Throughout the Nineteenth and into the Twentieth Century, the West Hempstead and Lakeview area was a popular location for country homes that were kept by affluent New York City merchants. During the Summer months, these estates provided a respite from the bustle and stifling heat of the city for the well-heeled set. Two such Lakeview residents, a husband and wife named William Balfour Ker and Mary Ellen Sigsbee, both artists who were rather famous in their time, purchased a large country home in 1906 from a NYC jeweler named Henry Ginnel located on Woodfield Road, just south of where the Lakeview library is currently located.
|Location of the Henry Ginnel estate along the west side of Woodfield Rd in Lakeview, from the 1906 E. Belcher-Hyde map|
As far as illustrators go, both Mary Ellen and William became pretty well-known. Perhaps the most effective venue for pop art during that time was the covers and pages of well-circulated magazines and journals, such as Life, the Saturday Evening Post and Harpers. This is how Norman Rockwell became so famous. Mary Ellen and William’s art graced the covers of many of these magazines, particularly in holiday editions of these journals where, for example, they depicted scenes of families around the hearth, and various snowscapes.
Both William and Mary Ellen came from somewhat well-known families; William was the son of a wealthy Scottish businessman and banker and his mother was the first cousin of Alexander Graham-Bell.
|W. Balfour Ker|
Mary Ellen was the daughter of Admiral Charles Sigsbee, Captain of the USS Maine, the sinking of which was the catalyst of the Spanish-American War. When William and Mary Ellen began dating in 1898 as students of the famed American illustrator Howard Pyle, Mary Ellen’s father vehemently objected to the relationship because of Wllliam’s socialist leanings. No doubt the mysterious explosion of Capt. Sigsbee’s ship in Havana Harbor that year gave the young couple the opportunity to elope while Mary Ellen’s father was preoccupied with other matters.
|Mary Ellen Sigsbee|
Early in their marriage, the Kers had been part of the fast growing artist colony in Greenwich Village, but by 1906 and now with a young son to care for, they were in the hunt for a summer retreat on Long Island, and they found a lovely estate along Woodfield Road in Lakeview. At that time, Woodfield Road was still heavily wooded and undeveloped and still afforded a beautiful natural landscape. Parallel to Woodfield Road, on the eastern side, ran Schodack Brook, a shallow rivulet that meandered through the woods, as it emptied downstream into Smith’s Pond in Rockville Centre. (As late as 1930, a Brooklyn Eagle reporter visited Lakeview and described the beauty of the scene as “a slice of old Connecticut transplanted to Long Island" and "suggestive of Shakespeare's Garden of Arden").
One of Ker’s most famous paintings was a scene called From the Depths, first published in a novel entitled The Silent War in 1906. The scene was a commentary on social inequality and depicts the ballroom of a party attended by the upper class, whose floor is propped up upon the backs of the struggling masses. The party is disrupted by a fist belonging to one of the wretched souls from below, that breaks through the floor of the room, to the bewilderment of the partygoers.
A popular theme among Ker's paintings were scenes about love and heartbreak, amidst some chosen scenic backdrop, such as a seashore or a woodscape. One of the paintings that Ker rendered during his time in West Hempstead was one he titled Playing Bridge, copyrighted on March 30, 1909, and was possibly inspired by a scene across the street from his West Hempstead home. In the picture, a man carries his love interest in his arms across a shallow wooded stream, safe and dry to the other side.
|Playing Bride, by W Balfour Ker. Painted during their time in Lakeview, possibly inspired by local scenery.|
By 1910 Ker and Sigsbee's marriage unraveled and Sigsbee sued for divorce. Shortly thereafter, with no longer any use for their country home, the couple sold their West Hempstead estate. Both Ker and Sigsbee remarried. Ker moved to Europe but returned to the US during WWI, where he helped out in the war effort by drawing illustrations for Liberty War Bond posters, before his death in 1918 at the age of 41. One of Ker's daughters from his second marriage married into the famous Weld family of Massachusetts and was the mother of Tuesday Weld, the famous movie star from the 1960s. Sigsbee remarried and became an outspoken advocate for women’s suffrage. She continued to illustrate for various publications, including the Christmas 1934 cover of the Saturday Evening Post entitled “Christmas Peek”, depicting a little girl peeking through a crack between double doors in the hopes of seeing Santa Claus, until her death in 1960 at the age of 84.