William Franklin Gilmore, a native of Tuscarawas County, developed a strong regional reputation as a watercolor artist, creating more than a thousand drawings over the course of his life.
His works depicted scenery in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Carolina. Some of him have focused on his old hometown of Gilmore in southern Tuscarawas County, including West Union United Methodist Church and Devil’s Den.
He taught art in Canton public schools from 1898 to 1931 and was considered the dean of Canton artists when he died in 1946. His paintings were exhibited several times at the Massillon Museum.
“During the last 15 years of his life, Mr. Gilmore’s watercolor paintings were noted for their extraordinary brilliance, which he attributed to a special technique he developed,” said his obituary in the Canton Repository. “Instead of mixing his bright colors with him, he juxtaposed them on the white paper and allowed the colors to blend together by optical illusion.”
A relative, Greg McFee, is writing a book about Gilmore’s life.
“The recurring theme in his life that I drew from everything was that he was a strong Christian. He loved the outdoors. Most of his paintings are outdoors,” said McFee.
Gilmore was born in a log home in Rush Township, a short distance from Gilmore, on April 1, 1865, two weeks before the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He was the eldest son of Gordon and Roann Lakin Gilmore. McFee’s great-grandmother, Lessie McFee, was Gilmore’s sister.
Frank, as he was known, began teaching at the age of 19. He taught in Gnadenhutten and later in Conover, Ohio. He was the principal of Conover’s school, but when a fire destroyed the building, he lost his job.
It was then that he decided to become an artist. He enrolled in an art school in Columbus. After graduating, he worked as an illustrator for an engraving firm.
At the beginning of 1898 he learned that the post of supervisor for drawing and calligraphy was open in the cantonal schools. He got that job and continued teaching in the school district until his retirement.
After his retirement, Gilmore spent a year traveling the old Sandy & Beaver Canal from Bolivar to Smith’s Ferry, Pennsylvania. She documented the channel with his paintings of her and talking to people, McFee said. Gilmore used the information collected to publish a book on the channel.
In 1935, he accepted an offer as an art instructor at Union College, a school in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. He spent several summers in school and, in his spare time, made trips to Cumberland Gap and Cumberland Falls to paint.
Gilmore was a founding member of the Canton Art Institute in 1935. He taught free art classes for the educational program.
He was awarded an honorary annual membership by the Ohio Watercolor Society, a group limited to 50 artists who feature works across the country in a circulating exhibition. He received first prize in the printing division of the May 1939 Exhibition at the Canton Art Institute and has been a regular exhibitor every year.
In the summer of 1944, Gilmore took Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Grace Goulder and several others on a tour of southern Tuscarawas County.
The journey began with lunch at Miller’s Restaurant on Water Street in Uhrichsville, where they dined on chicken pie, country style, and homemade berry pie. Then they headed to the town of Gilmore, founded by Frank’s great-grandfather William Gilmore, and to Frank’s childhood home in Rush Township.
Goulder wrote that the house and barn on the family farm were empty.
“Where Mr. Gilmore’s mother had once had a garden, scarlet climbing roses rioted in the weeds and spilled over the white fence,” he wrote. “Giant hydrangea flowers stood outside the door.”
He continued: “The view from the front of the house is north towards Uhrichsville, over the valley bordered by blue hills on the horizon and the white Puritan church cutting the line of the sky, Kennedy Church two and a half miles away, Mr. Gilmore said.
“Looking in the other direction, from the back porch, was a gently sloping pasture land with a spring, and beyond square patches of ripe yellow wheat and green corn and yet another green oats.”
They then stopped at the home of Sarah Ann Sanders, 84, who was living alone. Part of her property included the famous Devil’s Den.
The group wanted to visit the site. “But you can’t drive to him,” Sanders told his guests. “You’ll have to walk, and it’s a long time.”
The group walked through a forest of beech, tulip and maple trees before reaching the viewpoint. Gilmore told the others how he and his brothers once visited, and their dog slipped through a stone opening to death on the rock floor below.
“There was a rickety stairway built against the rock face and leading to the ‘den’ below, but we stood up high, satisfied to watch from a safer distance,” Goulder wrote.
Frank Gilmore died two years later, on February 22, 1946, at the Aultman Hospital in Canton of a heart condition. He was buried in the Gnadenhutten cemetery.
Several months after his death, the Canton Art Institute held a commemorative exhibition of his work.
“In remembrance of his tireless work for the institute, a ‘Gilmore Memorial Award’ was included in last spring’s list of awards at the May Show, and this was won by Roy E. Wilhelm for Best Watercolor Landscape.” , the Repository reported.
Greg McFee has spent a lot of time researching his tristium’s life and is planning a reunion of the Gilmore family on July 24th.
Jon Baker is a reporter for The Times-Reporter and can be reached at [email protected]