Drawing a Historic Building in Doylestown

I am occasionally asked by the Doylestown Historical Society to draw representations of existing historic buildings as they looked when they were first constructed. Recently an assignment involved a lovely stone farmhouse, built by Robert Kirkbride in the late 1700s, possibly the oldest building in our town, which is now integrated into a neighborhood of townhomes. Its property was then referred to as a plantation since it was primarily farmed for crops that were to be sold.

The drawing would be of the original main house with attached kitchen, smokehouse, large stone barn with attached stone wagon shed, and a log hay house. Entrance to the plantation was by way of a dirt road (now called Veterans Lane) over a small wooden bridge over Cook’s Run (which is still there) and into the farm complex, with fields and woods beyond.

My first pencil sketch of the plantation and buildings was rough, based on instructions and photo reference given to me by Kurt Spence of the Historical Society.

Kurt had some corrections: changing the position of the carriage shed and barn door, making the field flatter, the house smaller and kitchen larger. I sent a revised sketch of the house, to the side of which i indicated a kitchen garden:

and a revision of the barn area:

I dropped them into the scene and adjusted a few other details, then sent this pencil sketch:

I then added digital grays to the scene to give some dimension to the buildings and surrounding area – the finished illustration –

Today the farmhouse still retains much of its historic façade, but the farm has been replaced by modern townhomes – a photo of the present home is below.

Neshaminy Journal Spring/Summer 2021

Neshaminy Journal has its newest issue out – it’s the magazine produced jointly by the Bucks County Writers Workshop and the Doylestown Historical Society. This issue includes some great articles, all related to the history and culture of Bucks County, a place with a long association with writers, musicians, artists and theater people.

Among the local creators featured in this edition are Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim, who studied in Doylestown under Oscar Hammerstein II; Pearl Buck, Nobel prize-winning author of The Good Earth; poet-novelist of the Harlem Renaissance Jean Toomer; Eric Knight, author of the classic tales of Lassie; and painter, teacher and writer Robert Beck, whose oil paintings chronicle our area’s beauty and its people. There is also original poetry in this issue and several illustrations by yours truly.

I recommend Neshaminy for everyone who has a connection to beautiful Bucks County. There are some fascinating aspects and stories to the people who have contributed and still contribute to its arts and history, and the writers involved here know how to spin wonderful tales. I enjoyed reading every one of them and learned a lot of Bucks County history that I didn’t know!

Neshaminy will soon be in book stores and can be ordered online by clicking HERE.

Sketch for the Doylestown Historical Society

The Doylestown Historical Society helps to preserve many aspects of my hometown’s past, with speakers, tours and printed publications, and a very important part of that mission involves researching the historically significant buildings in this town and nearby communities.

I was asked to develop a sketch of one building in the borough, which today houses a law firm and is a lovely two-and-a-half story Second Empire structure, pictured below.

However, this is not what it looked like in 1834 when it was first constructed. The original house, built for Dr. Hugh Meredith, was described as “a large two-story brick house on Court Street fronting the public square. A wood frame office was attached to the west side of the house” which was used for his medical office. The house had a stone foundation.

After the Civil War, the house was enlarged along with stucco over the brick and a new Mansard roof was installed by workmen for attorney George Lear. At the time it was described as the handsomest residence in the borough.

Kurt Spence, a contractor with a love of old buildings, gave me instructions on what the house probably looked like in its first iteration. He suggested three windows on the second floor instead of the current five; two windows on the ground floor, the doorway on the right, and brick walls. I started with this rough pencil sketch.

Once Kurt saw this he could recommend changes based on his knowledge of construction. He said the two dormers in the roof would have been located in the spaces between the three windows; a double doorway for the main entrance would have been more likely, and a stone foundation would have shown below the bricks, about level with the door stoop. The windows would have had working shutters, and the panes would have been six over six at that time, because large panes of glass were not readily available. He recommended a chimney at the gable end between the two structures, so fireplaces could have heated those central rooms. And he suggested a wrought iron fence enclosing the yard.

My finished sketch, says Kurt, is a pretty good representation of what the house would have looked like for Dr. Meredith in the early 19th century. And I’m pleased to know more about the history of my town!

Illustrations for a New Literary Magazine

The Bucks County Writers Workshop and with the Doylestown Historical Society are developing a historical literary magazine by local authors, called Neshaminy. If you live in our area you know that the Neshaminy Creek is a tributary of the Delaware River and runs for about 40 miles, entirely through Bucks County.

Don Swaim, an author and radio personality, is the head of the BCWW, and it happens that probably 20 years ago my father became part of a writing club that Don also headed, so I was acquainted with him. When I heard about the project I asked if there were any need for an illustration or two in the magazine, and Don quickly assented, so I’ve drawn a few requests for him.

The first issue of Neshaminy, which should be published in early October, features a never-before-published interview with world-renowned author James Michener, conducted by Don. I drew this ink wash portrait of Michener for that piece, based on several photos I researched of the author.

Don thought a painting of the Neshaminy would be a nice frontispiece for the magazine, so I took some photos in the Castle Valley area of the creek. I imagined the art spilling over from left page to right, as in this first pencil sketch, base on my photos —

I made a tonal sketch with gray markers, below, and added a Lenape Indian in the distance, drinking from the creek. The Lenape lived in this area before Europeans settled. The word ‘Neshaminy’ means the place where we drink twice in the Lenape language.

The final ink wash painting for the frontispiece is below.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the published magazine, because at a launch party at the Historical Society a few nights ago we heard a bit about the prize-winning entries into the magazine, and they all sound like wonderfully interesting stories, some fiction, some non-fiction, some poetry. I’ve been asked to do one more illustration for this issue, and I’ll write about that as soon as it is finished.