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History Out Of Prints

Kellogg Brothers Exhibit Shows Vast Scope Of Printmaker's Output And Influence


February 07, 2010

From a walkup in a downtown Hartford building long gone, the Kellogg Brothers provided a window into Victorian America.

Like Currier & Ives in New York, whose images they sometimes cribbed (and who sometimes cribbed the Kellogg Brothers' images), the Hartford siblings provided a graphic depiction of 19th-century life — its manners, its fashions, its hopes and its history.

Pictures from literature and biblical scenes were reproduced and widely sold. And a century before the 24-hour news cycle, the Kelloggs provided visual representations of breaking news the big events of the day.

Being situated in Hartford, they created the most enduring images of the city's Victorian heyday, and one specifically was often reproduced in advertisements: the then-new Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Arch, accenting the nearby State Capitol.

In roughly a 50-year span from 1830 to 1880, the Kelloggs churned out lithographs for all occasions. More than 1,000 are in the collection of the Connecticut Historical Society, which literally tacked up prints in two previous shows, one in 1953 and another in 1987.

The work of the Kellogg Brothers is again in the spotlight, 180 years after the firm began, in two new major projects from the historical society.

"Pictures for Victorian America: Prints by Hartford's Kellogg Brothers," just opened at the Connecticut Historical Society Museum & Library at 1 Elizabeth St. in Hartford.

It features scores of prints from the collection, highlighting each of the Kelloggs' key enterprises, from the commercial work that kept them humming to the prints intended for use in the home and the schoolroom.

The prints were fixtures in local newspapers, used to illustrate the biggest news events of the day, from the Civil War to the Mexican American War, carefully drawn from correspondents' firsthand descriptions.

The Kelloggs also noted personal histories with drawings of family trees and records of births, and they marked deaths with individualized calligraphy on prints of desolate memorial stones.

Many of the images have been rarely exhibited or, in some cases, never exhibited. Their colors from a bygone day are still vivid. Nevertheless, they represent but a fraction of the actual collection and are selected to be of interest to the masses of schoolchildren who frequent the museum.

A Prodigious Output

That's clear from the recently issued, handsomely illustrated volume published by the historical society and distributed by the Wesleyan University Press, "Picturing Victorian America: Prints by the Kellogg Brothers of Hartford, Connecticut, 1830-1880." It includes full-color reproductions, eight scholarly essays and a complete checklist (and images) of all 1,158 lithographs by the Kellogg Brothers in the society's collection.

The book, copies of which are scattered for viewing throughout the exhibit (and made available in the bookstore), best shows the sheer scope of the brothers' work, cranked out year after year and covering so many fronts.

The Kellogg Brothers prints have been so indispensable to the museum that they pop up in other corners outside the dedicated exhibit space. Down on the first floor, for example, in a President's Day display case, is the print "Death of Abraham Lincoln," with historical figures formally gathered around the death bed of the 16th president, accompanied by a grim depiction of the shooting itself titled "The Assassination of President Lincoln, Ford's Theatre, Washington, April 14, 1865." It was made and sold that year.

The Firm's History

Daniel Wright Kellogg, a native of Tolland, established the Kellogg lithographic shop on Hartford's Main Street, "a few rods south of City Hotel." When he left to go West, his younger brothers, Edmund Burke Kellogg and Elijah Chapman Kellogg, continued the business, imprinting their names as "E.B. & E.C. Kellogg" on so many of their prints.

They employed a group of apprentices (known in contracts on display as "indentured"), artists and draftsmen. The exhibit tries to give credit to the previously unheralded artists, from the French émigré Joseph Buat to the rare female artist, Mary Maguire, who did the lithograph of St. Patrick's Church in Hartford (which was borrowed from the church for the occasion).

There was real competition between the Kelloggs and Currier & Ives, the better-known printmakers despite starting a bit later than the Kelloggs. The Kelloggs occasionally would copy one of the Currier & Ives images, such as "Household Pets," showing a mother and child and cat and dog, but Currier & Ives also would borrow from some Kellogg original images.

Some of the most interesting Kellogg works are those that reflect local concerns, from the Colt manufacturing building at its height in 1856 to various incarnations of the Charter Oak tree, borrowed by a local business called the Charter Oak Insurance Co.

The State Capitol was a matter of pride, and it appeared on a poster as well, such as one for the Weed Sewing Machine Co. of Hartford., which billed itself as "Simple, Durable, Noiseless" and "Capable." But it was "Hartford's Soldiers Memorial," a color print from 1886, the year the monument was completed, that often was used in advertising, not just by the Kellogg Brothers but by other local firms as well.

The Kelloggs supplied schools with pictures of the presidents, and then as now, a couple were more popular than others. There were 12 different portraits of Washington and six of Lincoln. There were occasional compilation portraits of presidents, which only went as far as James Polk in the one on display.

And while some of the Kellogg Brothers' output involved domestic scenes or illustrations from the Bible, the firm was enlisted to quickly depict battleground scenes during the Mexican-American War, as described by newspaper correspondents. By focusing on specific leaders in the battleground, "The Kellogg brothers' lithographic pen was indeed perhaps as mighty as Zachary Taylor's sword," writes Elisabeth Hodermarsky, the Sutphin Family Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Yale University Art Gallery.

The appetite for visual representation of wars only increased during the Civil War, during which the Kelloggs depicted naval attacks and, in advance of photography, began to take license in turning their war scenes into pointed commentary. Such was the intent of "Forward March! Uncle Sam's Old Hens covering their chickens on the way to Richmond" from 1863, depicting Union ironclads as, yes, chickens.

The huge scope of works completed by the Kellogg Brothers over the years didn't take away from what Kate Steinway, executive director of the Connecticut Historical Society, calls their achievements "as artists, businessmen, collaborators, advertisers, book publishers and participants in one of America's most important visual culture revolutions — the rise of the inexpensive, wildly popular, mass-marketed lithograph."

As the era of the lithograph waned in the 1870s, the Kellogg firm began to emphasize commercial work, business cards and handbills. After Currier & Ives went out of business in 1907, the Hartford firm, then named Kellogg & Bulkeley, was dubbed by one trade magazine as "the oldest litho house in the United States" still in business.

In 1947, it merged with another old Connecticut firm, Case, Lockwood & Brainard, to become Connecticut Printers, which continued operations until June 1990, not quite making it to the next century.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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