As it were

Bellows' dad was local architect

Enlarge Image Buy This Photo
A portrait of George Bellows Sr. drawn by his famous son was published Jan. 3, 1909.METROPOLITAN LIBRARY

George Bellows is recognized today as a truly great American artist. The creator of such masterpieces of American realism as two men fighting in Stag at Sharkey's and the touching portrait of his young daughter called Lady Jean was born and raised in Columbus.

He took much of his Midwestern experience with him when he moved to New York to study art in 1904. In a few short years, he became a well-known American artist.

Bellows died unexpectedly Jan. 8, 1925, of complications resulting from appendicitis. He was 42 and left a wife and two children.

A memorial exhibition of his work was shown later that year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

According to one source, "At the opening, Bellows' teacher, Robert Henri squired his widow through the opening and when it was over he turned to her in tears. 'I always gave him my most severe criticism,' he commented, 'because I thought he was my best pupil. Now I am sure of it.' "

But this story is not about that George Bellows.

What many people do not know is that the George Bellows of enduring artistic fame was the son of a longtime Columbus resident also named George Bellows.

George Bellows Sr. never achieved the national and international fame of his son.

But he was rather well-respected in his own time as the architect and builder of public facilities such as the Ohio School for the Deaf and the Franklin County Courthouse, as well as fashionable commercial buildings such as the Chittenden Hotel.

It says something about how cities change and evolve that most of the major buildings designed and built by Bellows Sr. have since been replaced by other structures. Nevertheless, a few houses he designed still survive.

In 1896, Bellows Sr. spoke to the Franklin County Pioneer Association about the Columbus he found when he came here in 1849. A newspaper account remembered his remarks.

"He said Columbus had about 15,000 inhabitants within the limits bounded by Livingston Avenue, the Scioto River, Naghten Street (now Nationwide Boulevard) and Grant Avenue. The houses, for the most part, were small, plain, brick and wooden structures, with but few churches and only three schoolhouses, the latter being the North, Central and South Schools and a High School located on Town Street.

"Mr. Bellows says he came to Columbus to assist in the construction of Starling Medical College, which Mr. R.A. Sheldon, the architect had secured. 'I was at that time working for Mr. Sheldon in Brooklyn, N.Y.,' said Mr. Bellows: 'his office at that time was located at No. 8 Wall Street, New York. Many of those who worked with me upon that building have been gathered to their kindred dust, as have many who composed its first faculty and with whom I was well acquainted.

"We had no railroads at that time. The present Statehouse was not in existence at that time, but on the site of this building was a long line of plain two story brick buildings, fronting on High Street. The Statehouse proper was situated about 100 feet back each way from High and State Streets. It was only a two story brick building with a hip roof and cupola.

"While we were getting the college building ready for the fall term we were very much hurried. I was at work on the stairs and I suppose it looked a little dangerous to Dr. Howard because we were up so high. One day, while he was watching us the doctor said, 'Hurry up the best you can George, and if you fall down and break your neck, I'll set it for nothing.' I appreciated his kindness, but in the mysterious providence of life, I am still here and he is not.

"I remember a little incident of the old city bank in which Messrs. Platt, McCoy and Moody were leading spirits. They had an old Scotchman for a bookkeeper with whom I got quite well acquainted. I was making at that time $10 per week and managed to put into the bank $350 per year. One day I was putting some money in the bank and my old Scotch friend called me to him and whispered in my ear, saying: 'That's right, save your money, for as long as you have money you will have plenty of friends.'

"At that time the country around this locality was an unbroken wilderness and the rapid mode of travel was by horseback and stage coach. It took six to eight days to go to New York."

Bellows Sr. celebrated his 80th birthday Jan. 2, 1909. On the following day, The Columbus Dispatch published a portrait of the architect by his well-known son on the front page of the paper. It is a remarkable portrait of a remarkable man.

He died March 23, 1913, and is buried in Green Lawn Cemetery.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.