Category Archives: Artists & Musicians

The Smillie Family

Visitors to Green-Wood will often walk through the gates and up the hill on Battle Avenue to see the Civil War Memorial and the statue of Minerva–and of course the amazing view from the top of Battle Hill. At the top of the hill is a placard explaining that Battle Hill is the highest natural point in Brooklyn, and that Washington’s troops watched the harbor from up there for the British to arrive prior to the Battle of Brooklyn. And there’s this picture:
James Smillie's View From Battle HIll
James Smillie’s View From Battle Hill

This charming engraving is by James Smillie (1807-1885). James Smillie was from a whole family of artists and engravers–so many that I had a hard time telling them apart (it doesn’t help that they all have maddeningly similar names).

Here is the Smillie family plot, which I found–as usual–by wandering around and taking photos of anything that looked mildly interesting.


James Smillie, a native of Scotland, ended up in New York City in 1829, at the age of 22. His father was a jeweler in Quebec, and he sent young James to London and Edinburgh to learn silver engraving so that he could work in the family business. James’ talents were clearly more along the lines of drawing and etching, so he left Quebec after only a few years and struck out on his own in New York City. Within three years of his arrival, he was an admitted into the prestigious National Academy of Design.

James Smillie created the illustrations for the first written history of Green-Wood, Green-Wood Illustrated, which was published in 1846. According to historian Jeff Richman’s blog on the Green-Wood web site, he may have used the money from these illustrations to buy this large family plot.

Later in his life, James Smillie devoted himself to designing and engraving bank notes. In fact, from what I’ve read, almost every male member of the Smillie family worked as a bank note engraver at one time or another.

Check it out, I found one of his bank notes online at a stamp auction. $18,000!

James Smillie 500-dollar bill
James Smillie 500-dollar bill

James and Catherine Smillie had four children. Two of their sons, George Henry (1840-1921) and James David (1833-1909) were also well-known artists/engravers.

James David Smillie was trained by his father in the art of engraving starting at around age 4. They worked together on many projects, and he spent much of his professional life working as a bank-note engraver. His true passion, though, seemed to be drawing and painting landscapes.

His work is beautiful and meticulous:

James D. Smillie's Mirror Lake Yosemite
James D. Smillie’s Mirror Lake Yosemite

He liked painting landscapes and traveled a lot in California and Colorado, painting mountain scenes.

James David Smillie, Panoramic Autumn Vista with Snowcapped Mountains in the Distance, Watercolor
James D. Smillie’s Panoramic Autumn Vista with Snowcapped Mountains in the Distance, Watercolor

James D. Smillie was also one of the founding members of the American Watercolor Society, and served as one of its first presidents. He taught for over 30 years at the National Academy of Design. His work is in the collections of many museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

He married in 1881 in his late 40s, and had 2 sons. Here’s a picture of him:

James David Smillie
James David Smillie

James’ brother George Henry Smillie was an equally successful artist. He studied with famed Hudson River School artist James McDougal Hart, who is also buried in Green-Wood. (OK, now I have to find him as well). Unlike his brother, George stuck mostly to the East Coast, painting quiet country landscapes and coastal scenes.

George Henry Smillie's Bronxville, 1912, oil on canvas
George Henry Smillie’s Bronxville, 1912, oil on canvas

Here’s a picture of George working in his studio. This photo is hilarious–after all, who doesn’t like to paint while wearing a 3-piece suit?

George Henry Smilliein his studio at 337 4th Ave., NYC
George Henry Smillie in his studio at 337 4th Ave., NYC

George’s wife Helen “Nellie” Sheldon Jacobs (1854-1926) was also a painter–they shared a studio on East 36th Street in Manhattan. He met her when she was one of his brother James’ private pupils. Here’s a picture of her from 1887:

Helen "Nellie" Jacobs Smillie
Helen “Nellie” Jacobs Smillie

And here’s one of her paintings:

Helen Sheldon Jacobs Smillie's Roses
Helen Sheldon Jacobs Smillie’s Roses

James & Margaret Bogardus and Father Maclay

James Bogardus’ grave caught my eye because of this small plaque at the base of it:


James Bogardus (1800-1874) is considered the “Father of Cast-Iron Architecture”. His invention of cast-iron building facades had a profound impact on contemporary architecture. For one thing, they were fire-proof, which was quite a plus during the days of gas lighting. Also, they were prefabricated; they could be built at his factory here in New York City, and then shipped to construction sites anywhere in the world. Used mostly in commercial and industrial buildings, these facades were more than just ornamental–their design was revolutionary. From the Encyclopedia Brittanica:

This method of supporting the weight of construction by columns, rather than the walls, was a significant step toward later development of skeleton framing and skyscrapers. Bogardus’ first use of these methods (1848) was in his own five-story factory in New York City.

Five of the buildings he designed/built are still standing. Four of them are in downtown Manhattan, and one is in Cooperstown, NY. Here are the four that are in NYC:

Bogardus was also a prolific inventor. In the 1830s he invented an engraving machine, and was subsequently hired by the U.S. Mint to engrave dies in bank notes. Other inventions include a machine for cutting watch dials, a gas meter, a cotton-spinning machine, and the “eccentric mill”, which is a machine used to grind and finish metal. It is still used today for lens grinding and for applying a smooth finish to the surface of ball bearings.

James Bogardus
James Bogardus

Despite his genius, Bogardus struggled financially for a number of years, and had to rely on income from his wife to get by. Which brings us to… Margaret Bogardus.

Margaret Bogardus (1803-1878) is just as intriguing as her husband. Margaret and James were married in a double wedding (with Margaret’s teenage sister) in her family’s home in 1831. Her father, the Reverend Archibald Maclay performed the ceremony (more on him to come). For many years the couple lived with Margaret’s family in their modest brick row house on East Broadway in Lower Manhattan.

Margaret was a renowned miniature portrait artist, and the living she made from selling her paintings was crucial to their financial stability. From Cast-iron Architecture in America: The Significance of James Bogardus, by Margot and Carol Gayle:

Painted portraits were much in demand until it became possible to product likenesses by photographic means. Those who could afford them commissioned pictures of family members or loved ones as tokens of affections, sometimes to mark such special occasions as weddings. …a miniature was a small portable personal memento that was more affordable (with standard prices ranging from $25 to $50 in the 1830s and 1840s).

Here are a few examples of her work:

These paintings are now in the National Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian.

Here’s a self-portrait she painted in 1842, when she was admitted to the National Academy of Design:


This was a pretty big deal at the time–there were very few women allowed in the National Academy of Design. She also showed her work in London at the Royal Academy. Way to go, Mags!

Margaret’s father was the Reverend Archibald Maclay (1776-1860), a prominent Baptist minister. A native of rural Scotland, he spent thirty years as the pastor at the Tabernacle Baptist Church on Second Avenue in Manhattan. According to The life of Rev. Archibald Maclay, D.D., 1776-1860, by Isaac Walker Maclay (his grandson), he was greatly beloved by his congregation, and was affectionately nicknamed “Father Maclay”.

Here’s a painting of him by Margaret:

Father Maclay is not buried near his daughter and James, but he is buried in Green-Wood. He’s in a different lot some distance away. Just for fun, I tracked down his grave today, which took me FOREVER to find because it’s so worn-down:

Jean-Michel Basquiat

I’ve had several people tell me that it’s difficult to find the grave of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. I honestly think the main problem is reading that damned tiny map they give you at the entrance! It’s not hard to find–it is about a ten-minute walk from the Fort Hamilton entrance to Green-Wood.

So here you have it, a larger map showing exactly how to get to it:


It’s very simple–enter at Fort Hamilton, and walk straight ahead down Vine. Turn left on Sassafras. Keep walking past the intersection of Grape Avenue a ways, and look on your left for a big bank of hostas in front of a long line of short headstones, set back-to-back. Basquiat is about halfway up, on the left.

You can’t miss it once you get this far. Basquiat’s grave has probably the most interesting collection of memorial items in the cemetery. (I counted at least 3 lip balms–is that some kind of inside joke, or did the poor man always have chapped lips?)

For those who don’t know, Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) was a fairly famous New York artist. He rose to notoriety in the 1980s as part of “SAMO” (“Same Old Shit”), a graffiti group on the Lower East Side.

One of the items left nearby says “SAMO IS ALIVE”:

Beyond graffiti, Basquiat was also a clothing designer, musician, and of course a painter. When he was a mere 19 years old, he met Andy Warhol. The two became close friends, and collaborated on over 80 pieces of art at Warhol’s infamous Factory.


Basquiat battled depression and addiction throughout much of his adult life. After Warhol’s death in 1987, Basquiat grew increasingly depressed and isolated. He died of a heroin overdose on August 12, 1988.

I could attempt to describe his paintings, but what purpose would that serve? Just take a look at a few for yourself.

By the way, if you ever visit Basquiat’s grave, it is worth it to also check out the beautiful sculpture of St. Michael on Santo Matarazzo’s grave, just across the street (see map).


The Brevoort Kane Family

Bear with me here, because pretty much every single person in this family is named Henry or Florence.

hbkane-jrHenry Brevoort, Jr. (1782-1848) was from one of the richest families in Manhattan. Huge areas of downtown Manhattan were owned by his family, including a large farm that stretched along an unpaved road that is now 5th Avenue.

He was referred to as a “gentleman of great wealth and unlimited leisure” by The Evening World. He was a writer and patron of the arts, and hung around with the likes of Sir Walter Scott and Washington Irving (surely he was in the St. Nicholas Club with John William Chase Leveridge).

There’s even a book of his correspondence with Washington Irving, and from what I’ve skimmed it looks pretty entertaining.

In the 1830s, Henry Brevoort, Jr. famously built a huge mansion at 5th Avenue and 9th Street in Manhattan (it was torn down in 1925).
brevoort mansion 1900

According to Daytonian in Manhattan:
The house was designed as much for entertaining as for living. There was a billiard room, a library and two large parlors separated by the entrance hall. William Cullen Bryant would call it “a kind of palace in a Garden.” Upstairs were seven large bedrooms on the second floor and nine servants’ rooms on the third.

His grandson, the Senator Henry Brevoort Kane (1866-1930) married Florence Hartshorne in 1888. They had 2 kids: John Grenville Kane and Florence Brevoort Kane. John Grenville Kane died at age 14 from appendicitis. It was his stone that caught my eye in the first place–it’s a lovely example of the classic tree trunk symbol for a young person struck down in his prime.



Florence Brevoort Kane (1895-1956), his sister, had quite an interesting life. Afflicted with spinal meningitis at age 3, she was deaf and mute. She couldn’t speak or communicate well her entire life, and turned to sculpture at an early age in order to express herself.

She studied sculpture in both New York and Paris. She eventually settled in to a studio in Paris where she lived and worked for a good 20 years, often traveling to Cannes and the Riviera to visit an aunt.

Imagine being an artist in Paris in the 1920s. Now imagine that you are an extremely wealthy artist who doesn’t have to worry about paying for that baguette. Now imagine you are also a woman, and deaf and mute to boot. I can’t even begin.

Florence Brevoort Kane won several prestigious awards for her work while she was in France, most notably a bronze medal in 1932. She returned to the U.S. after World War II broke out, and was described as “oft-lonely” by this 2012 article in East Side Monthly.

From what I can gather from a lengthy (and quite boring) transcript of a legal squabble she had with a “companion”, I’m thinking that Florence was likely gay. This is pure conjecture of course, but the lawyer in the case repeatedly asks about her being “interested in” the other woman, with whom she lived and traveled. She never married.

The Providence Art Club had a retrospective of her work in 2012. Damn, I would have liked to have seen that. Here’s a picture of her at work:


William Holbrook Beard

William Holbrook Beard was a 19th Century artist whose work mostly involves animals acting like humans. In particular, he is known for his paintings of bears–which explains this monument.

I had never heard of Beard before. I don’t know why he is not more well-known. These paintings are insane. I am going to have to buy a book of his work–I could look at these forever.

beard3From the National Museum of Wildlife Art’s site:
Beard became an immensely popular animal painter, and he painted a large variety of animals, favoring rabbits, cats, monkeys, squirrels, and especially bears. Both lauded and criticized for his humorous satires, he often substituted animals for humans in his visual social commentary. He represented the condition of man and universal concerns by painting allegorical and fantasy subjects. He also produced work drawn from high and low literature, depicting characteristics of jealousy, pride, drunkenness, and greed.

Beard, an Ohio native, studied in Italy, Germany, and Switzerland before moving to New York City in 1857. He opened a studio in what was known as the Tenth Street Studio Building–this was one of the first all-artist studio buildings in New York City, and was instrumental in making Greenwich Village the center of the NYC art world for pretty much the next century. William Merritt Chase and Winslow Homer also had studios in that building.

He wrote a book called “Humor in Animals” in 1885.

The bear sculpture is by Dan Ostermiller, a renowned American sculptor, and recent president of the National Sculpture Society. Ostermiller does a lot of sculptures of bears and other wildlife, making him the perfect choice for this monument.

Harvey B. Dodworth

From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 26, 1891:

Harvey B. Dodworth, the famous band master, died at his home, 22 Hill street, West Hoboken, Saturday, at the age of 68. He was born in Sheffield, England, and came to America when very young. His father was a band master before him, and was the organizer of the New York city band, which became famous. Harvey B. Dodworth played the piccolo in the orchestra of the old Park theater in New York when he was only 10 years of age. Years after he was leader of the orchestra at Niblo’s theater,and subsequently at Daly’s. The fame of his Dodworth band was well known in Brooklyn. The deceased was the first man in this country to arrange Wagner’s music for military bands. He leaves a wife and three sons.


And according to Wikipedia, he “conducted with a band of sixty musicians in between salutes and boxing matches, as well as opening in Madison Square Garden, in which he had plans to lease in 1879 to turn it into a “music garden”, where he would conduct a 123-piece band.”

Here are a couple of playbills (posters?) for his performances:

Santo Matarazzo

This is one of the benefits of wandering around aimlessly in Green-Wood. This beautiful and modern-looking monument is well off the beaten path, almost hidden in a grove of trees and behind a bunch of other large stones. I doubt I would have ever seen it from the road.

Turns out, I didn’t have to dig too deeply to find out the story behind this intriguing statue of St. Michael. Santo Matarazzo was well-known in my old neighborhood, Carroll Gardens. Emigrating from Sicily to Brooklyn in the early 1950s, he was a key player in the revitalization of “Brownstone Brooklyn”. In fact, Matarazzo’s contribution to renovating classic brownstones was so impressive that he became known as “Mr. Brownstone” around the neighborhood.

santoI didn’t know Santo Matarazzo, but I bet he frequented one of the local Social Clubs. Carroll Gardens has a rich tradition of Italian Social Clubs; they’re essentially clubs for elderly Italian immigrants where they play cards, drink beer, and watch football. One of the biggest is called the “Van Westerhout Cittadini Molesi” (no one ever refers to it by name), and it’s at the corner of Court and 2nd Place. I would talk to those guys all the time when I used to walk by there on my way to my studio. Sometimes they would give me scotch! They always had a friendly word. (Here’s a good article about them in the South Brooklyn Post.)

I like to think that Santo Matarazzo was hanging out there. But who knows, maybe not. What the hell do I know.

After renovating Brownstones for the better part of his life, he turned his attention to sculpture in his final years. He created numerous statues and busts, and even exhibited his work at the Smithsonian in Washington.

From The Brooklyn Paper‘s description of the Matarazzo’s home:

Nearly every available space is occupied by his art. The walls remain full of his paintings, which include a self-portrait, a picture of Jesus, and a Sicilian seascape dated 1952 — a reference, Lucia Matarazzo said, of the year her husband left his homeland.

Other plaster sculptures honored famous or historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Bill Clinton, Muhammad Ali, and, most recently, Barack Obama, the presidential candidate for whom Matarazzo intended to vote.

Matarazzo also contributed this sculpture of William Floyd to the community square in Mastic Beach, Long Island, where his family had their second home:
william floyd statue