Robert North

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Robert North, Sr. (American, 1882-1968) a Western New York architect, designer and painter from East Aurora, NY known primarily for seasonal landscapes, portraits, camping scenes in the Adirondack Mountains, cathedral and church images, as well as highly regarded European scenes. He was born on November 19, 1882 in Batavia, NY to Genesee County Judge, Safford Elisha North (1852-1915) and Cora Monroe (née Griswold) North (1851-1940). North had a younger brother, Monroe Safford North (1888-1934).

North graduated from Batavia High School, Batavia, NY in 1900 and the following year he began his studies in architecture at Cornell University College of Architecture where he graduated with his Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1905 (awarded with the top four awards in his class). Shortly after graduation, he began training in the well-known architectural firm of Green & Wicks, who originally designed the Albright Art Gallery (now the Albright-Knox Art Gallery) in Buffalo, NY, working alongside the well-known architect and artist, Harold LeRoy Olmsted (American, 1886-1972). In 1906, he began working for the architectural firm of Shelgren and Swift, Buffalo, NY, and that same year he also filled a temporary vacancy as an instructor at Cornell University.

In 1907, North travelled to Europe touring many churches, castles and other prominent buildings which sparked his interest and is where he drew his inspiration from, for not only his own architectural style, but his interest in painting as well. From the winter of 1907-1908, Robert took a break from his work at Shelgren and Swift as an Assistant Professor in the College of Architecture at Cornell University where he taught junior and senior classes in design. In 1912, he traveled to Greece, where he toured and studied ancient building technologies. During WWI, he worked in the Ordnance Section of the War Department in Washington, DC and later during WWII, he managed the production equipment inventory at the Curtiss Wright Corporation in Cheektowaga, NY. By 1919, North became a partner in the Buffalo architectural firm North, Shelgren and Swift and by 1925, he teamed with Olaf W. Shelgren to form North & Shelgren.

North was a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), headquartered in Washington, DC, and was one of the most prolific designers of ecclesiastical architecture in and around Western New York. Both together with Shelgren and individually, North was responsible for the design and construction of over fifty churches throughout the region and also Canada. Some of his well-known works include: St. James Episcopal Church in Batavia (1908, NR 2004), Tudor Revival Calvary Episcopal Church in Williamsville, NY (1952), and the Church of the Advent in Kenmore, NY (1951), St. Matthias Episcopal Church and Parish House in East Aurora, NY (1928), where he was also a parishioner. A section of St. Matthias was named in his honor along with the Rector at that time, Henry deWolf deMauriac, which is named ‘All Saints Hall’. North referred to its style as “Norman Gothic” and features a stained-glass window designed by fellow East Aurora artist & illustrator, Rixford U. Jennings (American, 1906-1996).

North was a prolific designer of numerous public, residential and manufacturing buildings including Buffalo public schools, the Hall Baking Company Building, the Crosby Building, and the Westbrook Apartments. He also collaborated with author and one-time reporter turned newspaper editor for the Buffalo Courier Express, Addison F. M. “Ike” Talbott (American, 1882-1957) designing and building several homes. After his AIA membership lapsed in 1939 North continued to practice architecture, but eventually the firm of North & Shelgren dissolved in 1945.

In speaking about medieval architecture at a lecture held at the Albright Art Gallery, North once stated in a 1938 Buffalo Evening News article, “I hope to satisfy myself as well as you, endeavoring to portray a certain season of the world and of its works, less factually, less by hard line than by a broader brush…and Chaucer-like in wide and jovial variety must be our pilgrimage to fit these seasons and these places. Sober we must be, gay; savage, demure; simple and cunning; reverent and profane.”[1]

North was an avid painter and was a member of and exhibited with, the Buffalo Society of Artists (1933-34), Patteran Society, Buffalo, NY, the East Aurora Paint and Varnish Club (later known as the East Aurora Art Society), East Aurora, NY, as well as exhibiting with the Artists of Western New York (1934-35 [prize 1935] and 1936), and at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY (1938-39).

Robert’s first marriage was to Gladys (née Miller) North (1882-1930) and their children included Robert North, Jr. (1910-2012), also an artist, Mary Anna North-Dillon (later Tatem, 1911-2001), William Miller North (1912-2004), and Audrey North (1914-2003). The family resided in East Aurora, NY since 1914. Gladys died in 1930 at the family home after an illness of several years. Robert later remarried Charlotte Rebecca (née Preston-Walbridge) North (1887-1967) in 1935 and had children from her previous marriage that included Preston L. Walbridge (1908-1976), and Ann-Avery Walbridge-Holmes (1916-1998). The family continued to reside in East Aurora. In 1953, North retired from his architectural practice, and died on May 2, 1968 after several years of ill health and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in East Aurora, NY. His artwork can be found in the permanent collection of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY and numerous private collections.

 

Chronology:

1882- November 19, born, to Genesee County Judge, Safford Elisha North and Cora M. (née Griswold) North in Batavia, NY, and he had a younger brother, Monroe Safford North (1888-1934).

1900- North graduated from Batavia High School, Batavia, NY.

1901- September, North began his studies in architecture at Cornell University College of Architecture, Ithaca, NY.

1905- Robert graduated from Cornell University College of Architecture, Ithaca, NY (won the top four awards in his class) and began training with the noted architectural firm of Green & Wicks, Buffalo, NY.

1906- Briefly taught at Cornell’s College of Architecture where he filled a temporary vacancy, Ithaca, NY. He began working for the architectural firm of Shelgren and Swift, Buffalo, NY.

1907- He travelled to Europe where he toured many churches, castles and other grand buildings, which sparked not only his architectural interest but an interest in painting as well and was likely the inspiration for where his church designs came from.

From Winter 1907-1908- Robert took a break from his work at Shelgren and Swift of Buffalo, and was appointed as an Assistant Professor in the College of Architecture at Cornell University where he taught junior and senior classes in design during that time (succeeding Shepard Stevens), Ithaca, NY.

1908- December 31, Robert married Gladys (née Miller) North (1882-1930) at the Sage Chapel at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

1910- March 1, their son Robert, Jr. was born.

1911- August 16, their daughter Mary Anna was born.

1912- He traveled to Greece, where he toured and studied ancient building technologies. October 22, their son William Miller was born.

1914- The family moved to east Aurora, NY. August 21, their daughter Audrey was born.

Circa 1917-1918- He worked in the Ordnance Section of the War Department during WWI, Washington, DC.

1919- He became a partner in the firm of, North, Shelgren and Swift, Buffalo, NY.

Starting in 1920-c.1939 Robert was a member of and exhibited with the East Aurora Paint and Varnish Club (later known as the East Aurora Art Society), East Aurora, NY.

Circa the early 1920’s- Taught classes on architectural criticism for two years at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

1922- Opened his own architectural practice, Buffalo, NY.

Circa 1922-1924- For a brief time, it seems Robert had a brief partnership with Frederick de Peyster Townsend (American, 1871-1951), a landscape architect in Buffalo, who designed the plans for the neogothic St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Grand-Mère, Quebec, Canada, and according to some reports, Fred de P. Townsend did not play a role in the design of the church evidently.

1925- He teamed with architect, Olaf Shelgren to form the firm of North & Shelgren, Buffalo, NY. Both together with Shelgren and individually, North was responsible for the design and construction of over 50 churches in and around the Western New York area. North was commissioned to design the new St. Matthias Episcopal Church and Parish House, 374 Main St., East Aurora, NY, which he called “Norman Gothic”. The church was completed according to his design and formally opened on May 20, 1928, and where North was also a parishioner.

1926- June 2, exhibited, group show, 13 artists including Robert North and other notable Western New York artists like Nina Mason Booth, her father Frank Elliott Mason and brother Roy Martell Mason, Batavia High School, Batavia, NY.

1930- April 1, Robert’s first wife Gladys died in the family home after an illness of several years, East Aurora, NY.

From 1933-34- Exhibited, groups shows, Annual Buffalo Society of Artists Exhibitions, Buffalo, NY.

From 1933-Circa 1960- Robert exhibited in group and solos shows with the Patteran Society, Buffalo, NY.

From 1934-36- Exhibited, group shows, Artists of Western New York Exhibitions, Prize 1935, Buffalo, NY.

1935- May 18, Robert married his second wife Charlotte Preston-Walbridge, and they resided in East Aurora, NY.

From 1938-39- Exhibited, group shows, Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.

From 1939-1945- After his AIA membership lapsed in 1939, North continued to practice architecture, but eventually the firm of North & Shelgren dissolved in 1945.

Circa 1941-1945- During WWII, he was in charge of production equipment inventory at the Curtiss Wright Corporation in Cheektowaga, NY.

1948- April 4-?, Exhibited, group show, “My Studio”, Robert exhibited his painting of ‘Mr. & Mrs. Harold Olmsted’s Home in Springville, NY”, Albright Art Gallery’s Room of Local Art, Buffalo, NY.

1953- North retired from his architectural practice.

1967- June 14, Robert’s second wife Charlotte died and is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery (Section H), Buffalo, NY.

1968- May 2, Robert North, Sr. died after several years of ill health in Buffalo General Hospital, Buffalo, NY, with funeral services held at St. Matthias Church in East Aurora and he is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, East Aurora, NY.

2003- April 17, their daughter Audrey North died at her retirement home in Gwynedd, PA.

2004- July 7, their son William M. North died, Lansdale, PA.

2013- November 15, their son Robert North, Jr. died at the age of 102 in Buffalo General Medical Center, Buffalo, NY.

2019-2020- November 8, 2019-May 31, 2020, Exhibition, group show, “In the Fullness of Time, Painting in Buffalo, 1832-1972”, Burchfield Penney Art Center, Presented by M&T bank and The Tower Family Fund, Buffalo, NY.

 

Memberships & Associations: American Institute of Architects (AIA), headquartered in Washington, DC;Buffalo Society of Artists, Buffalo, NY; Patteran Society, Buffalo, NY; East Aurora Paint and Varnish Club, East Aurora, NY; East Aurora Art Association, East Aurora, NY; Hammer & Tongs (a discussion group on contemporary problems), East Aurora, NY; St. Matthias Episcopal Church, East Aurora, NY; The Uncommon Council (discussion group), Buffalo, NY; University Club, Buffalo, NY; Member of the Phi Gamma Delta, and was leader of the mandolin club during his senior year at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

Prizes & Honors: Prize, Artists of Western New York Exhibition, Buffalo, NY, 1935; Won the top four awards in his class at Cornell University’s College of Architecture while studying there, Ithaca, NY.

Collections: Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY; and numerous private collections.

(Written & compiled chronologically by Mark Strong of Meibohm Fine Arts, Inc., East Aurora, NY, meibohmfinearts.com. sources: Too long to list here and are furnished upon request.)

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