The mission of The Philadelphia Sketch Club is to encourage the creation and appreciation of fine art. Perhaps none have succeeded to the extent to which member Walter Emerson Baum achieved this purpose. From 1926 he began writing critiques of artist and exhibition reviews. He became the Art Editor for The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin and The Philadelphia Sunday Bulletin from 1929 until 1956 (1929 Sat. 12-14, D13 “Members Exhibit at Sketch Club” – we need to eventually acquire a copy of this article for our archives). More importantly, he founded the Baum School of Art (1929 – formerly the Kline-Baum School of Art) and the Allentown Art Museum (1933 – formerly the Allentown Art Gallery). And he assisted in the start of a host of other art clubs, including the Circulating Picture Club. He has been called “The Father of Art in Lehigh Valley.”
We can be grateful that Walter did not fulfill his father’s expectation of following in the family trade as a barber. Instead he apprenticed himself to William T. Tego, and made his way into the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and, of course, upstairs at our humble Club, where he made paintings of the posing nudes. Yet he would be best known for his landscapes, winning the Jennie Sesnan Gold Medal for best landscape at the Academy in 1925. He did not fare as well with us, earning only an Honorable Mention from a 1939 Club exhibition. (However, his son, Dr Edgar Baum did better, taking the gold medal for a landscape in the Club’s 1942 show.)
Walter was a handsome man who remained slim and neatly dressed throughout his life. He sported a trim mustache (and our Club certainly needs more beards and mustaches) and combed his hair back from his forehead. I could find no photograph of him in which he wasn’t wearing a tie.
I recently traveled to Doylestown to view one of his paintings. Walter hangs among the Pennsylvania Impressionist in the Lenfest Exhibition of the James A. Michener Art Museum. “The Narrows” 1936 oil on canvas 40″ x 50″ is one of my favorites. It portrays the old canal between the palisades and the Delaware River. The scene has winter snow, as so often one finds in his landscapes. Walter worked en plein air even during the worst winter storms. As one of his children tells it, “My father strapped an easel to his car’s fender, a palette to his door and painted away while my mother relaxed in the backseat, reading novels.”
This painting, “The Narrows,” is important to me because I know and delight in the area it portrays. I have driven through it many times during the last thirty years, in my sports car or on my motorcycle, for no better reason than to observe its beauty. In winter the springs form a frozen cascade of ice against the side of the cliffs. Alas, during my last visit to the museum I discovered the painting has been temporarily removed from the wall by the conservator.
Walter’s was a happy marriage of fifty-two years that produced four children. He was born and lived his life in Sellersville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He was the editor of The Sellersville Herald from 1921 to 1942, and authored a book, Two Hundred Years (1938), this being a history of Sellersville and the Pennsylvania German heritage. He died in Sellersville, in his sleep, the 12th July 1956.
In the last year of his life, he painted a scene of our Club’s garden, the interior facing the north wall: “Mid-City Retreat” casein on board 24″ x 30″ (in the collection of Mr & Mrs J. Lawrence Grim, Jr.)