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Amsterdam artist Mary Van der Veer

By: Bob Cudmore

Date: 2018-01-20

Amsterdam artist Mary Van der Veer
By Bob Cudmore, Focus on History, Daily Gazette, 01-20-18

Born on a farm in Fort Hunter in 1865 to an old Dutch family, artist Mary Van der Veer produced numerous oils, pastels and water colors in her remarkable life. She primarily painted flowers, portraits and landscapes.

Many of her artworks are in private collections. Some are offered for sale online. Several of her paintings are at Amsterdam’s Walter Elwood Museum.

The daughter of John and Jennie Van Evera Van der Veer, Mary was stricken with polio at age three. Her legs were paralyzed and her hands and back were affected.

The family moved to Crane’s Hollow Road in the town of Amsterdam where an accident threatened Mary’s eye sight when she was eight.

Historian Katherine Strobeck said Mary accidentally tipped a whitewash solution onto her head. Her father was using the whitewash to paint a wall. A family member threw milk into Mary’s eyes, saving her sight.

Mary’s talent was valued by her family. She attended the National Academy of Design in New York City and her pictures were displayed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and Paris Exhibition.

Mary went to Europe and studied with James McNeill Whistler. Her self-portrait was the only painting in her class chosen for a show Whistler held in Paris in 1900.

Mary got the news that her picture was chosen after going to Rome. In Europe, Mary was known for traveling on crutches and in wheel chairs, smoking cigarettes and bobbing her blonde hair.

She also spent time back in Amsterdam and elsewhere in America, for example holding a one-woman show where her paintings were displayed in Philadelphia.

Mary’s father was a contractor who built houses on Amsterdam’s Market Hill. The family lived on Lincoln Avenue.

He converted a barn on Arnold Avenue into a house and studio for Mary, using the services of architect P.P. Cassidy. The dwelling was the subject of a House Beautiful article in 1915 entitled How “barneo” became ‘little house.”

Adjacent to her back door, Mary had a small garden plot of cultivated and wild flowers. Helen Ireland Hays of Johnstown, in a monograph, said that young people found Mary “sympathetic and helpful.”

After World War I, Mary lived for a time in Veere, Holland where her ancestors had resided. After coming back to Amsterdam, Mary painted flowers and portraits and also Sacandaga Reservoir scenes.

One of her paintings attained notoriety because of its disappearance. Van der Veer did a portrait of the founder of Amsterdam’s Century Club, M. Annie Allen Trapnell. The portrait was stolen from the Guy Park Avenue women’s club many years ago.

During a trip to Philadelphia to do a portrait, Mary fell and hurt her back. She could not walk after the accident. A later injury hurt her hands and she stopped painting.

In 1932 her Dutch interiors, portraits and flower paintings were displayed at the home of Elliott Boice on Guy Park Avenue in Amsterdam, a benefit for the Y.M.C.A. That building became the Boice Funeral Home.

Mary Van der Veer died in 1945 at age 79. A memorial program was held at her home, organized by art teacher Marion Rulison.

Mary’s niece, Marie L. Gilbert, wrote, “In a competitive masculine field, not noted in the past for its financial remunerations, Miss V. was able to support herself and to travel.”

Gilbert, who posed for a Van der Veer portrait as a child, said her aunt’s blue eyes twinkled, and she had “a tongue sometimes peppery and a merry laugh.”

Dennis Drenzek, a graphic artist, curated an exhibit of her paintings from private collections at Old Fort Johnson in 2007.