Is there an artist in your family, either professional or amateur? If your ancestor left only one piece of artwork, what impressions might you attribute to the artist?
In my earlier post, I wrote about the Orcutt family portraits of Clinton, Anna, and their daughter Anna Ri. There were two other daughters, Jane Clare, and Marion Edith, but no portraits exist of them. However, Edith painted and thought of herself as an artist. Her elder brother, Louis, dabbled in pencil sketches, and one sketch has survived 115 years. I know a lot about my great-grandmother Edith, but I know very little about Louis. My impressions of him are based on one solitary drawing saved by his family and a few directory listings.
During the 19th century, an affluent woman with leisure time expressed creativity through “fancywork”. Hobbies Included needlework, leatherwork, painting, gardening, and music, all intended to demonstrate affluence and influence in society. Fine artwork, such as an oil painting might have been exhibited at a local art society, but “most women made sand pictures, feather pictures, and shell boxes to decorate their homes.”  Did Edith exhibit her oil painting at the local art society?
In 1896 at seventeen, Edith Orcutt completed her education at Sacred Heart Academy in Omaha, Nebraska. She had time on her hands and filled it with activities typical for her social class, attending parties, outings, dance, music, and artwork. She must have taken her artwork seriously because, in the 1897 Omaha Directory, she lists herself as an “artist”.
Her only surviving painting demonstrates technique and skill wielding a paintbrush. The large rectangular painting framed in ornate gold is proudly signed “M. Edith Orcutt, ‘98”.
The still life displays two vases covered with a bouquet of flowers. A large copper vessel encircled by animals overflows with lush, pink and yellow roses in full blossom. Roses cascade on a delicate cream lace tablecloth. Soft violet blossoms fill a small green pottery vase with one handle. Was it summer and Edith collected the flowers from the garden to use as her motif?
Edith received painting lessons from Frances Miller Mumaugh, a landscape artist who trained with several prominent American artists in New York where she was born. After relocating to Omaha, Nebraska, Frances continued to travel abroad studying and painting. She is most noted for her floral still life paintings, including one that looks similar to the painting by Edith.
Based on the 1897 directory date and the date on the painting, Edith painted for at least 10 years. How many other paintings were there? What happened to them? Maybe she stopped painting after her marriage in 1899. She valued this painting enough to elegantly frame it and pass it on in the family.
Edith admired her teacher and I imagine a friendship developed between the two women, despite the 20 year age difference. As a token of this friendship, Frances gave Edith a quaint painting of a donkey. My mother has always treasured the painting and it still hangs on her wall.
Louis Deforest Orcutt, Edith’s elder brother, practiced his art skills too. He was the first-born in the family and the only remaining son. The 1890 Omaha Directory lists him as a student.
Did he study at Creighton University? Was he studying law as his father? The following year, in September 1891, Louis died at his home. His obituary doesn’t list the cause of death. There are no photographs of Louis that survived. I’m fairly certain they existed because there are pictures of the other four children. Just one piece of artwork with his signature survives, dated 1890.
The young man chose an appealing subject for his age, a bottle of imported Ale. Maybe it was his favorite brew and he slowly sipped it while he drew. The pencil sketch depicts a bottle of Liverpool Pale Ale. The bottle is open and near it is a tall, narrow glass. I picture Louis relishing his Ale while he carefully labeled the bottle with the name of the distiller, E. & J. Burke. Edward Frederick Burke and John Burke were Irish distillers of stout from County Galway who established a successful business in New York. 
Brother and sister united in their interest in art. Did Edith save his drawing as a memento after his death? I feel as if I know my great-grandmother, Edith, because my mother and grandmother shared stories. There are many photos and newspaper articles to document her life. Her brother, Louis, is an enigma. There are no documents, letters, or photographs that reveal more about him. A simple pencil sketch is all that remains of him; it evokes a feeling of lost youth.
© 2015 copyright Kendra Hopp Schmidt. All rights reserved.
 Barnett, George A, ed. Encyclopedia of Social Networks. (London, United Kingdom, 2011), 380; digital images, Google Books. http://google.com/books : accessed 3 December 2015.
 Omaha City Directory, Omaha Directory Company Inc, Omaha Printing Co., Omaha, NE, for 1896, database Ancestry (www.ancestry.com:accessed [Dec 3, 2015]) 405.
 Omaha City & South Omaha City Directory, J.M. Wolfe & Co., Publishers, for 1891, database Ancestry (www.ancestry.com: accessed [Dec 4, 2015]) 411.
 Grutchfield, Walter. “E. & J. Burke.” E. & J. Burke. N.p., 2015. Web. 03 Dec. 2015. <http://www.waltergrutchfield.net/burke.htm>.