Works of artist Eugene Mohr scattered among local churches
MUNCY – Although Muncy artist Eugene ‘Jean’ Mohr was born in a mansion, life would give him a lot of lumps before reaching his final one.
The status of this leading family came from accomplishments of ancestors. Eugene’s father, William E. Mohr, was one of the youngest drummer boys of the Civil War. Following President Lincoln’s assassination, young Mohr was given the opportunity to be an honor guard over the body.
Emma Noble’s family was considered affluent. She was the daughter of one of the town’s most successful merchants, Hezekiah Noble. Emma qualified for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. This was due to her great-grandfather, Captain Hezekiah Bissell, who died in his native state of CT.
In 1877, Eugene ‘Jean” Mohr was born to this union where the husband was 10 years his wife’s senior. His childhood and his times in town were spent in the 13-room mansion of his maternal grandfather Noble. The location is now the site of the Paul Geringer Social Hall.
At an early age, Eugene developed a talent for artwork and a fondness for the newspaper business.
With friends, he worked on a weekly newspaper called Muncy News. The paper had a 22-week run in the summer of 1892. The editions ended when the school year reconvened.
Eugene attended art schools in New York and Paris. Among his works were cartoons drawn for the New York Post, and the Gibson Girl series for Life Magazine. Working at Gibson Girl, the artist met a beautiful young model. When Eugene brought her home to Muncy, the disapproving mother put an end to their relationship. Heartbroken, Eugene moved to Philadelphia becoming employed as a cartoonist with the Philadelphia Inquirer.
In 1907, William Mohr the father died. The son, now age 30, was left with a domineering mother. By 1910 however, Eugene was residing in a Philadelphia boarding house with a dozen borders operated by a widow and her son.
Although the artist is listed as being home during the censuses of 1920 and 1930, the situation did not become permanent until after his mother’s death in 1942. By then, finances left by the husband’s law practice had been spent. Eugene returned to the mansion already showing signs of disrepair.
Plying his trade with the only occupation he knew, the artist sought clients among the business community. As he had no vehicle, residents would see the lone figure walking the streets carrying his brushes, paints and easel.
At the Muncy Inn, the basement walls of the bar room was one of his many pallets. The early history of the town and surrounding area is documented by paintings at the Fort Brady Hotel.
Mary Joyce Chestnut Fry recalls seeing Mohr paint at the Mawr Glen Hotel. “As he sat on a small stool, he reached the top of his painting with an extension attached to his brush,” Fry said. For restaurants and taverns, work was bartered for food, alcohol, and possibly a room while on site.
Perhaps because they are rural, little attention has been given to Mohr’s works scattered among local churches. Painted directly on walls, due to the addition of frames, they give the appearance of hangings.
Of the four known works in church sanctuaries, three continue to exist. Three are copies of famed religious paintings: “The Good Shepherd,” at Point Bethel UM Church between Tivoli and Mawr Glen; and ” Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven,” formerly of the now dismantled Methodist-Episcipol Church near White Hall. Also at White Hall, at the Baptist Church, a landscape focuses on a water falls, as the church adheres to baptism by emerson as instructed by the Bible.
While painting “Jesus Praying in Gethsemne,” at the Moreland Community Church, (formerly Lutheran); Leon Burgett recalls the artist wearing red ankle high converse sneakers. Burgett’s mother, the late Elizabeth Rife Burgett, taxied the artist to and from Muncy in addition to providing him lunch.
Estimated to have been painted between the mid 1940’s and 50’s, the religious scenes have brought solace to hundreds, possibly thousands of people. Meanwhile, the lawns at the mansion became unkept. Neighbors saw little of Mohr, referring to him as a drunken recluse. Eugene lived solely in the kitchen with a cot and his easel. The Grenoble’s who resided across the street, cared for Mohr with food and heat.
Threatened with removal if he drank, and unable to pay for utilities, the artist was at an all-time low. It was then he turned to the ultimate caregiver. It is reported that in the presence of neighbor Alfred Jackson, Eugene gave his life to God. Pastor Wardell, who frequently visited the artist said, “Eugene knew more about the Bible than he.”
The time came when even with help from others, Eugene was unable to remain in his home. He was taken to Muncy Valley Hospital where the artist delighted nurses with his drawings. He died there in 1961 at age 84. He was interred in the cemetery in his native town of Muncy.