Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 161 – Son of a Son of a Sailor

Part 161: Son of a Son of a Sailor

When I first viewed the damaged Fort Scott scenery at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center, I kept thinking, “They really don’t really understand the significance of the artist or this acquisition.” Why would anyone leave the repair and hanging of these large scale paintings to inexperienced hands? At the time, it was difficult to wrap my mind around the CEO’s final decision, especially after I had repeatedly explained the importance of this unique artist and his work.

Up to this point in my tale, I have presented information about the history of the collection, its components, the removal and transportation from Kansas to Minnesota, its subsequent destruction during an attempted restoration, and the many other manufacturers of painted illusion. I will now examine the talented individual who designed and painted the 1924 scenery collection at sixty-eight years old – Thomas Gibbs Moses (1856-1934).

Here are the first few lines from his typed manuscript:

“I was born in Liverpool, England, July 21, 1856. My father, Lucius M. Moses, was born in Great Falls, New Hampshire, April 21, 1822. He married my Mother, Mary Wingate Titcomb, August 14, 1849, at Wells Beach, Maine, where she was born on May 14, 1825.”

Moses’ parents both came from significant New England families. His mother was one of five children born to Joanna Wentworth Rollins (1804-1860) and Jeremy H. Titcomb (1801-1880). She married Lucius Moses of Somersworth, New Hampshire, in 1849. The wedding took place at her father’s property in Wells Beach, the well-known Atlantic House. Titcomb had opened the residence for business on June 15, 1846.

The Atlantic House in Wells Beach, Maine, where Thomas G. Moses’ parents were married in 1849.

Moses’ father was a sea captain and part owner in the ships that he sailed, the last being a bark built by William Hanscom in 1833. Moses recorded, “The wonderful full rigged ship “Pactolus” was handed over to another Master, much regretted by my Father, for he loved salt water and sailing. As I do sketching and painting, I am afraid I inherited some of his roving disposition.” Lucius M. Moses was certainly “the son of a son of a sailor.” I recalled the line sung by Jimmy Buffet, “As a dreamer of dreams and a traveling man, I have chalked up many a mile.” Moses was born at sea. The family sailed as far as east India and as far south as Rio de Janeiro.

Photograph of an unidentified three-masted bark, similar to the Pactolus – the last ship sailed by the Moses family before moving inland.

The Sterling Daily Gazette, would later note Lucius Moses as “one of several old New England sea captains who settled in Whiteside county” (Dec. 13, 1927, page 2). Genealogical records state that Lucius’ career on the sea lasted for twenty-two years before returning to land. Lucius Manlius Moses, mainly known as Capt. L. M. Moses, was born the son of another sea captain who had worked for many years in the merchant marines, Theodore Bland Moses.

Moses’ diary notes that that his father was in the fortunate position that allowed his family to accompany him on long voyages. Life on the sea, however, was never without tragedy. Two of the Moses’ children died while at sea, their first son Lucius and their daughter Kate. The remaining five children were Lucia Gray (1853), Thomas Gibbs (1856), Frank Deming (1858), Illie (1860), and Little Kate (1862).

In 1859, the family left living a life on the sea and headed inland. Lucius sold his interests in the ships and moved west with his family to New Hampshire. He invested in a tannery for a side line and began to carve out his new life on land. It was then that their mother Mary perished after the birth of Little Kate, leaving Lucius to raise four children by alone until he found another wife. Moving once again, the family settled in Sterling, Illinois, where Lucius established Sterling Hide and Leather Shop with a partner. His business was a successful one and eventually he owned sole interest in the company, also running a tannery and harness shop.

1869 view of Sterling, Illinois. Thomas G. Moses was thirteen years old when the town was this size.

When his mother died at the age of five, Thomas Moses recalled, “I remember every detail and incident of her heath. I can see each dear friend of Mother’s grouped about. I crawled upon the bed to kiss her good-bye. One of her last bequests was to give her watch to “Tommy,” which I received after I had passed middle age.”

But it was his mother’s drawing book from 1835 that Moses would treasure the most. Later in life, he lamented, “If she had only lived, what a wonderful Art companion I would have had. I know she would have given me the encouragement I needed to start with.”

He identified the loss of his mother as much more than that of a parent. He agonized over the loss of his first potential art instructor, knowing that his artistic training as child would have given him a leg up in the art world. In 1931 Moses wrote, “I feel that at the age of 75 years the twilight of my life is rapidly approaching, and when the sun goes down all of my ambition to shine in the art world will go with it; closing the career of one who has had many rosy dreams that have proven to be the dreams of a plodder. Had my mother been spared to me, I would have had the proper art training to develop the natural ability which I inherited from her, for she was very artistic in many ways as shown in one of her drawing books when she was only fifteen years of age. I have this book. Without this training, I have been exiled to live and struggle against great odds in my effort to gain a foothold in art. It has been a long fight to get standing as scenic artist, in which field I have won a certain reputation which has carried me into the limelight, of which I am justly proud. However, at the same time, I realize that an early training would have been a great help, and possibly enabled me to reach my goal of landscape painting without the aid of scenic painting.”

At such an early age he lost the only family member who would ever understand his choice to leave his job at the tannery in Sterling and enter the world of art.

To be continued…

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