Encyclopedia of American Folk Art

By Gerard C.Wertkin; Lee Kogan | Go to book overview
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CADY, EMMA JANE (1854-1933)

of East Chatham, New York, created a small but exceptional group of theorem paintings at the end of the nineteenth century. By the time Cady was practicing this art, in the 1890s, the fashion for theorem paintings had long since passed; nevertheless, the works that have been attributed to her are considered some of the finest examples of the technique.

Theorem paintings (watercolors composed through the use of hollow-cut stencils) were most commonly still-life arrangements of flowers or fruit, such as Cady's two nearly identical depictions of overflowing glass compotes. The artist's oeuvre, however, also includes two versions of doves sitting on a branch. The four watercolors were executed on paper, rather than the velvet ground favored earlier in the century; one additional painting is her only known oil on canvas. Cady's mastery of the theorem technique is evident in her skillful use of both transparent and opaque watercolors, enhancing the illusion of glass and other materials. Her watercolors also show the influence of chromolithography in the stippled effect that Cady achieved by "pouncing," or spreading a fine powder or pounce over her stencils with a textured cloth rather than a stiff brush. The application of mica flecks to the compote intensifies the juxtaposition of the delicate transparent glass with the satisfying solidity of the fruit.

When Cady's work was discovered in the 1930s, by J. Stuart Halladay and Herrell George Thomas, two early folk art collectors, it was thought to have been painted by another Emma Jane Cady of New Lebanon, New York, and dated about 1820, when theorem painting was at the height of its popularity. It was not until 1978 that Ruth Piwonka and Roderic H. Blackburn, researching the art of Columbia County, New York, for a forthcoming publication and exhibition, serendipitously learned of a painting inscribed "Mr. and Mrs.Eben N. Cady/Canaan/Columbia Co/ N.Y./April 9, 1890/E.J. Cady/East Chatham/N.Y."

This discovery enabled a good deal of information about Cady to be unearthed from family records and photographs, and public records. Her family migrated from Connecticut to Columbia County in the mideighteenth century. Her father, Norman J. Cady, was a farmer, and she was the oldest of three children. Piwonka and Blackburn were able to locate surviving family members and neighbors, who remembered Cady as a beautiful, strong-willed, and active woman, though none remembered that she painted. One surviving letter written by Cady mentions needlework she completed as a young girl, but it does not note her later watercolors; her occupation in census records is listed as "housework."

Cady never married, and after her parents died she moved first to the home of a nephew, then about 1920 to Grass Lake, Michigan, where she lived with her sister and her family until her death.

See also Painting, Still-life; Painting, Theorem; Pictures, Needlework; Samplers, Needlework.

Piwonka, Ruth, and Roderic H. Blackburn. "New Discoveries About Emma J. Cady." The Magazine Antiques, vol. 113, no. 2 (February 1978): 418-421.
--."Emma Cady's Theorem Painting." The Courier(January 21, 1988): A-8.
Rumford, Beatrix T., ed. American Folk Paintings: Paintings and Drawings Other Than Portraits from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center. Boston, 1988.


CAHILL, HOLGER (1887-1960)

was an art critic, curator, and arts administrator whose landmark exhibitions brought American folk art to the attention of the art world and whose seminal writings defined folk art as the unconventional expressions of makers with little formal training in art. He asserted that American folk art, often an overflow from the work of craftsmen, expressed the spirit of a people. Cahill viewed


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