Hannibal News

Hannibal native's artwork on display at Mark Twain Museum Gallery

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 15, 2019 12:01 am

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- The artwork of an acclaimed Hannibal native who died more than a century ago is on display this month at the Mark Twain Museum Gallery at 120 N. Main in downtown Hannibal.

The artist -- James Carroll Beckwith -- was born in Hannibal on Sept. 23, 1852, and moved to Chicago with his parents as a child.

At 16, Beckwith began studying art at the Chicago Academy of Design while also working at his parents' grocery store. Three years later, the store and the family's home were destroyed in the great Chicago fire of 1871.

Freed of the ties that bound him to Chicago, Beckwith headed to New York to study at the National Academy of Design. He also studied art in Paris and Italy while launching an art career that earned him international accolades up until his death from a heart attack in 1917 -- at age 65 -- in his beloved New York.

About 10 years ago, Hannibal residents Nora Creason and Don Metcalf, who collect art, became intrigued with Beckwith's story and his work. They started accumulating some of his paintings and drawings, mainly through estate auctions.

Now, as part of the yearlong celebration of Hannibal's 200th anniversary, Creason and Metcalf have loaned about 20 pieces from their Beckwith collection to the Mark Twain Museum for a monthlong art display that runs through September.

Creason and Metcalf will give a talk about Beckwith and his career during a wine-and-cheese reception at 7 p.m. Thursday in the gallery's auditorium. The event is open to the public.

Creason, who attended high school in Hannibal, said she and her husband became interested in the history of Hannibal after they moved back to the community about 10 years ago. They started collecting artwork by several former Hannibal artists, including Beckwith, who is regarded by some as the most prominent artist ever to emerge from Hannibal.

"I am surprised at how few people know who he is," Creason said.

During his lengthy art career, Beckwith painted portraits of some prominent figures from 19th century society, including President Theodore Roosevelt, famed Texas lawyer William M. Walton and author Mark Twain -- a fellow former Hannibal resident who posed for a portrait in 1890.

"They were lifelong friends and would visit each other and talk," Creason said.

Creason said Beckwith was known for painting with oil "mainly in the classical style."

One of Creason's favorite Beckwith paintings is an oil-on-canvas portrait of Beckwith's wife, Bertha Hall, whom he married in 1887. Titled "On the Terrace," the painting was in a private collection for many years until the owner eventually died. Creason and Metcalf bought it at an auction in New York.

"It was hidden for decades," Creason said. "This is by far one of his best paintings, and it's the star of the exhibit."

The exhibit has been garnering favorable reviews from many visitors who have ventured into the gallery to see it, according to Dena Ellis, the museum's finance, maintenance and gift shop manager.

"I think everybody is very impressed when they see it," Ellis said. "We have heard people say that the paintings are just beautiful."

The same collection of Beckwith artworks will be featured in a bicentennial-themed art exhibit Nov. 9-20 at the Hannibal Arts Council, 105 S. Main. An opening reception will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Nov. 9.

Michael Gaines, executive director, said he feels it's part of the Arts Council's mission to help shine a light on the work of accomplished artists with connections to Hannibal.

Gaines said Beckwith might be "the most prominent unknown artist" to come from Hannibal. Even during his lifetime, Gaines said, Beckwith might not have been well known in his hometown of Hannibal, "but internationally he was."

Beckwith won numerous awards in international exhibitions, and many of his paintings, diaries and personal papers are now in the Smithsonian Institution.

"He really did have a prominence in his day," Gaines said.

"And if you look at the time period, he was exhibiting alongside people like maybe (Auguste) Rodin or (Vincent) van Gogh, and he was right up there in winning first place," he said. "So this will be a great chance to expose people to his work and let them realize there was a fairly prominent international artist from Hannibal."

One unusual story associated with Beckwith came to light several years ago when Robert L. Snow, a retired Indianapolis police captain with more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, wrote a book called "Looking for Carroll Beckwith."

Snow told how he and some friends took part in "past life regression therapy" sessions that use hypnosis to retrieve what practitioners believe are memories of incarnations, or past lives.

Snow said he was initially a skeptic of this process, but he experienced a series of vivid images and memories that convinced him he was James Carroll Beckwith in a past life.

Creason said she was shocked when she learned of Snow's book. At her invitation, Snow came to Hannibal in September of 2015 to give a talk about his book at the Mark Twain Museum Gallery -- the same place where Beckwith's artworks are now on display.

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