Pierre Gentieu’s Toledo Connectedness

Just this past year, the French newspaper, Le Monde, reported that they are watching us here in Toledo, because our lake is letting off fluorescent glows into space. That’s our Lake Erie. It’s a serious issue for us.  It’s the water we drink, and we are 60% water.

Our problem is noted all the way across the Atlantic Ocean because in the scheme of things, it’s France’s problem too, as we share the planet with them.

Since we are connected to France via satellites and water, I was eager to find a Pierre Gentieu connection to Toledo as well. Pierre Gentieu is my French immigrant ancestor.

My branch of the family ended up in Toledo when my grandfather, an engineer, took a temporary assignment in Toledo in 1938, to work on the then-new Toledo sewage system. Yes, a water connection, how weird is that. My father met my mother during his last month of high school. Sparks flew, so voila here I am, the third child in the family, born and raised in Toledo, Ohio.

Pierre Gentieu (1842-1930) is my great great grandfather, Civil War veteran, artist, and historically recognized photographer. He was a loyal employee of the DuPont Powder Company for 35 years. DuPont made gunpowder on the Brandywine Creek in northern Delaware.  My ancestor worked in the DuPont office as the head storekeeper.  Independently, he made photographs with his 8×10 view camera. He photographed the heyday of the powder mills against the old-world backdrop of the historic Brandywine, expressing the lifestyle of the workers and families, many who were immigrants. He is beloved by the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Delaware. Without his photos to show how things were, the Hagley’s living history museum of the powder mills wouldn’t be nearly as authentic and vibrant as it is today.

Pierre Gentieu at the Sportsmen’s Exposition, Madison Square Garden, c. 1893

This photo is Pierre at the Sportsmen’s Exposition (an early trade show) at Madison Garden in New York and he is holding an illustration by Edmund H. Osthaus (1858-1928), who became a famous artist of Toledo. Edmund H. Osthaus was one of the artists who dreamed up the Toledo Museum of Art. Osthaus was a member of the Tile Club and has paintings in the collection of the Toledo Museum of Art.

Edmund H. Osthaus, at the invitation of David R. Locke (creator of the Petroleum V. Nasby letters), came to Toledo in 1886 at the age of 28 to head up the Toledo Academy of Fine Arts.

In the 1890’s, at the beginning of Du Pont’s smokeless powder manufacturing, Edmund H. Osthaus was commissioned by DuPont to make paintings of hunting dogs for promotional purposes. He received a lot of exposure from the DuPont smokeless powder posters, calendars and advertisements, which helped make him famous for his dog paintings. The association with DuPont lasted over 20 years, until after the first world war, when DuPont transitioned from making powder to making chemicals.

My educated guess is that Pierre sometimes worked with Edmund H. Osthaus as a representative of DuPont in regard to his commissions. Pierre was close to the du Ponts and obviously handled some promotional aspects for the company, since he was the spokesman at the early Sportsmen’s Expositions at Madison Square Garden for several years. If Pierre had a professional association with Osthaus, then Pierre is part of the story of Toledo’s famous dog painter’s work, and in that way, he is part of the story of the Toledo Museum of Art.

It is interesting to me that Osthaus was alive when he influenced the making of the Toledo Museum of Art. Pierre had been dead for 27 years but his body of work influenced the development of a brand-new museum in 1957, the Hagley Museum and Library, a museum of industrial history.

Edmund H. Osthaus’s work for the DuPont Powder Company is shown above (courtesy of the Hagley Museum and Library), and on this artistsoftoledo page, here.

Read more about Pierre Gentieu on pierrepenny.com.

BREAKING NEWS: A Civil War connection. Pierre fought for the Union, (same Union that Toledoans fought for in the Civil War.) Pierre is being honored this year with taps and a musket salute over his grave. What happens in war, as what happens in water and art, connects everything. Time and space, past and future, and dogs, coming together in the river of life.

Monument of the First Ohio Light Artillery at Gettysburg. Photo by Pierre Gentieu, 1885

Edmund H. Osthaus and my giant Pierre Project

Du Pont Company Calendar. Top picture is a lithograph of a painting, two side pictures of navy and army gunners, bottom scene of field with dogs. Hagley Museum & Library

Over Thanksgiving, on our way to Princeton from Baltimore, we stopped at the Hagley Library in Wilmington Delaware to look up one of Toledo’s most famous artists, Edmund H. Osthaus, painter of dogs. The Hagley is renown for its archives of early American industry, centering upon the history of America’s first large corporation: The Du Pont Company. Next to the library is the Hagley Museum. It’s more like a living museum, consisting of Du Pont’s large village of restored nineteenth-century powder mills and yards.  The Du Pont Company manufactured explosives and gunpowder.

Back in 1992, it was The Hagley Museum and Library where I first experienced the joys of historic research, and where I became hooked. My initial contact with the library came soon after I learned that my great great grandfather, Pierre Gentieu, was a photographer. The library owns his photo collection. I called the library and the pictorial curator, Jon Williams, sent me xeroxed pages from a book regarding Pierre’s photos and his work for Du Pont. He said that Pierre’s photographs were integral to the restoration of the Hagley Museum in the 1950’s. I surmised that Pierre was considered a bit of a rock star at the Hagley. Because of Pierre, I felt like they rolled out the red carpet and that was pretty cool! It was a great beginning to a long and fascinating journey into the research of my photographer ancestor.

It felt similar last week after I enquired about Edmund Osthaus. My last-minute email to Max Mueller, imprints curator at the library, asking to research Edmund Osthaus the following day resulted in a rolling cart carrying folders of original source documents and precious items from the pictorial collections, as well as introductions to the new administration director, Joan Reynolds Hoge-North, and to Debra Hughes, the curator of the museum (incidentally, who is not only from Michigan but from Ann Arbor as well, my favorite getaway close to Toledo.) My research at the Hagley has only just begun…

Edmund Osthaus, who came to Toledo in 1886 at the invitation of David R. Locke (creator of the Petroleum V. Nasby letters) to head up the brand new Toledo Academy of Fine Arts, who then became a charter member of The Tile Club group of artists that dreamed up the Toledo Museum of Art, was in his 30’s in the 1890’s when Du Pont first commissioned him to create paintings of hunting dogs for advertisements for their new product, “smokeless” powder. Osthaus and Du Pont enjoyed a prolific association for about 20 years until around the time of WWI when Du Pont transitioned from manufacturing explosives to chemicals. Du Pont used Osthaus’s watercolor and oil paintings for postcards, signs, calendars and reproductions that were displayed in hunting lodges and clubs across the country. This exposure undoubtedly did quite a bit to boost Osthaus’s fame. I’m curious, how exactly did it happen?

Among the archives at the Hagley were handwritten letters from Osthaus’s son Franz and other relatives. I learned that Nina Stevens, the assistant director and wife of George W. Stevens, the first director of Toledo Museum of Art, and Osthaus’s wife, Isabel Carlton were cousins, and there was a suggestion of a rift with the Toledo Museum that apparently only Franz would know. Juicy!

The Hagley Museum and Library is a very cool place. Not only was it key to my discovery of a personally significant link to an ancestor, but now I find it to be the repository for a cache of information on an important “branch” of Toledo’s communal artistic family tree. My Pierre project lasted a good 15 years, resulting in a manuscript and “maquette” for a book that I hope someday to publish. Working on Artists of Toledo.com conjures up all the wonderful feelings I had working on my ancestor project, and I don’t even have to worry about getting it published as a book because as a “work in progress” website, it’s an ongoing publication that is instantly accessible to the world, yet could be a never-ending project for me. I consider it my giant Pierre project.

(I wonder if Pierre ever met Edmund Osthaus, after all, Pierre worked in the Du Pont office until his retirement in 1912. That would be amazing! Okay, I admit, it would be amazing only to me!)