John J. Dull was born in Philadelphia the 6th December 1859. He studied art and architecture at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He joined T Square Club in 1880, but we at the Philadelphia Sketch Club know him better as an artist, particularly watercolorist. He joined our Club in 1895, was one of the honorary pallbearers for Anshutz, and remained a member until his death.
He had worked as an architect for Wilson Brothers & Company, the architectural firm responsible for Reading Terminal (1892). By 1893, John Dull had started his own architectural firm. In later years, with Arthur Truscott, he established a Beaux-Arts style atelier in the architectural department at Drexel Institute.
However, as most concerns us, John Dull was a major figure in this Club, serving on its board and taking other active roles. He was a frequent winner of the Club’s prizes for his sketches, and his face is included among the portraits watching from the wall of our library. He supervised the construction that altered the former small residences to become our present clubhouse. At most times he was gentile, but inclined to be a bit cantankerous and critical at other times. He was known to scold members for their slackening interest in sketching exercises, and for that I especially like him. We need him now!
It was John Dull who introduced to the Club the idea of having large public exhibitions of club-members’ works. To this end a committee was formed in 1899 with Dull appointed its chairman. To quote Sidney Lomas’s history, “Mr. Dull was fast becoming a factor in altering the character of a club that was about his own age. He was instrumental in securing an out-of-town house as headquarters for sketching parties, which they first occupied the following
spring of 1900. It was a small farm house at Adele, PA., renting for $5.50 per month.”
It needs to be said that John Dull was not in favor of the younger members playing indoor baseball, believing it to be disruptive to fellow members wanting a quiet smoke and to read. Nor was John Dull pleased when Henry Troth convinced the Club it needed a pool table. A secondhand, regulation-sized pool table was installed into Dull’s precious gallery. However, as Chairman of the Exhibition Committee, he did not allow anyone to play on it during the remainder of his term in office. Eventually, when skittles ceased to be a fad with members, the pool table was brought down to the skittles room, the place it presently occupies.
Our illustrious Club Elder, Bill Campbell, remembers taking instruction from John Dull, when he taught watercolor at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. As often as he could, Dull would take his class out-of-doors. While his students worked, so did Dull, but much quicker. He would make several watercolors to fit into small frames purchased at the five-and-dime, which he would then take to the Club and sell for eight and twelve dollars. Dull wore over a bald spot a skull cap that appeared to have been the crown cut from an old felt hat. He also limped, have slipped on the icy pavement by the Union League building and broken his hip in the winter of 1932. Being confined for months at the Presbyterian Hospital was the only time he was kept from attending the Grub Club, where he otherwise faithfully sat always in the same seat facing the kitchen.
Frank L. Smith, a commercial artist, came in to the Grub Club one day proud of his big architectural rendering of a new façade for the Reading Terminal. He had modernized it, stripping it of its balconies, columnars, and festoons. John Dull had only a few words to say about the old façade, and he spoke them with deliberation, “I designed that.”
John Dull died the 16th January 1949. For a long time no one would sit in the seat he had occupied at the Grub Club. As Frank L. Smith declared, “I’ll never sit in that seat; I would feel like I’m sitting in John Dull’s lap.”