Picturing “Uplands at Bow”

October 2, 2018

E.L. Henry, Uplands at Bow, 1917.01. Original painting of Bow, New Hampshire. Art and Artifacts Collection, The Mary Baker Eddy Library.

In 1913 author Sybil Wilbur published this description of Mary Baker Eddy’s childhood home: “Mark Baker’s farm in Bow lay on the Uplands…a sunny garden surrounded the front door in which in summer were lilacs and roses and old fashioned marigolds. To the East was the orchard enclosed by a stone wall three feet broad.…”1

The following year, Edward Lamson Henry (1841–1919) used Wilbur’s words to create Uplands at Bow—a work housed in our collections.2 This oil painting remains the only drawing of the Bow homestead in the summer. Henry’s inspiration from Wilbur resulted in one of the most reproduced and circulated paintings depicting Eddy’s birthplace, and the first to be completed after the home burned on April 8, 1910.

According to Woodbury E. Hunt, a New Hampshire art dealer, Henry was the perfect candidate to create a newer and more alluring version of Eddy’s home:

There had been various pictures published, but none of them as satisfactory as the importance of the place seemed to demand. One, a print, published in 1899 by M. French, while doubtless a good representation of the house, did not show the barn and only a portion of the sheds, and furthermore, was a bleak winter picture…. Another one, by J. Roy Spiller, showed only the main portion of the house after it had been moved from its original site….To produce an ideal picture, required a vast amount of study and research, also an artist, qualified by experience, to paint it. Mr. Edward L. Henry, the eminent New York artist, was selected as the best and only man in the United States for such a composition.3

Henry’s reputation as an accomplished landscape artist was well established. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, he was interested in painting from an early age. At 19 he traveled to Paris and studied landscape painting with the famed artist Gustave Courbet. He served briefly in the Civil War as a clerk on a Union ship, painting Union camps along Virginia’s rivers. In 1869 he enrolled in the National Academy of Design and quickly became a fixture of the New York art community.4 Henry moved in 1884 to the picturesque Catskill hamlet of Cragsmore, New York, where some time later he would paint Uplands at Bow, completing it between January 1914 and September 1914.
Henry, E.L, 1914

Henry, E.L, 1914. P00932, Woodbury E. Hunt Company. Historic Photograph Collection, The Mary Baker Eddy Library.

Intricate detail and idyllic rural scenery characterize Henry’s landscapes, and both are evident. Clearly he found inspiration in earlier works, especially Rufus Baker’s 1899 engraving of the Bow homestead. Eddy herself was highly complimentary of that work, noting that “around the memory [of Bow] clusters the golden days of my childhood.”5 The smaller elements of Henry’s painting—such as the apple orchard in full bloom and the lilac bushes—make it particularly distinct and inviting. “Mr. Henry has put in the foreground a figure of a little girl,” Hunt points out, “which might as well have been Mary Baker, watching with interest the people who have just arrived at the front of the house.”6 Henry’s contemporaries also remarked consistently on the level of detail in his art, noting this made his historical reconstructions seem authentic.7

The twentieth-century rise of technology and urban growth produced nostalgia for a quieter way of life, as well as growing interest in historical preservation and restoration.8 Uplands at Bow exemplifies that trend; it is meant to be a historical painting. According to Hunt, “The general atmosphere is distinctly of the period of about 1831–32 when Mary Baker was about 10 or 11 years old.”9 Even the wood for the picture’s frame was taken from an apple tree on the Baker farm, “standing for 150 years or more…blossoming and bearing fruit during all the years of Mrs. Eddy’s life.”10

The First Church of Christ, Scientist (The Mother Church) purchased Uplands at Bow in November 1917, possibly because Henry had not made as much money as hoped in selling his own copies. His gray-and-sepia prints cost around $124 in 2018 currency—with the price of color prints at $745!11 The church’s Board of Directors began to explore selling reproductions in 1929 and notified readers of the Christian Science Sentinel in August 1930 that copies were available. One thousand orders resulted in the first month of the notice.12

According to Henry’s wife, Frances, “…He [Henry] always tried to give some deeper meaning to a painting than just a pleasing picture.”13 By building on Rufus Baker’s work, and adding many carefully chosen details—such as an apple orchard, lilac bushes, and a young girl—Henry highlighted those “golden days of childhood.” Viewers of Uplands at Bow enjoy a vivid recreation of a formative period in Eddy’s life, while her childhood home receives a fitting tribute.14

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  1. Sybil Wilbur, The Life of Mary Baker Eddy (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1913), 11.
  2. Woodbury E. Hunt, The Birthplace of Mary Baker Eddy, (Concord, New Hampshire: The Woodbury E. Hunt Company, 1914), 6
  3. Hunt, The Birthplace of Mary Baker Eddy, 3–4.
  4. William T. Oedel, Selections from the American Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts and the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum (Springfield, Massachusetts: Springfield Library and Museum Associations, 1999), 100–102.
  5. Mary Baker Eddy to Rufus Baker, 28 December 1899, L12649.
  6. Hunt, The Birthplace of Mary Baker Eddy, 6.
  7. Oedel, Selections from the American Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts and the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, 101.
  8. Hunt, The Birthplace of Mary Baker Eddy, 3.
  9. Hunt, The Birthplace of Mary Baker Eddy, 6.
  10. Hunt, The Birthplace of Mary Baker Eddy, 7.
  11. Hunt, The Birthplace of Mary Baker Eddy, 8
  12. “Notes from the Publishing House Reproduction of Oil Painting,” Christian Science Sentinel, 23 August 1930, https://sentinel.christianscience.com/shared/view/1ig9jwifjlc?s=e.
  13. Oedel, Selections from the American Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts and the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, 101.
  14. Hunt, The Birthplace of Mary Baker Eddy, 5.