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 Callista Gara  (1817 - 1902)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania      Known for: portrait painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Callista Ingersoll Gara    (1817 – 1902)

Callista Ingersoll Gara, born in New York State in 1817, moved to Erie, Pennsylvania, with her family sometime after 1840.  Little has been preserved of the Ingersoll family heritage and nothing is known of her early life.  

Considered a lady of fine education and marked artistic ability, Callista and her sister Louisa operated a select school for young ladies in the late 1840’s at 417 State Street. In addition to basic education, they gave music lessons on the piano, harp and guitar, while also teaching painting and drawing, plus dancing, French and Spanish.  

In October, 1853, she married Isaac B. Gara, a newspaperman from Lancaster County.  In 1855 he bought the Erie Gazette, a Republican newspaper which provided him with a powerful and influential base for involvement in community and political affairs.  In addition, he served as Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from 1867 to 1870 and was later appointed by President Grant to head the Erie Post Office as Postmaster from 1869 to 1876.

Early in her career Callista had developed as an artist of merit; particularly with portraits although she also did landscapes.  In 1860 she was noted as exhibiting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.  Expanding her abilities to include illustration, her work in the 1880’s included John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem Nauhaught, the Deacon in 1886.  

Besides her efforts to foster local interest in art, she was widely known as a promoter for charities.  Among her causes were the Soldiers Aid Society, which supported an Erie Regiment in the Civil War, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Hamot Hospital Association.  Perhaps her greatest success, however, was the Home of the Friendless, a residential facility for orphans and the aged.  

Still there was time to paint.  At the 1884 Exposition of Amateur Art in Erie, she exhibited three portraits and two floral still lives.  Apparently her artistic renown grew to parallel her charitable accomplishments for, by 1896, an Erie County reference mentions her among the best of area artists.  After the death of her husband in 1895 and despite her advancing age, she maintained an active interest in art.  With the formation of the art Club of Erie in 1898, she served as first vice president and a council member.

Calista Ingersoll Gara died in Erie on March 13, 1902, at the age of 85.  The Erie Dispatch memorialized her as a lady of the old regime:  “… bearing all the graces of those olden days.  She was a woman of tender heart and abounding benevolence. None was more ready to lend a hand in the cause of humanity.  She was never weary in doing well.”

Biography excerpted from the unpublished manuscript by Dr. Kirk W. Steehler, Erie Artists – A History of Heroes. Courtesy of Erie Art Museum.
Submitted by Edward P. Bentley, researcher from Lansing, Michigan.

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