Posts Tagged ‘Gilbert Perry’

Portrait of a Group of LumberjacksI’ve got a soft spot for pictures of lumbermen.  I’ve written here before about my great-grandfather, Gilbert Perry, who was a pioneer in the Adirondack logging of the late 1800’s.  It was in the days before chainsaws and gas-powered tractors when everything was done with axes, crosscut saws, teams of horses and the brute force of large crews of men.  My aunt once had a photo of him alongside a huge stack of logs atop a horse-drawn sled but it was lost before I able to see it.

But besides Gilbert, early loggers from the Eastern forests are pretty numerous in my family and in my wife’s family.  I am always surprised at how many turn up when I am doing research. Being a lumberjack was a rough and dangerous job, one that was romanticized in the late 1800’s in magazines such as Harper’s Weekly and the Atlantic as the Eastern equivalent of the Western cowboys of that time.

A number of those in our families lost their lives in the forests.  Among them, Cheri’s great-grandfather was crushed beneath a large log and died before he could be extracted.  I read an account of a great-uncle of mine in the Pennsylvania Black Forest whose leg was crushed between two logs in a sluice that was being used to move them.  The article tells how they  rushed him to a train and sped at breakneck speeds towards Williamsport trying to save him.  Unfortunately,  he passed away as they pulled into the city.

So whenever I run across a photo from of early lumberjacks I have to stop and take a look.  I don’t know anything about the photo at the top, when or where it was taken.  I suspect it’s from around the turn of the century but whether it is from the Eastern forests, the Northwest or the great forests of the upper Midwest is beyond me.  Regardless, it’s just a great photo on so many levels and is one of my new favorites.

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GC Myers Icon-Gilbert 2016This is the next step in the Icon series of paintings that I talked about a few days ago.  It’s an 18″ by 18″ canvas that I call Gilbert, going with the French pronunciation–  more jill-bear than gill-bert.  There’s a reason for that.

I had mentioned using this Icon series showing plain folks leading simple and uncelebrated lives in the pose and style of religious icon paintings.  But because these are personal pieces for me (by that I mean that these paintings are being done for me alone at this point) I decide to try to channel the spirit  of an ancestor into these pieces.  Kind of like the spirit portraits that famed folk portraitist William Matthew Prior did in the  19th century, where he would  paint a portrait of a dead person’s supposed spirit which of course didn’t look anything like their actual physical form.

I’m not claiming to be painting spirits here.  I don’t have that ability or the proper amount of belief to even attempt that.  But from doing genealogy I have come across figures that stand out for me, people that sometimes make me proud and sometimes make me not so proud.  Both have an attraction for me because as I stated  in the post about Frank the Icon,  I believe we are all capable of being both gods and monsters and every family has its fair share of both.  I thought it would be interesting to do  a take on those folks, good and bad, in the iconic form.

Gilbert is based on my great-grandfather, Gilbert Perry, a renowned lumberman of the early Adirondacks.  I have never seen a picture of him nor do I know much of him on a personal level.  He died nearly 25 years before I was born and was born in 1855.  But using old newspaper accounts and historic records I have been able to piece together a life that was based on life in the forests of the Adirondacks.  He went out his own at age 17 and immediately had a contract and a crew of workers to bring in a large number of logs in the burgeoning logging business of the late 19th century.

This was a time when the work was all by hand and the transport was all by horse sleds or by river.  The accounts of some of the river drives are pretty amazing.  Itw as time when being a cowboy or a logger were the most exciting jobs in the land. I read an account from the Atlantic magazine of that time that detailed a day in one of his camps.  Fascinating stuff.

He was  well known and did well in the Adirondack lumber world, at one point employing over 350 men and owning more than 50 teams of horses.  Born of French-Canadian descent, he brought many French-Canadian loggers and their families into this country.  That’s where the jill-bear comes from.  His nickname was Jib.

I wrote last year of going to North Lake in the Adirondacks where several of his logging camps had been located and standing on a dam that he had first built there in the 1890’s.  It was great to be in that space and air, not so unchanged as of yet from his time.  The sheer quietness of the place and the light of the sky off the lake made me think of how he must have felt in his early days, axe in hand and a huge task before him.  I think he was probably a happy man in that moment.

There’s more I could tell but it’s probably not that interesting to anyone outside my family.  And even many of them have eyes that glaze over when I do speak of it.  I will spare you that but his is how I choose to see my great-grandfather.

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I wrote the other day about doing some genealogy about my great-grandfather, Gilbert Perry, and how interesting it has been in reconnecting with an ancestor about who I knew so little about.  One of the great pleasures has been reading the old newspapers from the late 1800’s that are available online via  the Northern New York Library System.  I am constantly fascinated in browsing the ads and notices of the times, seeing how day to day life changed and evolved.

This ad for a balloon ascension with Professor Squire, a la The Wizard of Oz, at the Franklin County Fair in Malone, NY appeared in the September 2, 1872 edition of the Malone Palladium.  It was on the front page alongside accounts from the Republican convention of that year where Ulysses S. Grant was nominated for the presidency as well as death notices, ads for pianos (they were selling Steinways up there!) and dry goods.  Ads looking for tin peddlers, a furniture dealer selling metal burial caskets, a lumber dealer, carriage painters and a mail order ad for a tea dealer on Wall Street in NYC.  There was a list of  rules of behavior that would be enforced at the Fair.  No drinking or betting on the trotters.

It was all pretty interesting, a glimpse into that time, but the part that caught my eye was near the top of the page, just under the death notices.  It was a Notice of Liberation where my great-great grandfather, Francis Perry, was giving Gilbert Perry, my great-grandfather, the remainder of his minority, giving him freedom from furhter financial obligations to his father.  Gilbert was free to transact business as he saw fit.

It was at this point that Gilbert formed his first crew and headed into the North woods with his first contract to deliver logs.  He was just 18 years old.  He continued to be a logger for the next 60 years, only stopping a few years before his death at age 81.  My Aunt Norma has recollections of visiting his farm in St. Regis Falls when she was small girl in the early 1930’s.  She said there were big log sleds scattered all around, the type pulled by teams of horses.  He was throwback even then to an earlier time before big tractors and chainsaws.

So in this little piece in this little newspaper from the north I see the beginning of my great-grandfather’s world, one that led to my grandmother’s much different world and to my father’s even more different world to my world which would probably seem incomprehensible to a man so at home in the woods.  Or maybe not…

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