Those times, without modern knowledge of etiologies of deafness, it was easier to admit to a father's error rendering one's own son a deaf-mute than admit to a "taint" in the family. The Tuttle family was prominent in Geneva with a lineage extending back almost to the Mayflower. Colonel Tuttle was the inventor of the Tuttle Saw, and his large factory manufactured the saw popular with lumberjacks and millwrights. His own father established the Geneva tavern, then Col. Tuttle rebuilt it as a cobblestone that still exists nowadays as a historic building.
|Saks Fifth Avenue and St Patricks|
Professor C.W. Knudsen taught art and handicrafts at the Institute. He had his pupils draw grids on small illustrations and then redraw them larger on bigger grids, and would rigorously demand accuracy in this draftmanship. "Almost the only employments (that are) above the level of handicrafts, in which their privation will be no bar to high proficiency." was his belief. Each class did two hours a week in this practice, some also being instructed in wood engraving. Prof. Knudson said that those who showed a skill for "painting, engraving, and their kindred arts could be honorably employed and conquer a high social position."
When F.M. was sixteen, he received a certificate from the school and an award of drawing instruments for his excellence in art. The school recommended that two of their students, probably including F.M., receive further tutoring in painting but this would not happen for some time.
F.M.'s two years younger brother died that year so F.M. was not at the Institution until age 20 when he is again listed in residency at the school. This might have been for tutoring. At age 26 he married a former schoolmate, Eunice Jenner Barker, age 24. It appears that F.M. lived in New York for some time before moving with his wife to his widowed mother's house in Geneva near Seneca Lake.
|Tuttle home as it appears today|
Due to his portraiture skill, he became acquainted with prominent people of Geneva and Ithaca and even the superintendent of the Rome school for the deaf in his later years. Painting portraits of them were far more painstaking than landscapes: each whisker, furrow and wrinkle would be reproduced so that the portraits would be praised in the newspapers as "unfailingly perfect." He was often invited to social events and was noted to have a "pleasing address" and his wife "aristocratic looking."
However, it is clear that F.M. and his wife were truly culturally Deaf in that they associated with other Deaf people and visited them at faraway places in the countryside. He bought a "fast horse" and they would ride their carriage often; sometimes his wife would ride out alone as far as Pennsylvania. Whenever Rev. Thomas Gallaudet came to Geneva to preach, F.M. and his wife would have him as a guest in their home, and they were regular attenders at Deaf church services.
|Geneva village looking toward lake|
Being deaf had its advantages and disadvantages in this small town where he was highly regarded in the role of "local deaf-mute artist". On four occasions he was nearly hit by trains and only his keen sense of vibration saved him. His paintings were considered extra fine because the artist had no distractions to keep him from reproducing faithfully all details, and this became part of his legend.
A hobby was boating, and F.M. captained at least two--one an ice boat that would careen speedily over the ice with his friends trusting to his skill. He may have built one of them, if one can interpret a cryptic Gazette entry about his selling one boat to "buy a paper shell and thus increase his physique."
|Detail of portrait|
An obsessive eye for detail worked for his life portraits. These would be of his family members or older notables who had the patience to sit very long. It was exacting work, apparently, because by the time F.M. was a grandfather, he did only landscapes.
Biblical scenes were not done as often as his portraits and landscapes, but he did these brilliantly as he did the rest of his work: with an obsessive eye for detail. The story of Ahab of the Bible chapter Kings 21 was a favorite topic of his--he painted King Ahab visited by an angel and another of Elijah meeting Ahab in the garden. He also painted Elijah alone, and perhaps more Biblical scenes that are now lost in history.
Similarly, the painting Ahab and Jezebel Reproved by Elijah was lost in history for years. A mention of this large painting was found in the Rochester School for the Deaf publication Rochester Advocate, but there was no mention of it after 1885 with the limited digital editions then. No one on the campus today could recall seeing it; and the Geneva museum two years ago had no information other than it was "shown in the village stores" and of course, praised highly by the newspaper.
|Tuttle exhibit Dyer Gallery, NTID|
Although it had been a while since researching F.M., I found more material available about him this year thanks to additional digitization of publications by the Geneva Historical Society and the Rochester School for the Deaf. A last-minute visit to the RSD Archives office coordinated by Mrs. Mary Mowl brought new information. The painting Elijah was indeed at the school in 1885 despite not enough funds raised to buy it. An entry in the RSD publication Rochester Advocate written 29 years after Tuttle's death showed that the painting at that time was hanging in the superintendent's office!
Hoo boy! I had surmised maybe the limited funds collected could have bought one of Tuttle's smaller paintings, perhaps a landscape instead of Elijah, but here was proof that it existed on campus at one time! The 1939 Advocate also had a description: Elijah has his arm pointed at Ahab and Jezebel who are standing before a chariot with rearing horses behind them.
Could it still be on campus, perhaps in a storage area? Although I had visited the attic in one building, none of the stored pictures sounded like Elijah. Thanks to Mrs. Mowl, two men accompanied me to this attic where we searched through white-sheeted mounds for it. The third sheet-covered mound yielded a good possibility: it was a canvas, in color, and about the right size. Pulling it out and finding a nearby cabinet handle to hang it upon, we stood back and looked at it. Oh, my. It fit the description! There was Ahab, and there was Jezebel! And Elijah, too! And the horses! The colors were unexpectedly brilliant, rare because so many of Tuttle's paintings now on exhibit at Dyer were darkened with age. How? Why? In fact, so finely painted and brilliant were the colors, it would have been natural to mistake it for a modern canvas print, if not for the ripples in the painting.
Tracking its history, one can see why it is still bright: it had probably hung in the superintendent's office for 54 years, from 1885 till 1943, until the superintendent mentioned in the Advocate retired. Its title was long forgotten by 1939, and the superintendent that took over in 1943 probably ordered it put into storage during housecleaning of his office. There it sat forgotten, shifted around according to storage space needs, until it was found by its description this February. Probably its storage under sheets in an uninsulated, dry space for nearly 70 years helped to preserve its colors.
Now with its history and its name rediscovered, this painting will be examined for preservation and perhaps put on permanent display where it can be appreciated for its piece of Deaf history, that of a culturally Deaf Victorian-era artist.