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  • Writer's pictureTodd DeGarmo

Who painted Drummer Truman Kingsley?

We have an oil painting in our special collections, a portrait of Civil War veteran drummer Truman Kingsley. He is presented as an elderly gentleman in his G.A.R. uniform and cap, pinned with a metal (showing the number 22), and seated next to a drum. The painting is signed, M.M (or H.H.) Harris 1887. It was given to Crandall Free Library on April 18, 1938 by Albert Harris. This oil painting was part of a fine art inventory some 40 years ago, called "Drummer Boy," and assigned a value.

That's all we knew until some 10-12 years ago. We found the painting's subject, Truman Kingsley, of the 22nd Regiment, Company C, in a list of survivors from the Civil War, posted in the Glens Falls Republican, August 9, 1888. A little further digging in the newspaper database found him performing out in Auburn, NY at a G.A.R. encampment, called "an aged gentleman, capable of performing many rare and difficult feats" and generally known as "Uncle Truman." The Auburn Morning Dispatch continues their reporting the following day (September 1, 1886):

"The Boss Drummer. The Cayuga Lake Park management will cause the G.A.R. men to recall the old times again for Truman Kingsley is to appear upon the stage with his drum. 'Uncle Truman' of the 22d N.Y.S.V. Band, was well known throughout the army of the Potomac as being the only drummer in the army that could play the reveille which he did in 1861 at the head of the army, as it passed over Alexandria bridge into Washington. He is the greatest drummer in the world and the only one that can correctly drum the “double drag doubled” and his “points of war” is worth going miles to hear."

Civil War Monument c.1900 (originally dedicated in 1872) Glen, Bay & Maple streets, Glens Falls, NY.

Earlier this year, we learned a little more about the painting itself, a clue to tracking down the artist. Again working with the newspaper databases, we happened across a notice in the Post-Star, February 22, 1887: "An oil portrait of the veteran drummer of the Twenty second New York volunteers, Truman Kingsley, displayed at the store of Haviland & Ferriss, attracts much attention and reflects credit on the artist, Mrs. George R. Harris."

"Mrs. George R. Harris" (rather than M.M. or H.H. Harris), an artist in Glens Falls, could now be used for a search in the newspapers databases. We do find her, from 1886 to 1888, as an artist winning prizes for her oil and watercolor paintings in festivals and fairs of the Warren County Agricultural Society. In November 1886, the Glens Falls Times praises her for being recognized beyond Glens Falls: "We are pleased to find the name of Mrs. George R. Harris of this place in the catalogue of autumn exhibitors at the National Academy of Design, New York."

Besides the portrait of Truman Kingsley (1887), other works are noted in the newspaper articles: "a little sketch of hers, in oil, taken from 'Shandon Bells'" (1883), oil landscapes and watercolor flowers (1886), an oil portrait of "Agnes, the little daughter of Theodore Darlin" (1887), flowers in oil and watercolor (1888) and an oil painting, "the suggestive title of which is 'Who Said Watermelons?'"(1890).

Her work is always strongly praised. "Mrs. Harris is a remarkably clever artist, both in oil and water colors" (Albany Sunday Argus 1883). "The portraits are the work of Mrs. George R. Harris, a lady whose reputation for strong, skillful delineation is not confined to the limits of our own community, but extends to distant parts of the country. Mrs. Harris belongs to that class of painters who are designated as 'impressionists'" (Post-Star, Sept 9, 1887). The Glens Falls Times agrees with the complements, saying that Mrs. George R. Harris "ranks among the most excellent artists in this locality" (June 19, 1890).

The newspapers also reveal her work as a talented art teacher. We first find her in Albany, as noted in the Albany Sunday Argus, repeated in the Glens Falls Daily Times, November 22, 1883:

"An interesting thing of note in this city is the growing interest manifested by our young ladies in the study and practices of art. The desire to copy from both nature and the prominent artists is rapidly growing, and with so much success, that Albany, to-day, can boast of no little talent in that line... Mrs. George R. Harris, of Glens Falls, who is now establishing at No. 88 Hawk street, and is forming classes for instruction."

But by 1886, she is in Glens Falls, teaching young students. "Mrs. George R. Harris" is listed as the drawing and painting teacher at the Glens Falls Academy, as found in the Year Books 1886-87, 1888-89, and in a 1892 New York State report. One of her pupils, Florence Ranger, was admitted to the Art Student League of New York, according to the Glens Falls Daily Times. They report, "This speaks highly both for Miss Ranger's talent and the thoroughness of her course of instruction, as this school of art requires advancement and merit to admit the applicant" (May 11, 1886).

What more can we find about the artist by pursuing her husband, Mr. George R. Harris? Digging into the various resources of the Folklife Center, we find George R. Harris (1846-1927) was born in Glens Falls and worked in his early career as a bank teller and insurance agent. In 1870 George R. Harris (age 24) is living in his father's household, but by the 1875 New York State Census he has his own household with his wife Mary (age 28), son Albert (age 1), and a servant.

According to the Glens Falls City Directories, in 1886 George R. has a home on Pearl Street. In 1888-89 this changes to 7 Park Place, and changes again 1890 to 1896 as 5 Park Place. Other members of his father's family reside at 7 Park Place through 1900, including an aunt Anna C. Harris, a music teacher.

Detail of 5 & 7 Park Place from 1875 framed Beers map of Glens Falls, collections of the Folklife Center.

Mr. & Mrs. George R. Harris, as a couple, come up in newspaper articles, too. In 1877, they each win prizes for row boat racing on Lake George, followed by a dance until 2 o'clock in the morning. They attend the New Year's Eve party in Crandall Hall, with "good music, rich costumes and very happy guests" hosted by the "Merry Black Caps" as the year turned 1887.

From 1888 to 1898 George R. Harris is listed as the secretary of the Glens Falls Paper Company. According to his obituary, he became stockholder and secretary of the Glens Falls Paper Company succeeding his father, Albert T. Harris (1816-1891) until the company merged with the International Paper Company. We happen to have the minute book of the company, written in George's hand, 1891 to 1898.

In July of 1890, Mrs. George R. Harris spends a month in Nantucket with her mother- and father-in-law neighbors (Mr. & Mrs. Albert T. Harris), Mrs. Walter McDonald and daughter, Misses Raymond, Annie C. Harris and Lottie and Mamie Pruyn (Post-Star, August 2).

But in the summer of 1894, Mrs. George R. (Mary) Harris dies. Her full name is inscribed on her large tombstone in South Glens Falls Cemetery, "Mary S. Mott, wife of Geo. R. Harris, April 10, 1847 - July 27, 1894." According to the Mott Genealogy, Mrs. George R. Harris, or Mary S. Mott Harris, is the youngest child of William Mott (1791-1882) of Moreau, marrying "a Harris." We haven't found her obituary because there are missing newspapers on and around her death date, July 27, 1894. Notes in the biographical files only say that she died at the family residence at Park Place.

Mary S. Mott Harris tombstone in South Glens Falls Cemetery.

Her husband, George R. Harris, retired at about the age of 55, and spent much of his time hunting and fishing. At his death, he left his fishing tackle to 3 friends, and money to his surviving family, his only son Albert W. Harris (1874-1946), daughter-in-law Katherine Clements Harris, and grandson Charles C. Harris. George R. Harris, and his son, Albert, are also buried in the South Glens Falls Cemetery. It is this son Albert, as we first mentioned, who donated the painting to the library in 1938.

We can now say that the signature on our 1887 oil painting is "M.M. Harris" (not "H.H. Harris"). Though the newspapers always called her Mrs. George R. Harris, the artist decided not to sign her work that way. Her signature "M.M. Harris" denotes her full name, Mary Mott Harris (1847-1894), the local artist who at the age of 40, painted Truman Kingsley, veteran drummer of the Civil War, 7 years before her death. This painting is a part of the permanent collection of the Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library. We continue to look for more information about the artist's life and work.

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