Walter Emerson Baum, An Artistic Activist May 19 2017
Born on December 14th, 1884 in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, Walter Emerson Baum was one of the few Pennsylvania impressionists born in Bucks County. He studied under the watchful eye of William B.T. Trego from 1904 to 1909, taking lessons in Trego’s home in North Wales, PA. Baum simultaneously studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1905 and 1906 where he studied with Thomas Pollock Anshutz, Hugh H. Breckenridge, William Merritt Chase, and Cecilia Beaux. In order to support his family, Baum worked several odd jobs including that of working in the family’s barbershop and as a photographer for “The Poultry Item”, a magazine dedicated to the cultivation of chickens, ducks, and geese. As his artistic abilities prevailed, he began teaching art classes at both his home in Sellersville and at the local high school. Baum was an active instructor until his death in 1956 and taught notable students such as John E. Berninger, Karl Buesgen, Walter Mattern, and Melville Stark, later known as Baum’s circle.
On March 17th, 1934 Baum opened “The Allentown Art Gallery” in the local Hunsicker School. The gallery exhibited over seventy works by Pennsylvania impressionists and attracted a great deal of attention. Throughout the Great Depression, the budding artist was able to grow the gallery’s collection through the Public Works of Art Project, a program headed by Edward Bruce under the United States Treasury Department and paid for by the Civil Works Administration, which aimed to give work to artists by arranging to have competent representatives of the profession work on the embellishment of public building through the incorporation of American Scenes. In June of 1936 the city of Allentown granted the now museum a permanent home in the Rose Garden at Allentown’s Cedar Park. In addition to The Allentown Art Museum, Baum, along with Dr. Charles Boehm established the Bucks County Traveling Art Gallery, a program that aimed to expose the school children of Bucks County to the artwork of the New Hope School and the Pennsylvania Impressionist movement. Today, the gallery has more than 350 works of art and is rotated on a regular basis.
Baum’s most notable works are that of his impressionistic landscape views, which were his main focus throughout the 1920s and 30s. His work “Gray Day, South Side Easton, PA”, is emblematic of his mastery in loose brushwork as well as his focus on contoured shadowing. His winter scenes, with their blue and gray hues, quickly became synonymous with Buck’s County. Such early works were influenced not only by impressionism but also by both tonalism and realism. He admired Winslow Homer’s ability to capture the essence of the Barbizon school while still maintaining the free-form of impressionism. As both an activist for the Pennsylvania art community and a skilled painter, Baum works are regarded for their distinct, regional style, which became emblematic of the American Impressionist movement.