Martha Belcher


Martha Belcher


Fenton House - Pittsford, VT

Oil on Canvas on Board

11 x 13 inches


Circa 1880

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Martha Wood Belcher was born in Birmingham, England in 1844 and emigrated to Schenectady, New York with her parents and siblings in the decade before the Civil War. Her brother died in the war and her father died of illness not long after, leaving Martha, her mother, and two sisters to fend for themselves. They took in washing and sewing to pay the bills.

Belcher, then in her early twenties, generated additional income through the sale of her landscape paintings, and through this sideline gained an admirer and patron. Major Brooks "underwrote Martha's study of art at the Cooper Union in New York City," Myers explains, "and a two-year tour of Europe, during which she studied in Dresden and Munich."

She moved to Vermont to take a position teaching art at Ripley College in Poultney, and later designed and built her own home on Main Street in Pittsford, complete with a large, airy studio for her work. She brought her mother and sisters to live with her, and married a local businessman named Stephen Patterson Belcher in 1880.

Their daughter Hilda was born in Pittsford in 1881 and spent her early childhood there. As head of the Ecclesiastical and Domestic Stained Glass Works, Stephen Belcher moved the family to Newark, New Jersey by the time Hilda was a teenager. After her graduation from high school in 1900, Hilda began her study at the New York School of Art, where she found a mentor in artist and teacher Robert Henri.

After graduation in 1904, Hilda Belcher stayed in New York, selling illustrations and cartoons to many prominent magazines of the time and designing stained glass windows for her father's company. It was during this period that she changed her medium from oils to watercolors. "I'd never studied watercolor in school, probably that's why, having to find my own way in it, I have enjoyed it more," she said in the 1940s.

For Martha Belcher, too, the early 1900s was a time of transition. Her husband died in 1906, and around that time she also lost her mother and both sisters. In 1910, she was surprised to inherit a substantial sum of money from a relative in England, allowing her to live comfortably for the remainder of her life. She and Hilda used some of the money to travel across Europe in 1913-14.

Martha died in 1930.