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 Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh  (1853 - 1935)



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Lived/Active: New York/Ohio      Known for: southwest landscape, figure and genre painting, expedition artist

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Ad Code: 3
Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh
from Auction House Records.
In the Grand Canyon
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in McConnelsville, Ohio, Frederick Dellenbaugh was an early sketcher and mapmaker of the American West.  He is perhaps best known for his travels, writing, and artwork in the Southwest, as well as his activities with the Cragsmoor, New York, art colony.   He was also one of the early artists into Alaska, going there in 1899 as a commissioned landscape painter for the Harriman Expediditon, which traveled up the coast of Alaska as far as Plover Bay in Siberia.

Dellenbaugh attended public schools in Buffalo, New York, and studied art in New York City, Munich, and in Paris.  His primary method of study, however, was painting in the field, particularly scenes and landscape features that were difficult to photograph.  He traveled widely, including to Iceland, Norway, the West Indies, and South America.  His paintings sold well and were often published as illustrations for natural history books. Using material from his private journals, he wrote and illustrated several books about the western United States.

He spent most of his boyhood in the Midwest, but eventually moved with his parents to Buffalo, New York, where he graduated from high school.  From an early age he had an interest in art and mapmaking, and at Buffalo High School, Dellenbaugh developed those skills and talents that were to land him a seat on John Wesley Powell's second exploratory voyage down the Colorado River, from 1871-1873.

Known locally for his quick hand with a sketching pencil, Dellenbaugh combined his early inclinations as a naturalist with his artistic talent to produce numerous drawings and paintings of upstate New York.  In conjunction with his avid interest in boating, these artistic skills made him exactly suited to the expedition's need for a painter to supplement the as yet unpredictable art of photography.

Dellenbaugh's uncle, Almon Harris Thompson, introduced him to Major Powell who quickly appointed him the expedition's artist and assistant topographer.  As he was only seventeen years old and a recent high school graduate, the young adventurer did not feel that his parents would agree to the dangerous trip.  It is said he left at night on a sleeper train for Chicago without telling his mother and father and immediately set to work helping the group with the extensive preparations for the long and dangerous voyage.  As they left Chicago for Green River, Wyoming, the jump-off point for the trip, Dellenbaugh finally sent a telegram to his parents.

Dellenbaugh's scenic and scientific drawings done on the river expedition were the first to be done of the inner Grand Canyon.  He viewed a river much different than the one we see today, since the river's damming.  Stripped of vegetation, the river banks were dominated by massive sand bars and bare rock, abutting a pulsing, muddy river.  Annual floods were a dominant presence, and each spring a torrent of muddy snowmelt tumbled from the distant Rockies through the canyons of the Colorado, scouring the banks and replenishing the system's sediment supply.

Dellenbaugh did geological sketches and maps, and, on the 16th of February, 1873, Dellenbaugh arrived by horseback in Salt Lake City carrying the first Grand Canyon maps, prepared by Powell's group.  Dellenbaugh's Butte, near the Green River, was named in his honor, as the youngest member of the expedition.  It was while on the expedition that he began his life-long habit of keeping a daily journal of his travels. According to Herbert E. Gregory, a geologist and authority on the region, Dellenbaugh's exploration and depictions of the region represented an important achievement.  The exploration helped to "make known the agricultural possibilities of the region at the head of the Paria and the Escalante, the remarkable Aquarius and Kaiparowits Plateau, Water Pocket Fold, and the Henry Mountains that formed the basis of the classic works of Dutton and Gilbert."  Also resulting from this trip was the 'discovery' by the American public of Zion Canyon.  Dellenbaugh's series of paintings from his 1903 visit there were exhibited a year later at the World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.  "The throngs of people who came to the fair could hardly believe such a place as Zion Canyon was real." (Courtright, 34)

After spending 1873-1875 in New York, Dellenbaugh traveled for two years by himself exploring the mesas, plateaus, and river valleys of southern Utah, northern Arizona, and Nevada.  Leaving Salt Lake in 1875, he rode south to Kanab, then over to Zion's Canyon, following the Virgin River past St. George and down into Arizona and California.  In 1876 he made another huge arc through the southwest meandering from Salt Lake, St. George, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Kanab, all the while painting landscapes and Indian life and recording his experiences and observations in his journals.  Dellenbaugh began to take himself more seriously as a painter at this point in his life.

In 1877 he left the Southwest and journeyed to Munich, Germany, where he studied art for a year at the Royal Academy.  Paris was the next stop on Dellenbaugh's artistic pilgrimage through Europe.  He sharpened his skills for several years at the Academie Julian under the renowned French painter Auguste Carolus-Duran.

During the winter and spring of 1884-1885, Dellenbaugh made what was to be his last trip to the wilds of the Southwest for many years.  He lived for six months with the Hopi Indians in the Four Corners area, primarily sketching scenes from village life.  The best collection of Dellenbaugh's paintings is in the Museum of the American Indian in New York.  One example of his Southwestern artwork is the painting Encampment on the Kaibab (oil, 1880), an image of a Paiute camp on the Kaibab.  This piece is a popular type of painting in Victorian America, -Indians at home in the wilderness.

1885 marked a turning point in Dellenbaugh's life.  A charming man, he returned from the Southwest to New York and married Harriet Rogers Otis, an actress with David Belasco's theatre group.  Settling permanently in New York, Dellenbaugh spent the next fourteen years doing research, writing, and lecturing on his favorite topics: Western exploration, the American Indian, and the Colorado River Basin. He and his wife usually wintered in New York City for the cultural life and spent the summers on their family farm at Cragsmoor, New York, where Dellenbaugh did much of his writing.

Both Dellenbaugh and his wife were memorable figures in the history of the artist colony of Cragsmore.  Located in Ulster County, Cragsmoor had first come into existence in the early 1870's when Edward Lamson Henry, William H. Beard, J.G. Brown, Mrs. Eliza Greatorex and her two artist daughters discovered the enchantments held by the plateau in the Shawangunk Mountains.  E.L. Henry was the first artist to build a summer home there, and Mrs. Henry christened their house NA-PEE-NIA, a name from the Lenape Indians. Word quickly spread to other artists.

Cragsmoor and its wonders did not attract the traditional struggling artist with little or no recognition.  On the contrary, it was generally artists of note who were already prosperous who sought to make their homes among there.  The sweeping vistas painted by the Hudson River School were not as popular at the time as settings where people were more predominant.  Cragsmoor's artists specialized in this latter type of subject, and their mountain getaway was a wonderful source of both scenic beauty and local characters. Dellenbaugh's paintings from Cragsmoor include images of "Grandpa" Coddington, a local farmer.  The painters of Cragsmoor also often used themselves and each other as subjects as well.

A relation of Mrs. Frederick Dellenbaugh, Eliza Hartshorn, was a primary figure in the development of Cragsmoor.  She was a wealthy lady from Newport and during her first visit to the Henrys in 1886, immediately purchased some land in the colony. Houses, barns, public buildings and roads were constructed at her impetus, with Frederick Dellenbaugh as the architect.

Although Dellenbaugh was a man of many interests and accomplishments, he never had formal architectural training.  As a result, his houses were unique, innovative and eccentric.  Closets were placed in what would otherwise be wasted space, and he seemed to care very little for the dimensions of stairs.  Very few of his staircases allowed for the passage of large furniture and some were even rebuilt so they could be utilized for that purpose.  A Dellenbaugh house often had no two windows alike, for he enjoyed salvaging windows from houses scheduled for demolition in the city and working them into his designs on the mountain.  One example of such creative construction, 'The Barnacle', is a Dellenbaugh house.

Dellenbaugh also is said to have given Cragsmoor its name, despite certain stiff competition.  When the residents petitioned for a post office, Dellenbaugh offered "Winahdin", but was rejected on the grounds that it sounded too much like another upstate New York community, Windham.  He then created "Cragsmoor." Another resident suggested the name "Baim-Wa-Wa" for the community. Dellenbaugh found out and is said to have declared that he would leave rather than live in a community with such a silly name.  He then got together with the local postmaster and wrote a letter to the Post Office Department. Since the Post Office Department desired brevity, Dellenbaugh's name Cragsmoor was accepted.

Around 1912 a library was inaugurated for both summer and permanent residents and was housed at various locations until 1923.  In 1923, the trustees built a permanent library designed by Dellenbaugh and constructed on land he donated. The summer denizens also ensured their spiritual needs were met.  In 1895 and 1896, Dellenbaugh designed and constructed the Episcopalian Chapel of the Holy Name with money supplied by Eliza Hartshorn.  The Federated Church was built in 1903, a venture heavily funded by the Innesses. Charles Curran served as deacon.

In 1899, at forty six, the aging explorer began his last extended bout of extensive traveling by accompanying E. H. Harriman's expedition exploring the coast of Alaska as far as Plover Bay in Siberia.  Harriman wanted Dellenbaugh as the group's painter, and the artist made over sixty-five paintings in oil of the expedition's wanderings, the wildlife, the delicate plant life, and the awesome scenery of the sub-Arctic wilderness.

Dellenbaugh was a seasoned traveler when he joined the expedition, but his journals and letters show that he was truly excited to be setting out on this trip.  He wrote his fellow artist, R. Swain Gifford, before the trip even started, saying that he was delighted at the opportunity to work in Alaska.  His pencil drawings, oil sketches, and even photographs show his intense interest in the shape and color of the landscape he saw.  Even his most formal paintings reveal evidence of his early experience in surveying and mapping the land.

Aboard the Elder, the expedition's ship, the two official artists were Dellenbaugh and R. Swain Gifford.  Both lived in New York City, but both had considerable experience painting the North American wilderness.  The George W. Elder was not a fit studio for large-scale oil paintings, and so both chose to do smaller oil and pencil studies.  In their work they used the softer colors, the greens, grays and browns, colors so often seen along the Alaskan coast.  Examples typical of Dellenbaugh's works in Alaska are Log Houses, Kodiak Village, and Foggy Day, Cape Fox (1899), both painted on board, and part of the collection of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.  His unassuming but deft landscapes serve as a visual travelogue of the Harriman expedition's coastal route.

The expedition resulted in a two-volume publication, Harriman Alaska Expedition (1901), now issued by the Smithsonian Institution, and include reproductions of paintings done by Dellenbaugh, R. Swain Gifford, and Louis A. Fuertes.  He also recorded Muir Glacier, with John Muir's isolated cabin surrounded by a vast, icy panorama.  Dellenbaugh's Mt. Fairweather from the Northwest (1899) is an impressionistic depiction of a seascape and mountain range, the subdued color contrasting with the grand scale of the scene.  "I made a sketch of a mighty snowy mountain, sublimely ethereal, which I took to be Mt. Fairweather... The day was bright, clear and glorious, not a cloud to be seen, except a little one hanging on the flank of Fairweather." (from the diary of Frederick Dellenbaugh, an entry dated June 11, 1899).

In 1903, Dellenbaugh resumed his personal explorations of the American Southwest; this time making a more complete exploration of Zion Canyon and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.  E. H. Harriman mounted a second sub-Arctic exploration in 1906, this time to Spitzbergen, Norway, and Dellenbaugh was again called upon to use his artistic talents to record the group's adventures and discoveries.  Not satisfied with one extended trip in a single year, Dellenbaugh then set out for the West Indies in the fall of 1906.  From the West Indies he made one last journey on horseback through his beloved Colorado River Basin, working his way along the southern rim of the Grand Canyon and on into California, where this incredible trip ended in 1907.

Dellenbaugh authored and illustrated several books about the Southwest's history, and the Colorado River in particular, including: A Canyon Voyage : The narrative of the Second Powell Expedition (1908) and a history of exploration of the Colorado River, Romance of the Colorado River, (1902).  It was an unforgettable river he witnessed: " its immediate tide presenting a formidable host of snarling waters whose angry roar, reverberating wildly league after league between giant rock-walls carved through the bowels of the earth . . ." (from The Romance of the Colorado River).

In his declining years, Dellenbaugh became one of the leading members of a New York group of explorers and naturalists.  From 1909-1911, he served as the librarian for the American Geographical Society, and in 1922 helped found the Explorer's Club and served as its first vice-president for six years.  Dellenbaugh's last trip to the West was made under somewhat unusual circumstances.  In 1929, he was called to testify at the Colorado River Basin litigation between the State of Utah and the Federal government.  The question of who owned the riverbed and its minerals hinged on whether the Colorado River was navigable or not.  If it was not, the Federal government would own the land. Dellenbaugh testified for the government that, although he had journeyed down the river, it was not navigable in the traditional sense of the word.  What impact his testimony had on the final verdict is, of course, impossible to discern, but the case was decided in the government's favor.

Dellenbaugh's art was exhibited widely, including at the Paris Salons of 1883 and 1884. At the end of his life he retired to upstate New York, and died in New York City on January 29, 1935.

Written by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier

Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West
Wooward Kesler, Painting in the North
Doris Dawdy, Artists of the American West
James Ballinger, Visitors to Arizona 1846-1980
Leslie Courtright,  Essay, 'Out of the Archives', A Century of Sanctuary

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

Frederick Dellenbaugh is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Notable Alaska
Painters of Grand Canyon

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