William Woodruff Gibbs (1821 – 1902)
One of twelve children of David and Ruth Woodruff Gibbs, William Woodruff Gibbs was born in Livonia, Livingston County, New York. He began working as a gunsmith at the age of fifteen or sixteen. Gibbs practiced this trade for eight years before beginning the study of art under a local teacher in 1845. He thereafter devoted all his time to painting.
In 1848 Gibbs moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he continued to paint portraits and also play in a traveling band. He moved to Armada around 1852 and by 1853 had settled permanently in Romeo, Michigan. According to local tradition his first portraits in Romeo were done in exchange for room and board. By September of 1875, the local Romeo Observer had dubbed Gibbs the “prince of oil painters" in the State. Although his early works were portraits, done from life or copied after photos and engravings, he gradually began to specialize in landscapes. In addition, he was known to have painted animals, still lifes, and historical subjects.
The artist was a modest, good-natured man who often roamed the local fields and woods armed with his sketchbook. He frequently contributed prize-winning works to the local Romeo Fairs between 1857 and 1898. The local Romeo merchants would also often exhibit his paintings. Though he enjoyed local patronage and acclaim, Gibbs did not establish a wider reputation in his lifetime. His only known exhibition outside of Romeo was in Detroit at the gallery of A.J. Brow in 1880.
Excerpted from the exhibition catalog: Early Michigan Paintings, Kresge Art Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, 1976.
Compiled and submitted by Edward Bentley, researcher of Lansing, Michigan