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Maker(s):Champney, James Wells
Culture:American (1843-1903)
Title:Teetering at the Saw Mill
Date Made:circa 1888
Materials:oil, canvas, wood, gilding
Place Made:United States; Massachusetts; Deerfield
Measurements:framed: 27 3/4 in x 35 3/4 in; 70.485 cm x 90.805 cm
Accession Number:  HD 63.353
Credit Line:Gift of Miss Marian Stebbins
Museum Collection:  Historic Deerfield

Oil on canvas inscribed "Teetering at the Saw Mill" on a label with Champney's address,337 Fourth Avenue, New York, and a price of $300 on the back and another label of the Worcester Art Museum with $300, and signed "J. Wells Champney" on the lower right of the painting. This painting was exhibited at the Boston Arts Club Exhibition of 1889, and in the "Catalogue of Oil Paintings, Summer of 1900 Prize Exhibition" held at the Worcester Art Museum in 1900. Born in Boston, James Wells Champney (1843-1903) served in the 45th Massachusetts Volunteers from 1862-1863 before being invalided out of the army; he then taught drawing at Dr. Dio Lewis's "Young Ladies Seminary" from 1864-1866. After deciding to become a professional artist, Champney moved to Europe where he studied in France with Pierre Edouard Frere (1819-1886), a well-known French realist genre painter; in Antwerp with Joseph Francois Henri Van Lerius (1823-1876); and in Italy. In 1870, Champney returned to Boston where he opened a studio; in 1873, he was commissioned by "Scribner's Monthly Magazine" to illustrate "The Great South; A Record of Journeys in Louisiana, Texas, the Indian Territory, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland," a series of articles on the Reconstruction South by Edward King (1848-1896) where the two travelled more than 25,000 miles and Champney contributed at least 500 illustrations. In 1873, Champney married Elizabeth Johnson Williams (1850-1922), whom he had met at the "Young Ladies Seminary;" she was a graduate of the Vassar class of 1869 who became a popular children's author of her period and many of whose whose works Champney illustrated. Born in Springfield, Ohio, Elizabeth Williams was the half-sister of Orson Bennet Williams (1834-1912) and daughter of Samuel Barnard Williams (1803-1884), originally of Deerfield, whose second wife was Caroline Johnson (d.1885) whom he married in 1844; the granddaughter of Elijah Williams (1767-1832) who married Hannah Barnard (1772-1853), daughter of Samuel Barnard (1721-1788) of Deerfield, in 1803; and great-granddaugher of Dr. Thomas Williams (1718-1775) of Deerfield. In 1876 the Champneys moved into Samuel Barnard Williams' house in Deerfield where Champney built a studio; they lived in Deerfield for several years while he was professor of art at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and one of the founders of the Smith Art Gallery. In 1879, Champney opened a studio in New York City, and from that time on the Deerfield became their summer home. James and Elizabeth had two children: Edward Frere (1874-1929) who studied art and became an architect, and Maria Mitchell (1876-1906) who was born in Deerfield, married John Sanford Humphreys in 1899, and was a miniature painter. Mrs. Elizabeth Champney gave this painting to Benjamin Zabina Stebbins (1865-1950) of Deerfield in 1921, which was later purchased from his daughter, Miss Marion Stebbins. The scene shows two children on a see-saw made of a plank on a cut log as a young girl holding a doll watches; planks dumped on the ground in front of a run-down barn with the remains of circus poster on the front side; and fields and trees in the background. Champney took a photograph of the actual scene, without the children or see-saw, which is inscribed in his handwriting, "Mr. Robt Child's Mill Deerfield 1888." This may be Robert Childs (1824-1905) of Deerfield, who owned the property from 1860-1889.

Label Text:
This scene shows two children playing on a seesaw made of a plank on a cut log. The artist James Wells Champney was an early practitioner of photography and often used it to inspire his artwork. In this case he took a photograph of Robert Child’s Mill (located in Deerfield), without the children or see-saw, and invented a painting of a children’s impromptu playground.

games; children; play

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