Who was the artist of the Clapp Paintings?
Among the many self-trained amateur or “folk” painters who worked in the Hudson Valley was Clinton Clapp. He was born and raised in the Town of Wappinger; in 1845 he left to study mechanical engineering at New York University and the City Mechanical Institute. When he returned in 1852, he became president of a bicycle-wheel manufacturing company and the local historian for Poughkeepsie papers. He also contributed a chapter on the Town of Wappinger to Hasbrouck’s History of Dutchess County. The creation of colored-chalk pictures for Sunday-school classes encouraged him to try a permanent medium, and between 1883 and 1887 he executed all his oil paintings. Clapp sailed his steam-powered yacht down Wappinger’s Creek to its mouth, where the Hudson fronts New Hamburg. From this point he was afforded a fine view of Marlborough, the center of the local raspberry industry, which supplied New York daily via steamboat with berries during the season.*
Six of the Clapp paintings are at Grinnell Library:
1. The Yellow Mill
The Yellow Mill, 1845
This painting hangs outside the Nonfiction Room, and shows the original mill around which the village was built. The boy in the doorway is meant to be the young Clinton Clapp and how he remembered the village in his youth. You can see the house which was the Clapp family’s first home in Wappingers Falls, later becoming the first home of the library. The spire of Zion Episcopal Church is also shown beyond the trees. (The spikes were removed in the 1930s.)
2. Wappingers Creek North of the Bridge (Upper Falls)
Wappingers Creek north of the Bridge (upper falls)
This shows the dam built by Clinton Clapp’s father, Benjamin, and depicts the pleasure craft on the lake the dam created. This painting is located above one of the fireplaces in the Non-Fiction Room.
3. Wappingers Creek South of the Bridge (Lower Falls)
Wappinger Creek south of the bridge (lower falls)
Here are the early industrial buildings, both built by Benjamin Clapp. The foundations of these buildings were re-used as foundations for the present bridge. This painting is located above one of the fireplaces in the Non-Fiction Room.
4. The Clapp Homestead
This painting has been the subject of some local discussion. One opinion is that it is the building that now dead-ends Henry Avenue. This is Benjamin’s house. Halfway down Henry is Clinton’s house, also still standing. This painting shows what is now the front of the house, but was originally the back. This would be the service and pedestrian entrance. The gates open onto South Avenue and the pillars now adorn Zion Church. This painting is located in the lobby.
5. New Years Day 1883
New Year’s Day, 1883
This is supposed to be the first painting Clapp did and was done more or less from life. All of the people are portraits: The two boys in the doorway are the sons of the Abel family who lived there. The men driving the cutters were Hiram Chase, Mr. Turner and Mr. Abel. Chase was the village tax collector, Turner had a store on Main Street, and his wife ran a boarding house and hosted a dance every Saturday night. Abel had a store on Market Street, and the dog belonged to Benjamin Clapp. This painting hangs in the public computer area. (Holiday, notecards, and prints available for sale at library – proceeds go towards preservation)
6. Memorial Day 1884
Memorial Day, 1884
This painting is the last, both in terms of execution and of internal chronology. It echoes The Yellow Mill, being done from the same point of view. The new bridge is in place (used today), the mill is a ruin, and many business buildings have come into existence. Major Ferris leads the parade. The building housing Wade’s hotel still exists, which is a legal office now. This painting hangs in the lobby.
These six paintings, although in need of restoration when they came into the library’s possession, were the ones in the best condition. The other four were bought by the Kennedy Gallery in New York City. There was one of Marlborough and the Danskammer as seen from New Hamburg, which was reproduced in John Howat’s book, The Hudson River and Its Painters. Others included Drake’s Drawbridge in New Hamburg, the Hudson with sailboats and the Mary Powell Steamer, and one a portrayal of the popular song “The Old Oaken Bucket.”
*Howat, John K. The Hudson River and Its Painters. Viking Press, 1972.