Henry Martin Gasser (1909–1981)

An influential teacher, accomplished author, and talented artist recognized for his powerful watercolor portrayals of urban life in his hometown of Newark and throughout New Jersey during the twentieth century.

By Chelsea DeLay

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Notes
VII. Suggested Resources

I. Biography

Henry Martin Gasser was an important twentieth-century painter who resided in New Jersey for his entire life, where he was extremely involved in the state’s art scene. He was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1909, and pursued his interest in painting at the Newark School of Fine & Industrial Art and the Grand Central Art School in New York. He went on to enroll at the Art Students League, also in New York, where he met and took private lessons with fellow New Jersey artist John Grabach. Grabach played a dual role in Gasser’s life, acting as both a father-figure and a mentor; his influence can be seen in the young artist’s early works, which echoed the subjects, style, and compositions favored by artists who painted in the tradition of the Ashcan school.(1)

The pair often made trips to Cape Ann, Massachusetts, where the scenery along the coast became one of Gasser’s favorite subjects; his snow scenes of New England are widely celebrated and considered by critics to be among his best works.(2) It was with his hometown of Newark, however, that he felt the strongest connection; at the turn of the century, the city experienced a period of rapid growth and industrial development that coincided with Gasser’s emergence as an artist. His urban scenes were sympathetic towards those affected by the Great Depression and regularly incorporated the presence of a lone figure in a street to represent the personal misfortunes experienced as one goes through life. His work briefly deviated in subject to concentrate on aspects of Southern culture while he was stationed in North Carolina during World War II, but after the conclusion of his military service, he returned to Newark and resumed his focus on city life. At this time, he also accepted a teaching position at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts.(3)

Gasser’s rise to fame as a talented watercolorist was reinforced with invitations to participate in important exhibitions, where he earned awards from the Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington Water Color Clubs, Mint Museum of Art, and Montclair Art Museum, to name a few. He was also an active member of over twenty prestigious artist organizations, including the Allied Artists of America, Art Students League, The National Arts Club, The Royal Academy of the Arts, and The Salmagundi Club, serving as vice president of both the American Water Color Society and the National Academy of Design in 1953. Gasser drew upon his success as an artist and expanded upon his talents to further cultivate his already multi-faceted career: he was the Director of the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art from 1946 to 1954, and published several successful instructional books on painting techniques.

Gasser continued to thrive as a teacher, author, and artist until his death in 1981; his entire career was dedicated to capturing an important period of New Jersey’s history and he once stated, “I have accumulated a collection of paintings that will serve as a historic record of the community.”(4)

II. Chronology

1909 Born in Newark, New Jersey
1930 Marries wife Joan
1940s Stationed in North Carolina at Camp Croft, becomes a sergeant in the Visual Aid Unit of the United States Army
1946–54 Serves as director at Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art
1948 Elected associate membership to the National Academy of Design
1950 Elected Academician of the National Academy of Design
1953 Elected vice-president of the National Academy of Design and the American Water Color Society, publishes Oil Paintings: Methods and Demonstrations; invited to teach as guest instructor at San Jose State College in California
1957 Elected as fellow of The Royal Society of Arts
1959 Publishes Techniques of Painting the Waterfront
1963 Publishes Techniques of Picture Making
1981 Passes away in South Orange, New Jersey

III. Collections

The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
Dallas Museum of Art, Texas
Greenville County Museum of Art, South Carolina
History Properties Section, Department of War, Washington, D.C.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
The Morris Museum, Morristown, New Jersey
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
Newark Museum, New Jersey
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Springfield Art Museum, Missouri

IV. Exhibitions

1939–46 Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, prize, 1940, 1941, 1943, 1944, 1946
1940–46 Philadelphia Water Color Club, Pennsylvania, prize, 1945
Washington Water Color Club, Washington, D.C., prizes, 1945, 1946
National Society of Painters in Casein and Acrylic, Connecticut, prize, 1944
1941 Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., prize
1941–45 Oakland Art Gallery, California, prize, 1943
1941–46 American Water Color Society, New York, New York, Zabriskie Prize, 1943; Osborn prize, 1944
1942 The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
Baltimore Water Color Club, Maryland, prize
Guatemala National Fair, Guatemala
National Academy of Design, New York, New York
1942–44 Denver Art Museum, Colorado
1942–45 National Academy of Design, New York, New York, Julius Hallgarten Prize, 1943
1943–45 Springfield, Massachusetts, Steiger Award, 1943
Allied Artists of America, New York
1943–44 Albany Institute of History & Art, New York
1943–46 Alabama Water Color Society, prize, 1943, 1945, 1946
Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, North Carolina, prize, 1944
1944–45 Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
San Francisco Museum of Art, California
1944–46 New Orleans Art Association, Louisiana, prize, 1945, 1946
1945 Audubon Artists, New Jersey
Piedmont Art Fest, North Carolina, prize
1946 The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia
State Teachers College, Indiana, Pennsylvania, prize
Southern States Art League, prize
1947–50 National Academy of Design, New York, New York
1949 The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
1951–52 Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, prizes
1954 Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, New York, solo exhibition
1963 Columbus Museum, Georgia
1966 Fine Arts Gallery, San Diego, California
1964 Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey
1966 Fine Arts Gallery, San Diego, California
Prudential Insurance Company of America, Newark, New Jersey
1969 American Water Color Society, New York, New York, prize
1971 American Water Color Society, New York, New York
National Academy of Design, New York, New York
2003–2004 The Morris Museum, Morristown, New Jersey; The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; Springfield Art Museum, Missouri; Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey, traveling retrospective
2005 Long Island Museum of American Art, History & Carriages, Stony Brook, New York; The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; The Art Students League of New York, New York, traveling exhibition
2010 New Britain Museum of American Art, Connecticut

V. Memberships

Allied Artists of America
American Artists Professional League
American Water Color Society, vice president, 1953
Art Students League, life member
Asbury Park Society of Fine Art
Audubon Artists Society
Baltimore Water Color Club
California Water Color Society
Connecticut Academy
Irvington Art and Museum Association
Mississippi Art Association
National Academy of Design, Associate, 1948, Academician, 1950, vice president, 1953, rec. secretary, 1960–67
The National Arts Club, life member
National Society of Painters in Casein and Acrylic
New Haven Paint & Clay Club
New Jersey Art Association
New Jersey Water Color Club
New Orleans Art Association
Philadelphia Water Color Club
Rockport Art Association
The Royal Society of the Arts, 1957
The Salmagundi Club
Springfield Art League
Southern States Art League
Washington Water Color Club

VI. Notes

1. Gary T. Erbe, Henry Gasser: Beyond City Limits (Youngstown, Ohio: The Butler Institute of American Art, 2003), 7.
2. Ibid.
3. Gary T. Erbe, “Henry Gasser: Beyond City Limits,” American Art Review 6 (December 2003): 138.
4. Gary T. Erbe, Henry Gasser: Beyond City Limits, n.p.

VII. Suggested Resources

Erbe, Gary T. Henry Gasser: Beyond City Limits. Youngstown, Ohio: The Butler Institute of American Art, 2003.
Erbe, Gary T. “Henry Gasser: Beyond City Limits,” American Art Review 6, December 2003: 136–140.
Falk, Peter Hastings, ed. Who Was Who in American Art, 1564–1975: 400 Years of Artists in America. Vol. 2, G–O. Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1999.

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Henry Martin Gasser