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Julian Ruggles Seavey (1857-1940)

Julian Ruggles Seavey (1857-1940)


“Woman Spinning”

Graphite on Paper

10” x 10” Image

21” x 27” Framed

Note: Landscape image above may be a silver print. It is not a drawing or ink on wash. Included in the framing structure

Provenance: Private Collection, Hamilton ON


Julian Ruggles Seavey was one of the most prestigious artists to have called Hamilton his home. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on April 24, 1857 and studied art in New York, Paris, Rome, and Germany before coming to Hamilton in 1879. During the time he lived here, Seavey was a major force in promoting local art and culture.

Seavey was a diverse artist. He worked in a variety of mediums, although he was best known for his oil and watercolour landscapes and still lifes. But perhaps his greatest contribution was the role he played as a teacher.

In 1908, the Hamilton Normal School opened as a facility to train public school teachers. Seavey developed and presided over the art department from the time the school opened until his retirement in 1931. He also taught special art courses to interested Normal students outside the school?s curriculum. After 1911, he lectured on art in summer courses at the University of Toronto. Seavey also held private classes at the Brantford academy and taught out of his studio/home. He developed a colour chart for teaching the pigmentary system of colour which was published in 1912 and used as a teaching tool in many English speaking countries.

J.R. Seavey was also important to Hamilton because his sketches now serve as historical references. In 1897, he published a collection of 95 drawings depicting churches, graveyards, inns and mills of old Hamilton. The collection, titled Wentworth Landmarks, was originally published in Hamilton Spectator articles and was meant to show the depressing state the city was in during this transitional period to industrialization. Seavey was one of very few artists in the late 19th century to record the local landscape in his art.

Seavey showed his affection for Hamilton by involving himself with community groups. He formed the Hamilton Art Students League with fellow artist, John Sloan Gordon and was elected as the group’s first president. The group met at Gordon?s studio on 28 King Street West. He was the first president of the Black and White club in 1880. In 1937, Seavey was the president of the Men?s Art Club of Hamilton. He also instructed many members of the Women?s Art Association of Hamilton in his 40 by 30-foot studio. It was a lavish addition to his family home, decorated with coconut matting on the floor, easels all about and a glass wall facing the garden.

He illustrated many articles for the Hamilton Spectator. One such article was J.E. Wodell?s futuristic look at what Hamilton would be like in the year 2003. Wodell predicted that Hamilton would become the industrial capital of North America.

NI’ve of Seavey’s pieces are in the Hamilton Art Gallery’s permanent collection. He had exhibited with the Ontario Society of Artists and the Royal Canadian Academy. His painting "Music," completed in 1890, was included in the National Art Gallery engagement calendar for 1962. Seavey also contributed eight full plates for Pauline Johnson?s book "Flint and Feather." His works were exhibited periodically within Hamilton in the Artists? Emporium at 68 King Street East.

J.R. Seavey was also a family man. He married Lizzie Bearman in 1888 in a small, private ceremony. They had two daughters, Theo and Marjory, who carried on the Seavey name as artists. He also had a son named Frederick. All three of his children remained in Hamilton. In fact, Marjory succeeded her father as art director of the Normal School after his retirement and stayed at the school for 25 years.

Julian Ruggles Seavey passed away July 3, 1940 in his home. As an artist and a teacher, he influenced an entire generation of Hamilton art students and contributed greatly to Hamilton?s art scene of the early 20th century.