Seymour Lindsey was born
in Richland County, Ohio in 1848. A house painter by trade and folk artist by avocation, he lived
and worked in and around Lexington his entire life.
Little is known of his life, but much can be gleaned about
his nature, especially his generosity and sense of humor, from his surviving work
and from published anecdotes by those who knew him. Lindsey is best known for
the intricate paper cut-outs that he created from single scraps and sheets of
paper. He took his inspiration from nature, and surviving examples range from
tiny "samples" of an ant climbing a blade of grass or a cricket perched on a
twig, to out-size creations of fully-leaved trees containing squirrels, birds,
and nests full of fledglings, surrounded by grass, fences, sheep and goats.
Lindsey framed many of his more detailed works, although it is apparent from the range of styles
and ages of these frames that he rarely, if ever, bought one new. However, his
framed pieces are almost all characterized by being mounted on dark blue or black
carbon paper. The reason for this choice was probably more functional than
decorative--the delicate cut-out could be easily arranged on the slightly gritty
carbon paper, and would not slide around. For the collector, though, finding a
carbon paper mat is added corroboration of the authenticity of a cut-out framed
by Lindsey himself.
Mary Louise Crunkilton, his great-granddaughter, remembers
him as a small, jolly man with a mustache. "He tried to teach me [to make
cut-outs}," she recollects, "but I didn't learn very well." In his later years,
she says, he sat on the front porch of his home in Lexington and gave small
cut-outs to children on their way home from school. But cut-outs were more than
just a hobby for Lindsey. Rhea Knittle reported that he charged 25 cents for a
single cut-out, and 50 cents for two cut from the same piece of paper (The
Magazine Antiques, January 1946); he also cut silhouettes in a booth
at the world"s fair (Mansfield News-Journal).
Although Lindsey's cut-outs are the most sought-after
examples of his work, ranging in price from the low hundreds for a small piece to
the high hundreds for larger, highly-detailed examples, he also tried his hand at
other crafts. Mrs. Crunkilton remembers wooden carvings of birds, and several
tin cut-outs of roosters and quail have been reliably attributed to him.
Lindsey was a house and barn painter, and is reputed to
have painted pastoral scenes on the sides of many Richland County barns. But it
is his interior woodwork graining, and the stories about that graining, which
illustrate Lindsey's individualism and his mischievous sense of humor.
Grain-painting was common on woodwork and floors
throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Executed either to make
new pine or poplar woodwork look like more expensive walnut, cherry or oak, or to
renew the surface of older, painted woodwork, graining was part of the repertoire
of most house painters.
But Lindsey was no ordinary house painter. Not only could
he replicate every curve, check and swirl in a piece of quarter-sawn oak, but he
could also execute superb monochromatic birds and animals using only the graining
medium. Sometimes these images were frankly defined apart from the graining, as
More often, they were subtly
incorporated into the graining itself. Lindsey reputedly grain-painted the pews in a local church, liberally decorating the backs with
roosters, squirrels, quail and other creatures. Several months later, the
minister asked him to come back and remove the pictures, explaining that the
congregation found them "too distracting."
Sometimes Lindsey added these flourishes without the
homeowner's knowledge. Scott Brown of Mansfield recounted such an example.
Lindsey had been hired to paint Brown's grandfather's house and given specific
orders not to "try any tricks with his brush." It was not until three years
later that the family discovered, in an obscure corner, a painting of two
roosters fighting. Embarrassed to admit that it had taken him so long to find it,
Brown's grandfather never did take the issue up with Lindsey.
Seymour Lindsey died in 1927, and is
buried in Lexington Cemetery. Examples of his extraordinary cut-outs and quirky graining
occasionally surface however, keeping his humor and inventiveness alive in the
imaginations of his fans everywhere.
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