Linton Park

 

Park was the creator of an acknowledged masterpiece of American primitive painting. His Flax Scutching Bee (1885) is one of the most exhibited andreproduced of all American folk paintings, because of both its undeniably pleasing aesthetic qualities and its colorful documentation of frontier life.Park was a product of that frontier, born and raised in Marion (now Marion Center), a town laid out by his father, a surveyor, in Indiana County, west centralPennsylvania. Linton was the youngest of nine children. He never married, but was a beloved uncle to forty-nine nieces and nephews and became a wellknown localcharacter. As a boy he helped in the gristmill and tanyard that his father built, and as a young man he worked in the lumber industry. Four of the scenes he painteddocument aspects of logging trees and floating them down the Susquehanna River. In the 1850s he lived in the Pennsylvania towns of Lancaster, Altoona, and Marietta.He was in Washington, D.C. in 1863 and, according to family legend, assisted in the decoration of the Capitol. As a member of the 2nd Regiment, District of Columbia, Volunteer Infantry, in 1864, he served on the burial detail of the presidential guard. This experience may have helped to inspire two melancholy images of thewar’s consequences that he painted some thirty years later.By 1868 he had returned to Marion, where he painted signs and carriages, opened a planing mill with a brother, and made picture frames. A clever inventor, he patented several devices, including a vegetable chopper (Park was a lifelong vegetarian), a device for cleaning featherbeds, and a type of ventilating window blind for which he won a prize at the Philadelphia Centennial (1876). It seems he did not do any paintings in oil until the last decades of his life. In 1904, the creamery that hehad begun to use as a studio burned to the ground. Park spent most of the next two years in the Soldiers and Sailors Home in Erie, Pennsylvania, until his death onSeptember 17, 1906.There are just thirteen identified works by Park, six of which appear to be painted on bed ticking. It is not known where the artist obtained his paints, but it has beensuggested that he may have ground and mixed his own pigments. His colors are remarkably vivid. He also had a reasonable command of both linear and atmospheric perspective. Although his grasp of anatomy was rudimentary, his work displays a strong sense of action and animation. Flax Scutching Bee is an energetic, flowingfrieze of humorous vignettes and characterizations. This creative, eccentric artist was clearly a keen observer of the life around him.