Walter Emerson Baum (1884–1956)

Renowned Pennsylvania Impressionist Famous for Regional Landscape Views

By Margarita Karasoulas

A prolific painter, art critic, author and educator in his native Pennsylvania, Baum would gain a national reputation as a member of the New Hope art colony and founder of the Allentown Art Museum and Baum School of Art.

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

I. Biography

Referencing his works, Walter Emerson Baum once said: “I spent my life painting scenes from my back yard.”1 A true product of his environment, Baum’s images of his beloved Pennsylvania countryside would become a permanent fixture of his art. Born on December 14, 1884 in Sellersville, PA, Baum was the only significant member of the New Hope art colony who was actually born and reared in Bucks County. Adept in landscapes, Baum is particularly remembered for his rustic scenes of the farms, villages, streams and valleys found in eastern Pennsylvania.

Although his family’s trade was barbering, Baum pursued the life of an artist from a young age. As a teenager, he studied fraktur with the master Isaac Hilker, creating artistic documents of births, weddings, and family events for Pennsylvania German families.2 From 1904 to 1909 he apprenticed under famous nineteenth century history painter William Trego and between 1905 and 1906 he enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he studied under artists Thomas Anshutz, Daniel Garber, Hugh H. Breckenridge, William Chase, and Cecilia Beaux.

Baum achieved success and recognition early in his career. In 1925, he permanently established his reputation when he won the prestigious Jennie Sesnan Gold Medal for his painting Sunlight and Shadows. The Sellersville Herald reported: “The Prize is one of the most coveted in the art world and has been won by such famous artists as Edward W. Redfield, Elmer Schofield, Childe Hassam, George Bellows, and Hugh Breckenridge”.3 Critics acknowledged that Baum “expressed a rare affection in his landscapes for the lights and shadows as they fell across the houses and gateposts of his village”.4

Baum was inspired by the realist art of Homer, Eakins and the Ashcan artists, the plein air masterpieces of Edward Redfield and Walter Elmer Schofield, and the innovation of his Impressionist contemporaries. Baum absorbed a number of influences in his art, yet his interpretation was distinctly his own and rooted in a deep-seated love of the land.5 Baum experimented with a range of subjects and styles and worked in a variety of media including pastels, casein, lithography, ink and pencil drawings, watercolors, and oils on board or canvas. He created works that were as small as four by six and as large as forty by fifty inches.

Baum’s subject matter during the 1920s and 30s focused exclusively on the landscape. He loved exploring Pennsylvania’s countryside and would often stop and set up his easel to paint.6 He skillfully captured the beauty of the changing seasons, and his winter scenes and snow-covered landscapes became synonymous with Bucks County.7 Baum’s early artistic style was influenced by a number of movements including tonalism and realism. Winslow Homer was one of Baum’s favorite artists and his works reflect a borrowed tradition of simplicity and nostalgia for the past.8 Baum’s art during this period, however, is most clearly linked to Impressionism. He imparted rich textures, vivid colors, and brilliant light to his works, working quickly with thick pigment in wide brushstrokes. Baum’s signature composition was often constructed from the top of a hill looking down, drawing the viewer into the foreground.9

In the late 1930s, Baum’s works shifted stylistically and thematically in response to the socially conscious art produced in the era of the Great Depression.10 He began incorporating figures and focused primarily on urban scenes, painting images of the region’s cities including Allentown and Manayunk. Baum was often praised as “the man who discovered the beauty of Main Street”.11 He executed these works with a muted color palette and a more dramatic, expressionistic brushwork. In the 1950s, he added still life themes and interior studio images to his repertoire. Despite these variations in subject and technique, Baum’s artistic style was solidly founded in early twentieth century American art and his images continued to express a special kinship to the land of eastern Pennsylvania.12

In addition to his vocation as an artist, Baum indulged his interest in writing and sought to expand his links to the art world. He began writing for his town’s weekly newspaper, the Sellersville Herald and other publications of the region including the Doylestown Intelligencer and the Allentown Evening Chronicle in 1920. He served as the art editor and critic for the Philadelphia Bulletin from the late 1920s up until his death in 1956, establishing relationships with the artists, dealers, and curators in the area. In 1938, he authored the book Two Hundred Years, an informal history of the German-Dutch people in Pennsylvania, a nod to his own German-Dutch heritage that played such a profound role throughout his life and art.

Baum was also an active leader and visionary committed to the cultural enrichment of his community. He was a dedicated and respected art instructor who initially taught privately at his home and later at area colleges. In 1926, he founded the Baum School of Art and the Baum Circle of artists, including Edgar Schofield Baum and John E. Berninger, came under the direct influence of this School. In 1934, Baum founded and became the first Director of the Allentown Art Museum. He additionally founded the Circulating Picture Club and the Lehigh Art Alliance, and in 1949, spearheaded the Bucks County Traveling Art Gallery to educate school children about local art. Throughout his career, Baum worked to foster a greater love and appreciation of art, and his enduring influence is felt in this region of Pennsylvania even today.

During the last years of his life, Baum continued to remain involved in community affairs. Only a month before his death, he stepped down as Director of the Baum School of Art and Allentown Art Museum, and retired from his post as editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin. He passed away on July 12, 1956 at his home in Sellersville, PA at the age of 71.

Known as the “father of art in the Lehigh Valley”, Baum’s works are heralded for their distinct, regional style within the context of American Impressionism. Baum’s oeuvre spanned an impressive four decades. During his lifetime, he won more than thirty major art awards and his works were shown in more than 150 museum exhibitions. His works are contained at the Allentown Art Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Toledo Art Museum, Butler Institute of American Art, the National Academy of Design, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in addition to countless galleries throughout the United States.

II. Chronology

1884 Born December 14 in Sellersville, PA. Son of Harvey W. and Mary Ellen Baum.
1904 Married Flora B. Barndt, with whom he had two sons and two daughters
1904-1909 Studied under William T. Trego.
1905-1906 Enrolled in classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where he studied under Thomas Anshutz and other artists including Daniel Garber, Hugh Breckenridge, William Merritt Chase and Cecilia Beaux.
1918 Awarded Bronze Medal, American Artists Exhibition, Philadelphia, PA
1918-1926 Offered art classes at his home
1920-42 Writer and Editor for the Sellersville Herald
1921-1946 Served on the Sellersville-Perkasie School Board
1925 Received Jennie Sesnan Gold Medal, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, for Sunlight and Shadows in “best landscape” category
1926 Established Baum School of Art, Allentown, PA
1926-1956 Art Editor and Critic for the Philadelphia Bulletin
1926-1956 Art Instructor, Allentown, PA
1928-30 Created illustrations for The Country Gentleman, Curtis Publishing Company
1933 Founded the Circulating Picture Club
First one-man show at the McClees Gallery in Philadelphia, PA
1934 Founded Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, PA
1935 Traveled to Europe with the Newspaper Editor’s Guild
1938 Published Two Hundred Years, history of Sellersville and Pennsylvania Germans residing in the area
1939 Associate Member, National Academy of Design Fellowship of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Honorable Mention, Sketch Club, Philadelphia, PA
First group exhibit by the New Hope art colony in Bucks County, PA
1942 Honorable Mention, Print Club, Philadelphia, PA
Honorable Mention, Pennsylvania Society of Miniature Painters, New York, NY
1943 D.J. McCarty Prize, Society of Miniature Painters, New York, NY
1944 Dana Medal, Philadelphia Watercolor Club at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Became Associate Academian at the National Academy of Design, New York, NY
1945 Zabriskie Prize, American Watercolor Society
Received a Prize from the Buck Hill Art Association
Elected Associate of the National Academy of Design
1946 Received Ludwig Prize, Audubon Artists, New York
Awarded Honorary Degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, Lehigh University
1947 Received Honorable mention, Salmagundi Club, NY
1948 Illustrated Selected Short Stories of Thomas Hardy published by J. I. Rodale
1950 Received Silver Medal, Da Vinci Alliance, Philadelphia, PA
1951 Received First Prize, Woodmere Gallery
1952 Received Bronze Medal (second prize), National Arts Club
Received Bronze Award at Water Color Exhibit
1953 Received Grumbacher Prize, Audubon Artists, New York
Received Medal of Honor, National Arts Club, New York
1954 Received Thornton Oakley Prize, Philadelphia Watercolor Club
Received Honorable Mention, American Artists Professional League
1956 Died on July 12
Received a posthumous Gold Medal from the Da Vinci Alliance, Philadelphia, PA
1957 Exhibition of Baum’s works at the National Academy of Design, NY
1962 Retrospective of Baum’s works at the Allentown Art Museum
1976 Second retrospective at the Allentown Art Museum

III. Collections

Allentown Art Museum, PA
Allentown City Hall, PA
Baum School of Art, PA
Buck Hills Art Association
Butler Institute of American Art, OH
Carnegie Library, PA
Dwight Eisenhower Home, PA
Franklin D. Roosevelt Home, NY
James Michener Museum, PA
Longfellow School of Medicine, PA
Mercer Museum, PA
Muriel and Philip Berman Museum, Ursinus College, PA
National Academy of Design, NY
Norfolk Museum of Art, VA
Payne Art Gallery, Moravian College, PA
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA
Pennsylvania Miniature Society, PA
Pennsylvania State University, PA
Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA
Philadelphia Watercolor Club, PA
Reading Art Museum and Gallery, PA
Springville Museum of Art, UT
Toledo Museum of Art, OH
Thomas Jefferson University, PA
University of Pennsylvania, PA
University of Texas Art Museum, TX
Woodmere Art Museum, PA

IV. Exhibitions

1916-1951 Corcoran Gallery of Art
1926-1950 National Academy of Design
1914-1954 Pennsylvania Academy of Art
1962, 1976 Allentown Art Museum, Retrospective

V. Memberships

American Artists Professional League
American Color Print Society
American Geographical Society
American Water Color Society
Allentown-Bethlehem Art Alliance
Art Club of Philadelphia
Artists Equity, Philadelphia
Artists League of America
Audubon Artists
Berkshire Art Association
Buck Hill Arts Association
Circulating Picture Club
Da Vinci Art Alliance
Fellow of the International Institute of Arts and Letters
Fellowship of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Fifty American Artists
Germantown Art League
International Institute of Arts
Lehigh Art Alliance
National Academy of Design
New Hope Art Association
New York Water Color Club
Pennsylvania Folklore Society
Philadelphia Art Alliance
Philadelphia Contemporary Club
Philadelphia Sketch Club
Philadelphia Water Color Club
Phillips Mill Community Association
Salmagundi Club
Schwenkfeldian Exiles
Woodmere Art League

VI. Notes

1 “Walter E. Baum, Artist, Teacher” New York Times, July 13, 1956.
2 Brian H. Petersen, Pennsylvania Impressionism, ed. Brian H. Petersen (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), p. 94.
3 Martha Young Hutson-Saxton, Walter Emerson Baum 1884-1956: Pennsylvania Artist and Founder of the Baum School of Art and Allentown Art Museum (Allentown: Allentown Art Museum, 1996), p. 52.
4 Walter E. Baum, Artist, Teacher” New York Times, July 13, 1956.
5 Brian H. Petersen, “Impressionism Comes to Bucks County: The Story of the New Hope Art Colony” in Pennsylvania Impressionism, ed. Brian H. Petersen (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), pp. 8-12.
6 Martha Young Hutson-Saxton, Walter Emerson Baum 1884-1956: Pennsylvania Artist and Founder of the Baum School of Art and Allentown Art Museum (Allentown: Allentown Art Museum, 1996), p.52.
7 Martha Young Hutson-Saxton, Walter Emerson Baum 1884-1956: Pennsylvania Artist and Founder of the Baum School of Art and Allentown Art Museum (Allentown: Allentown Art Museum, 1996), p.16.
8 Martha Young Hutson-Saxton, Walter Emerson Baum 1884-1956: Pennsylvania Artist and Founder of the Baum School of Art and Allentown Art Museum (Allentown: Allentown Art Museum, 1996), p.34.
9 Martha Young Hutson-Saxton, Walter Emerson Baum 1884-1956: Pennsylvania Artist and Founder of the Baum School of Art and Allentown Art Museum (Allentown: Allentown Art Museum, 1996), p.38.
10 Brian H. Petersen, “Impressionism Comes to Bucks County: The Story of the New Hope Art Colony” in Pennsylvania Impressionism, ed. Brian H. Petersen (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), p.12.
11“Walter E. Baum, Artist, Teacher” New York Times, July 13, 1956.
12 Martha Young Hutson-Saxton, Walter Emerson Baum 1884-1956: Pennsylvania Artist and Founder of the Baum School of Art and Allentown Art Museum (Allentown: Allentown Art Museum, 1996), p.16.

VII. Suggested Resources

Folk, Thomas. The Pennsylvania Impressionists. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997.
Folk, Thomas. The Pennsylvania School of Landscape Painting: An Original American Impressionism.
Allentown: Allentown Art Museum, 1984.
Gregg, Richard N. Foreword to A Salute to Walter Emerson Baum Allentown: Allentown Art
Museum, 1976.
Gregg, Richard N. The Artist’s Studio in American Painting, 1840-1983. Allentown: Allentown Art
Museum, 1983.
Pavone, Michele. “Walter Emerson Baum: An Artist Who Chronicled Eastern Pennsylvania” PhD
diss., Syracuse University, 1982.

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