William Mulhern, 1875-1948
William Mulhern, born in the County Fermanagh, Ireland, in 1875, of James and Frances (nee Bromley) Mulhern, began his painting career somewhere around his twentieth year.
When he was eight years old, his father, a constable in the hills of Ireland and a troubadour in the surrounding towns, was killed while trying to save the life of another man. William then began to work in a local pottery to assist with the family’s subsequent debts and existence.
William’s mother worked as a maid, and finally decided to take her two children, William and James, to America, with the financial help of several friends. In Trenton, New Jersey, she worked out of her home as housekeeper and maid, and William gained employment at the Trenton Potteries, doing some sketching when he had the time.
He sketched long before he painted, and around twenty he began to paint seriously, most of his efforts being of rural scenes with a few attempts at portraits. He taught at the Trenton Art School in the evenings, and met established painters like George Bradshaw, John Ward Stimson, Edward Willis Redfield, and Phelps Petty, from whom he learned and who remained his friends and frequent visitors at the Mulhern household for many years.
Above painting shows William’s wife Florence and daughter Nellie, based on a photo he took which was located on a glass negative decades later. Circa 1910.
William’s mother died of pneumonia during his late twenties, and it was then he returned to the British Isles for a year and painted several portraits of Irish women and some rural scenes in the land of his birth. When he returned home, he married Florence Isabel Warrell, daughter of George and Florence Warrell, who had come over from England some years before.
His painting finally took him to Philadelphia and New York art exhibits, where several of his paintings were hung and received second prize and honorable mention. Subsequently, a prominent newspaper in New York offered him a job doing commercial art. This he refused.
He and his wife raised six children — Nellie, William, Kathleen, Florence, Casper, and Patricia. When Nellie was two, William and Florence, and her mother and father, rented a farm back of Titusville, N. J. Because of the desperate financial problems of the country, and the closing down of the Trenton Potteries, William was forced to go to West Virginia and work in the potteries there, while the balance of the family worked the farm.
Many of William’s paintings were done in the rural sections of Titusville, Hopewell, Lambertville, and Washington Crossing, Pa. (then called Taylorsville). In less than two years he was back to work in the Trenton Potteries. Throughout his years of painting, the need to provide for his family led to his scrimping and saving to purchase art supplies, and he was known to paint over earlier scenes with new ones to save the cost of new canvas.
At the age of 73 William died of heart trouble. A number of his paintings were distributed among his children, and subsequently, to their descendants. Not all paintings have survived. A selected compendium of photographs of his paintings is kept by James Alexander Jr., his grandson and author of this web site.
Is this a legacy of art? Talent? Toil? Memories of bygone times? Visions of family? All?