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 Walter B. Styles  (1862 - 1948)

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Lived/Active: New York/Alaska      Known for: Landscape, Indian genre, still life painting, illustration

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Walter B. Styles
An example of work by Walter B. Styles
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
This following biography was researched, compiled, and written by Geoffrey K. Fleming, Director, Southold Historical Society, Southold, NY.
 
WALTER B. STYLES (April 20, 1862 – April 2, 1948)
(AKA William B. Styles, W. B. Styles)
 
Painter and illustrator.  Born in Kingston, New York, the son of Sarah Schoonmaker Styles (1839-1923) and Charles Havens Styles Sr. (1836-1925), the sexton of the 29th Street Collegiate Dutch Church of New York City.  He attended his father’s church’s school and in 1874 received award for being one of the “most worthy students.”  Styles fell in love with and later married Henrietta “Ettie” Austin (b. 1863), the daughter of the Rev. Alonzo E. Austin (1837-1915), who for a time served as the pastor of the Camp Memorial Church in New York City.
 
There has been some confusion as to Styles’ as his name was usually reported in the press  as simply ”W. B. Styles.”  He also signed most of his works this way, and it appears that this led some researchers to assume he was named “William.”  This myth was furthered by the inclusion of his name as “William” in the early exhibition records of the National Academy of Design.  This was incorrect, and the two artists listed in Who was Who in American Art by Peter Hastings Falk and in other resources as the independent artists “Walter B. Styles” and “William B. Styles,” are in fact the same person, Walter B. Styles.
 
Walter Styles followed the Austin family to Alaska in 1880, where the Rev. Austin traveled in 1879 and where he would become the long time missionary pastor of Sitka, Alaska.  Styles helped build the first missionary school building and later served as the postmaster in Sitka, where on August 15, 1881 he married Miss Austin.  Local historian and author, Robert DeArmond, noted that Styles was the first full-time clerk at the Sitka Trading Post and that he was probably the person responsible for re-locating the post office to the site of the Post.  Both Styles and his wife worked as teachers to the Hoonyah tribe at Boyd, Alaska, for the Presbyterian mission, where they ran a day school through 1884.  His only brother, Charles H. Styles Jr. died that summer and due to his missionary work, he was unable to attend the funeral.  By 1885 he was no longer in Boyd as per a court case that year which noted that he was “A former teacher of the mission.”
 
He began his work as an artist almost from the moment he arrived in Sitka, though nothing is known of his early education in the field.  He began to study the way of the native Alaskans, and “the famous naturalist John Muir, a knowledgeable friend of many of the most prominent landscape painters of the day, evidently admired his work,” as he included examples of his landscapes of Alaska in his notable publication, Picturesque California, which was published by J. Dewing Company, of San Francisco, in 1881.  One writer noted that “Walter B. Styles …  … was one of the earliest artists to spend a prolonged time in the [Alaska] Territory, and while there he recorded life among the Tlingit Indians.”  According to Braarud Fine Art, Styles took special care to properly document the way-of-life of the local tribes, noting that:  “Styles' depictions of Native Alaskans have been praised for their avoidance of the stereotypes so prevalent among artists of his day, and his careful documentation of native costumes, boats, and dwellings has been compared to that of the prominent American painter William Sidney Mount.”
 
By the later 1880s, Styles was back in New York City, working as a painter and illustrator.  He exhibited at a number of prominent locations in the city and neighboring areas, including at the National Academy of Design and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.  He began receiving good reviews.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle said of a still-life that he exhibited at the National Academy in 1889 that it “deserves mention for brightness and strength among several others of its kind.”  In 1895 he exhibited a work at the Union League Club of Brooklyn , where he was called “a new-comer …  … with decided talent.”  During this period, Styles’ works began to resemble other popular artists of the day, including those of Edwin Howland Blashfield (1848-1936), and he started to paint images that catered to popular tastes (this included classically inspired scenes, such as genre works depicting Roman bath interiors, etc.).
 
As an illustrator, Styles worked for the leading publications of the period, including “Scribner’s” where he illustrated an article in 1891 on “Ocean Passenger Travel” by John H. Gould ( the image was entitled “Revenue Officer Boarding, New York Bay”).  He also provided illustrations for another story for that firm in 1893, entitled  “The Revenue Cutter Service.”  Other publications he illustrated for include Frank Leslie's "Illustrated Newspaper" and "Harper's Weekly.
 
By 1910 he and his wife Henrietta were living with her parents on Proctor Road in the hamlet of Eldred, Highland Township, Sullivan County, New York, where the Austin family had summered for many years.  He was still working as an artist in New York City, commuting there each week.  He and his wife soon built a mansion across the road from the popular hostelry named the Mountain Grove House.  
 
Though all seemed to be going well, between 1910 and 1913 his world came apart.  His wife apparently hated that he would spend all week working in the city while she remained in Eldred.  Eventually, Henrietta ran off with one of the local ministers, the Rev. Ralph Allen.  Needless to say, her actions caused a number of raised eyebrows in the community.  Walter Styles remained single until 1914, when he married a much younger woman named Georgia Clark (1889-1956) who had also grown up in the area.  In 1920 he was living with his new wife, and his parents, on Washington Lake Road.  It was in the small community of Eldred that he helped establish the local library – where he also worked as the librarian – and from where he served as the town clerk for the township of Highland, the municipality in which Eldred was located.
 
Walter B. Styles died in Eldred on Thursday, the 2nd of April, 1948 at the age of eighty-six.  His service was held from the Congregational Church in Eldred, with the Rev. John L. Beebout officiating.  Burial was in the Eldred Cemetery , Eldred, Sullivan County, New York State.
 
Known Exhibitions:  The National Academy of Design, New York, New York, 1888, 1890-1891,1893; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1893; Union League Club, Brooklyn, New York, 1895.  
 
Very few of his original oils are known to be in public collections; one of Sitka is housed in the collection of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, Anchorage, Alaska.  Reproductions based on his illustrations are located in the collection of the Alaska State Library, Juneau, Alaska.  Styles is known to have been popular with private collectors, and most of his paintings are held in private collections across the United States.  Notable art dealers such as Kennedy Galleries in New York City have also carried his paintings (works entitled “Clam Digging, Sitka, Alaska,” and “Sitka, Alaska,” where held in their gallery stock as early as 1976).

Biography from Braarud Fine Art:
Little is known about the life and career of Walter B. Styles, despite the fact that his images of Alaska appeared widely in late 19th-century publications and continue to be sought after by collectors today. Styles lived in Sitka and Hoonah, Alaska from 1880 until about 1885, working as a missionary-teacher in Hoonah and at the Sheldon Jackson School in Sitka.

After serving as postmaster of Sitka for two years, he and his wife Henrietta, a missionary's daughter whom he wooed and wed in Sitka, moved to the East coast. In New York, Styles did illustrations for Frank Leslie's "Illustrated Newspaper", "Harper's Weekly," and "Scribner's Magazine. "

The artist's activities before and after his stint in Alaska are largely unknown, but the famous naturalist John Muir, a knowledgeable friend of many of the most prominent landscape painters of the day, evidently admired his work. Several reproductions of Styles' paintings of southeast Alaska appeared in Muir's 1888 "Picturesque California" and the "Region West of the Rocky Mountains from Alaska to Mexico…"

Styles' depictions of Native Alaskans have been praised for their avoidance of the stereotypes so prevalent among artists of his day, and his careful documentation of native costumes, boats, and dwellings has been compared to that of the prominent American painter William Sidney Mount.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


Walter Styles is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Notable Alaska

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