Margaret (Elder) Philbrick, etcher, painter and lithographer, was born in Northampton, MA, in 1914. She married Otis Philbrick and they moved to Westwood, MA, in 1941. The Philbricks were important residents of Westwood, MA for many years, residing on Dover Road, first at 121 Dover Road, pictured below in the work entitled July Afternoon 1941. (Google Maps image capture from 2012 provided for contrast.)
The Philbricks then moved to 323 Dover Road. Otis and Margaret Philbrick, had one son together, Otis Philbrick Jr. who graduated from Westwood High school in 1960. Otis Jr. was voted "Most Likely to Succeed." Fun fact about the 323 Dover Road property. Our custodian, Mike Schmidt, has been the caretaker of that property for over twenty years! He knew Otis Jr. and his wife, Gina who left Westwood and retired to Ashville, SC.
After her husband Otis died in 1973, Margaret donated a number of works to the Westwood Public Library and then moved to the Berkshires where she opened the Westenhook art gallery. Margaret Philbrick moved back to Westwood Glenn in 1995 where she began painting miniatures. Mrs. Philbrick passed away in 1999.
A number of the pieces donated to the library by Mrs. Philbrick depict Westwood places. For example, the Westwood collection includes serigraphs of the Baker House, the Ellis Tavern, the Glover Mill, (picture displayed below)
as well as an etching of the Westwood Little League,1951, "the first year Little League games were held in Westwood, in the Pond Plain area, with star David Corsini on first base," writes Philbrick on the back of the etching.
Both Margaret and Otis Philbrick were founding members of The Westwood Gallery, a cooperative art gallery located at 36 Hartford Street Westwood from the early 60's through the late 70′s. (Read more here)
The gallery "was very active in town" said Margaret Philbrick. "There were 12 artists, and we had one-man shows and group shows," she said. "We sold a lot. We had artists from Westwood, Dedham and Medfield - It was wonderful, she said.
Although the name Margaret Philbrick might not be instantly recognizable, many Westwood residents will find in fact that they are already familiar with Mrs. Philbrick's work as she was the illustrator of West Dedham and Westwood, 300 years. This classic history of Westwood by Marjory R. Fenerty, included this charming depiction by Philbrick of the first Westwood Public Library building.
In 1989, the Westwood Public library hosted an exhibition of prints by Margaret Philbrick, including twenty-five prints Mrs. Philbrick had recently donated to the library. The program for this exhibition quotes Mrs. Philbrick as saying,
"When I offered the collection of many of my original prints to the Library, I wanted to give something back to the town for the happy and productive years I lived in Westwood. I thought that in the future people might like to know what some spots used to look like from the 1940's on."
In 2020, the Westwood Public Library received the latest acquisitions to the Philbrick collection, a donation of seventeen additional framed prints, donated by Evelyn and Paul Finnegan of Scituate, MA. This gift was facilitated by Mary Finnegan. The Finnegan's generosity will allow all who visit our library to enjoy these stunning and important works of art for years to come.
Margaret Dougall (Elder) Philbrick was born on July 4,1914 in Northampton, MA
Her parents were David Elder and Mildred Brunton Pattison Elder. Her father made his living as a farm manager. In 1920 the family lived in Avon, CT. The 1930 census records indicate that Margaret was one of six children and that her father was the "head farmer" at the Walter E. Fernald State School, in Waltham, MA, where the family resided.
When Philbrick was asked in her 1971 oral history interview with the Smithsonian about her early artistic endeavors, she recalled the thrill of being a seventh grader and creating a recognizable portrait of her sister on plain brown paper.
Ms. Philbrick said, "the strong feeling of being an artist really came in my senior year of high school." However she had a "very great disappointment." When she took her art aptitude test for acceptance into Massachusetts College of Art, the first time she failed. She didn't get in. She said, "It was the most heartbreaking experience I've ever had in my whole life and I cried for two days, steadily." She remedied the situation by spending the following summer drawing tables and chair and still life groups, "things that she knew she would be asked to draw when she took the exam again in the fall." She was accepted the second time.
When interviewed by the Smithsonian Mrs. Philbrick was asked about teachers who inspired her during her time at Mass Art. In addition to mentioning her husband, Otis Philbrick, she also mentioned Ernest L. Major, who had studied in Paris and Richard Andrew, her first etching teacher. Mrs. Philbrick noted she knew during her very first etching class, that etching was going to be her life work. She loved working with "a fine needle." During her interview with the Smithsonian she said, "when I got to etching that was the real thing...I liked the feeling of working the copper so much better than working in charcoal or pastel or oil painting."
One of Margaret Elder's etchings is prominently displayed on a full page of her 1937 yearbook.
When Margaret Elder graduated from Massachusetts College of Art she couldn't "make a living" so she worked in a candy store and did her etchings at night and showed her work in exhibits, periodically selling some. In 1940 she had her first "one-man" show at Doll and Richards of Newbury Street.
It's interesting to note that prior to marriage, Margaret Philbrick's occupation (In the 1940 census) was listed as artist. However, in the Westwood town records she was always referred to a homemaker or housewife. These 1946 Westwood town records even list men and women separately
By the 1960's Westwood no longer segregated men and woman in their directories, however, this 1969 town directory still lists Margaret Philbrick's occupation as "At Home."
In 1971, Philbrick was interviewed by the Smithsonian as part of their Oral History project. Robert Brown, the interviewer asked her, "What do you think, generally, about women as artists? Would you comment on it?" Philbrick replied, "In this day and age, I can't see any difference.. I think there's no problem that a woman has in art that a man doesn't have and vice-versa. I think in the old days, when Mary Cassatt was trying to make a go of it, for instance, it was a tremendous thing for her to pick up her roots and go over across to work. And I think the women artists probably had a very hard time because they were expected to stay at home and do nothing else. But in this day I can't see that a woman has any problem at all; I never had any problem." Brown asked, "And even being married and with children, your driving force has been your continual desire to be an artist?" Philbrick answered, "Yes. I have, of course, only one son. My husband was married before but they were step-children and weren't living with us."
When her son, Otis Jr. was small Philbrick said, "I did a lot of Wedgewood drawings with I could do while he was running around and playing around on the floor, because it just took a small drawing table and at that time I had just a very tiny corner of a room." Philbrick did original pencil drawings for Wedgewood plates and the drawings were sent to England and made into copper engravings. From 1944 through 1955 Mrs. Philbrick designed these Wedgewood Commemorative Plates. Mrs. Philbrick would receive photographs from the company and she had to produce pencil drawings to the exact size that would be used on the item and then the drawings were sent to England where copperplate engravings were made and then printed and placed on the china. She designed plates for The U.S. Military Academy at Westpoint, The Peabody Museum, Boston College, Boston University, Mount Holyoke College, Wellesley College etc. However, Philbrick said this type of work was "not very creative," nor did it pay well. "I would work sometimes a whole month and get paid twenty dollars for one drawing."
Lithography was more financially successful. Otis Philbrick, (who was also interviewed for the Smithsonian) said, " Now, for instance, that studio that we built on for Margaret, that whole L in the studio, she earned that with just one plate. She made 'Boston Skyline" which she sold enough to pay for that studio. Seven thousand dollars on that one plate."
In her interview with the Smithsonian Philbrick was asked about her time in Westwood. She said, "Well, for those twenty years, we lived out here in Westwood and we had a couple of acres and I did a lot of gardening along with my art work. See most all my work is really based on nature and I think that it was developed partly through my outside activities in nature. I've had a wildflower garden for many, many years and I've had a sun heated pit house for a quite a few years which was the inspiration, the basis of a good many of my paintings later on and my etchings and other print forms."
Mrs. Philbrick had such an affinity for flowers. She says, "I've done a great many flower things... I've been a member of the Wild Flower Society for a long time." In 1964 Mrs. Philbrick illustrated the book On Gardening by Gertrude Jekyll and in 1972 Philbrick illustrated The flower lover's book of natural arrangements by Georgiana Reynold Smith.
Although Margaret Philbrick resided in the small town of Westwood her artwork reached people all over the world. Her etching Mid August, owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art has also been exhibited in Rome, Venice, Milan, and London. Her etching of elephants at the Franklin Park zoo is owned by the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.
Mrs. Philbrick moved to the Berkshires in 1974 after the death of her husband in 1973. Philbrick continued to be inspired by rural settings as evidenced by this etching entitled Berkshire Farmyard. The Philbricks had previously spent summers in the Berkshires and Mrs. Philbrick's sister lived nearby.
However, Westwood lured her home again. In 1989 Ms. Philbrick told the Daily Transcript that she was "already on the waiting list at Westwood Glen retirement community" and she hoped to return to Westwood someday to be near her family." And return she did. In 1995 Philbrick returned to Westwood where she resided until her death in 1999.
Otis Albert Philbrick was born on October 21, 1888 in Mattapan, MA. His father was George Philbrick and his mother was Mary King Philbrick. According to the 1900 Census, Otis was one of six children and his father was a machinist. Otis' mother was born in England.
When Otis was in the fifth grade the family moved from Cambridge, MA to a five acre farm in South Weymouth, MA near a lake. He enjoyed nature as a child. He began to draw quite early. He liked to copy cartoons from the newspaper. Lines attracted him. Philbrick's exquisite use of line is evident here in this lithograph created in 1949
When Otis lived in Weymouth he used to visit the small library in town to look at the two art books the library owned. He noted in his oral interview with the Smithsonian that these books only had black and white reproductions and that he enjoyed seeing books with colored reproductions when he began attending art school. Philbrick told the Christian Science Monitor in 1973, "In my country town of South Weymouth the neighbors would laugh at you if they saw you with a paint box." "When I was young, an artist was a kind of a nut." Nevertheless, Philbrick went on to study art at the Massachusetts Normal Art School (which later became the Massachusetts School of Art). He studied under Joseph De Camp, noted for his portrait of Abraham Lincoln. When Philbrick graduated from art school he became a teacher of drawing at Rindge Technical School in Cambridge making $600 a year. (By the time Philbrick left Rindge in 1927, fifteen years later, he was making $3,000 a year.)
During the 1910s, Philbrick produced a number of drawings of young children. He exhibited these drawings at the Copley Gallery, the Philadelphia Watercolor Club, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. In 1914 Philbrick, along with S.E. Brown, had an Exhibition of portraits at the Copley Gallery. A catalog of the exhibition is found in the Museum of Fine Arts Library in Boston. In Philbrick's interview with the Smithsonian Philbrick explains that this was a very big deal explaining that "this was where John Singer Sargent and the Ten American painters exhibited. It was a very important gallery."
In 1912 Philbrick married Elizabeth Jorgensen and they went on to have four children. Philbrick told the Smithsonian, "I'd be teaching most all day and I was teaching evening school too and I'd come home at night and they'd be asleep, but I would turn on the lights and I'd draw them asleep and I had a good many drawing of children asleep and I had an exhibition in Boston of sleeping children... all sleeping children...On one Wednesday afternoon, the day the criticism came out and all of a sudden I opened it and there was a big headline, "Master of Sleeping Babies."
Mr. Philbrick was an instructor of drawing at Rindge Technical High School in Cambridge until 1927 when he became a teacher at the Massachusetts Normal Art School, later the Mass School of Art. The 1930, Mass School of Art Annual lists this "quiet gentleman" as residing at 10 Hilcrest Parkway in Winchester. In his interview with the Smithsonian, Philbrick speaks of this house, "It had been built by an Italian artist that came over here and built the place. The whole upper story was a studio... And there was in that studio a big etching press, a big old-fashioned etching press with a big wheel that was about five feet across in diameter. And I started immediately. And so I got started doing some etchings."
Philbrick eventually became the head of the painting and graphics department.
According to a Christian Science Monitor article from 1973, the Philbrick family had quite an "influential association with the Massachusetts College of Art spanning 45 years and ten members of the Philbrick family have attended the school." Ann Philbrick Hall, Otis' daughter was a sculptor. Philbrick also served as the acting president of the college from 1944-1945, during wartime and then again ten years later for another two years due to the death of the current college president.
In 1941 Mr. Philbrick married Margaret Elder, a 1837 graduate of Massachusetts College of Art and the Philbricks moved to Westwood MA. They had one son together, Otis Jr. The Philbricks were founding members of the Westwood Gallery.
Otis Philbrick II, son of Otis and Margaret, graduated from MIT and became a research engineer. The Christian Science Monitor says, “He chose photography for his artistic media. The awesomeness of nature, as in the giant mountains of New England, attracts Otis II, whose luminous dye transfer prints and black and white photographs he processes himself."
Otis and Otis II
Mr. Philbrick was one of the founding members of the Boston Printmakers in 1947. In 1953 Philbrick was elected president of the organization, a post he held for seventeen years. He exhibited widely including exhibitions at the Guild of Boston Artists, the Corcoran Gallery, National Academy of Design, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. Philbrick's works are in the collections of the Fogg Museum, Library of Congress, and Amherst College, among many others.
Mr. Philbrick was an inspiration to many including, Francis Sumner Merritt, the founding director of the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine. "Mr. Merritt was known for his innovative approach to education. He pioneered international sessions at the award winning craft school that he guided for more than twenty-five years." Source: Smithsonian
In his 80th year alone Otis Philbrick did 22 floral paintings of pussy willows, goldenrod, chrysanthemums etc. and also crafted the frames for over half of the pieces. He enjoyed the simple flowers growing on his land in Westwood, MA. He said, "We have a couple of acres here and I usually try to start in the spring and as they come out, the quince, the forsythia, the apple blossoms, the lilacs and so on I do them as they come and they excite me just as much as...I 'd rather do those than some fancy orchids anytime. To me they have a deeper meaning, even just field daisies. I get excited about white daisies growing. I don't think there's anything any more beautiful than that, growing right out of the land that we walk on, air that we breath and the same sun that shines anywhere on this earth. I find if I go out in the studio and just take some simple thing and paint or draw, I can make my own world that has a sense of order in it, that makes me feel that the world's all right...Once there I'm happy. It's enough for me. I don't want to leave this place and my studio is the center of the universe."
Mr. Philbrick died of cancer at the age of 84 on Easter Sunday, April 23, 1973.
Otis Philbrick's work can still be found for sale at auction. (Example)
1888-October 21, 1888- Otis Albert Philbrick born Mattapan, MA
1912 - April 3, 1912 - Otis Philbrick marries Elizabeth Jorgensen
1913 - January 5, 1913 - Otis' first child, George A. Philbrick is born.
1914 - July 4, 1914 Margaret Dougall Elder was born in Northampton, MA
1930 Census - Otis Philbrick & family
1935 Margaret Elder produced her first etchings
1937 Margaret Elder graduates from Mass Art (Yearbook photo)
Otis Philbrick's photo from the 1937 yearbook:
1940 - Margaret Elder has her first "one-man" show at Doll and Richards of Newbury Street.
1941- Margaret Elder marries Otis Philbrick
1941 - The Philbricks move to Westwood, MA living first at 121 Dover Rd and then 323 Dover Road
1942- Otis Jr., son of Margaret & Otis is born
1946- Otis Philbrick's first one-man show - Division of Graphic Arts U.S. National Museum, Smithsonian Building.
1953- Otis Philbrick is elected President of the Boston Printmakers, a post he holds for 17 years.
1964 -Westwood Gallery was formed and operated until 1973.
1974- Margaret Philbrick moves to Sheffield, MA in the Berkshires. She owns and operates the Westenhook Art Gallery.
1989 - Westwood Public Library Exhibit April 30,1989
1995 - Margret Philbrick moves back to Westwood into an apartment in Westwood Glen to be near her son and family.
May 10-12, 1996 - Philbrick exhibit at Fox Hill Village
1999- February 19, 1999 Margaret Philbrick dies. Obituary Boston Globe
Summer 2004 - Westwood Historical Society Hosts Philbrick Exhibit
2005 - September 2005 Westwood house for sale
2007 - September 9- October 11 Exhibition at the Fisher School. 2005-2006 minigrant from Westwood Education Foundation helped fund this exhibition.
December 2020 - Evelyn & Paul Finnegan donate seventeen framed pieces of art created by Margaret and Otis Philbrick to the Westwood Public Library
2022 - Permanent Philbrick Exhibit - Westwood Public Library
Margaret & Otis Philbrick are known for their etchings, lithographs, serigraphs etc.
Metropolitan Museum of Art - Lithography
America's Graphics - What is a Serigraph?
Metropolitan Museum of Art - Etching
Margaret Philbrick also created collagraphs, "essentially a collage of materials of various textures glued on to a printing plate, often a thin wood or cardboard." Here is an example of one of her collagraph pieces.
Both Margaret and Otis painted and exhibited watercolors. They were both members of the Boston Watercolor society, (which became the New England Watercolor Society.)
Otis Philbrick giving a lithography demonstration .
Some interesting things to note about the Westwood collection:
One of the highlights of the collection, displayed in the Library Conference room over the fireplace, is a portrait of the poet, Robert Frost by Otis Philbrick..
Mrs. Philbrick, when speaking of this portrait says, "I think it is one of his most significant prints. He (Otis) had his own lithograph press and printed it himself from the original stone” (See the tab explaining various techniques.) “He always loved Robert Frost’s work and once heard Frost read his poems at Harvard. I had several of Frost poems read at Otis’ funeral.” Source: Westwood Public Library Exhibit Brochure
Boston University also has a lithograph of Robert Frost by Otis Philbrick. The Boston University Inventory of the Robert Frost Collection makes note of a lithograph in their collection, depicting Frost by Otis Philbrick on page 45.
One acquainted with the night refers to a poem by Frost.
BY ROBERT FROST
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
Robert Frost, "Acquainted with the Night" from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright © 1964, 1970 by Leslie Frost Ballantine. Copyright 1936, 1942 © 1956 by Robert Frost. Copyright 1923, 1928, © 1969 by Henry Holt and Co. Reprinted with the permission of Henry Holt & Company, LLC.
The portrait of Robert Frost was donated to the Westwood Public Library by the Westwood Gallery in Memory of Otis Philbrick.
Please note that Otis Philbrick is not the only Philbrick with connections to Robert Frost. In 1983 Margaret Philbrick published a book (which the Westwood Public Library does not own) entitled Spring Pools, "An enchanting work consisting of twelve poems by Robert Frost ... each interpreted by an original etching created expressly for the work by award-winning New England artist, Margaret Philbrick. The etchings are spontaneous drawings from nature, some made directly on the copper plate, reminiscent of the fine needle sketches of pastoral scenes by Rembrandt van Rijn. Artist Philbrick printed each etching on dampened paper in her own studio workshop and has signed each individual print in pencil, as well as the colophon page. The group of 16 folded folios is enclosed in a self-wrapper and boxed in a handmade clamshell portfolio covered with fine-thread imported natural linen, with a gold-stamped leather title label." Here are some photos of this special book.
The backs of the Philbrick artwork also tell stories. Handwritten notes, prior prices paid for pieces and labels give more information about the works. It was the custom back in the 1960's and 1970's to order stick on return address labels. Label companies offered deals for preprinted return labels such as 2,500 labels for $2.00. In addition to the Westwood street address, the Philbricks also had labels printed with words like "original etching." This way there could be no confusion between an etching and a serigraph.
Some of the notes on the various art pieces tell Westwood history. For example, on the back of one piece Philbrick explains that "noted radio announcer, Fred Lang" lived at the corner of highland and Dover Road. (Frederick Langenheim was a DJ for WNAC Boston Source: Billboard: American Radio History 1937 p. 10 ) "Lang also did Queen for a Day, the Tell-o-test Quiz Show, and a music show with a laid back flavor leading some to credit him with pioneering the "Easy Listening" style. Source
These handwritten notes also give clues to changes in the landscapes captured by the Philbricks. The note on the back of this etching says, "Studio of Otis Philbrick, at 323 Dover Road. Shed in front demolished."
In this 1996 photo of the house, found in the Westwood Library historical collection, the shed Margaret Philbrick mentioned was replaced by an addition.
The Philbrick collection is hung throughout the library. QR codes link to more information about each work and may give more information about a Westwood connection.
Listen to audio recordings of interviews with the Philbricks, found on the Smithsonian Archives of American Art website. These recordings are five minute samples of the interviews. Printed transcripts of both entire interviews are found in the Westwood Public Library Vertical File.
The Westwood Public Library Vertical File has print copies of various newspaper and magazine articles as well as print outs of the 30 page Smithsonian transcripts.
Additionally The Westwood Public Library owns reference copies of the following titles featuring illustrations by Margaret Philbrick:
On gardening / Introd. by Elizabeth Lawrence. Illustrated by Margaret Philbrick
Artwork by Margaret and Otis Philbrick is displayed throughout the Westwood Public Library. QR Codes posted near the pieces give information about the work and interesting facts relating to the subject matter.