Grand Rapids artist.

L. C. Earle, Grand Rapids artist.

I confess I have spent more time researching the life and work of a former resident of my house in Grand Rapids than I have of any other single person. I can’t seem to resist searching for Lawrence Carmichael Earle when new resources come to my attention (see www.lcearle.com). Recently, I was looking on the Grand Rapids Public Library digital collections and scoured the Grand Rapids Herald (1894-1916). Because every word in this collection is indexed, even small mentions of names are discoverable and I found new facts about this artist’s early involvement in the institution we know as the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM).

Earle grew up in Grand Rapids, studied in Europe, and spent most of his artistic career in the Chicago and New York art communities. His wife’s death in 1907 was life-changing leading him to move back to his family in Michigan; first to Detroit where one of his sons resided, and by 1911 to Grand Rapids to move into the Earle family home with two of his sisters, Kate and Emma. He immediately immersed himself in both the Detroit Institute of Art and the Grand Rapids local art scenes.

Here are three snippets from lengthier Herald articles that particularly impressed me. This first is from 17 Apr 1910 GR Herald (p. 3), and describes the initiative of local Grand Rapids women for a “splendid collection.”

PERMANENT ART EXHIBIT FOR CITY
“Lawrence Earle, formerly of this city, has consented to donate a portrait which he has recently completed of Prof. E. A. Strong, for many years principle of the high school. The high rank which Mr. Earle has attained in art centers of the world, combined with the special degree of local interest in both the subject and the artist, will render this gift most acceptable.”

Edwin A. Strong was well known in Grand Rapids, and besides his work in the high school, Strong started the Kent Scientific Institute (now the GR Public Museum). Matthias Alten and Will Howe Foote are also mentioned in the article as promising to contribute paintings.

The story continues (05 June 1910 GR Herald) highlighting Grand Rapids women’s efforts to organize for a public art gallery.

ART ASSOCIATION HAS WORTHY AIM
“Lawrence Earle is the first honorary member. He has presented the association with a painting of Professor Strong. All pictures purchased by the society will be passed on by the purchasing committee, which is composed of Col. George C. Briggs, M. Alten and Mrs. James H. Campbell. …”

That fall, the group organized their very first exhibition (16 Oct 1910 GR Herald).

FIRST EXHIBIT of the ART ASSOCIATION of GRAND RAPIDS to OUTLINE a CAMPAIGN
“The work accomplished by these women reads like a romance. They first asked every local artist to contribute a picture. The first one received was a portrait of Prof. Edwin Strong of Ypsilanti, painted by Lawrence Earle. …”

Earle was the very first artist to contribute a work to the fledgling association’s collection; this artist and his donation were literally the genesis of the GRAM collection.

Loans to Public Schools

Grand Rapids Art Association Annual 1927-1928; Collection notes.

Epilogue

I don’t recall exactly when, but years ago we added to our private library a copy of the Grand Rapids Art Association Annual Report from 1927-1928. Curious, I read it over looking for references to Earle and the E.A. Strong painting. I was not disappointed. The “permanent collection” list of 30 works included one titled “The Dutch Girl” by L. C. Earle. Then first on a list of 26 “Loans to Public Schools” was “Portrait of Professor E. A. Strong – L. C. Earle, A. N. A.” (Indefinite loan to Central High School)

I have yet to locate Earle’s painting of Professor Strong. But now I have some very distinct clues on how to proceed in that search.