533: Henry L. Hillyer, Oil, landscape
with view from courtyard, on canvas, image area 20" X 12", well listed artist....Henry Hillyer (1840-1886) He was born into a prosperous family in Utica, Ohio. His father was in the produce business and owned canal boats that transported goods along the Erie Canal. When Henry was ten, his father moved his produce business to Jersey City, New Jersey, and opened a stand in the Fulton Market in New York City. When he was sixteen, Henry began to work in his father’s business, but showed little aptitude for it. He enrolled in New York University where he studied with the landscape painter Aaron D. Shattuck. Like Shattuck, he was much influenced by the Hudson River School of landscape painting. When the Civil War broke out, Henry tried to enlist, but was turned down because of his frail health (a childhood illness had blinded him in one eye). Instead he became a civilian nurse for McClelland’s army. At the end of the war, he married and went to study in Europe for four months. In 1868, he and his wife moved to Camden County, Georgia, where he worked on a rice plantation that belonged to his father. While in Georgia, Hillyer and his mother built the first of two schools on the 2400 acre plantation for the children of the recently freed slaves and both taught in the schools. He was also elected to the state legislature where he served two terms. But in 1873, the plantation was lost as the result of a lawsuit, and Hillyer and his wife and then two small children moved briefly to Granville, Michigan, where he found work as the foreman of a fruit farm. Henry was not suited to the job, disliked the climate, and soon went to live in Washington, D.C., where he spent some of his most productive years. In Washington he opened an art studio in the Colonization Building at 725 14th Street and was a founder of the Washington Art Club. He often painted in Rock Creek Valley and was among the early advocates of its preservation as a park. In 1880, commenting on his many visits to Rock Creek Valley, he wrote: “Each visit has increased my love for its beauties, and my convictions that it was designed by the Creator for the rest and refreshment of this nation’s official slaves.” In 1876, to supplement his meager income as an artist, Hillyer accepted a job as a special agent in the Money Order Division of the Post Office Department. About this time, his wife enrolled in the medical school of Howard University from which she graduated with honors. In 1881, she accepted the position of staff physician at the Reform School for Girls in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Hillyers moved there. Henry became the superintendent of the grounds and buildings of the school, but he did not enjoy the work, and after a succession of odd jobs, went to Florida in 1885 to help manage the Hillyer family orange groves near Citra. After fifteen months in Florida, he contracted malaria and unwisely made a train journey back to Michigan to see his family. He died in Grand Rapids a few days after his return. His wife, Dr. Frances Hillyer, lived on until 1926, a respected physician in the community.