Friday, August 31, 2012

Stories from Bovina's Cemeteries – A Bovina Artist

UPDATE - October 17, 2013 - A suspicion that I had for some time was confirmed this August when I verified that James A. Thomson was not the artist of these two paintings.  The fact that he never pursued a career as an artist was a strong clue.  Another was that nothing was mentioned in his obituary.  The final kicker was finding an old label on top of one of the paintings with the name Jack Elliott.  Mea culpa.

The Thomson connection comes from the fact that the painting of Johnson's Mill was done for James' parents, Andrew and Anna Thomson.  He inherited the painting and passed it on down to his daughter Ina, who bequeathed it to the Bovina Historical Society.  James' story is still of interest, so I will not remove this entry, but I thought it was important to include information on Jack Elliott.

Unfortunately, the information on Jack is rather sparse.  He was born in May 1850 and came to the United States from Scotland in the 1880s.  It does not appear that he is related to the Elliotts who settled in this area earlier in the century.  Jack settled in Bloomville and it was there that he died in September 1914 of heart failure.  The Andes Recorder reported his death in a brief notice: "Jack Elliott, a painter, died at Bloomville, September 6, from heart failure.  He was a native of Scotland; a man of middle age.  On coming to this country he spent some time in Bovina and painted numerous landscape pictures and portraits, and was a good artist."

We have identified two other paintings of his, one now owned by Pat Miele, the other held by the Delaware County Historical Association.  Since he painted 'numerous' pictures and portraits, I would love to find more of these. I have some feelers out but other thoughts are welcome.


One of the 136 Thomsons buried in Bovina Cemeteries is James A. Thomson.  He was born on August 30, 1870 in Bovina.  The son of Andrew Thomson and Anna King Thomson, he spent the first 30 years of his life on the Thomson farm near Tunis Lake.  We don’t know much about his childhood, but we do know that when he was 18, he produced two iconic paintings of Bovina, one showing the Bovina Center hamlet, the other the Johnson Mill near Mountain Brook.  Both paintings are owned by the Bovina Historical Society. 

From everything we can tell, he did not continue as an artist.  He taught school in Bovina, New Kingston and Bloomville for about 10 years.  While teaching, he married Margaret Foreman of Bovina in 1901.  From teaching, he went into agriculture, becoming manager of the Bovina Center creamery and later attending Cornell University College of Agriculture where he learned butter making.  For two years he was butter maker at the Ayer and McKinney creamery at Meridale. In 1910 he moved with his family to just outside Delhi to farm.  The Thomson family moved to Delhi village in 1927. James was a justice of the peace and for 28 years, he served as court crier at the Delaware County Court House. He and Margaret had two daughters.  Anna, who died in 1927 at the age of 20, and Ina, who survived him.  It was Ina Thomson who willed the painting by her father of the Johnson Mill to the Bovina Historical Society.  James died in Delhi on April 6, 1957 and is buried in Bovina.

Below is his obituary from the Delaware Republican Express, courtesy of Linda Ogborn:

James Adam Thomson, 86, of Delhi, who up until quite recently had served as Justice of the Peace in this village for 33 years, died at his home, Saturday, April 6 (1957), following an extended illness. Funeral services will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, at the McCall Funeral Home in Delhi, with the Rev. Cameron B. Reed, minister of Hamden Presbyterian Church, officiating. Burial will be in Bovina Center Cemetery. A native of Bovina Center, Mr. Thomson was born Aug. 30, 1870, the son of Andrew G. and Anna (King) Thomson. He married the former Miss Margaret Foreman of Bovina on Feb. 6, 1901. As a young man, Mr. Thomson taught district schools in Bovina, New Kingston, and Bloomville for a period of about 10 years, following which, he was manager of the Bovina Center creamery. He later attended Cornell University College of Agriculture where he learned butter making, and for two years was butter maker at the Ayer and McKinney creamery at Meridale. In 1910 he moved with his family to the former William Fisher farm, now owned by Mr. and Mrs. William Leal, located just out of the village on Route 10. In 1927, the Thomson family moved to Delhi village. For a period of about 28 years, he served as court crier at the Delaware County Court House. He was a member of the Second Presbyterian Church and former president of Board of directors of the Delhi Products Co. (Creamery). Surviving besides his wife, are one daughter, Miss Ina Thomson, a teacher at Port Jefferson; one sister, Mrs. Margaret Gladstone of Greenport, L.I.; two others, Howard Thomson of New Kingston and Fred Thomson of Bovina Center. Friends may call at the funeral home until service time.


  1. Absolutely beautiful paintings. Thank you for posting these!

  2. A suspicion that I've had for a couple of weeks was confirmed tonight - I've id'ed the wrong name on these two famous paintings of Bovina from 1888. My suspicions had started when I noted that the obituary of the reputed artist, James A. Thomson, never mentioned he was an artist. And the signature - just initials - 'J.E.' I took a look at Thomson's daughter's will when she gave the painting of Johnson's mill to the Bovina Historical Society and it said nothing about her father being the artist. Three arguments against the artist being Thomson.

    So today I took another look at the painting to see if there was anything on the back and found on top of the frame (and out of sight of inquiring minds) a label dating from 1978 that said the painting was by - Jack Elliott. I guess I'm happy that my instincts were right, but it would have been nice if they had been right when I did this blog entry.

    So now I need to figure out who this Jack Elliott was.....

    1. Ray, I have in my possession an "Autograph" book that I believe belonged to Jack Elliot. It was used for some sketches and writings. I also have a letter to my great grandmother, Ada Boyd Coan, wife of Emmet, written by Jack's sister Katie H. Elliot. It was dated days after his death. These and another letter were in my mother's belongings which I acquired after her death.

    2. Oh wow! I would love to see these. Are you local? If not could a scan be arranged? This would be SO interesting. Thank you.

  3. Ray - I don't always get to read your entire blog entries. However, I thoroughly enjoy what I do read, and even as a "part-time" resident of Bovina appreciate the stories and photos. Maybe not everyone takes the time to thank you, but I am sure that many enjoy your work! You must spend all of your time researching and writing the history of the town. I tried to respond through your blog, but am not sure what "URL" was expected. I tried my email address, and that said it required a URL. If you can tell me how to respond I will. Otherwise, please post my comment to your blog in appreciation of your work! Great stuff.