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 Woodruff Marbury Somervell  (1872 - 1938)

About: Woodruff Marbury Somervell


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Lived/Active: Washington/New York/District Of Columbia / Canada/France      Known for: architecture, etching, landscape painting

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Woodruff Somervill is primarily known as Woodruff Marbury Somervell

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Ad Code: 4
Marbury Somervell
1929, Caption reads, "The Old Gendarmerie de Martigues"
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information is from the Pacific Coast Architecture Database.

He married and divorced Helen Hughes, who lived in San Diego, CA, at the time of Somervell's death; Somervell married Hortense Koepfli, a woman twenty years younger, in 02/1931. She vacationed at the Deep Well Guest Ranch near Palm Springs in 1933.

Somervell's parents were Augustus and Mary Eliza Somervell Maccafferty. According to C.B. Bagley, in his History of Seattle: 'The family name was changed by a ruling of the supreme court for the purpose of enabling them to inherit certain properties and in the fulfillment of a clause in the will of the maternal grandfather of Woodruff M. Somervell.' (See Clarence B. Bagley, History of Seattle, [Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1916], v.3, p. 832.) Somervell's paternal grandfather, Robert Maccafferty, an Irishman who immigrated to the U.S. in 1814, was a noted civil engineer, who worked with the New York politician, DeWitt Clinton, on the building of the Erie Canal. Maccafferty also built the first light house in Cuba, where he died in 1868. His mother-in-law was living in her house in The Highlands, Seattle, WA, at the time of Somervell's death.

Somervell had one daughter, Jane, who lived abroad at the time of his death in 1938.

Somervell worked as a Project Architect, Heins and LaFarge, Architects, New York, NY; Heins and LaFarge sent him to work on the Saint James Cathedral, First Hill, Seattle, WA, c. 1905. He worked in Seattle, WA, and Vancouver, BC, over the next two decades. Somervell traveled frequently, and by c. 1920-1921, he lived in New York, NY, again; at this time, he worked with C.A. Fullerton and R. Rosenbluth on the design of a mammoth World War I memorial stretching from the 59th Street Plaza to Columbus Circle. (See "Colossal Composite of War Memorials," New York Times, 07/04/1920, p. 44); in 1924, he relocated to Los Angeles, CA. In 1931, Somervell lived at 539 South Mariposa Street, Los Angeles.

Biographical Information:

Work History:
Consulting Architect and Construction Supervisor, Heins and LaFarge, Architects, New York, NY, c. 1905; Partner, Somervell and Cote, Architects, Seattle, WA, 1906-1909; between 1910-1917, Somervell operated offices simultaneously in Seattle and Vancouver, BC, Canada; Partner, Somervell and [John L.] Putnam, Architects, Vancouver, BC, Canada, 1907-1917; Principal, W. Marbury Somervell, Architect, Seattle, WA, 1910-1914; Somervell and Putnam were listed as a firm in Seattle's Polk City Directory between 1915-1917; between 1912-1915, Somervell worked in association with Harlan Thomas on at least three Seattle Public Libraries.
Officer, U.S. Army, Corps of Engineers and Chemical Warfare Service, France, 1917-1918; he was commissioned as a Major, U.S. Army, 1917, and served a tour of duty on France; Somervell was at one point elevated to the rank of colonel.

A Los Angeles Times article referred to him as "Colonel Marbury Somervell" (06/12/1933); another newspaper report (LA Times 10/21/1928) stated that "During the World War he achieved distinction as colonel in the A.E.F., stationed on the Italian front with the Third Division of Engineers." Somervell remained in Europe helping to restore damaged monuments in France, 1918-c. 1920; he worked in New York, NY, in 1921, and had moved to Los Angeles, CA, c. 1924. He practiced in Los Angeles with John L. Putnam, c. 1924-1930.

Miscellaneous: His first name has been noted variously as "Woodruf" and "Woodnut"; it was spelled "Woodruff." He often went by the name, "W. Marbury Somervell."

Online Source:

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Washington, DC on May 3, 1873, Marbury Somervell was educated at Cornell University and Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, Italy. He worked as an architect in New York, Vancouver, and Seattle (1916) before serving in WWI.

The years 1920-25 were spent in France recovering from the effects of the war. In 1925 he settled in Los Angeles and established the architectural firm of Somervell & Putnam. His etchings include European architectural scenes and California landscapes.

He died in Paris, France in 1939.

California Society of Etchers; Paris Salon, 1920s; LA Public Library, 1925; Bullock's (LA), 1933.
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4-23-1916; Southern California Artists (Nancy Moure).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
W.M. SOMERVELL, did not die in Paris, but in Cannes.
W.M. SOMERVELL fought the first world war in France and ended up as a colonel.

He came back to France in the late 20's and criss-crossed the country (+ Italy, Switzerland, Spain...) in company of a famous french engraver Raymond BRECHENMACHER (Premier Grand Prix de Rome 1922) making drawings of all the picturesque villages and places of architectural interest.

The etchings were then executed in Brechenmacher's studio in Versailles.
Written and submitted by Gaby SAADE

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