Floyd Niles Walser
1888 – 1966
Floyd Niles Walser was born January 29, 1888 in Fayette County, Texas. The second oldest son of Daniel Nathaniel Walser and Mary Ann (known as Mollie) (Criswell) Walser, he had two brothers, three sisters and an older half-brother. He grew up on the “Walser farm” just outside Winchester, Texas.
As a rough and tough cowboy and hard-working farm hand he was a valuable member of the family. When Floyd’s father passed away, the family relocated to Lampasas, Texas where his style of life continued as before. But he had a wanderlust, which drew him (by stealing rides on freight cars, Hobo fashion) to Fargo, North Dakota in 1909 when he was 21. There he hoped to earn extra money by working in the wheat fields.
Due to a serious fall from his horse, caused by heat stroke, he was totally paralyzed. As the effects of this paralysis subsided a bit, he was struck by polio. From then on, his life was forever changed. Eventually able to use only his right arm and hand and his upper torso, back at home he was totally dependent on his family for nearly everything. He would be strapped into a converted old living room chair with swiveling casters affixed to its base. He was usually pushed by a family member or friend to a location that suited him. He could move about from that spot a little by shaking his upper body and pushing against the floor with a cane in his right hand. He could force the fingers of his left hand to open by grasping them with his right hand. Likewise, he could clamp things in that hand as if in a vise by squeezing the hand tightly around any object placed there.
As seemingly hopeless dark days grew into months and years, he yearned for a way to become independent and able to make his own way in the world, without having to rely so completely on others.
After nearly five years, he enrolled in a correspondence school to study art. It was located in Kalamazoo, Michigan and run by a very sensitive and caring artist named Guy H. Lockwood. Floyd learned rapidly and progressed under Mr. Lockwood’s instruction and encouragement. Guy Lockwood also published a monthly magazine called Art and Life.
After getting to know Floyd through three years of lessons and letters, Lockwood wrote about the crippled artist in his magazine. He heaped praise upon him for progressing so quickly and for his strongly felt desire to become independent by using his skills as an artist. He also encouraged his readers to do whatever they could to help out the serious-minded and highly talented ex-cowboy.
While still studying and corresponding with Lockwood, Floyd was intrigued with the idea of doing cartooning and especially learning how to do caricatures. He found what he was looking for in an ad in a magazine. This school was based in Horseheads, New York and run by Eugene Zimmerman, known by all as simply “Zim”.
Floyd became one of Zim’s star pupils and he advanced through all of the lessons mailed to him at a rapid pace. Zim saw real talent in him and suggested more serious study of art beyond cartooning and caricature. Zim did not know of Floyd’s handicap until well into the first several lessons. Zim maintained his correspondence, friendship and art instruction/critique for years.
Eventually, in the summer of 1921, Madame Edith Rowena Noyes Greene, a world famous musician and composer who lived with her musically gifted husband Roy Goddard Greene in Framingham, Massachusetts saw Lockwood’s article about the Texan in Art and Life. She invited Floyd to come be their protégé and live with them in their lovely lakeside home where they could see to his further training and development as a serious artist.
Floyd eventually accepted the kind offer to move to Massachusetts and soon started what became nine years of intense study at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. There he studied under one of the most respected members of the faculty, Phillip Leslie Hale (1865 – 1931). Floyd, brought into Boston once a week for those nine years by Roy Greene, learned the fine points of working in most of the artistic mediums including oils, watercolors, pastels, charcoal and pencil sketching and even etching. All this with one functioning arm.
Floyd, in his lakeside studio apartment attached to the Greene’s Framingham home, gave art lessons himself to many of the area’s residents, including several children.
In the spring of 1931, a print of one of Floyd’s etchings was accepted for inclusion in the International Competitive Print Exhibition sponsored by the print Club of Cleveland, Ohio. It was held at the Cleveland Museum of Art and displayed the work of a total of 184 artists from 12 countries. Floyd was one of 78 artists representing the United States.
A year later he was invited by the Society of American Etchers, Inc. (formerly known as the Brooklyn Society of Etchers) to submit a print from one of his etchings for inclusion in the seventeenth annual exhibition of the National Arts Club. His print For Rent was accepted.
In 1932 he was able to get back to visit his family in Lampasas, TX to show them how he had progressed. He painted the vistas in all directions from his old home, working mainly in watercolors, but also in oil and pastels. Later, he had the opportunity to get further west and captured the rugged beauty of Oregon, again in various media.
In 1936 Floyd was an art teacher employed by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) established by President Roosevelt. He taught hundreds of young children in groups, gathered (weather permitting) outdoors next to his studio in the Greene’s home.
He was listed in the 1938 edition of Who’s Who In Massachusetts, as “artist and etcher”.
Floyd continued to be confined to his old caster-bottomed chair and to get around either with the help of others or by shaking his upper torso in the direction in which he wanted to go until he met Richie Rotelli, who was as gifted mechanically as Floyd was artistically. Richie built a unique home right next door to where Floyd was living, having purchased the lovely lakefront property next to the Greene’s home.
When Roy Greene passed away suddenly in 1946, Floyd did his best to look after and provide care for his benefactor, Mrs. Greene. Edith’s health declined rapidly and by 1949 she had to be located in a nursing facility. When this all left Floyd without his support structure, he moved into the Rotelli household in their brightly lit and fully accessible basement apartment with full length windows and a door that provided direct outside access.
In 1949 Richie designed and built a motorized chair so that Floyd could get around with relative ease. This came shortly after he mechanized a way for Floyd to get out of bed on his own in a matter of minutes. A chore that used to require nearly an hour.
In a short time, Richie designed and built a flat-bottomed boat into which Floyd could drive his chair. His passion changed from generating art to fishing for “lunker” bass in the lake just outside his door. He was able to indulge this newly developed avocation for nearly 10 years. He continued to sketch and paint and also gave lessons to adults on the fine points of etching and related topics. This life style continued until 1959 when Richie and his wife sold the lakeside home and built a new, smaller one in the next town.
A small apartment not more than a mile from his lakeside place was found for him. Here, he resumed painting, mostly watercolors and was rapidly immersed into his first love.
Soon, he had his work on display again; at the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, Massachusetts and later as part of Framingham’s Temple Beth Am “Art ‘65”.
Floyd Niles Walser passed away at the age of 78 on February 16, 1966 in his apartment. He was in his special motorized chair, parked next to the sink and had been washing an apple for a snack.
He is buried in Edgell Grove Cemetery in Framingham Centre.
Worked in: watercolors, oils, pastels, pen and ink, charcoal, and etchings.
Favorite subjects included:
Portraits, old homesteads and buildings (especially The Gristmill near Wayside Inn in Sudbury, MA), trees (usually twisted and gnarled), ships, landscapes, scenes around and on Lake Waushakum in Framingham MA, as well as Oregon vistas.
Work shown at:
International Competitive Print Exhibition, Cleveland, Ohio. (1931)
Society of American Etchers seventeenth annual exhibition of the National Arts Club. (1932)
Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, Massachusetts. (1962)
Framingham’s Temple Beth Am “Art ‘65”. (1965)
“The Art, Place and Times of Floyd Walser”: Framingham Historical Society and Museum (2008) (See www.framinghamhistory.org)
Rotelli, Richard L.A Creative Odyssey: the Story of Floyd and Richie.
Submitted by Richard L. Rotelli. who knew Floyd Walser very well from about 1945 to the time of his passing in 1966. He lived in the home his parents built and in many ways was like an uncle to him.