Probably the artist that holds the record for the most works in the Saco Museum collection is Gibeon Elden Bradbury. Bradbury grew up in Salmon Falls. Throughout his life, he never lost touch with, or interest in, the natural world surrounding the Saco River, and it became the primary focus of his art, providing us with a view of the Saco River Valley when it was still pristine.

Gibeon Bradbury, born July 13, 1833, was the eldest son of a Buxton tailor Nathaniel Bradbury, and his wife, Lucy A. Sawyer, who were married in 1833, in Saco. Two more sons would follow Gibeon, Walter Cutts Bradbury on November 26, 1834, and Daniel Owen Bradbury, born May 27, 1836.

Nathaniel died young, leaving his family financially shaky. Gibeon spent several years of his youth apprenticed to a carriage painter, destined to earn wages for his family from an early age. Once he learned the trade, he spent most of his time adding ornamentation to sleighs, merchants’ wagons and grocery carts. Sometimes he painted entire scenes on the backs and sides of sleighs, and it must have been this skill that encouraged him to begin creating landscapes and occasional portraits to sell. In 1860, he married Jeannie B. Akers, an artist in her own right. (Shortly before that marriage, Jeannie’s brother, Charles Akers, also an artist, completed a portrait of Gibeon’s younger brother, Walter. Walter died young, on October 5, 1857, and is buried in Buxton.) Jeannie and Gibeon had just one child, Gibeon Jr., born a long eighteen years after they were wed.

After working for several years in his own less-than-profitable ornamenting shop in Portland, Bradbury enthusiastically returned to his father’s brick Cape Cod style home in Salmon Falls, where he remained, surviving on a marginal income, until his death in 1904.

Throughout most of his adult life, Gibeon faithfully kept a diary, and from it we know that the sale of his art rarely kept pace with the bills, even though he and his family largely lived off the land, hunting, fishing, growing a bit on their acre of land, and cutting wood in the forests that he adored. In 1888 he wrote, “Have had no orders lately. Art is about to die, I guess. Poor way to get money. It is more play than work and probably there is a curse upon it.” At one point he even held a lottery and sold tickets for $2 each to a reception at his home; every ticket holder received a painting, drawn by lot. Gibeon also occasionally sold paintings to local dealers and briefly operated a mail order business that resulted in at least a few of his works being sold nationally.

Although many of his works are oil paintings, he also did a large number in gouache, a tempera-like watercolor medium that offers the advantage of drying quite fast. Gibeon sometimes painted scenes on location, but more often seems to have made sketches and detailed notes, and then done the work in his studio. Gibeon is about to be the star of the show. The next exhibit at the Saco Museum, April 11- June 6, will be all about this under-celebrated artist.

Gibeon, reflecting on the time after his own death, once wrote in his diary, “Yet it would please me now did I but know that kind friends I left below would not forget.”

Come in, take a look at Gibeon Bradbury’s wonderful views of our local area 150 years ago, and join the circle of friends that do not forget this talented man

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