News Article - 10 Jun 81 - Theodore Gegoux
Watertown Times, The "Morgue", Watertown, N.Y.
WORKS BY "RUNAWAY" ARTIST RETURN HOME
By Marsha J. Davis - Times Staff Writer
When Watertown's resident artist came up missing in 1909, some recalled he had been working on a "flying machine." Others plainly thought he had left town to seek a "wider field" for his art. Theodore Gegoux actually had gone off to Oregon seeking artistic inspiration and the fortune he never made. This summer, seven Gegoux paintings will return to the north country as a highlight of the Jefferson County Historical Society's Antique Show and Sale July 14 and 15 at the society's museum.
Cape Vincent summer resident Bernard C. Diekman Jr., New Milford, Conn., an antique dealer who retired from the New York Telephone Co., will offer the works for sale. Mr. Diekman purchased two undated and unsigned Gegoux oils from the late Maurice Harris, former Watertown High School principal and antique dealer. Mr. Harris found the paintings when he purchased Gegoux's former Point Vivian home. Mr. Diekman later purchased four signed oils from Mr. Harris's sister, Mrs. Mildred Hughes. A Gegoux pastel Mr. Diekman describes as "exquisite" was purchased from Gerald Dobson, West Carthage. The unsigned oils are landscapes, a wooded scene with a stream and trees, and a view of an island.
Signed and dated oils on canvas to be offered are a 1905 portrait of a child; a 1907 still life of fruits on a plate, and matching oval-framed portraits of an unidentified woman and man done in 1904 and 1905 respectively. The pastel chalk portrait of an unknown woman is signed but not dated. A nearly full-size portrait done in Watertown in 1853 by C.V. Bond also will be offered for sale by Mr. Diekman. The portrait depicts Mrs. Chittendon, wife of a former member of the House of Representatives from New York State, seated in a red velvet chair. Mr. Diekman, a summer resident of Cedar Breeze Point, Cape Vincent, since 1942, married the former Leilah J. Wilson, daughter of the late Rev. and Mrs. James W. Wilson. Rev. Mr. Wilson served as pastor of Asbury Methodist Church from October 1926 to May 1935.
Theodore Gegoux, a French Canadian born in 1850, came to the Watertown-Carthage-Lowville area at age 14. Before his marriage in 1881 in Ohio he traveled to Europe and studied in Paris and Brussels. After his marriage he established his home and studio in a building on the north side of Public Square, variously reported to be in the VanNamme building at 77 Public Square and at 20 1/2 Public Square. There he lived with his wife and two sons and practiced his art. He left Watertown Dec. 15, 1909, to paint a portrait of a nephew in Cleveland, Ohio, and, according to a story from The Times files, his local family had received no word by the following March.
The 1910 article notes that "he had been working for many months on a model of a flying machine of the helicopter revolving type of aeroplane, before leaving this city." It was known that he wanted to attend an aviation meet in Los Angeles, so some theorized he had gone on to California. "His long absence since the close of the meet, however, cannot be accounted for..." the article continues.
In December 1911, Mr. Gegoux, described as "one of the most gifted portrait and landscape artists this city ever produced" (although he was not born here), was located in Portland, Oregon, "alive and in good health" when spotted by an employee of the local Agricultural Insurance Co. Mr. Gegoux had painted many portraits of several prominent residents of Portland and "turned out a prodigious amount of landscape work." according to the 1911 clipping.
Mr. Gegoux is probably best known locally for his often reproduced painting of the "St. Lawrence." a sidewheeler boat, and for a full length portrait of Justin W. Weeks, one-time court crier, which hangs in the Jefferson County Historical Society Museum.
The Historical Society also has a Gegoux portrait of J.C. Kimball, originator of the Watertown City Directory, two portraits of children, and a landscape called "The Duck Hunters". But perhaps his most famous painting is a seven-by-11-foot epic. "Birth of Oregon," commemorating an 1843 meeting at Champoeg, Oregon, when the settlers of the Willamette Valley voted to separate from England.
The artist hoped the painting, completed in 1920 or 1921, would bring him great fortune, but his dream was never fulfilled. He was allowed to live as caretaker in the Champoeg State Park Memorial Center where the painting was hung. His finances were depleted by the expense of the canvas and materials to complete the work so he was allowed to collect 25 cents from all visitors wishing to view his historical painting. In 1923 he observed, "Events are not considered history until all eyewitneses have passed away and the monuments over their graves are covered with moss...So I must not expect to reap financial returns from my...labor." He hoped the State of Oregon would buy the work but it did not. He took the painting on an exhibition tour in 1924 and in 1926 "scraped a few pennies together" and headed for California, where he spent his final years living with his son, Theodore Jr., and daughter-in-law. The artist died July 3, 1931, at the home of his daughter-in-law in South Pasadena, Calif., at age 80. Although the epic painting was willed to his son, Frank of Watertown, the work remained in California. Years later, Frank's widow sold the painting through an art collector to the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee.
Finally the Oregon State Legislature appropriated funds for the restoration of the work. The painting returned to Champoeg for hanging in a state park May 22, 1979. The artist's body was returned to Watertown and buried in Brookside Cemetery. He was not only a painter but a sculptor and maker of fine maple violins. The artist's widow, Prudentia, had remained in Watertown except for two years when she lived in California with her son, Theodore, before his death Nov. 3, 1927. Prudentia Gegoux died Dec. 27, 1946, in Watertown at age 85. For nearly 20 years she operated a gift shop in her apartment in the Solar Building.