Harold LeRoy Olmsted (American, 1886-1972) artist, painter, professional architect & consultant, landscape designer & architect, lecturer, teacher, and etcher especially known for his landscape paintings. As a young man, he attended the School of Practice of the Old State Normal School and Masten Park High School (now Fosdick-Masten Park High School) in Buffalo, NY. Olmsted studied at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, under Dr. Denman W. Ross (1853
-1935) and Charles Herbert Moore (1840-1930). He studied liberal arts, fine arts, and architecture, and received his B.F.A. in 1908. Shortly after graduating, Harold L. Olmsted worked for a short time as an architect with fellow artist Robert North (American, 1882-1968) for Green & Wicks, the firm who originally designed the Albright Art Gallery (now the Albright-Knox Art Gallery) in Buffalo, NY. He also worked as a landscape architect for the firm Townsend and Fleming for about five years, practicing architectural and landscape design and also garden design. Harold worked independently as a freelance artist and architectural designer for most of his career and also served as a consultant to both landscape and architectural firms.
Just after graduation from Harvard in 1908, Harold made his first architectural design which became known as the “Olmsted Camp” in Sardinia, NY. Originally, Harold’s father John Bartow Olmsted, who was a Buffalo attorney, began leasing five acres of land in 1898 on the south west corner of the Rider-Hopkins Farm to be used as a family camp and retreat. The family vacationed on the land for over a decade before his father scouted a location overlooking the Cattaraugus Creek for Harold’s design of a lodge on the property. Construction began in 1909 on the six-bedroom lodge which was in the Arts & Crafts style that was popular at the turn of the 20th Century. Several outbuildings and a tennis court were added to the Olmsted Camp in later years. In 1944, Harold’s daughter Emily Roderick and her husband Howard, purchased the Olmsted Camp and buildings as well as the Hopkins farm along with its 188 acres of land, thereby keeping the entire original farm intact. In 1998, the Rider-Hopkins Farm and Olmsted Camp were placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior. The Olmsted Camp is currently a private residence and every summer, from June to September, the Olmsted Camp still plays host to the descendants and friends of the Olmsted family. In 1984, Emily “Lee” Roderick-Oprea, Harold’s granddaughter (and daughter of Howard and Emily Roderick) moved into the farmhouse at the Olmsted Camp as a year-round estate manager. She used to lease the pastures and barn for boarding horses as well as the land for crop cultivation. Emily passed away on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017 at her home at the age of seventy-seven.
Harold maintained his studio and residence at 185 Bryant Street, Buffalo, NY, and after 1942, resided at 193 East Main Street in Springville, NY. Circa 1919, Harold instituted the first art class, Art I, Appreciation & History at the University of Buffalo, and also taught night classes for many years at the Griffith Institute (now the Springville-Griffith Institute CSD), Springville, NY.
Harold’s consulting work for both landscape and architectural firms included firms such as Bley & Lyman; North & Shelgren; Fred Backus; Arnold & Stern; Alling S. DeForest; and Walter H. Cassebeer. Harold designed the How House (built 1924), a Tudor-Revival style home at 41 St. Catherine’s Court, Buffalo, NY, which is currently on the National Register of Historic Places. Though he was not a licensed architect and did not maintain an office, nor actively solicited business, he never lacked for work.
In 1966, he was named Man of the Year by the Harvard Club of Buffalo and also received the Red Jacket Medal Award from the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society in 1971. Exhibits in and around Buffalo included several solo, two-man and group shows in places such as the Albright Art Gallery and shows at the Charles Burchfield Center (now the Burchfield-Penney Art Center) with a few of his works currently in their permanent collection. Others exhibits included solo shows at the Central Park Gallery, Dana Tillou Fine Arts, a group show at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, and several group shows posthumously in and around Buffalo. He was a charter member (along with his wife Evelyn Olmsted) of the Patteran Society of Buffalo, a member of the Buffalo Print Club, Buffalo Society of Artists (1970-72), life member of the Guild of Allied Arts, the Studio Club, Art Institute of Buffalo (1949), and was one of the founding members of the Studio Club (now the Studio Arena Theatre), Buffalo, NY.
Harold sold only three paintings during his career, one of a still life in oil to his grandmother for $5 when he was just a boy in the 1890’s, and two during the depression “to bolster the nation’s economy.” Generally he loaned his paintings to people so he could borrow them back–as he considered them his “journal”. Harold was a staunch individualist and had a wonderful sense of humor, a quick wit and was quite outspoken at times. Later in life Harold was affectionately referred to as “Grampa Olmsted” and friends called him the “Sage of Springville”. He was often seen wearing his trademark Peruvian wool serape, tam and walking around Springville in his wooden shoes from Brittany, France. Harold died March 19, 1972 at the age of 85 at his home in Springville, NY, just nine days shy of his 86th birthday.
“While I am a great admirer of the work of Harold Olmsted, it is not the artist I wish to write about, but the man himself. I think everyone will agree that Harold’s work will speak well enough for itself. But when I come to speak about the man, that poses a problem. How can I speak objectively about a person so lovable as Harold Olmsted? How to define the charm he exerts upon you? A visit from him (all too rare) leaves you feeling that a strong, fresh breeze has blown through the house, leaving you stimulated and refreshed. You might cite his keen mind, his knowledge of so many things, his unbounded energy and enthusiasm for life – these are important – but I think the real key is Harold’s almost unlimited interest in and love for his fellow man.” – Charles Ephraim Burchfield (American, 1893-1967)
A history of the Olmsted Camp, along with photos and further information can be found at the following website olmstedcamp.com.
“Much of Olmsted’s architectural and landscape designs focused on private residential projects in Western New York. These largely consisted of renovations to existing homes and garden design although he also designed a small number of new houses and cottages. Many of Olmsted’s clients in the early years of career were friends or acquaintances from Harvard. In his later years, he worked for local friends in the Springville area…An inventory of Olmsted’s work reveals that a large number of his projects were renovations and/or additions to existing houses.”
“Examples of Olmsted’s work can be found in Buffalo, Williamsville, Clarksburg, Concord, Derby, East Aurora, Eden, Leroy, Sardinia, and Springville, among others. In addition to private residential projects, Olmsted also did some work for private clubs including the Twentieth Century Club in Buffalo and the Willows Country Club in Leroy. A large number of his clients were locally prominent professionals, industrialists, and civic leaders. Distinguished clients of Olmsted included Rudolph B. Flershem, James How, and John P. Wickser of Buffalo; Reginald Taylor of Williamsville; Dr. Nelson Gorham Russell of Clarksburg; Spencer Kellogg of Derby; and Donald and Ernest L. Woodward of Leroy . . . One of Olmsted’s noteworthy landscape designs was the Italian Gardens created for the Twentieth Century Club at 595 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo. The garden is on the Franklin Street side of the club house and features a fountain, high brick walls on three sides, and a trellis . . . Olmsted is also credited with the original landscape designs of several Buffalo properties including the Rudolph B. Flershem House at 690 West Ferry Street (1927) and the James F. Foster House (1924) at 12 St. Catherine’s Court; and the walled garden of the John P. Wickser Residence at 245 Nottingham Terrace . . . He also worked on a few projects outside New York State including the design of the summer home of Welles V. Moot on Thunder Bay, Canada; alterations to the Frederick de Peyster Townsend house in Grand’Mere, Quebec, Canada; consultation and supervision of alterations to a historic brick plantation house in Gordonsville, Virginia; and the design of Cottage on Legate Hill in Leominster, Massachusetts for Burton and Elizabeth Legate, his in-laws.”
“The inventiveness of the design and the high quality of craftsmanship of the How House make this one of Olmsted’s most distinguished houses. Other examples of new residential designs by Olmsted include the John S.N. Sprague House (1924) at 9757 Knoll Road, Eden, where Olmsted incorporated wood beams salvaged from an old farmhouse and barn into the design of the house and the brick house of Jack and Ruth Ballantyne on Middle Road in Concord.”
1886- Born, March 28, son of John Bartow Olmsted, a Buffalo Attorney and Clara Amanda (née Morgan), resided at 36 13th Street (renamed Normal Ave., house no longer exists), was fourth eldest in a family of six sons; John, Charles, Remington, Seymour and Allen, Buffalo, NY.
1898-99- Harold took art lessons Saturday mornings at Miss Muzzy’s Drawing School (Alice B. Muzzy), at the urging of his piano teacher Aunt Lily (Harold only took one piano lesson), Virginia Street, Buffalo, NY. Harold’s father, who was a Buffalo attorney began leasing several acres of land in the south west corner of the Rider-Hopkins Farm to be used as a family camp and retreat.
1899- May 24-26, “Master Harold Olmsted” as he as listed as, exhibited in his 1st group show at the age of thirteen, “Exhibition of Children’s Work”, Miss Alice B. Muzzy’s Art Students from her art school showed their work at the 20th Century Club, Buffalo, NY.
circa 1899-1903- Attended the School of Practice of the Old State Normal School and Masten Park High School (now Fosdick-Masten Park High School), Buffalo, NY.
1904- Studied at Harvard University, under Dr. Denman W. Ross (1853-1935) and Charles Herbert Moore (1840-1930), liberal arts, fine arts and architecture, Cambridge, MA.
1908- Graduated from Harvard University with his B.F.A., Cambridge, MA. Just after graduation, with a site selected by his father overlooking the Cattaraugus Creek in Sardinia, NY, Harold designed his first building for the family, a six bedroom lodge later named the “Olmsted Camp”, and building of the structure began in August, 1909 along with a one-story board & baton barn with two horse stalls and two box stalls (later raised in 1921 to add a second level dormitory). Two small sleeping cabins were also later added as well as a tennis court built from clay dug from the banks of the Cattaraugus Creek.
circa 1908-1910- Worked (for about 1-1/2 years) as an architect with Green and Wicks, along with fellow artist Robert North (American, 1882-1968), Townsend and Fleming, the firm who originally designed the Albright Art Gallery, without compensation and the owner Edward Broadhead Green doubted he was even worth that, allowing him to join the firm but said there was to be no pay stating “You college men call windows fenestrations, you don’t know anything about plumbing and you’re really no damn use to us.”, Buffalo, NY.
1910- June 28, Married Grace Howe (née Legate, of Newburyport, MA), Leominster, MA. Began an 18 month trip by bicycle in Europe visiting England, Italy, Holland, and Paris, and painted numerous landscape watercolors and historic buildings, a 2,000+ mile journey. Harold’s father gave him $2,000 and his wife added another $1,000 for Harold to study abroad. They resided at 26 Rue Washington, off the Champs-Élysées, Paris, France. Winter, they traveled south through France, to Tunis and North Africa.
1911- January through mid-April, traveled to Sicily, Naples, Rome, Florence, and onto Venice, Italy. May 8, their daughter Clara Venezia Olmsted (discussed renaming her middle name to Morgan), her nickname was “Tookie”, born at the Cosmopolitan Hospital and baptized May 28, Venice, Italy. Summer, traveled to Paris, France, then England in the fall. Circa October of that year, the family moved back to Buffalo, NY.
1912-circa 1917- Worked for the architectural landscape firm Townsend & Fleming for $25 a week, and primarily designed residential architecture and gardens, 1318 Prudential Building, Buffalo, NY.
1912- September 11, second daughter Emily Legate Olmsted was born, Buffalo, NY.
circa 1912- Exhibited, solo show, watercolors paintings and sketches from his previous trip to Europe and Africa, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.
1913- November 1, their son Burton Legate Olmsted was born, Buffalo, NY.
1916- Family moved into residence at 185 Bryant Street, Buffalo, NY.
circa 1919- Instituted the first art class at the University of Buffalo, Art I, Appreciation & History, Buffalo, NY.
1920- July 16, third daughter was born Grace Legate Olmsted “Mimsey”. Harold’s wife died soon after giving birth from complications due to septicemia, Buffalo, NY. Baby Grace goes to live with her aunt Marguerite Prescott Olmsted (wife of John Morgan Olmsted, Harold’s brother), Hubbard Woods, IL. Harold’s other children Clara, Emily and Burton spent the summer with (Grace’s grandparents) Burton and Lizzy (Elizabeth) Hunt Legate, Legate Hill, Leominster, MA.
1922-23- Director of the Buffalo Players, Buffalo, NY.
1931- June 12, Married Evelyn “Evie” (née Hill), Buffalo, NY.
circa the 1940’s – Harold did etchings as a member of the Buffalo Print Club, and only a few are known to exist (see 1988 date below for one example) and another etching known to exist is a scene of the ‘Leroy Hose’ marching band and a parade with the whimsical title “Ta Ta, Ta ta, Ta Ta, Ta-ta-ta-ta Ta Ta Ta Ta-” (c.1940’s, AKA “The Parade”), 1-5/16″ x 10.75″, initialed in pencil lower right & titled lower left in plate margin (private collection).
1942- Harold and his wife moved to 193 East Main Street (former summer home of her legal guardian, Frank Rumsey), Springville, NY. Friends called him the “Sage of Springville”, where he’d often be seen wearing his trademark Peruvian wool serape, tam and walking around the town in his wooden shoes from Brittany, France. Son Burton served in WWII in England.
1944- Harold’s daughter Emily Roderick and her husband Howard, purchased the Olmsted Camp and buildings as well as the Hopkins farm and its 188 acres of land, thereby keeping the entire original farm intact.
1946- Daughter Grace “Mimsey” was stricken with Polio.
1948- Harold’s brother Charles died.
1949- Exhibited, two man show with late brother Charles, Patteran Society, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. Elected member of the Art Institute of Buffalo.
Circa 1950’s-1970- Taught night adult art classes at the Griffith Institute (now the Springville-Griffith Institute CSD), Springville, NY.
1955- Harold purchased one of Charles Ephraim Burchfield’s (American, 1893-1967) watercolor paintings titled “Oncoming Spring”, 30 x 40” (1954, now in Burchfield-Penney Art Center’s permanent collection as of 1990) for $1,500, Buffalo, NY.
1959- Exhibited, solo show, drawings, watercolors and oils, the Albright Art School, Buffalo, NY.
1961- Harold’s brother Remington died.
1964- Exhibited, solo show, Central Park Gallery, Buffalo, NY.
1965- Exhibited, solo show of drawings, Patteran Society, Dana Tillou Fine Arts, 417 Franklin Street, Buffalo, NY.
1966- Exhibited, group show, “Landscape Painting-A Changing Frontier”, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the National Parks, Harold was invited at the bequest of the Secretary of the Interior Stewart Lee Udall (American, 1920-), Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC.
1966- Named Man of the Year by the Harvard Club of Buffalo, NY, and a later citation in the Buffalo Courier Express (March 20, 1972) stated “… residences and gardens he designed leave an indelible imprint of beauty over a vast countryside. His refreshing enthusiasm is like a catalyst to originality and direct honest thought.”, 300 friends attended the black tie affair, with the proceeds raised going to the Club’s scholarship fund, a project initiated by Harold Olmsted’s late father John in the 1890’s, University Club, 546 Delaware Ave., Buffalo, NY.
1969- Exhibited, solo show, “Olmsted Retrospective: Community Tribute”, 82 works shown, Charles Burchfield Center (now the Burchfield-Penney Art Center), Rockwell Hall, University College at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY.
October 28, 1970-January 3, 1971- Exhibited, solo show, “Recent Works by Harold Olmsted”, 16 works shown; watercolors (10), pen & ink sketches (2), pastels (1) and oils (3), held in the Olmsted Gallery inaugurated on the occasion of the exhibition in the entrance area of the Burchfield Art Center (the Olmsted Gallery no longer exists in the new building), Charles Burchfield Center, State University College at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY.
1971- November 4, Harold received the Red Jacket Medal Award from the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society “…in recognition of those qualities that are the true embodiment of the artist, the scholar, the gentleman, and the independent thinker which belong to Harold Olmsted”, Buffalo, NY.
1972- March 19, Died in his home of colon cancer, 193 E. Main Street, Springville, NY. April 21, services were held at the Buffalo Unitarian Church and Springville Presbyterian Church on April 22.
1984- Emily Roderick-Oprea, Harold’s granddaughter (and daughter of Howard and Emily Roderick) moved into the farmhouse at the Olmsted Camp as a year-round estate manager.
1987- Exhibited, group show, “The Wayward Muse”, painting of the “English Wheel Barrow & Wooden Shoes”, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.
1988- Exhibited, group show, “Kevin B. O’Callahan and the Buffalo Print Club”, Burchfield Art Center, for the etching titled “Ariel” (AKA “The ‘Ariel’-off Portsmouth.” #75 in the show), undated 4 x 4-15/16″ (c.1940’s), pencil signed lower right & dated left in plate margin, of a scene from the sailboat “Ariel” looking off the deck over the water at another sailboat, anonymous gift to the Burchfield Art Center, Buffalo, NY. Note: The “Ariel” belonged to Welles V. Moot who went to Harvard with Harold Olmsted and they were very good friends in Buffalo. Welles had invited Harold along on a few boat outings along the east coast aboard the “Ariel” and Harold had also painted some watercolors of the same scene.
1990- Harold’s painting “Oncoming Spring” (1954) that he originally purchased from Charles E. Burchfield in 1955 for $1,500 (30 x 40” watercolor on paper), was purchased from the Olmsted family by the Burchfield-Penney Art Center for their permanent collection, Buffalo, NY.
1991- Exhibited, group show, Buffalo Society of Artists, painting “Bryant Street Backyard”, Walter Meibohm Fine Arts (now Meibohm Fine Arts), East Aurora, NY.
1993- Exhibited, group show, “The Masters of Western New York”, painting “Seascape (AKA Lake Erie)”, previously owned by artist Philip Clarkson Elliot (American, 1903-1985), Waligur-Doering Gallery, Hamburg, NY.
1998- Rider-Hopkins Farm and Olmsted Camp were placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of The Interior.
2017- April 16, Harold’s granddaughter Emily “Lee” Oprea passed away on Easter Sunday at her home at the age of seventy-seven.
Awards: Named Man of the Year by the Harvard Club of Buffalo (1966), Buffalo, NY; Red Jacket Medal Award from the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society (1971), Buffalo, NY.
Memberships: Charter member along with his wife Evelyn Olmsted, Patteran Society of Buffalo, Buffalo, NY; Buffalo Print Club, Buffalo, NY; Buffalo Society of Artists (1970-72), Buffalo, NY; Life member, Guild of Allied Arts, Buffalo, NY; Studio Club, Buffalo, NY; Art Institute of Buffalo (1949), Buffalo, NY; Was one of the founding members of the Studio Club (now the Studio Arena Theatre), Buffalo, NY.
Museums: An untitled oil on canvas (1918), Burchfield-Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY; Concord Public Library, rotating works on loan, Springville, NY.
Publications: The Buffalo Evening News, “Olmsted: Artist, Architect, Lover of His Fellow Men”, September 14, 1903; Grosvenor Library Bulletin Volumes 1-4, “Volume 2, No. 2, Notes”, by Grosvenor Library, page 29, Buffalo, NY, 1919; Buffalo Artists’ Register, Lee F. Heacock (Editor), Volume 1, Heacock Publishing Corp., Buffalo, pg. 370, 1926; Voice of the Alchemist, “Grampa Olmsted: Western New York’s first citizen of the art world celebrates his golden age with continuous productivity.”, Volume 1 No. 12, pages 5-7, Voice Publishing Co., Buffalo, NY, 1970; Buffalo Courier Express, March 20, page 2, 1972; Buffalo Evening News, March 20, 1972; The Wayward Muse: A Historical Survey of Painting in Buffalo, by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Susan Krane, Curator, 1987; Who was Who in American Art 1564-1975, Vol. II, by Peter Hastings Falk Editor-in-Chief, 1999; Charles Burchfield’s Seasons, by Guy Davenport, Chameleon Books, Inc., Published by Pomegranate Communications, Inc., 2004.
Researched and outlined by Emily R. Oprea (Granddaughter of Herold LeRoy Olmsted)
Rewritten & compiled chronologically by Mark Strong of Meibohm Fine Arts, Inc., East Aurora, NY, 09/2010, Sources: Too long to list here and are furnished upon request)
This biography is a reprint from Meibohm Fine Arts and can be found – HERE