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 Lydia Dunham Fabian  (1857 - 1947)

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Lived/Active: Illinois/Michigan/New Mexico      Known for: still life, landscape, architecture painting, photography

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Ad Code: 4
Lydia Dunham Fabian
from Auction House Records.
Pueblo of Taos, New Mexico
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:

Lydia Dunham Smith Fabian   (1857-1947)

Absent from any exhibitions for a number of years, Lydia Dunham Fabian, an accomplished artist and somewhat of a world traveler, presented 34 of her latest oil paintings at an exhibition held at Newcomb, Macklin & Company, Chicago, in August of 1923.  In defining her work, she commented, “To tell a story in a picture may not be according to modern ideas, but almost every picture here is a narrative.” Upon which the interviewer remarked in appreciation, “It is an exhibit that should be generally interesting for Mrs. Fabian has come back into her own.”

One of three daughters, Lydia was born March 22, 1857, in Charlotte, Michigan to Alonzo and Julian Ann (Temple) Dunham.  Mr. Dunham maintained a tanning business, begun shortly after his marriage to 1851, in nearby Wayland, Michigan for a number of years.   In 1875, about the time of Lydia’s graduation from high school, the family moved to Spring Township, Crawford County, Pennsylvania and shortly thereafter she began her artistic study in the New York Metropolitan Art School.  (Mrs. Fabian’s reference in the 1930 Who’s Who in American Art states that she studied at the Art Students League.  The Metropolitan Art School, the Art Student’s League, the National Academy of Design, plus another ten schools of various statures were available in New York by the late 1870’s.  Yet, according to an article from the North Central College Archives where she began teaching in 1904, the New York Metropolitan Art School was listed in her references.  Of the schools mentioned, no verifying documents were available or the school no longer exists.)  Accordingly, she then became the private pupil of Isabel Ross (dates unknown) and Ellen Baker (1839-1913) both prominent Americans in Parisian art circles at that time. Later study included time with Lucie Honiss of Pisa, Italy.  Ossip Linde in Chicago and Henry Hensche of the Cape Cod School are also further mentioned as instructors, thus giving her quite a well rounded and international training.  

Almost nothing is known about her life during the decade of the 1880’s.  Having returned home to the United States after her European sojourn, we find her listed in the 1880 census as 23 years of age, an artist, and living at her parent’s home in Spring Township, Pennsylvania.  She is mentioned next in the obituary of her father who died in 1890.  Just the previous year he had moved to Toledo, Ohio.  Lydia is mentioned as married – Mrs. Lincoln Smith – and also living in Toledo.  She is noted in the local directories there, beginning in 1889 through 1895, as a portrait artist in that city.

Around 1895 her husband found employment as a traveling salesman with the Emery, Bird, Thayer & Company, a department store out of Kansas City, Missouri.  At that time it was the largest such store in the Southwest.  She and her husband moved to nearby Eureka, Kansas, near the home of her uncle, F.A. Temple, later that same year. 

With that time of relative security, she decided to continue her artistic studies and enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, beginning with the Antique Class in January of 1897, and continuing through September of 1898.  Her instructors there included John H.  Vanderpoel, who specialized in instruction in water colors, Charles Francis Browne, Pauline Dohn, J. Buckley, Martha Baker, and Louis Wilson, among others.  She also gained an honorable mention for her work while still a student there.

In March of 1900 her husband died of pneumonia while on a trip to Kansas City, and he was returned to Eureka for burial.  Lydia continued to live there and in Wichita, Kansas, for several years before eventually finding employment and appreciation, in 1904 as an art instructor with North-Western College (now North Central College) in Naperville, Illinois.  She held this position until 1912 when, for reasons unknown, she turned in her resignation. 

By 1915 Lydia had remarried – she was now Mrs. Ernst Fabian – and living at 3916 Lake Park Avenue in Chicago.  She continued her artistic travels, spending time in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area, which, like Taos was also the site of a flourishing art colony.  In her work she included the area’s unique architecture in her portraits and genre scenes of Native American’s - some of which were acquired by the Santa Fe Railroad.  Mrs. Fabian was one of the exhibitors included in the inaugural showing at the New Mexico Art Museum in Santa Fe in 1917 and in July of 1918 she holds a one-person show there.  The artist also spends summers the Saugatuck, Michigan area, becoming a part of the Ox-Bow Summer School of Painting.  In addition, she exhibited with the Chicago No- Jury Society of Artists in 1921 (Salon des Refuse) and 1922, and in 1939 and 1940 at the Navy Pier shows.

She continued to paint and to find time for her second interest, photography, until her unofficial retirement in 1934 when she moved to a “retirement” apartment building at 3510 Lake Park Avenue in Chicago.  There, after a brief bout with pneumonia, she died on May 25, 1947, at the age of ninety.


Biographical information: Census Records, plus information provided by: Mary Jean Baker, Gene Meyer (Chicago No-Jury Research), North Central College Archives, Who Was Who in American Art and the Illinois Historical Art Project.

Written and submitted by Edward P. Bentley, researcher of Lansing, Michigan.


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following, submitted July 2005, is from Mary Jean Baker, Eaton County Genealogy Society, Charlotte, Michigan

Lydia Dunham Fabian was born in Charlotte, Michigan (Eaton County) on March 12, 1857. She died May 25, 1947 in Chicago.

1860 Census - Benton Township, Eaton County, Michigan
Dunham, Alonzo, age 38 farmer, 1000 estate, 600 personal. Born: NY
Dunham, Julia age 24, born PA
Dunham, Laura, age 7, born PA
Dunham, Lydia, age 3, born MI

1870 - family was in Wayland, Allegan County, Michigan

1880 Census - Spring, Crawford, Pennsylvania
Dunham, Alonzo, age 57, born NY
Dunham, Julia, wife, age 54, born PA
Dunham, Laura, Dau, age 27, born PA
Dunham, Lydia, Dau, age 23, born MI
Temple, Robert, Father-in-law, age 84, born NY
Temple, Eliza, Mother-in-law, age 81, born NY

1930 Census, she was in Chicago, widowed, 63 years old, listed as head of household, owning her house valued at $50,000, with a lodger, Edward C. Chaplin, single and 34 years old. Both listed as born in Michigan.




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