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Charles F. Whitney

by Jen Ratliff on 2023-07-07T09:01:56-04:00 | 0 Comments

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"I remember my grandfather as a religious, kind, and loving man who had a great love of nature. He was small in stature, with a goatee, mustache, and a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.” – Rachel Whitney Davis, 1988

Charles Frederick Whitney was born in Pittston, Maine on June 18, 1858. He studied at the Massachusetts State Normal Art School (MassArt) and later at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School. Whitney worked as a painter, illustrator, and art teacher, specializing in watercolor landscapes and seascapes.

In June 1883, Whitney married Martha Ella Cressey, a Peabody schoolteacher. The couple had two children Ernest and Pemberton and the family settled at 8 Fairfield Street in Salem. Martha passed away of breast cancer in 1907 at the age of 48 and was buried in Peabody. In 1914, Whitney married Elizabeth D. Lincoln in Tamworth, New Hampshire. Whitney annually summered at a camp house on Page Hill there, which he called “Camp Vision.”

During his teaching career, Whitney taught at several schools including the Wheelock School in Massachusetts, and Plymouth State College in New Hampshire. He was a beloved Director of Art and a drawing instructor at Salem Normal School (Salem State) from 1890 to 1928. He frequently took members of the school’s Art Club on field trips to the Boston Museum of Fine Art, Devereaux Beach in Marblehead, and Chestnut Street in Salem to practice their skills. Students remember him by his kind nature and quote him as often saying “That’s splendid!” when complimenting their work. During his tenure, Whitney regularly assisted with the annual production of the college’s yearbook, creating custom artwork for its pages, and guiding students in its assembly.

Each year, Whitney and his family invited students to their home, a 1906 bungalow on Pine Street in Danvers, to celebrate the end of the semester. This invitation was coveted by his art students who wrote fondly of the event in their yearbooks.

The Class of 1927 wrote: “One of the pleasures of our senior year which will always call forth the most delightful memories was the afternoon spent at the home of Mr. Whitney. We were a gay group as we gathered around the fireplace in the sun porch. Some perched themselves on the hammock; others were comfortably established on cushions at the feet of our classmates. Preparations for our lunch began at once. Water for the tea was heated in an ancient tea kettle directly over the fire just as it was in the picturesque, old-fashioned days. Water, thus heated, combined with the lovely old pewter mugs gave an added and extremely delicious flavor to the tea. Between nibbles at sandwiches, we deluged Mr. Whitney with questions concerning his enchanting home. Simplicity is its keynote. We were convinced, however, that there was some other quality it possessed that had impressed us more. We could not define it. Later when we had finished our tea and we went into the other rooms, we were determined we would unearth the secret. Everywhere we saw some suggestions of Mr. Whitney's artistry. Sometimes it was the soft tint of the walls or the arrangement of a chair. Personality was revealed in every detail. That was the secret. Twenty-two individuals came away with twenty-two minds filled with ideas for a home which we hope will materialize someday.”


The Class of 1924 gifted a bronze memorial plaque to the Salem Normal School in honor of Charles F. Whitney’s retirement in June 1928. The plaque was crafted by students, Dorothy Fielding, and Mildred Thurlow, at his alma mater, the Massachusetts Art School (MassArt). The tablet was displayed at Salem Normal School near the old library room, in what is now known as the Sullivan Building. A life-size marble bust of Whitney was created by artist Doris Appel to celebrate Whitney’s 40-year career in Salem. The bust was exhibited in Boston in 1937 with other works by Appel prior to being gifted to Salem State by alumni. It is now on view in the Reading Room of the University Archives and Special Collections.

Charles F. Whitney remained well known in the art community, publishing several books used in art instruction and exhibiting his art throughout New England. He passed away at age 91 on November 23, 1949. He is buried at Walnut Grove Cemetery in Danvers.

Digitized Archives
Charles Frederick Whitney Yearbooks and Catalogs

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