It was through the current exhibit (on view through January 6) at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art that I learned more about the Phillips Collection and Duncan Phillips himself. An astute collector, Phillips didn’t have the wealth to match Andrew Carnegie or Andrew Mellon, but never-the-less assembled one of the country’s great collections.
With just those three, Mellon, Carnegie and Phillips, plus Henry Clay Frick, it’s remarkable how much of the nation’s artistic heritage is tied to Pittsburgh (and the steel industry). Phillips collection is of course in Washington, D.C. where he moved in 1895. Duncan Phillips was the grandson of James H. Laughlin, a banker and co-founder of the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company. With repeated references to a home in Western Pennsylvania at an event at the Amon Carter, I asked Phillips Associate Curator for Research Susan Behrends Frank just where the family’s country home was.
The answer, Ebensburg, is a place I am well familiar with. It’s not far from a “cottage” that was home to B.F. Jones, the other partner in Jones and Laughlin. I knew about that home through recent news reports surrounding saving it from the wrecking ball. It sits next to a cottage once owned by Andrew Carnegie.
Phillips married painter Marjorie Acker in 1921. Though the Phillips is known for its collection of modern art, Marjorie was a painter in her own right and the museum holds many paintings she likely did of the countryside around Ebensburg. The house there, known as Ormsby Lodge and Carriage House, is still standing, as is another home owned by a family member.
Marjorie Phillips studied at the Art Students League from 1915 to 1918 with Kenneth Hayes Miller, Boardman Robinson, and Gifford Beal. She also served as director of The Phillips Collection from 1925 until her retirement in 1972.
Driving through Ebensburg, you can see why the landscape might be appealing as a retreat, and inspiring to an artist. (Although Mary Cassatt was said to have been frustrated by life in nearby Hollidaysburg). Located about an hour and a half from Pittsburgh, today the mountainous countryside still has its appeal. No tourist maps point you to the homes, but you can find them.
If you go:
Ormsby Lodge and Carriage House, Ebensburg -1889. Entrance 700 block W. Highland. An l8-room Eastlake Victorian summer house built for Duncan Phillips (the John Phillips House of the same family is at 413 W. Highland).
The cottages in Cresson are located on Cottage Street. The Google map vehicle hasn’t made it there yet.