In photographs that his granddaughter, Dana Garber Applestein, spreads out on a table, Daniel Garber (1880-1958), one of the most important painters of the New Hope second generation, is seen in a suit and tie. “He always dressed that way,” said Applestein, “even when he got into the pen with his sheep. He would call the sheep, and they’d all come – they loved him.”
Here at Cuttalossa, where he lived and worked, surrounded by nature – singing birds, running brooks, lush vegetation – it was his own peaceable kingdom. “This is the world as God intended it to be,” says Applestein. Garber was more interested in painting the beauty of the world, and his favorite place to paint was right around him at Cuttalossa. “He didn’t travel, this place was it,” she recounts. “Once he found this place, this is where his heart was.”
Since the Garber retrospective at both the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Michener Art Museum in 2007, Applestein has been giving tours of her grandfather’s studio through the Michener. The property, owned by Suzanne and Bromley Lowe and now up for sale, has been added on to while maintaining respect for its history.
Garber loved yard sales, we learn from his granddaughter, and would buy furniture from farmers. He acquired a Chippendale hutch that he used to keep painting supplies in. He painted still lifes over transoms, painted on furniture and didn’t ever throw anything out. Rather than discard canvases he no longer wanted to keep, he would use them to patch, for example, a leak in the roof.
Born on a dairy farm in Indiana, Garber was the 16th child of his Mennonite father, who had a succession of three wives. “Daniel was different so he was sent off to school at 16, first to Cincinnati, then to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts,” says Applestein. Garber first started spending summers at a cottage in Lumberville before building his own house, and commuted by train from Doylestown to PAFA, where he taught for 40 years.
When one potential buyer selected a painting to go with her wall color, Garber refused to sell it, says Applestein. “He didn’t want to fall into the trap of painting what sells, but believed you should be true to what you want to paint.”
Garber received a commission for a 22-by-12 foot mural from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the 1926 Sesquicentennial in Philadelphia. After the fair, the mural, depicting a woody scene, was given to Penn State because it had a forestry school.
A Wooded Watershed was placed at the back of a stage as a scenic backdrop, where it remained, neglected, for more than six decades. When it was acquired by the MichenerArt Museum in 1994, thanks to a Legislative Initiative Grant awarded by Senator H. Craig Lewis, it had a tear and a hole, and had to be mended and rewoven by the chief conservator of the Barnes Foundation.
In 1958, Garber fell from a balcony to his death. “My grandfather died the way he wanted to – instantly,” says Applestein. Sadly, her grandmother developed dementia and never recovered, so the property at Cuttalossa was sold in 1969.
A Wooded Watershed, his 1926 mural, is permanently installed at the MichenerArt Museum.