As the artist of paintings above and below, Katherine Gilbert Abbot was born in 1867, in Zanesville, Ohio (home to the only Y-shaped bridge in the United States). Through her mother, Maria Louisa Gilbert, Abbot could trace her lineage back to the American Revolution; in fact, her sister, Miss Maria Elizabeth Abbot, was a 1906 member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (Coltrane, 1921: 28). Both were great-great-granddaughters of Colonel Henry Campion, who transported cattle to the American Continental Army and prevented General George Washington and his army from starving at Valley Forge (Taglianetti, 1976).
Abbot studied both at the Art Students League in New York and in Paris (Haverstock et al, 2000: 3). According to the catalogue from the Paris Exposition of 1900, her teachers at the Art Students League were H. Siddons Mowbray, a noted muralist, and William Merritt Chase, an American Impressionist whose pupils later included Georgia O’Keefe (Paris 1900: 194). Through cross-referencing, it is possible to approximate her time at the Art Students League. Because Chase taught at the Art Students League from 1878 to 1896 and again from 1907 to 1911, and Abbot was taught by him prior to the 1900 Exposition, she must have studied between the ages of 11 (presumably too young) and 29. However, she did an exhibition at the Paris Salon in 1894, which suggests that she arrived in Paris prior to that, so at the latest, she was 27 when she left New York (Petteys, 1985).
Once in Paris, she worked under Léon Merson, Henry Jules Jean Geoffrey, and Paul Louis Delance. In the catalogues of Paris Salon exhibitions prior to 1900, she had two entries. For the first, the previously mentioned 1894 exhibition, she displayed a “Portrait de M.L….” and she lived in Chez Mlle Fixes, rue Le Verrier, 13 (Fink, 1990: 315). In a year’s time, she changed her address, moving to rue de Chevreuse, and she was enrolled in the Salons of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. She had two paintings for this exhibition—“Portrait de Mlle Y…” and “Anxiété”—and the latter was also her entry for the 1900 Paris Exposition, for which she was awarded a bronze medal (Fink, 1990: 315; Paris 1900: 194). It is uncertain when she moved back to the States, but in 1901, she exhibited at the Pan-American Expo in Buffalo, New York, earning an honorable mention (Petteys, 1985).
It is equally difficult to determine when and where Katherine Abbot met Allen H. Cox, the architect for the Gaylord Memorial Library. Construction for the Library began around 1902, and as the already brief literature on Abbot disappears entirely after 1901, it is likely that the two met around this time. However, as they both studied in Paris, they may have been aware of each other prior to that. Abbot would have been around 34 years old, an old maid for that time. It is certain that she and Cox were seeing each other while they worked on the portraits of the Gaylords and the library architecture, respectively. The two were wed in 1904, the same year the library was completed and William and Betsy Gaylord passed away, and the couple was living in Boston by at least 1905 (Haverstock et al, 2000: 3).
Abbot’s husband, Allen H. Cox, was born in 1873, here in South Hadley, and attended Holyoke schools (Clancy, 1979). Sometime prior to his marriage, Cox formed an architectural firm with William E. Putnam, Jr. Though they attended different schools—Cox at MIT, Putnam at Harvard (Class of 1896)—they may have met at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris where they both studied (Clancy, 1979; Association of Class Secretaries). In 1902, Putnam returned to the States to win, with Cox, the competition to redesign the Boston Athenaeum (Association of Class Secretaries, 1902: 321-322). Plans for this new building must have fallen through, since I find no credit attached to Putnam and Cox for the Boston Athenaeum. The only further reference to any planning at the time is an article from the New York Times in 1901.
Based in Boston, Putnam and Cox did not lack for clients, and their particular specialty appears to have been libraries. In addition to Gaylord Memorial Library, commissions over the years included:
– 1897: South Hadley Main Library
– 1910: 2 houses on Garfield Street in Watertown, MA
– 1915-1922: a series of fraternity houses at Amherst College, Amherst, MA
– 1926: Lord Jeffrey Inn, Amherst, MA
– 1926-28: Jones Library, Amherst, MA
– 1930: Kirstein Business Branch, Boston, MA
Through Putnam, the firm had close ties to Harvard. Fellow graduate, Nathaniel Saltonstall (Class of 1928), joined as a partner until 1945 (Cape Cod Modern House Trust). A presumable descendent of a prominent New England family, one of whose members resigned from the court of the Salem Witch Trials, Saltonstall helped to found the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Boston (Cape Cod Modern House Trust). Another graduate, Alanson Hall Sturgis (Class 1914), also started his career at Putnam and Cox (Harvard College Class, 1921: 256). Both Saltonstall and Sturgis served in World War II; Saltonstall as a lieutenant in the Army Air Corp, Camouflage Division, and Sturgis primarily as an Ensign in the Naval Reserve Flying Corps (Cape Cod Modern House Trust; Harvard College Class, 1921: 256).
After the death of Cox in 1944 (age 71), Saltonstall left Putnam & Cox. Abbot had passed away fifteen years prior, back 1929, at the age of 62. Currently her bronze medal painting, “Anxiété” is “unlocated,” and despite various efforts, I was unable to find any other of her paintings (Paris 1900: 194). Her fame is limited to terse entries in dictionaries, but considering her education, the company she enjoyed, her exhibitions, and of course, her two paintings that are still displayed in the Library veranda, Katherine Abbot would have been considered–is still considered–a successful painter.