Collection Facts

Extent: 
75 items
Dates of Original: 
c. 1854 - 1893
NYH Topic Area(s):

Historical Context

John Calvin Perry was born in 1837 to parents Caleb and Ruth Harriet (Truesdell) Perry. Caleb and Ruth moved to the Hamlet of Delphi, New York from Albany, New York around 1827. They set up a tannery on the west side of the Hamlet. John Calvin was born in July of 1837. Father Caleb was not happy about John Calvin’s desire to become an artist. But Perry did manage to receive formal art training at the local Cazenovia Seminary and at Castleton College in Vermont.

Perry married Catherine Baker of the New Woodstock, New York area, and they had four children: Perdita, Albert, John, and Ruth Harriet. The John Calvin family lived in Delphi and earned their living mostly through farming.

John Calvin taught art at Cazenovia Seminary and Hamilton College. He gave art lessons in several neighboring communities of Central New York, including Fabius, DeRuyter, New Woodstock, Truxton, Manlius, and Syracuse. He did commission portraits including death portraits. In an era when photographs were rare or non-existent, the artist would make a sketch of the family member who was dying or recently deceased, then create an oil-painting portrait from the sketch.

Perry did many Central New York landscape paintings. He is best represented, as an artist, by both the landscapes and the commissioned portraits.

Perry kept detailed diaries of his life, and these are available today. In them, he describes his work on various paintings, explaining his techniques, colors used, the frustrations and challenges he faced, and the ways he resolved them. He also talked extensively about his everyday life and the happenings in the community and with his neighbors. These documents provide rich detail about life in Central New York in the mid- to late-1800s.

Perry spent his entire life in the Central New York area. He, his wife, and his parents are buried in the Delphi Church cemetery in the Hamlet of Delphi Falls, Town of Pompey, Onondaga County, NY. He actually designed the gravestones for his family plot. Perry died in 1894.

Scope of Collection

This collection contains drawings and paintings by John Calvin Perry. Many of the works are landscapes depicting locations in Central New York, as well as California and Europe. Also included are portraits of Perry's family, neighbors, and also some examples of death portraits.