Albert Duvall Quigley, a Biographical Essay

Barnabas (Barney) Quigley
From “Albert Duvall Quigley (1891-1961) – Artist, Musician, Framemaker”
Bauhan Publishing, Peterborough, NH, 2017
Photographs by Lee Germeroth, unless otherwise credited

Self Portrait. Painting and frame by Quigley. Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery at Keene State College.

My father, Albert Quigley, was born in April 1891 in Frankfort, Maine, where he grew up and attended school. He showed artistic talent early on, first as an ornamental stonecutter in the Maine granite quarry where he went to work after graduating from high school, and then as a painter in oils, on canvas and panel. In this, he was following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who worked in the quarries and painted in their free time.

At the stone quarries, Allie—as my father was then known—met Alvah Batchelder, the blacksmith for the operation, who also served as the quarries’ doctor. Coincidentally, Alvah was also called Allie, and the two Allies became good friends. They shared a lively interest in music and often attended concerts together. As their mutual interest in classical music developed, both apparently took lessons on stringed instruments, particularly the violin, and both played and made stringed instruments later in their lives.

Alvah Batchelder. Painting and frame by Quigley. Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery at Keene State College.

My father once told me that Batchelder, who had been blessed with keen eyesight and a steady hand, was called upon frequently to remove sharp fragments of metal and stone from the eyes of the workers, a service he performed for my father several times during his days in the quarries.

As far as I know, my father began painting before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1917 during World War I, and he told me that one of his paintings hung in the Frankfort Town Hall while he was in the Army. He also said that during his service in northern France, he was assigned to make drawings of enemy planes so gunnery squads could distinguish them from allied aircraft and avoid firing on our allies.

In 1919, after the war had ended, he was awarded an American Expeditionary Forces scholarship to study painting at the Isadora Duncan Pavilion in Bellevue, outside Paris. Whether this was his initial exposure to formal training is unclear, but his studies in France surely influenced the course of his life.

After leaving France, he returned to Frankfort briefly. Then, encouraged by service friends from the Keene, New Hampshire, area, he resettled there in 1920, hoping to improve his lot. He started painting again, and renewed his interest in music. I understand that at some point during the 1920s or early 1930s, Quig, as he was now known, played with a group of classical musicians in Keene.

During this time he went to work for the Tilden Company as a professional photographer, and met his future wife, Mildred. The prospects of earning a living in art were not very promising, but that didn’t stop them from marrying in 1925. However, when a job became available at a quarry in Terryville, Connecticut, Quig reluctantly left his new bride in Keene and went back to stonework. In a difficult economy, the quarry soon closed and he returned to Keene.

By then Quig had become acquainted with some of the area’s artists and had formed a particular friendship with Dublin, New Hampshire, artist Alexander James, son of philosopher and psychologist William James and nephew of author Henry James.

Alec James became an informal patron and arranged for Quig and Mildred to move into the V-Lawn Inn while it was being renovated. The Inn was across the street from Alec’s home in Dublin, giving Quig ready access to his friend’s studio. The two often painted together, and Alec shared not only information and advice, but also art materials of a quality beyond Quig’s means. In return, Quig created frames for many of Alec’s paintings.

In 1931, at about this time, my brother Terrence (Terry) was born.

The Little Red House next to the Nelson Town Hall where the Quigley family lived. The site is now home to our Library. Painting and frame by Quigley. Private collection.

At the suggestion of their friends Fran and Newt Tolman of Nelson, New Hampshire, after the Inn’s renovations were completed Quig and Mildred rented a small red house and land on Nelson Common next to the town hall in 1934. The white, steepled Congregational Church across the street became a frequent subject of Quig’s paintings, along with various local buildings and vistas.

Nelson Congregational Church. Painting and frame by Quigley. Private collection.

Soon after they moved, Quig was awarded a full scholarship to study art in Boston, as a Bartol Scholar at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA). He studied drawing with Ture Bengtz, industrial design with Eleanor Barry and painting and drawing with Alexandre Jacovleff, director of the Painting Department. He also studied with John Sharman and with Gouri Ivanov-Rinov, a member of the Dublin Art Colony.

Quig completed his studies at SMFA in 1935 and I was born the next year, followed by my sister Thomasa (Tami) in 1938. Although Quig was still painting with Alec James and other fellow Dublin artists, it was becoming more and more difficult to support a growing family near the end of the Depression.

The Old Cider Mill. Painting and frame by Quigley. Private collection.

Meanwhile, my father’s involvement in the musical life of the Monadnock Region had accidentally come about. He had bought an old cider mill on the Old Stoddard Road from Horace Upton, the local mailman, to use as a studio and framemaking facility. He and the Tolman brothers, Newt and Fran, also played square dance music there to avoid disrupting their families. As they were playing one night, they heard accompanying dance calls coming from outside. They went out and discovered Ralph Page standing in the road calling square dances to their music. After that evening, Ralph started organizing dances, hiring Quig as his first fiddle. My father’s musical background enabled him to arrange or occasionally compose dance tunes that were played by Ralph and other dance orchestras. Quig was soon occupied with music every night, which meant it was too late to travel home afterward, so he often got back to Nelson only one day a week.

Quig on the fiddle. Courtesy of the Quigley family.

I remember as a small child riding to Keene with Horace Upton, one Saturday morning. He dropped me off at the hotel where my father was staying after the previous night’s job. Feeling very grown up, I visited for about an hour, until Mr. Upton had to return to Nelson with the mail.

Quig bought a secondhand Model A Ford sedan, mainly to provide transportation for the Ralph Page square dance musicians and their instruments. This worked well for a short time, but with three young children at home, Mildred soon wanted more assistance, so Quig cut back on traveling to dance performances and went to work five nights a week at the Cheshire Mills in Harrisville, New Hampshire. He kept his days free to resume painting his landscapes and portraits and repairing violins. He also took over much of the child care, which enabled my mother to go back to work. He continued playing fiddle for lively Nelson dances in the town hall with, among others, Newt Tolman on flute and Fran Tolman on piano.

By the early 1940s, my father had established a reputation as a restorer of paintings for Boston art dealers. In those days, with no telephone or electricity, we would have no advance warning, just a Railway Express truck pulling up to deliver wooden crates of paintings to be restored. When the restoration work was done, Quig would send off a letter and the Railway Express truck would return to pick up the crated paintings. Eventually a check would arrive in the mail.

Spofford Murals. Photo by Harriet Wise.

My father’s paintings were often traded for goods and services. He painted a large mural in the pediatric ward of the Elliot Community Hospital in Keene to pay for the births of my brother, myself and my sister. The murals in the summer home of Dr. Holmes on Spofford Lake in Chesterfield, New Hampshire paid the bills for delivering me. My father also painted murals in several of the restaurants in Keene, as well as in some private homes. Toward the end of the Depression he was employed by the Works Progress Administration to paint murals in public buildings. One of these was in the Munsonville church on Granite Lake in Munsonville, New Hampshire. Unfortunately, all the murals except for those in Spofford have been destroyed or painted over. At the Spofford home the murals, still maintained in pristine condition by the doctor’s family, enliven the hall, ceiling and rooms upstairs.

Gradually, the work accumulated. One of my fondest childhood memories is of going with my parents to the Davis farm in nearby Roxbury. The owner of the farm was a great friend of Quig’s who invited him to come with the family at any time and paint his choice of the vistas there. For a while money was again flowing in at least as fast as it was flowing out. Paintings were selling with encouraging frequency, and Quig’s work was featured in local area art shows. He was painting, working at other jobs, playing his fiddle, and, as always, making frames for his own paintings and those of Alec James. There were a few treasured fall painting trips to Woodstock, Vermont, with Alec and a group of mostly Dublin artists.

In the 1940s Quig purchased the Nelson house and property for $640 with a fifteen-year mortgage from the bank. Around this time it became obvious that his eyesight was failing. Apparently Alvah Batchelder’s doctoring hadn’t prevented scar tissue from forming on the corneas of his eyes, and as a result he painted much less during this time and the quality of his work was noticeably affected. He continued to frame paintings, and although he made the frames and supervised the work to completion, my mother actually took over with the detailed work of finishing the frames, where better eyesight was required.

Mildred Quigley. Photo by Eric Sanford.

In 1945 my mother became the town clerk of Nelson, a job she held for ten years. She also attended to elderly residents in the village, who could not or would not be confined to a hospital or nursing home. Both brought in some extra income. She was also a trustee of the library and a member of the school board.

Alexander James died suddenly in 1946, and his death threw Quig into a depression; the combination of his failing eyesight and the loss of his close friend caused him to stop painting. His only work in the art field for some time after Alec’s death was the framing of Alec’s remaining paintings, a labor carried out by my parents together.

The following year Gerald Cobleigh, their summer neighbor from across the town common, brought over an eye doctor friend who purchased some paintings. Dr. Dubé asked to see more of Quig’s work, but my father explained that he had stopped painting because of his vision problems. Dr. Dubé set up—free of charge—a series of treatments, examinations and fittings for glasses over the next year and a half. As a result, Quig claimed his eyesight was now better than it had been since childhood, and he resumed what he enjoyed doing most, to his great relief and pleasure.

The James family very generously gave Quig full use of Alec’s studio and the shop, plus framing and painting supplies, which Quig gratefully utilized. A supply of well-seasoned pine lumber, purchased for framemaking, provided both frames and some furniture. With my parents’ increased income they were able to install electricity in the house, though indoor plumbing was still years away. On our kitchen wall hung Quig’s portrait of Alvah Batchelder working on a violin, alongside several violins in various stages of repair.

With his renewed vision, Quig eagerly explored working in charcoal and Conté crayon, as well as his beloved oils. Alec had left some fine English art panels, which were given to Quig, and he used them for several paintings. We three children were sometimes required to pose, not always eagerly, for portraits. Quig also asked other children from Nelson village to sit for portraits, and he was commissioned to paint family friends. He began using the upstairs room of the schoolhouse, two doors away, as a painting studio.

May Sarton. Unfinished painting by Quigley. Private collection.

During the 1950s our neighbors across the way, Morris and Cora Tolman, died. Their home was sold to the writer May Sarton, who moved into the house from Cambridge, Massachusetts. She and my parents quickly became fast friends. In particular, May later expressed in her writings the deep bond she formed with Quig, a fellow lover of art and life.

Balsa wood card by Quigley for Yankee Artists.

It was about this time that a greeting card company, Yankee Artists, opened in Keene. Quig and several other local artists were employed to paint watercolors, which were used to create silkscreen prints on balsa wood. Quig and the company owners consulted John de Martelly—Nelson artist, experienced lithographer and printer––on the silk-screening process, and the cards were produced for some years. Quig also branched out into restoration, on sculpture and pottery brought back from Egypt by Joseph Lindon Smith, an Egyptologist whose home and studio were in Dublin.

My father began returning to his Maine home town occasionally to visit family members and his old friend Al Batchelder. During one of the visits, Batchelder gave Quig one of the violins he had made. I remember that soon after he came home, Quig crated up a painting and sent it off to the Batchelders. Another time, my cousin Harold Quigley and his wife Dot were visiting Nelson from Frankfort and when Harold admired a particular painting, my father gave it to him on the spot. Members of our Frankfort family have told me that some of my father’s early works are still in town.

Harvey Tolman with Quigley painting in background of his grandfather, Wilmer Tolman. Photo by Harriet Wise.

Around 1960 Harvey Tolman came to Quig and expressed an interest in fiddling. My father dug out an old fiddle, strung it up, and taught Harvey some of the rudiments of violin playing. Harvey went on to become a local fiddler extraordinaire and winner of several awards, including the New Hampshire Folk Heritage Award for 2007.

This was a contented time for us. But then, toward the end of 1960, we began to notice that Quig was not feeling well. Urged to consult a doctor, he said he would hear none of it until after the holidays, and none of us realized how ill he was. He spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family. On New Year’s weekend he played for three different dances. On January 23, 1961, he died of cancer.

In the spring, after the snow had melted, Albert Duvall Quigley was buried in the Nelson cemetery, just up the hill from our home.

Back of Nelson Town Hall and Quigley house with church in the distance. Painting and frame by Quigley. Lynne W. Russell-Johnson.