Remington’s Fortress of Rest

Although Remington spent his childhood growing up in rural Ogdenburg, New York, as a young man he quickly made his way to New York City where he spent most of his career. As he matured, Remington divided his time between the city and the country, which in this case was his childhood home in a region of New York state that’s referred to as the North Country. By 1900, he had purchased an island in the North Country on the St. Lawrence River, an island he called Ingleneuk.

Chippewa Bay, Frederic Remington Art Museum

“I am in Chippewa Bay 10 miles below Alexandria Bay. Seven miles wide here and blows like h- every minute. Got a dandy lumbered island – 6 acres- good house- kitchen outside – boat house – two docks and a hospital tent. Its cool here all the while and I work summers. It was a good scheme since no one can live in New [Rochelle] in the summer and work. It is cheaper than travel and anyhow summer is no time to spend on cars…” Frederic Remington to Julian Ralph, Summer 1900

Remington described Ingleneuk in his diary and to friends as his “fortress of rest,” where he would spend his subsequent summers.

Remington loafing at Ingleneuk, 1902, Frederic Remington Art Museum

The artist loved his summers at Ingleneuk. Remington wrote to his friend John Howard February 1907, “Oh I am itching to get up on that Island. I look forward to it like a school boy. I want to get out on those rocks by my studio in a bath robe in the early morning when the birds are singing and the sun a shining and hop in among the bass. When I die my Heaven is going to be something like that. Every fellows imagination taxes up a Heaven to suit his tastes and I’de be mighty good and play this earthly game according to the rules if I could get a thousand eons of something just like that.”

Our current exhibit, Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East, features several paintings depicting parts of his island, like his studio and boat house.

Ingleneuk Studio (Ingleneuk Island, Chippewa Bay), Frederic Remington Art Museum
Frederic Remington | Remington’s Studio at Ingleneuk | 1907 | Oil on canvas board | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY
Old Dock (Ingleneuk Island, Chippewa Bay), 1903, Frederic Remington Art Museum
New Dock (Ingleneuk Island, Chippewa Bay), Frederic Remington Art Museum
Frederic Remington | Boathouse at Ingleneuk | ca. 1903 – 1907 | Oil on academy board | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY
Ingleneuk, Photo Album, (Pete Smith, Inleneuk Island caretaker) Frederic Remington Art Museum

Remington requested his island handyman Pete Smith to paint the boat house “pea-green – sure enough spring foliage – greenery-yellery you know.” And the artist had his friend John Howard secure the paint. “D- you we will see how much an artist you are. I dont want any Paris green poison color such as you had on your house but the real touch of the April showers – now do you understand?”

What was it like with Remington on the island? In the October 1907 issue of Pearson’s Magazine, reporter Perriton Maxwell describes the scene:

“It is given to few men to live Crusoe-like on an island all their own; but Remington besides possessing his own island has augmented the boon with a substantial cottage, studio and outbuildings and lives part from the herding crowd like a feudal lord of old. You cannot possibly disturb him at his work; you could not even located this ‘Ingleneuk’ unless piloted to it. There are only five acres of it, but it is an impregnable stronghold and is, as the artist himself describes it, ‘the finest place on earth…’ Here Remington works all summer… I asked him for a photograph of the house at ‘Ingleneuk.’ ‘Bless your soul,’ he replied, ‘it couldn’t be photographed at any angle; it is solidly screen from view on all sides by the densest growth of trees along the St. Lawrence.’”

The house fell to fire in later years but the studio, now a cottage, still stands.

Ingleneuk Photo Album (Remington in front of Studio, Ingleneuk Island, Chippewa Bay), Frederic Remington Art Museum

The Yale Alumnus

In the spring of 1878, Remington wrote to his Uncle Horace Sackrider, “I am going to try and get into Cornell College this coming June and if I succeed will be a Journalist. I mean to study for an artist anyhow, whether I ever make a success of it or not.”

Unfortunately for Remington, Cornell University did not have a journalism department at that time. Fortunately for us, Remington enrolled in the newly created School of Fine Arts at Yale instead. Our blog featured a previous post about Remington’s time at Yale, which was short. His collegiate career last about 1 ½ years, having decided not to return to college after the holiday break that year due to the death of his father.

During his time at Yale’s art school, Remington was one of 7 men, along with 30 other art students, in both the first art school at an American university and the first coeducational school at Yale.

A coeducational painting studio around the turn of the century.

Yale opened its School of the Fine Arts in 1869. From the beginning, the school included women, which was in accordance with the wishes of its founders. The new institution was to be “a school for practical instruction, open to both sexes, to follow art as a profession.” In fact, the first person to earn a bachelor of fine arts degree at Yale (in 1891) was a woman.

Long after Remington had left Yale and was in the height of his artistic career, in 1900, the dean of the art school, John Ferguson Weir, proposed that Remington be awarded a Yale degree, despite the fact that the former student had completed only half of the three-year course of study. The letter from Weir on display in our current exhibit, Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East, outlines for Remington what was required of him for the awarding of the degree. Lest you think this was an honorary degree, the faculty minutes indicate that Remington was eligible for an earned one. How is that possible? 

John F. Weir | Letter from John F. Weir, Director, Yale School of Fine Arts, to Frederic Remington | 1900 | Letter | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

Dean Weir treated the BFA almost like an honorary degree. The degree was intended for “students who have made special attainments and have given evidence of marked ability in their work.” “One could not register for it or get it in course,” stated drawing instructor George H. Langzettel, who had received his own BFA in 1898. Rather, Dean Weir “kept in touch with the record of students after they had become professionals, and then invited them to receive it.”

Today, U.S. News & World Report ranks Yale School of Art as number one in Fine Arts. In addition to Frederic Remington, other notables artists who have graduated from Yale include painters  Chuck Close, Mickalene Thomas and Kehinde Wiley; sculptors Eva HesseNancy GravesWangechi MutuMartin Puryear, and Richard Serra.

For the Love of Birch Bark

Remington loved canoeing. Despite his weight gain in his later years, which kept him from his love of horse riding, he quipped that he could always float.

“If properly equipped, a man who sits at a desk the year through can find no happier days than he will in his canoe when the still waters run through the dark forests and the rapid boils below.” – Remington, 1893

Ingleneuk, Photo Album (Frederic Remington with Canoe), Frederic Remington Art Museum

In the summer of 1892, Remington purchased a canoe and embarked on a 50 mile journey paddling the Oswegatchie River, which is a river that flows from the Adirondack Mountains to the St. Lawrence River. (Ogdensburg, Remington’s hometown, developed at the mouth of the river at its confluence with the St. Lawrence.) During this adventure, Remington made sketches for an article he published the August 1893 issue of Harper’s Monthly entitled “Black Water and Shallows,” documenting his voyage:

“We pushed out into the big lake and paddles. As we skirted the shores the wind howled through the giant hemlocks, and the ripples ran away into white-caps on the far shore. As I wielded my double-blade paddle and instinctively enjoyed the wildness of the day, I also indulged in a conscious calculation of how long it would take my shirt to dry on my back. It is such a pity to mix a damp shirt up with the wild storm, as it hurries over the dark woods and the black water, that I felt misgivings; but, to be perfectly accurate, they divided my attention, and after all, man is only noble by fits and starts.”

Ingleneuk, Photo Album (Frederic Remington Canoeing), Frederic Remington Art Museum

One of Remington’s favorite types of canoes was the birch bark canoe. Birch bark canoes are most commonly associated with Native Americans of northern New England regions. Remington painted birch bark canoes in many of his artworks.

Frederic Remington | Hauling the Gill Net | ca. 1905 | Oil on canvas | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY
Frederic Remington | The Howl of the Weather | ca. 1905 | Oil on canvas | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY
Frederic Remington | In a Stiff Current | 1892 | Oil (black & white) on canvas | 24 inches x 36 inches
Frederic Remington | The Courrier du Bois and the Savage | 1891 | Oil (black & white) on canvas | 23 7/8 inches x 35 3/4 inches

Birch bark is the bark of a birch tree and has been used a building and writing material for thousands of years, and today remains a popular type of wood for various arts and crafts – and canoes.

So how do you build a birch bark canoe? With an amazing amount of work. Here’s a very simplified version of the steps:

  1. Gather materials.
  2. Find a building site. – Bark canoes were traditionally built outdoors, with stakes driven into the ground forming the overhead view of the canoe.
  3. Form the gunwales. – Gunwales are the top edges of the sides of a boat.
  4. Cut the bark and place within the boat’s frame.
  5. Shape the stems. – These form the profile of the canoe’s bow and stern.
  6. Sew the bark to the stems with roots.
  7. Build the ribs. – Soak the cedar logs in boiling water for pliability, then wedge the ends of the curved ribs inside the gunwales.
  8. Seal. – Seal any seams in the bark with a heated mixture of spruce gum and animal fat.

Want to see the process in action? I highly recommend watching this 1971 documentary, which follows César Newashish, a 67-year-old Atikamekw of the Manawan Reserve north of Montreal, as he builds a birch bark canoe the traditional way. Although the film is without commentary, viewers will find it mesmerizing and almost meditative to watch.