2018-10-04 / Editorial

Saco’s Charles Henry Granger: A painter of faces

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By Leslie Rounds

Charles Henry Granger is one of those people you ought to know if you live in the Saco area. I hesitate to call him a local treasure, but he certainly seems to … demand some kind of attention. The Saco Museum owns several paintings by Granger, and there are others in the area, as well.

This week I received an email from Florida from a lady who wanted to find out if the beach scene she had acquired was by him (no, it isn’t) and it got me thinking about this local artist. Some of his works are included in the current semi-permanent exhibit of Saco history, “Making History,” and he also has works in our Laurel Hill Cemetery exhibition, “Buried in Time.”

Granger was born in Saco in 1812. He attended Thornton Academy from 1822-1828 before he received a commission to West Point. He returned to Saco in 1830, (not apparently caring for the military life,) determined, in spite of a total lack of professional training, to become an artist and a musician. He wrote in his journal, “In order that I might not be interrupted in my studies, I secluded myself from society and for nearly two years led a lonely life occupied wholly with music, pictures and books.”

Once he returned to more worldly affairs, he met and married Mary Eaton of Kennebunkport in 1839. But apparently still not quite adept at social skills, he left her behind and embarked on a three year trip to points south, eventually settling near Baltimore, Maryland. There he announced in a newspaper ad, “A Painter of Faces is Among You.” His unfortunate abandoned bride was forced to find work in order to support herself. It’s not surprising that when he finally got around to returning to Saco in 1842, he was less than popular with residents.

In spite of his unpleasant and often temperamental ways, Granger began to receive commissions to paint portraits and often won prizes at local fairs for his art. Though mostly a painter of faces (some of them post-mortem and included in “Buried in Time”) he also did a few landscapes, one of which, “Muster Day,” belongs to the collection of the National Gallery of Art. Although he supported his family through his art, he was never wildly successful.

The “Making History” exhibit at the Saco Museum includes two of Granger’s works: “Thomas Brannan” and “Reading Room Discussion.” Thomas Brannan, depicted in front of his hearth, was painted in 1880, 50 years after the man’s death. Thomas was Granger’s uncle who was born in Ireland and died in Saco. Brannan is shown gazing out at the First Parish Church, which had burned in 1860. Brannan is also one of the characters depicted in a heated discussion in the “Reading Room” painting. A third painting, of Abraham Lincoln, hangs in the meeting room at city hall.

Granger was the father of three children, born after his return from his southern sojourn. His only son was killed in action during the Civil War, and one of his daughters died as a young woman, just after the war. The third daughter became an artist and an art teacher. He outlived his wife by a couple of years and died in Saco in September 1893. He was a prolific journal writer and something of a Renaissance man, determined to become what he thought he ought to be, not willing to be limited by life’s circumstances. Did he succeed at that? His artwork is interesting, and if not displaying brilliance, is certainly enjoyable as much for the people and scenes he depicted as for his talent. Come in and take a look. Was Granger a Saco treasure?

Leslie Rounds is executive director of Dyer Library/ Saco Museum.

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