michener Museum to meditate on two of Garber’s paintings, “A Wooded Watershed” and “The Studio Wall”. His idyllic landscapes are delicate and inviting, his portraits are quiet moments of harmony.
He was born to a Mennonite farmer on the 11th April 1880 in North Manchester, Indiana, the youngest of eleven children. He was a professional artist by age sixteen and was training at the Art Academy of Cincinnati in 1897. By 1899 he was enrolled in summer art classes at the Darby
School for Painting in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania and was there regarded as Anshutz’s star student, “the most gifted exponent of the Darby School.” It soon followed that he continued his studies under Anshutz, and also William Merritt Chase and Cecilia Beaux, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1899 to 1905. He became expert at all the two-dimensional arts, drawing, etching, and drypoint in addition to his painting.
Garber met his wife, Mary Franklin, an art student at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art and Design), while she was modeling for PSC member Hugh Breckenridge’s portrait class. They were married 21st June 1901 – and not 1904, as reported in Pennsylvania Impressionism edited by Peterson). He won the William Emlen Cresson Traveling Scholarship and traveled in Europe, to be influenced by the French
On his return to the States, he was first hired in 1907 to teach at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, was then hired, 1909, to teach at the Pennsylvania Academy, where he became an established figure for the next forty-one years. He adhered to the highest standards of formal training, holding the onslaught of abstract expressionists at bay. As he put it, “Modern art? I don’t care for it myself. I don’t like to be a snake shedding its skin every so often. I have never vacillated or changed in my work – so far as my real feeling for art is concerned.” His work was never considered innovative, but was steeped in tradition and draftsmanship.
His students feared him as much as admired him. The Thursdays he provided his critiques were customarily referred to as Garber Day. Former Garber student Roswell Theodore Weidner, who taught at the Academy until 1996, related the story of Garber at one of these sessions asking a young woman if she knew how to cook. When the surprised student responded, “Fairly well,” Garber quipped, “Good, because you can’t paint.”
In 1907, with the help of William L. Lathrop, Garber came to live in Bucks County, in the vicinity of New Hope and the community of fellow famous artists. He bought the Kenderdine Homestead in Lumberville, where the Cuttalossa Creek empties into the Delaware River, and renamed his new home Cuttalossa. It is a wooded area, serene and beautiful, still worth the visit. No longer the Garber estate, it is now the Cuttalossa Farm, breeders of Olde English Miniature Babydoll Southdown Sheep – whatever they are. And why not? I’ve seen photographs of Garber herding sheep at his home. Whether he’s herding sheep or teaching class, he is always sporting a bowtie.
In 1950, Daniel Garber retired from teaching at the Academy. Sadly, while still active as a painter, having lost none of his skill, he fell from a ladder outside his studio at Cuttalossa and died. It was 1958 and he was seventy-eight years old.