Published: May 28, 2002
By W. Parker Hayes, Jr
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Between 1890 and 1900, itinerant folk artist Fritz G. Vogt roamed the turnpikes and dirt roads of five New York counties west of Albany. By the time of his death on January 1, 1900, Vogt had created more than 200 distinctive architectural portraits featuring farms, homes, and businesses.
Suggesting a draftsman’s training, Vogt’s linear drawings include an extraordinary amount of detail while imbuing the subject with a romanticized sense of optimism and pride of place. The renderings demonstrate multiple-point perspective, where laws of physics and artistic convention are routinely disregarded. Some scholarship has attributed these peculiarities to a lack of skill.
However, evidence suggests Vogt’s distortions were intentional. Vogt willingly sacrificed realism to convey as much visual information as possible and capture every perceptible detail. The result is a window into the artist’s personal perspective and his patrons’ motivations, as well as a striking representation of the region’s architecture, commerce, and social history.
In Nineteenth Century America, the growing pains of the Industrial Revolution spawned a reaction against the real and perceived social ills of urbanization. The home, particularly the rural family farm, became a symbol of an idyllic past. This concept found appeal in both rural and urban America. Immigrants, often compelled to subsist in the abominable conditions of city tenements, identified with notions of a spacious family home. By 1890 these undercurrents resonated in the nation’s collective psyche. The rural populace readily embraced the virtues of a country existence and appalling conditions in cities reinforced these beliefs.
The reality of earning a living from the earth, however, was anything but romantic. In upstate New York the Civil War spurred economic expansion that was further fueled by urban growth. Farmers’ proximity to these markets led to record prices for agricultural products. Nonetheless, over the next 30 years the economic health of rural New York steadily, and sometimes precipitously, declined. A slight depression in 1873 caught overextended farmers unprepared. Many had recently increased their holdings by purchasing and cultivating undesirable land, often incurring debt in the process.
Advancing the decline of New York farms was the rise of agriculture in the Midwest. The benefits of the Midwest’s more productive soil and flatter topography were magnified by access to major rail lines that charged less to haul goods across the country than within New York State. New York farmers produced an assortment of crops while other regions of the country moved toward specialization and uniformity. This prevented any serious competition and limited the ability of the Grange movement to take any concerted action for New York farmers’ economic benefit. Although politically weak, the Grange fostered social unity by celebrating the benefits of the family farm to its inhabitants.
By 1880 rural areas of the state experienced a decrease in population for the first time. Small communities withered and sometimes disappeared. The decline was perceived as a loss of the brightest and youngest of native stock to burgeoning urban centers. The panic of 1893 further destabilized rural New York and poverty emerged among laborers and even farm owners.
The financial stability of farmers was further undermined by inequitable property taxes. Wealthy urbanites circumvented taxation by investing in stocks and bonds instead of real property. Even progressive reformers, who once championed rural America, turned their attention from urban decay and decried the deterioration of the countryside. Reformers touted school reform and temperance while aiming to modernize the practices of farmers, advocating scientific techniques, the use of new technology, and increased specialization.
For upstate New York it was a time of reflection and reiteration of rural values. Fritz Vogt was a product of this pervasive mood and his drawings provided a physical manifestation of this statement of values. In the midst of these unsettling changes, the rural citizens who had built a vibrant and prosperous society sought ways to document and celebrate their success as well as escape the realities of their times. Vogt’s immediate popularity and productive career proved his ability to strike a chord with his rural upstate New York clientele.
The social context of the 1890s supported the rising popularity of Vogt’s particular brand of architectural portraiture. The symbolic power of the home also spurred many commercial ventures that harnessed the current climate. As discussed in Douglas Kendall’s essay, during the period of America’s centennial, publishing firms descended on local communities to sell subscriptions to atlases and historical texts highlighting the area’s prosperity.
Included in these publications were lithographs of local civic buildings, thriving businesses, and prominent homes. The atlases were peddled to the more affluent farmers and merchants in a particular area targeted by the publisher. The popularity of these books and their evocative images spawned a demand for drawings of a similar nature among the general populace. Farmers, and their relatives in local villages, eagerly commissioned affordable drawings to optimistically portray the health of their farms and businesses. This emergent genre helped to sustain popular faith in the value of an idyllic rural existence.
Because of demand, architectural portraiture became a familiar genre and the number of active folk artists completing these works multiplied. Several late-Nineteenth Century artists shared a common heritage, lifestyle, and artistic qualities with Vogt. Perhaps the most notable member of this group is Charles C. Hofmann (circa 1820-82), who traversed the southeastern Pennsylvania countryside painting farms, businesses, and almshouses, often checking into the latter on account of his intemperance. John Rasmussen (1828-95), a German immigrant, was active in the same period and region, and his detailed bird’s-eye views of the Berks County almshouse derive stylistically from Hofmann. Another farm portraitist, Ferdinand Brader (1833-after 1895), shared Vogt’s obsession with architectural detail and bucolic bliss. Lastly, German immigrant folk artist Paul A. Seifert (1846-1921) of Wisconsin exhibited a style reminiscent of Vogt and the almshouse painters.
Despite his prolific artistic activity, Vogt managed to avoid most attempts to account for his existence. Although he signed nearly every drawing he finished, Vogt’s name does not appear on a single census, church record, or tax document. His Germanic first and last name are two of the most common in the Nineteenth Century. Vital records from this period concerning the poor are fragmentary, and Vogt’s transience served to further obscure his life history.
Vogt’s death certificate reveals that he was born in Germany in 1841. A document recording his compelled registration into the Montgomery County almshouse on August 10, 1898, provides some additional biographical information. Specifically, it reveals the summer of 1890 as the approximate time of his immigration to America. Although the name “Fritz Vogt,” or variations thereof, appears on several 1890 ship passenger logs recording arrivals from Germany and elsewhere in Europe, there is no firm documentation of his immigration. After years of effort to unearth details surrounding Vogt’s life, he remains a shadowy figure who can best be understood through his art.
The oral tradition of the region is replete with colorful characterizations of Vogt. Most of these stories share enough details to appear reliable, although a few may impose an invented identity on the artist. Claims mentioning Vogt’s drawing methods, style, the families with which he associated, and the time it took him to complete a drawing can be corroborated directly through his art. Uncovering details about Vogt’s personality and physical appearance, however, relies heavily on previously gathered oral histories.
Those who remembered Vogt from their childhood claimed he was a short, smallish man with a quick step, yet slightly rotund. He was alternately bearded or clean-shaven depending on the individual’s memory or possibly Vogt’s whim. He wore five or six second-hand shirts layered over each other, the underlying shirts visible through holes in the outer layers. He slept in the shelter of barns between two buffalo hides on a pile of hay. When Vogt entered a home to complete his drawing, he wore a pair of slippers or crude shoes fashioned from carpet remnants.
Drawing was certainly not the extent of Vogt’s artistic ability. He was apparently an accomplished violinist, organist, and singer. According to one account, Vogt entertained fellow hop-pickers during harvest season social events. Those who heard him speak claimed Vogt possessed a formidable intellect and benefited from some type of higher education. He primarily spoke German but also conversed in broken English with the assistance of expressive gesticulations. He inscribed “Mr. William A. Dempster’s Cottage”, “Fritz G. Vogt, Germ. Professor.” He may have earned income from teaching German to local children, with whom he reportedly had a good rapport. They followed him around the farm as he sketched, and Vogt would entertain them with amusing antics. Many remember that despite Vogt’s limited command of English he was still able to crack jokes and induce laughter.
Oral histories also reveal that one of the causes for Vogt’s transient lifestyle was overindulgence in alcohol. His intemperance is one of the few facts documented in the historical record. The dual examination of Vogt’s artistic work and of oral accounts handed down through generations provides the most accurate idea of who Vogt was and why he drew.
On an empirical level, each drawing yields fundamental information about its own context. Vogt inscribed his work with a location and date of completion. Thus, the flow of his travels can be revealed through analysis of his drawings as a group, including observations of when and where he worked. For example, four drawings, “Residence of Mr. Aurora Failing,” an untitled drawing of Klinkhart Hall, “William Harper, Way Side Cotage [sic],” and “Residence of Mr. Geo. Klinkhart” were completed consecutively in May 1896.
The locations and dates of these drawings trace Vogt’s steps from the village of Palatine Bridge ten miles south to one of his favorite locales, the village of Sharon Springs. After executing the drawing of the Failing residence, Vogt traveled the distance in a week and upon reaching Sharon Springs completed the three remaining drawings in a span of eleven days. Analysis of his commissions over several years has made it possible to discern his movements and a patronage network.
To classify Vogt strictly as an itinerant artist is slightly flawed. The physical territory he covered was comparatively modest. More than 130 of Vogt’s drawings were completed in New York’s Montgomery County. Twenty-five of those were of subjects in Canajoharie, New York, an important village on the Mohawk River. The small villages near the river’s shores mark the northern boundary of his travels. Another 60 drawings were completed slightly to the south in Schoharie County. In the town of Sharon, including the resort village of Sharon Springs, Vogt executed more than 40 drawings. He stayed close to the Great Western Turnpike, reaching the village of Cherry Valley in Otsego County to complete 15 drawings. He portrayed fewer than six subjects in Herkimer and Fulton Counties combined.
In total, the area Vogt traversed is roughly 20 miles north to south and 25 miles east to west. It is likely that Vogt traveled such a small area primarily on foot. According to area folklore, Vogt refused to accept rides with local farmers. Abundant local traffic like livestock wagons, for example, could have supplied Vogt with the opportunity for many more commissions. Railroads presented an even greater degree of mobility and speed. Trains, like the one visible in the background of “Residence of Mary E. Failing,” were a familiar method of transportation for wanderers like Vogt. His opportunity to travel far and develop a wider patronage seemed less a priority than cultivating a familiar clientele to rely on for ample work, food, and shelter.
Significant annual patterns exist in Vogt’s drawing activity. Usually, he set out early each spring, about mid-March, and continued working until winter, about mid-December. During the coldest months, he was inactive and probably stayed in one place. Previous theories posited that Vogt relied on almshouses for shelter during the cold winter months. Another explanation, based on oral traditions, maintains that Vogt was especially close to families in his core patronage, some of similar ethnicity, who provided him shelter during the holidays and long winter. Vogt’s aforementioned application for relief in the Montgomery County almshouse supports the idea that he was not under any regular institutional care until 1898.
Core patrons also supported Vogt while he was drawing in nearby villages. The Van Schaicks of Sharon, New York, were one of several families to provide Vogt with a temporary home. John “Dutch” Van Schaick and his sister Kate were recent immigrants like Vogt. Vogt may have completed an untitled depiction of the Van Schaick farm as barter for food, drink, or lodging. The duration of Vogt’s stays with these families lasted anywhere from a few days to six weeks. Through his intense drawing activity in these particular communities, Vogt and his work became readily identifiable. Beyond material compensation, Vogt’s patrons must have furnished him with a sense of place and purpose.
Although Vogt may have received alcohol plus room and board as remuneration for completion of a drawing, in many cases he was actually paid for his work. In one example, “Residence of Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Handy, Homestead of Freddie E. Handy,” Vogt records a price of $2.00 on the reverse of the drawing. Like many other itinerant folk artists, Vogt supplemented his income from drawing with other activities. Vogt’s Montgomery County almshouse registration documents reveal his employment as a hostler for “Dr. White” in Fort Plain, New York. In addition to working in the doctor’s stables, Vogt also rendered the Fort Plain resident’s office and home in the drawing entitled “Dr. White, 62 Division Str.”
Because of the agricultural economy of the area, Vogt undoubtedly did his share of farm labor. According to area folklore, Vogt was a skilled carpenter and also helped out in the hop-picking season. Hops and hop poles, readily visible in “Residence of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Engell,” are often present in Vogt drawings. Seasonal breaks in Vogt’s drawing activity occur from late August to early October. This coincides with the hop-harvesting season, commencing in early September. Other annual drawing interruptions take place in April and May, suggesting Vogt also assisted in the planting season.
Vogt arrived in New York’s Mohawk Valley in the summer of 1890 and quickly established a patronage in and around Sharon, New York. Twenty of his first 30 drawings executed in 1890 and 1891 show subjects near there. Vogt’s earliest documented drawing, “Evangelical Lutheran St. Paul’s Church” is dated September 19, 1890. Several of Vogt’s first drawings depict houses of worship. Assuming Vogt required assistance on his arrival in the area, he may have turned to local churches, in addition to certain families, for charity. Perhaps Vogt’s church drawings are evidence of his gratitude. Vogt’s first commissions of nearby farms possibly resulted from his depiction of churches, certainly a locus of rural communities in the 1890s.
His first farm drawing, “Residence of Michael Van Alstine,” was completed six days after “St. Paul’s.” Both drawings, and several of Vogt’s other early works, show a refined artistic sensibility. Composed from a vantagepoint situating the home in its visual context and exhibiting relatively accurate single-point perspective, Vogt’s early drawings demonstrate a fairly balanced and well-ordered composition. Generally, Vogt developed a more exuberant folk style in later works completed at the height of his activity.
In some later drawings, Vogt relied on stock trees, clouds, and animals. Individualized treatment of these specific subjects, however, distinguishes many of his early drawings. Perhaps the most singular drawing of Vogt’s oeuvre, an untitled winter scene completed in December 1890, reveals the powerful Germanic influence on his folk art. Vogt likely based the scene on a European print, with a Gothic church and primeval trees, but it shows a level of artistic skill unparalleled in Vogt’s other work. His use of conventional artistic methods and techniques waned as he altered his style to meet demand.
The transition of Vogt’s work from realistic monochromatic drawings to multi-perspective colored images was a swift one. Vogt’s activity expanded rapidly from January 1892 to December 1894. He created more than 110 drawings during this period, undoubtedly the most active of his career. Vogt also successfully developed an extended and complex patronage network by establishing ties within communities and families. Many multiple drawings of the same residence were completed for a generation of siblings who grew up on a family farm.
Two notable drawings, versions of the same farm entitled “Residence of Mr. and Mrs. Charles E. Sterling,” may have been commissioned as gifts for descendants of Charles Sterling. This practice brought Vogt increased notoriety and business as he followed the branches of family trees into new villages and towns. The German heritage Vogt shared with many of the area’s inhabitants helped him develop relationships with his patrons. As occurs with a few Vogt drawings even today, owners prominently displayed them in a central, public location in their homes. During a neighborly visit, conversation probably focused on the drawing, providing impetus for a neighbor to seek out Vogt during his next trip to the area.
By the close of 1892 Vogt had ventured north into Montgomery County and made his first forays into neighboring Otsego County’s village of Cherry Valley. “Residence of Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Wessell,” completed on October 12, 1892, is one of the artist’s early commissions in Montgomery County. Vogt came to Canajoharie in 1893, undertaking a few drawings there in the fall. He returned exactly one year later to complete several commissions for members of the prominent Garlock family. Among those drawings were the “Residence of Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Garlock,” “Residence of Mr. and Mrs. William Garlock,” and his only depiction of a school, entitled “District Nr. 12. Town of Minden. Bayard J. Garlock, Teacher 1889-90, 1894-95.”
These drawings led to seven more commissions in the Garlock family and more than a dozen in the Canajoharie community. Vogt’s first drawing in Cherry Valley, the “Residence of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Oneil,” completed on July 16, 1892, includes a tantalizing piece of visual evidence concerning the artist. Almost entirely hidden behind a pile of fieldstones is a mustached figure holding a pencil. Presumably Vogt, this is one of two possible self-portraits the artist completed.
For the first four years of his artistic career Vogt relied on the shades of gray provided by his pencil. Although there were a few early experiments with colored pencils, it was not until the spring of 1894 that Vogt consistently infused his drawings with varying amounts of color. After this abrupt transition period he employed colored pencils almost exclusively. In the vivid drawing “Residence of Mr. and Mrs. John H. Abel,” for example, color adds greatly to the idealized, bucolic setting Vogt was attempting to create.
Vogt’s momentum began to slow in 1895 and 1896 but he still completed more than 45 drawings in the two-year period. At this time Vogt offered patrons progressively larger drawings to depict their homes and farms on a larger scale. Before 1895 the drawings were usually 18 by 24 inches or smaller. Subsequently, sizes increased with measurements ranging from 20 by 27 inches to 28 by 40 inches.
As his patrons seemed to prefer larger drawings with colorful details, exemplified by”Residence of Mr. Henry Cross,” Vogt’s work evolved and he created more visually complex scenes. The two-year period marked some of his most aesthetically pleasing and strikingly original drawings. The enchantment he developed with domesticated animals blossomed at this stage in his career. “Out Buildings of Ephraim Wagner” prominently features an expansive red barn, a hop house, blue peacocks, and prancing chickens. An actual farmhouse is nowhere to be seen and Mr. Wagner does not even face the artist, preferring instead to observe his flock of fowl.
Throughout his career Vogt primarily drew farms with their surrounding barns and outbuildings, in addition to single-dwelling properties in area villages. These drawings, accounting for 80 percent of his activity, express the centrality and importance of the home. To a lesser degree, he drew general stores, churches, hotels, and doctor’s offices. By 1895 many local captains of industry wanted to depict the economic vitality of their endeavors. “Mill and Residence of Mr. D.E. Nestell” and “Brookman’s Corners Cheese Factory, William Hilton, Maker” reveal the proliferation of specialized agricultural pursuits at the end of the century.
The proprietors of local hotels and boardinghouses retained Vogt’s services for drawings that served as advertisements and decoration. “Farmers Hotel, David Longshore, Proprietor”, a hotel in Canajoharie, depicts guests relaxing on a second-floor balcony. From wall clocks to birdcages and cast iron stoves, the incredible variety of goods available in rural general stores is recorded in the untitled drawing of Klinkhart Hall, “Store and Residence of Mr. and Mrs. G. L. Winne,” and “Residence and Store of Mr. and Mrs. F.M. Owen.”
Because of the many services they provided, these village stores were typically a focal point of commerce and community in the Nineteenth Century. General stores shared space with post offices, hardware stores, farm supply stores, and even undertakers. They were often the site of a rural community’s only public telephone.
In keeping with established artistic conventions, Vogt was primarily concerned with pleasing his patronage. Vogt visually conveyed their desire to be seen as successful gentleman farmers. Although farms are drawn with flourishing crops and healthy livestock, people are portrayed in a state of repose. They relax in hammocks, rocking chairs, or swings and are sometimes seen at the helm of elegant carriages or displaying a prized horse. A small child is perched on a swing in “Residence of Mr. and Mrs. A. B. Miller.” The ancient oak in the foreground is flanked by two pieces of Adirondack furniture, suggesting not only that the rdf_Descriptions are cherished possessions but also that the owners provide them with plenty of use.
“Residence of Mr. Adam A. Saltsman” depicts the patron’s handsome carriage and fine home. The farmhouse itself is the main focus of the drawing. Vogt probably took this approach to suit the patron’s desire for an optimistic representation of his home. When creating this idyllic world for an overburdened farmer, Vogt may have found his own solace from hardship in the well-ordered, bountiful settings he created.
Although many forms of transportation, from stagecoaches to livestock wagons, are portrayed, tools and instruments of agricultural toil are mysteriously missing. The purposeful omission of these implements relates closely to Vogt’s tendency to create a state of abundance and tranquility.
Vogt also ignored seasonal variations to maintain an agreeable setting. Lush green trees and blooming flowers populate drawings like “Residence of Mr. and Mrs. John Blumenstock,” completed on December 27, 1894. In both versions of “Residence of Mr. and Mrs. Charles E. Sterling,” drawn December 12 and 14, 1893, Vogt sketches ducks on a small pond after they would have headed south and the water probably frozen over.
In his aim to depict farms as grand and prosperous, Vogt endeavored to show every outbuilding and barn on the property, regardless of whether the viewer’s line of sight is obstructed. When laying out a drawing’s composition Vogt altered the actual physical placement of buildings so that each could be enjoyed and admired. Although aerial photographs of the Brown farm were taken more than 80 years after Vogt completed “1802-1897. “The Old Brown Homestead.”-Myron H. Brown” and “1802 -The Old Brown Homestead – 1898,” they provide an interesting comparison of building positions and thereby Vogt’s modifications. In the 1897 version of the homestead Vogt actually drew the back of the farmhouse.
To include a full view of the home and every barn and outbuilding, Vogt moved the barns en masse across a dirt lane to a point beside the farmhouse rather than behind it. In the 1898 version Vogt included neighboring farms, the village of Carlisle, and the surrounding landscape. The Brown farmhouse, barns, and outbuildings are clustered close together so Vogt can include other subjects without diminishing the appearance of the farm.
In “Residence of Mrs. Mary Wakeman,” Vogt ensures that every building is visible. Lined up in a neat row from the corner of the house to the main barn, not a single structure is blocked from view. Even a small gap between two barns is an opportunity to reveal several outbuildings. He went a step further by flattening his subject matter on the visual plane so that, for example, three sides of a farmhouse are discernible.
In “Residence of Mr. and Mrs. I. Snell,” Vogt stretches the brick farmhouse out in an accordion-like manner and angles the rear additions of both the house and barn so they can also be seen. “Residence of Henry F. Burkhart” also illustrates Vogt’s manipulations. He flattened the farmhouse so that a newer addition is visible. Furthermore, the first story of the house is elevated to accentuate the windows and doors.
Throughout the rest of the drawing, barns are angled and compressed so each one fits neatly into the scene. Employing multiple-point perspective, Vogt allows the viewer to survey entire farms. To accomplish this, depth and scale are sometimes dramatically altered. Buildings several hundred yards apart appear adjoined. Roofs plunge and rise at odd angles. Porches slant upward into midair. In an untitled drawing depicting a boardinghouse for Cherry Valley Female Academy teachers, the porch is tilted so that the fine doors and porch details are easily seen.
Scale in Vogt drawings is often manipulated for effect. Small farmhouses appear larger than obviously substantial barns. Vogt moved and enlarged additions to houses, hidden from view in reality, giving the chosen structure a monumental quality. In both “Old Homestead of Mr. Moses Wiles” and “Residence of Mr. and Mrs. Geo. L. Dana,” the homes were augmented to overshadow the adjacent barns, giving the residences a grand appearance.
These calculated alterations required careful planning and deliberate consideration of the final product’s composition. When Vogt was hired to complete a drawing he would usually spend several hours walking the grounds and speaking with the patron to get a sense of their preferences. These discussions would continue even when Vogt commenced drawing and on occasion became quite contentious. Vogt would find the right spot near a large tree, fence rail, or pile of fieldstones to sketch the basic composition of his drawing.
After completing this process, Vogt would move inside the home to finish the drawing relying on his sketch and memory, plus a set of rulers and drafting tools to create angles and straight lines. Except for human and animal figures, very little of Vogt’s drawing was completed freehand. Even in areas requiring shading or color, he often used a straight edge to create numerous lines and realize the desired effect.
One of the most striking aspects of Vogt’s style is his obsession with detail, especially in relation to architectural features. He demonstrates this penchant for precision in “Residence of Mr. and Mrs. D. V. Dunn.” Vogt’s remarkable ability to record even the most minor element in a scene most likely derived from training as a draftsman, and his meticulous approach enabled him to capture the visual information of specific interest to his patrons. In this minutiae are the elements most associated with home, the small things remembered.
Vogt’s distortions of reality were not the result of a lack of skill but, by all indications, intentional. Except for some of his earliest drawings, Vogt generally eschewed artistic concepts such as single-point perspective, exact scale, and orderly composition. In fact, he rejected these limitations because they did not serve his purpose of composing his patrons’ concept of rural paradise.
Vogt continued to execute drawings on a grand scale in the last three years of his life but his output diminished considerably. In 1897 Vogt completed seventeen drawings and in the final two years of his life he finished only 13 drawings. Several drawings toward the end of his life are resplendent, teeming with activity. Robust, well-delineated cows, horses, and sheep are lined up across the foreground of “Residence of Mr. Menzo Livingston” “Residence of Mr. and Mrs. Martin Garber” depicts all manner of ornamental bush, potted plant, blooming flower, vegetable garden, and crops.
Additionally, the Victorian architectural features of the Garber home are methodically detailed. It is the last drawing Vogt would complete before entering the Montgomery County almshouse. Vogt was committed to the almshouse on August 10, 1898, by order of Henry Rebell, town overseer of Minden, N.Y. Interestingly, Vogt’s application for relief lists rheumatism rather than intemperance as the “probable cause of indigence.” This suggests Vogt’s arthritis reached a terminal state and that it was not solely alcohol that forced him into institutional care.
Although Vogt suffered from chronic rheumatism, a type of rheumatoid arthritis, it is unknown whether his condition was limited to swelling and pain in his joints, hands, and wrists or if he may have experienced some of the more serious symptoms, which include functional deterioration of the heart, lungs, and eyes. It is plausible the pain associated with this ailment led to Vogt’s overindulgence in alcohol. Excruciating arthritic episodes probably made it almost impossible for Vogt to draw and influenced his pace as early as 1895. Although the exact effects of the condition on Vogt are hypothetical, by 1898 something was substantially reducing his ability to work.
Vogt experienced a brief respite, completing four drawings between May and July 1899. One of the most unusual drawings that Vogt undertook, “Residence of John Adam and Peter Kilts”, is a portrayal of the Kilts ancestral dwelling, based on the patron’s description of the farm’s appearance 100 years earlier in 1799. Then used as a dwelling by John Adam Kilts, in 1899 it was used for wagon and equipment storage by his son Peter. Fritz Vogt’s last documented drawing, “Homestead of Mr. D. C. Richtmyer”, was completed on July 1, 1899. On January 1, 1900 at 2 am, Vogt died of chronic rheumatism in the Montgomery County almshouse in Fonda, New York, at the age of approximately 58 years. He had seen a mere two hours of the new century.
More than 100 years after his death, Vogt’s life remains an enigma. Nonetheless, the artistic record he left speaks volumes about his motivation to draw and his general outlook on life. We are left with the great irony of a homeless man who expressed an intimate knowledge of the idea of home. Fritz Vogt’s skillfully manipulated renditions of these farms and homesteads allow us to experience the warmth and radiance of these seemingly inanimate structures.
W. Parker Hayes, Jr, is scheduling and exhibitor relations coordinator, Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, Washington, D.C., and is guest curator of “Drawn Home: .” Fenimore Art Museum is located on Lake Road, Route 80, one mile north of the village of Cooperstown. It is the showcase museum of the New York State Historical Association, a nonprofit, private educational institution founded in 1899. Hours are 10 am to 5 pm daily. For information, 888-547-1450 or www.fenimoreartmuseum.org.
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