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Harry Leith-Ross papers


Held at: James A. Michener Art Museum Archives [Contact Us]138 South Pine Street, Doylestown, PA, 18901

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the James A. Michener Art Museum Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

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Harry Leith-Ross (1886-1973) was a painter in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He was an influential teacher and author as well as one of the most decorated Pennsylvania Impressionist artists. Leith-Ross became renowned for his vibrant, carefully composed oil paintings, and for his transparent watercolor technique in the tradition of the eighteenth-century. He gained recognition for depicting humble genre scenes of rural life and finding beauty in the everyday activities of people.

Harry Leith-Ross was born in 1886 in the British colony of Mauritius (now the Republic of Mauritius), an island off the eastern coast of Africa, and grew up in Scotland and England. His father, Frederick William Arbuthnot Leith-Ross, was a banker and his mother was the daughter of a prominent Dutch politician. Harry came to the United States in 1903 at the invitation of one of his uncles. After studying in Paris, London and America, he worked in commercial art and advertising. In 1913 he quit advertising to attend the Art Students League summer school in Woodstock, New York.

In 1913, he left the advertising world to further study painting at the Art Students League's summer school at Woodstock, NY, under the influence of Birge Harrison, John F. Carlson, and John Fulton Folinsbee. Between 1914 and 1935, Leith-Ross divided his time between Woodstock and New Hope, Pennsylvania (Bucks County), where he became well acquainted with the New Hope colony's leading artists including Lathrop, Redfield, Garber, and Spencer. During the 1910s Leith-Ross exhibited his first landscapes at the National Academy of Design and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1931, he began experimenting with watercolor citing Winslow Homer as his inspiration. For more than thirty years Leith-Ross regularly exhibited and won awards for his watercolors, drawings, and oil paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran Gallery, the National Academy of Design, New Hope's Phillips Mill, the Salmagundi Club, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

In addition to his career as a painter, Leith-Ross was an active teacher, conducting classes in landscape painting at famous artist enclaves throughout his lifetime. He first became an instructor at the Art Students League summer school at Woodstock in 1919 where he shared a barn studio with former classmate, Folinsbee during the summer. From 1919 to 1925 he became a founder and teacher at the Rockport Art Association in Rockport, Massachusetts; he would also teach at neighboring Gloucester's art colony. In 1925 Harry married Emily Slaymaker (1901-2000), in Rockport MA. They settled in Woodstock, NY where they spent the next ten years with Harry painting and occasionally teaching. They had a daughter, Emily Elizabeth (now Emily Elizabeth Mow) in 1927. Leith-Ross settled permanently in New Hope in 1935 when he temporarily took over teaching duties for Folinsbee who was summering in Maine. Leith-Ross additionally conducted private classes in landscape painting and as a visiting faculty member at universities, including the University of Buffalo, NY (1941), the University of Utah (1955), and the College of Southern Utah (1955), as well as in New Hope, PA.

In 1956, Leith-Ross wrote and published, The Landscape Painter's Manual. Due in part to his own strong relationships with his instructors, Leith-Ross sought to impart his knowledge, technique and devotion to art to others. He encouraged his students to "be themselves," advocating an artistic freedom and the development of an individual style. Harry Leith-Ross passed away in 1973. His wife, Emily, passed away in 2000.


Jaeger-Smith, Erika. Poetry in Design: The Art of Harry Leith-Ross. Doylestown, PA: James A. Michener Art Museum, 2006.

"Watercolors by Harry Leith-Ross." (Exhibit Catalog) New York, NY: Ferargil Galleries, 1946.

Harry Leith-Ross papers, circa 1906-2003, consist of correspondence; inventories, photographs, and sales records of Leith-Ross's work; a manuscript for Harry Leith-Ross's book; materials from Leith-Ross exhibits; records of his work kept by his family after his death; correspondence with his family about post-mortem exhibitions; family photographs; genealogical research and family documents; newspaper clippings; medals, certificates, and awards; and other materials.

Materials from Harry Leith-Ross (HLR) include correspondence, personal receipts, sales receipts for works sold. Correspondence includes letters, some with sketches, between HLR and his wife (Emily Slaymaker) and HLR and Emily's parents, as well as art related correspondence (1921-1972) and letters related to the publishing of his book. There is also a letter from his friend, Takashi Ohta, who went to Japan to be a spy for the United States during World War II. There is an original manuscript for Harry Leith-Ross's book on landscape painting, The Landscape Painter's Manual, published in 1956 by Watson-Guptill, as well as a copy of the book with color plates of Leith-Ross's works. Other Harry Leith-Ross materials include a typed travel log in the form of a letter to family and friends, scrap paper, and prints of HLR's work.

There are various lists of HLR paintings, ledgers listing HLR paintings, financial ledgers listing art work sales and art supplies expenses (1912-1926, 1960-1973). There are also sales and payment receipts for HLR works from 1974 to 1991 kept by Emily Leith-Ross. Also in the collection is an estate appraisal for HLR.

There are materials from HLR family, primarily related to his career and artworks, including correspondence, research, and other materials related to James A. Michener Art Museum exhibits featuring Leith-Ross in 2003 and 2006 and correspondence with HLR family about loans, donations, and sales, 1960s-1970s.

Photographs in the collection include family photographs of the Leith-Ross family and numerous images of Harry Leith-Ross's artworks with sales information, including those owned by family and friends.

Other materials in the collection include biographical materials on Harry Leith-Ross and genealogical research about his family, particularly his mother's side; family documents, including birth and marriage certificate, passports; gallery brochures, catalogs, and other materials relating to exhibits of HLR work, 1930-1996; newspaper articles, 1914-1958, 1964-2003, documenting HLR; Christmas cards from the Leith-Ross family; a VHS cassette, 1994; audiocassette tapes and microcassette tape with interviews with Emily Leith-Ross; medals, awards, and certificates received by HLR, 1910-1973; and other materials.

Objects in the collection include paint boxes.

A more detailed finding aid, biographical note, or inventory for this collection may be available on-site.

This collection consists of multiple donations made by Emily Leith-Ross, Elizabeth Leith-Ross Mow, and others, between 1994 and 2014.

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact James A. Michener Art Museum Archives directly for more information.

James A. Michener Art Museum Archives
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Sarah Leu and Anastasia Matijkiw through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories using information provided by the James A. Michener Art Museum Archives
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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