The history of the Suydams is synonymous with two things: artistic talent and New York. In fact, the Dutch name has been a part of the State since the very beginning when Dutch settlers fought the Indian wars along the Hudson to settle in the new world. The Suydam family once owned 16O acres of what is now downtown Buffalo and traded the land for a team of oxen and a covered wagon because the neighbors got too close.
One of the earliest recorded members of the Suydam family was named Elbert. His widowed mother, Marcia, remarried Joseph Schultz, a German, older than Elbert by a scant 13 years. By all reports Schultz was a cruel man who beat young Elbert with a horsewhip. Elbert had moments of his own, however, and is remembered fondly for luring his stepfather down to a creek bed to arrange a “spraying” from a captured skunk. Elbert ran away by age 13—probably to save his life. He would, in later years, tell his children stories about his great grandmother, one of New York’s first pioneers; her stories of living in log cabins, seeing animal eyes through the cracks in the logs at night, in an area of what could now be Brooklyn. One of the more interesting stories revolves around saving an Indian with a broken leg that she took in to nurse back to health. One morning he was gone, but a leg of deer or other token would often be left on their porch. One day, the Indian returned, running towards their cabin, frantically trying to get them to board a boat and flee. They did, and while watching, other Indians came out of the woods and killed their Indian friend with a tomahawk.
Young Elbert would be married twice. His first marriage was in Brainard, New York in 1900, at the age of 17, to Edna Emery, of the same age. Together they had three girls. Edna would die prematurely at the age of 24 in 1907. Elbert’s second marriage ensured the continuation of the family line.
Henry Suydam (1803-1883)
Henry Suydam was the brother of James A. Suydam, and an impressive painter in his own right. He lived in New York City from about 1859 to 1871 and Geneseo, NY in 1878. He exhibited at the Washington Art Association in 1859 and the National Academy of Design in 1863, 1871 and 1878, and is mentioned by James Thomas Flexner, an art historian of the time, as one of the era’s prominent artists.
One of his most famous paintings, “View in the Adirondacks,” is considered one of the finest ever painted of the area. The fresh air and bucolic setting apparently did him good, as it appears Henry continued to paint into his eighties.
Many of Henry Suydam’s small rural landscapes are still in circulation and are routinely on the block of finer auction houses. He is listed in the Artist’s blue book, “Who was Who in American Art: 1564-1975,” and his work hangs at the National Academy of Design.
James Augustus Suydam (1819-1865)
Renowned Hudson River Painter, James Augustus Suydam began his career as a businessman but turned to painting, studying under Minor C. Kellogg. At the age of thirty he was elected to the Century Association. One of the “regulars” who gathered to paint in New Hampshire, he exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum. He opened his studio at a 10th Street Building in New York City, in 1858. The following year he was elected an honorary professional member in the National Academy of Design, and was granted full membership in 1861. He died suddenly in North Conway, NH at the age of 46.
James Suydam was described by friends, as a “thoroughly educated and accomplished man. ” He was widely read and well versed in history, philosophy, and the sciences. His work as a landscape painter reflects this knowledge in peaceful, subtle landscapes that give a poetic interpretation to nature. In many of his paintings, he explores aerial perspective and the effects of water meeting land as well as light, especially mid-day when the sky was clear. Many pieces are low-horizoned panoramic views. His work reveals Suydam as a deeply spiritual individual. Using his familiarity with science, Suydam reduced nature to calm, clean, planar forms, and then distorted proportional relations so that nature loomed superior over the work of man.
The National Academy of Design in New York has much of his works such as Paradise Rocks (1865). His work hangs in the White House in the Nation’s capital. The work and collection of James Agustus Suydam.
Edward H Suydam (1885-1940)
An illustrator, etcher, lithographer, and block printer, E. H. Suydam studied at the Philadelphia Museum’s School of Industrial Art with celebrated illustrator Thornton Oakley. Suydam was a member of Philadelphia’s Water Color, Print, and Sketch Clubs, as well as the New York Society of Illustrators. He died in 1940.
Providing images for travel books was the focus of Suydam’s career. He specialized in America’s great cities, illustrating volumes on San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, Washington, New York, and Los Angeles, to name only a few. Suydam illustrated more than twenty of these influential volumes through the 1920’s-40’s for Century Publishing. The scarcity of original illustration from the years Suydam was working makes his surviving pieces particularly valuable today. After publication, such pieces were often lost or discarded. Fortunately, the Museum of the City of New York has a great deal of Suydam’s original art from Faces of Manhattan, which chronicles the changing face of the city.
E.H. utilized graphite and crayon on paper to capture the energetic spirit of New York City in the 1920’s — part classical, part Modernist dream with its newborn skyscrapers, still clad in scaffolding, rising next to grand old Manhattan buildings and monuments. The drawings trace Manhattan from the narrow canyons of the financial district, the theater district glittering at night, to the upper reaches of Riverside Drive.
Though Suydam’s job was essentially reportorial, he created drawings that succeeded in informing far more than just documenting sites. He left us with mesmerizing, gargoyle’s eye views of a great city, from the Southern tip of Manhattan and the harbor beyond to the Woolworth Building (which still stands at the corner of Broadway and Park Place). A living chronicle of a time when this building was the tallest in the world.
Arthur Suydam (1953- )
All things considered, it is no wonder that Arthur Suydam decided to make his home in New York’s East Village, on the very street where James Augustus Suydam first set up shop in 1858. Like James before him, Arthur is a student of the arts and natural sciences, an applied knowledge that is evident in much of his work. Arthur Suydam’s formidable artistry is credited to no particular formal institution, but entirely to experimentation and an ongoing program of progressive self-development. Suydam has created a method for producing realistic oil painting effects utilizing non-traditional methods and mediums.His first published painting, “The Mammoth,” was rendered entirely from a set of children’s “Playtime” coloring book paints, a bottle of green ink and tube of gel. His writings are edgy grains of Americana, told in true vernacular.
One of the founding fathers of the 1980’s renaissance movement in sequetial art, his masterpieces, “Mudwogs,” and “The Adventures of Cholly and Flytrap,” are credited with helping to break down barriers in mainstream comics, opening doors for writers and artists to create literature for a more mature readership. He is regarded by his peers as an “artist’s artist.”
Upon exhibitig his work, the renouned Alexander Gallery in New York, proclaimed Suydam’s work “the link between fine art and comics and the finest comic book art ever created.”
The current talent in a long artistic line, Arthur is still, thankfully, busy writing the story of his part of the Suydam family legacy.