Archive of 192 letters, totaling 419 pages, plus 15 postcards, 4 telegrams, and related ephemera, newspaper clippings. Many of the letters are illustrated with pen and ink sketches and drawings.
Carl Nordstrom was a Massachusetts artist associated with the “Ipswich Painters.” The “Ipswich Painters,” included Edna Baylor, Arthur Wesley Dow, Henry Kenyon, Arthur Kimball, John Mansfield, Carl Nordstrom, Jane Peterson, Francis Richardson, and Theodore Wendel - all of whom chose to live in Ipswich around the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. Dow was born in Ipswich and called the town his residence throughout his life.
These artists were inspired by the open spaces, the “ancient” houses and old bridges of the town. Many concentrated on the marshes and the rivers and creeks which flow through them. A few painted portraits of people, but most of these artists were looking at nature. These artists congregated here, knew each other, exhibited together, but their painting styles varied.
Most of these painters were proficient in more than one medium including oil, watercolor, pastel, ink, and pencil. Photography was in its infancy and some of these artists (Nordstrom and most notably Dow) experimented in that field.
Carl Harold Nordstrom (1876-1965) was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts of Swedish ancestry. From 1904-27, Nordstrom operated a photographic studio in Cambridge. During this period he studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. On forays to the country with his art teachers, Eric Pape and George L. Noyes, Nordstrom came to Ipswich and in 1918, he purchased property on Nabby’s Point along the Ipswich River. He closed his photography studio and opened the Nordstrom Summer Art School on Rocky Neck in Gloucester in 1927. He worked in oils, watercolor, and pencil. He was a much beloved and familiar figure in Ipswich teaching its citizens, his students and friends, to respect and appreciate nature. His exhibitions included Rutgers University, the Boston Art Club, and the Gloucester Society of Artists.
The collection contains both incoming correspondence to Carl Nordstrom and his wife Agnes as well as retained copies of their outgoing correspondence. The letters are both personal and business related. Correspondents include fellow artists, art students, and friends. The collection also includes letters by the Nordstroms to each other. The letters discuss various aspects of the painter’s life: art, arranging exhibitions, politics, and the struggles to continue making art and surviving as an artist during the years of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Chelsea, Massachusetts, January 10, 1908, E. L. Byrd to Carl Nordstrom
“This is to certify that after January the Tenth Nineteen Hundred and Eight Carl Nordstom, a Right Honorable Sweed in good standing, shall receive, in consideration of his valued and appreciated services, three-fifths of the Photo Studio situated at 1868 Mass. Ave. North Cambridge Mass about four miles from Chelsea…”
Philadelphia, Nov. 6, 1912, Bill Gorham to Carl Nordstrom
Just got to see your letter & the pictures tonight, being as yesterday was election and I didn’t get leave till early morn and to work at 7 a.m.
Now Sweed, I think I can get some of the stuff in, but I don’t think we will get good results from the brown prints. The negatives are all right of course and if you make me some black & white prints on some glossy contrast paper we will be able to get better cuts from them. The half tone process is like looking through a wire screen it grays and flattens everything so you want to have more contrast and more color in your copy than you want in the half tone cut…
If you get some of that paper – Glossy cyko is the truest paper of that quality – I think – we buy ours direct from an independent firm in Rochester. But of course you know what kind you want to get that result…
Well we stood at Armageddon and they sort of slipped one over on us. What in hell was the matter with New England. My Gawd, after the way the Bull Mooses were romping around last summer, to have Vermont go for Taft and the rest of the section for the school master is something of a shock. Well Pennsylvania came through for Teddy, and Taft sliced through in Phila only by means of the gang-controlled river wards and the downtown section owned by the Vare brothers Bill & Ed contractors at large & politicians extraordinary. West Phila, North Phila, Germantown and the North East were strong for Teddy. Wilson was running light in Penna. … Well what we want to do now is get together, put the Progressive party on its feet as far as local and state elections go, sit tight and wait for 1916. We leave a big enlargement of T.R. pasted on the wall of the art room, and as soon as the land slide started last night I took a brush and lettered “1916” in red at the top … the art room is solid Bull Moose…”
Narberth, Pa., Jan. 11, 1913, Bill Gorham to Carl Nordstrom
“… Well how is it by you? Guess you are getting ready to make the big jump and go in for painting more power to you for you’ll be one of the Sweeds who will make good as sure as God made little apples.
I don’t see any of Bothies work anymore but I suppose he is still putting it across. The last stuff I saw in the Sunday magazine showed more strength and original treatment than his earlier Papish productions. …”
Phila, Feb. 26, 1913, Bill Gorham to Carl Nordstrom
… Have you been going down to Ipswich? Bet there is some swell winter stuff down there now. I have been talking New England and the North Shore in particular to some of the boys. Newman the ad artist and Hood one of the photographers, and they are all het up about it. We have a room to ourselves at the top of the building. It is about as big as a Columbus Ave. hall bedroom and there are six of us in it 4 artists and 2 photografters, but it opens off the darkroom and is handy and away from the noise and interference of the local room. …”
Provincetown, Massachusetts, Nov. 23, 1916, Gerrit A. Beneker to Carl Nordstrom
As we are planning to leave here Nov. 30th via N.Y. – and the west – I am wondering if it would be possible for me to get hold of a couple of my photos before leaving ? I don’t want to rush you in the least but would like one or two for Cleveland, O. where my show opens Dec. 4…
I haven’t recovered yet from my good time in Boston – for Cobb sold that Clam Digger which was in the window – for the asking price (500.00)
… Nordy – someday I’m going to send you one of my sketches or pictures as a little remembrance of my first Boston visit & show. I sent Byrd & Mrs. Baxter one – but at present I haven’t any thing on hand here – but would appreciate it if you would tell me whether you prefer a still life or a little sea scape? …”
Provincetown, Massachusetts, May 22, 1917, Gerrit A. Beneker to Carl Nordstrom
I have thought of you fellows a lot lately and wished I could see you all again… Have you painted any this winter? Have you made up your mind to come down here this summer and paint? I shall be glad to welcome all you good fellows including the misses.
We returned about 2 weeks ago and glad to get back here. … We enjoyed a pleasant and profitable winter out in our old home town Grand Rapids, Mich – where I painted a couple portraits, had a class of 14 students and held a very successful show – selling twelve canvasses. But I felt lonesome out there in spite of the fact that we have oodles of friends and were very much entertained – because the only things those people could talk about was 6% - or stocks & bonds, automobiles, business or clothes. True I had to talk some on art and was even paid for it twice. While my show was in Jackson, Mich. I was invited to come and talk on art which I did in the afternoon and also gave them a lecture in the eve. On illustration. This lecture I gave again in the library in Grand Rapids.
Not many artists here yet – but Griebenick, Saunders, Blonheim, Senseney, Slade and a couple more have been here all winter. …”
Philadelphia, June 30, 1917, Bill Gorham to Carl Nordstrom
… the management of the paper has changed hands twice, I am still here – so fur … still here and the daily drill goes on, and the war creeps nearer and nearer every day. The boys drop out one by one – to the naval reserve, and the officers camps and the aviation schools. “Wally” Wallgren, the drunken Swede cartoonist who was here a few years ago, landed in France the other day with the Marines. He had been in six weeks when he came up to say good by, and they had gone a long way toward making a man of him . If he ever comes back he will go ahead and make something of himself – he had gotten so he couldn’t get any kind of a job But if a third of that bunch bet back it will be a miracle. … Funny all the society guys are crowding in as privates and plain ‘gobs” they don’t want to be officers …”
Provincetown, Massachusetts, Oct. 9, 1917, Gerrit A. Beneker to Carl Nordstrom
“My dear Nordie,
I was very glad to receive your good letter of a few days ago – and to know you like the little sketch … you have a typical “Beneker” done with a painting-knife.
How fine that you have a little farm – I hope we may see it someday – perhaps you might be willing to rent it to us for a month – a year from now. I had hoped to get away this fall for a week or two up Gloucester way with friends Byrd & Chase – but it seemed unwise at present as Mrs. B wasn’t feeling just right. …
As to the Art game – All I can say is that I’m working hard and getting more disgusted with my stuff every day. Richard Miller bawled me out the other day and I’m glad he did – he gave me something to think about. I sold a couple sketches this summer an 8 x 10 for $ 50 & a 12 x 16 for $ 125.00 & a portrait of a dead one for $ 250.00 & got 1st of $ 50 at the Michigan State fair. But that doesn’t feed the family any too well. Gieberich & myself are sending out a joint show this season. It goes to Des Moines Iowa in Jan. & Toledo Museum of Art in May and we hope to land several other places in between. I don’t think the war will stop many sales as there are always some rich people who are in the market to buy. And it seems every body is making money these days. Perhaps I’m too optimistic.
Are you painting any? You should take a couple mornings a week off to paint still life – and work to get a certain quality in the handling of it which will be entirely your own….
The Beachcombers – there are still 15 or 16 of us in town are going to entertain their wifes & ladies tomorrow eve in the club house – with a feed & impromptu stuff.
Frank Desch – one of our Beachcombers and a good friend of mine is going to have a show at Cobb’s in November. I hope you may meet him …”
East Gloucester, Massachusetts, August 24th, 1927, Carl Nordstrom to his wife Agnes
“My Dear Peggy,
Much pleased to get your letter. And bless your heart I would not mind if your letters were written with mud. They are always so welcome.
Well the weather man has sure been against me so far this week. But as I told you in last night’s letter, a good man cannot be kept down. As usual I arose at 5.45 a.m. had my breakfast at about seven and started out about 7.30. It was raining a very little at that time, but soon started in to rain like the very dickens it just came down in sheets I got into my ships cabin, but after my other experience I fixed up the roof with some old sail cloth and sheet iron and boards. It was pretty good but one of the windows on the north east side was out and I had a pretty hard time until I found the glass and then I was o.k.
Sketch is a pearly gray and I think you will like it, has three single masted fishermen in the foreground and all in good color. Don’t get lost in the house all alone …”
[Ipswich] July 30, 1930, Peggy Nordstrom to her husband Carl
… Just a word of warning, don’t allow Miss Codman to use you for a man servant to help her get around. Except in your lesson let her take full charge of herself she will very easily look for your help in getting around the hotel and at meals. The $ 3 – she pays you for her lesson doesn’t entitle her to a body servant at all times. It is proper to be gallant and kind but not to be imposed on and taken for granted as that class of people are only to ready to do.
Don’t fool yourself that she might buy a picture because of your kindness – she is not built that way.
Two new students fine. I am amused at all the blah-blah every artist is up against and has to learn and discern what is genuine and what is blah. I know you always do your best and I am very proud of you. …”
[Ipswich] 1931, Carl Nordstrom to “friend Anshutz”, New York (retained copy)
“Dear Friend Anshutz
Your letter with enclosed folder received and was much pleased to hear from you. Have thought of you often this winter and am looking forward to seeing you again this summer. When do you expect to arrive? Thanks for addressing me as “Fellow artist” I feel the world has lost a good farm hand since I entered the art field. I will have the same studio I had last year and as I expect to see Mr. Woman soon will speak to him about the use of Tiffin Dock for the exhibition.
Could not make Convention but many thanks to you for the proposal. Here is hoping that A.D. 1931 will treat us better than last year…”[Gloucester] August 26, 1931, Carl Nordstrom to his wife Agnes
Arrived here yesterday morning … stretched a 24 x 30 canvas and fixed up the sketch-box, so that I would be all ready for the rocks and surf in the afternoon. Quite a number of people at Brace’s Rocks, I rode over with Miss Muller and Swartz and worked on my canvas but it needs a lot more work to make it tell what I want it to. I am sure you will like it as I believe I have the feeling of the sea in it… Came back to the studio and worked on the canvas I started yesterday If I can only finish it now as nicely as I have carried it so far will have the best surf picture I have ever made. Walked over to the rocks by self this afternoon and have another good start, but the surf was almost gone …”
[Gloucester] August 30, 1931, Carl Nordstrom to his wife Agnes
… Bill arrived Friday afternoon and I went over to the train to meet him. Then we came back to the studio … Went over to Bass Rocks and sat around awhile… Bill says there are a great many people out of work in N.Y City in fact he said some hundreds of thousands and he feels there may be a revolution before the winter is over, he sure drew a pretty bleak picture of conditions there. Artists who have been making all the way from $ 50.00 to $ 200 – a week are destitute…”
[Gloucester] August 12, 1932, Carl Nordstrom to his wife Agnes
… Have some more good news to tell you. Mrs Blow introduced me to a Mr. Healey of St. Louis who is an art dealer and he told Mrs. Blow that my pencil drawings which are at the Rockaway are (A one) and every line of them is full of art. Mr. Healey is to return here the latter part of the month and he is going to get a few of the Gloucester artists together and give them an invited combined showing at his place in St. Louis and I am to be included. This is going to be my lucky year and that means you. Sticking around and making contacts is my middle name, but it does take time. Also hear that the Custises have the very highest regard for me …”`
Washington, D.C., December 27, 1932, Eleanor Parke Custis to Carl Nordstrom
“Dear Mr. Nordstrom,
… I was nice hearing from you and I appreciate a lot what you said about my camera versus my paints. As it happens my camera has been put away ever since we got home. I somehow don’t see “pictures” here in Washington. I guess that’s why I go so crazy about it when I’m in a place like Gloucester.
Earl Horter had an exhibition of his etchings here at the Smithsonian Institution. He had one looking through that old guinea wharf-only he stood a little more to one side than we did in taking the photograph. It made an awfully attractive etching except that I thought he hadn’t made enough of the boats – they seemed so much farther away and less distinct than in reality. …
I have had to keep the Art Committee Chairmanship – couldn’t very well get out of it. I hate having to give up so much time and thought. The worse of it is the only fun there is in it is in inviting the exhibitors and deciding who to invite and most of that was done…
The small galleries were free for several dates so I arranged the schedule in them so that there would be an exhibition of water colors and architectural drawings on while yours was in the big gallery – they are excellent work and a by a young architect… I think your work will go well together…”
New York July 20, 1933, Bill Gorham to Carl Nordstrom
… you were damn right when you said what we were waiting for had arrived. Now – we’ll see how good a Marxist Franklin D is, and how far he’ll go. Don’t look so good here. The city is broke but won’t admit it. The relief work goes on, spasmodically at present, and people are getting fed and sheltered after a fashion, some how. Charlie has been working with the Unemployed League, preventing evictions and doing a bit of soap-box work. He hasn’t been pinched yet. The cops are treating all liberals with great consideration – even old Bob Minor, who threatened a communist uprising if relief stopped. The old boy is still good but I think he is punch-drunk from stopping so many locust wood sticks.
Josephine – Jim’s wife has yet to be converted, and it’ll be tough, for Hungary just after the war must have been a bit difficult, and two of her brothers died in Siberian prisons. …”
Peacedale, February 6, 1936, Evelyn Johnson to Carl Nordstrom
“Dear Mr. Nordstrom,
Thank you once more for such a cooperative spirit, especially when we have yet to sell enough cards for a part payment all around. Hope to make more sales this month than last, when I had to be less active with cards. Now I am off again and think it looks quite cheerful for 1936.
We have made a payment to Mr. Cloud, Mr. Chandler (printer) and Japan Paper Co, and as soon as a few more dollars come in we will divide these between you and Thomas Todd, and then start the rounds again. Have not yet collected last order from our sponsor in the old homestead beside the church, but understand the situation there, I think. And am certain of a most kindly interest in us and our efforts as artist, “poet,” and salesmen.
I stopped at Shreve, Crump and Low’s last Monday to ask our adviser there about the Boston subject, and he strongly advises as our first card the old North Church, even if it is less artistic to handle from your point of view. He thinks it will sell others and is the one most called for. He thinks it will sell others and is the one most called for. So if you feel that he and Mr. Cloud are right on the sales end, and I do think they probably are, then would you be considering that for the first card?
Since seeing you I have gotten a lot of information about offset press and found a good firm in Salem, where I think we can get fine work done by very interested people. I told Mr. Cloud’s son about it and think his father will be pleased, too. He was away when I called there last.
The Salem firm told me of ways to economize in photography and plates, and said by having four frontispieces done at once we can save several plates We can go right there to their plant when we meet in Salem and get a demonstration of the actual printing that will be very interesting.
I think we have landed an order for a card of Hamilton Hall for two Salem ladies who have a gift shop in it, and have been considering this with me for some time. They saw the Hamilton card, have taken some to sell, and about decided on their own card for this spring, so that will mean a visit there for us to make also. …
Once we get really out of the red in cards then we will be able to do you full justice, and we will want to for you are being so utterly kind to us.
If you think anyone in Ipswich would like to sell the Hamilton card there for fifteen cents, (as in Salem) paying us ten, do speak to them about it. I cannot manage to go over there yet.”
Ipswich, August 23, 1949, Carl Nordstrom to Jane Gorham (retained draft)
Your telegram was delivered to us late yesterday afternoon. We are deeply grieved at the loss of our dear friend Bill and our deepest sympathy goes out to you who suffers this great loss and has had so trying a time of worry and care.
We have known Bill for so many years and have cherished him as one of our own that it is hard to realize that he has left us. I first met Bill at the Eric Pape Art School in the fall of the year 1904 – and we took to each other at the first meeting. Our ideals and thoughts never were in conflict on any of the moral or catholic principles of life, in our hearts we understood each other. … We of course don’t know your plans but if you would like to come to Ipswich for whatever vacation time you might have or could take we would love to have you do so.”