Behind the steel door that protects the Philadelphia Sketch Club’s archives are many fading memories of earlier members. They were men, because for many years women could not be members, who were famous in their time. In our membership files are the decaying sketches of Richard Blossom Farley. His works languish in museums, not being exhibited at the Allentown Art Museum, the State Museum of Pennsylvania, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Reading Museum of Art, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Born in Poultney, Vermont the 24th October 1875, he joined our fair institution in 1896 and remained a member until his death. Nor was he merely a member in name, but was quite active, being involved in decorating many of the Club’s affairs, a frequent exhibitor and indulger and singer in the Club’s Epicurean revels, and a member of the Grub Club. A large painting of sand dunes by Blossom for a long time hung over the Club’s library fireplace. In 1921, Blossom graciously allowed it to be replaced by Adam Pietz bas-relief panel of Anshutz. Blossom had attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and Anshutz had been one of his teachers. (Others include Cecilia Beaux, William Merritt Chase, Howard Pyle, and James McNeill Whistler.) In 1914, Blossom gave the after dinner talk at one of the Club’s monthly meetings, his subject landscape painting.
Fortunately, we can see his work. His landscapes of the New Jersey shore are, at least for now, to be found at the Schwarz Gallery. His portrait of remarkable Christine Wetherill Stevenson, actress, playwright, and philanthropist, can be seen at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, which she founded.
Blossom was also known for his murals. He did murals for the dining room of what was the new University Club in 1930, for which the architect was Grant Miles Simon, another member of our Club. Another mural was for the New Jersey State Normal School in Trenton, now the University of New Jersey. Blossom fulfilled yet another commission to decorate the four walls of the two-story reception hall of the Rogers Building at the Theosophical Society’s Olcott Center in Wheaton, Illinois. But Blossom abandoned painting murals, complaining that housepainters were making more.
It should be remarked upon that Blossom joined other Club members in helping the military during the Great War. At the request of fellow Club member Brigadier General Charles T. Cresswell, they painted twenty-six “Landscape Targets” (3 ½ feet by 14 feet each) to be used at Camp Meade. Blossom was also among the Club members who served the Camouflage Section of the U.S. Shipping Board, preparing the designs and superintending the painting of various ships.
Richard Blossom Farley was slender man with a well-trimmed beard. Dying in 1954, he had lived long enough to be remembered by our William H. Campbell. In a letter that Bill wrote to me about Blossom, “He dressed like a gentleman of the early 1900’s with a derby, rolled up umbrella, high top shoes, etc. One day he came to lunch and was delighted to report that he was now the last living student of Whistler, since he had read that the only other living student had just died.”