Bolton Morris was a remarkable Catholic artist who lived most of his life working in the Philadelphia area.

His early study was aided by the use of the library at the Villa Nova University and he often spoke of the influence of his high school art teacher Wayne Martin in Radnor. He began his training at the art school at Yale where he studied under the noted sculptor Paul Manship, and with the eminent art historian Richard Rathbone, and while at Yale he became strongly influenced by  Father T. Lawrason Riggs, chaplain at St Thomas More chaplaincy. However, with the advent of the Second World War, he chose to become a conscientious objector and served in “CO” camps for the duration of the war. This was to mark his character for the rest of his life, as was the death of Fr Riggs. Thus he never returned to his studies at Yale, rather he completed his study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in Philadelphia.

During the 1950’s he began his own studio called the St Dunstan’s Workshop in his family home in Villa Nova and he struck up a productive friendship with Brother Paul Brennan SJ at the Church of the Jesu in North Philadelphia. Along with Br Brennan and others he worked in the “tradition” of the Liturgical Movement in the Catholic Church and in 1963 they created the worship setting for that year’s Liturgical Conference in Philadelphia. He worked in every conceivable medium to produce works for the sacred liturgy. Tragically, his studio was a financial failure and he was forced to work for a nearby commercial church art studio for a number of years. Later, however, he was able to again work independently, though with no financial success. He continued to work until nearly 80 years of age.

He influenced many friends, artists and clergy through, not only his work and guidance, but by his extraordinary generosity, kindness, uproarious sense of humor and even, some would say, eccentric manner of life.

19 Responses to “Bolton Morris was a remarkable Catholic artist who lived most of his life working in the Philadelphia area.”

  1. Britt Valliant Says:

    I visit this blog pretty frequently, though I rarely comment, and located this text terribly interesting. Thanks.

  2. Maryfrances Brown Says:

    Bolton Morris was a dear friend of both my parents – Paul Erskine and Zelphia Cohalan Brown. It is wonderful to find that his art is so well regarded.

    “Uncle Bolty” as he was known in our family, was a welcome and frequent guest in our home. His art was part of our growing up: from Christmas cards he designed for my parents, to the stained glass representation of the loaves and fishes that hung in the study window.

    After my father’s death, we lost touch, and were never informed of Uncle Bolty’s passing.

    Thank you for bringing back to mind this person of extraordinary character and talent.

    Maryfrances Brown

  3. ambly Says:

    Ms Brown, thanks for stopping by – I recall your parents names and how much Bolton valued their friendship.

  4. Ellen Gill Pastore, Monterey, California Says:

    I may own a painting by Bolton Morris – in fact, it is a treasured possession. My father, Martin L. Gill, was a Villanova University graduate (1932) who then went on to teach English at Radnor High School from about 1935 until his premature death in 1959. The painting I now have belonged to my parents, and here is what I recall hearing from my mother about how Bolton came to give it to my father. Bolton was a student of my father’s at Radnor, and when Bolton was in the process of obtaining Conscientious Objector status in the early days of World War II, my father – and others I’m sure – wrote a letter in strong support of Bolton’s application for the CO status. Mother said the painting was a gift in appreciation of Daddy’s support of him. The painting is not a religious or liturgical one at all. In fact, it is a scene of a countryside in France! I indicated above that “I may own…” – the painting which is oil on wood and beautifully framed with painted wood, is not signed. There is some writing in French on the back – part of which I can translate easily as “With the mountains in the distance.” At any rate, I am not looking for a valuation (as indicated, it is a treasured possession) but I would love to know to whom I could send a photo to obtain more information about it. In the bio of Bolton that was written for an exhibition at Villanova, there was no mention of his having traveled to France. My mother seemed to think perhaps Bolton had served as a medic (as many CO’s did during WWII) but that was not mentioned in that bio either. Thanks in advance to whoever reads this and may be kind enough to respond!
    Ellen Gill Pastore, Monterey, CA

    • ambly Says:

      Dear Ms Pastore, in fact Bolton mentioned your name to me more than once. I would be very grateful for a chance to see a photo of the painting and could probably tell you whether in fact it is Bolton’s work.

      On the blogroll on the right side of the blog page is the name Davis d’Ambly – that will take you to my website where you could use the email link to send me a photo if you can. Many thanks. I would be very grateful!

    • R W Fisher Says:

      I doubt Uncle Bo was in France as a medic during the War.
      He served as a C O in New Hampshire my mother told me. And it was hard service with little food. He and his fellow objectors were ostracized by the community for their perceived lack of patriotism, Part of his service may also have been as a mental hospital orderly but I am not sure,

      R W Fisher

      • ambly Says:

        RW – Your Uncle Bo was a CO in the camps – I believe near Kalamazoo MI and not abroad. His one trip to France was with his mother (I don’t know if your mother went along) but during that trip as tourists they were in France and Italy as I remember.

  5. mark t ulrich Says:

    bolton helped out with stone chisels and friendship thank you for introducing me to our friend

  6. geoffrey gneuhs Says:

    I met Bolton in the late 1990s when I visited Philadelphia with my friend Hal Winchester. They had met at the CO camp in New Hampshire sponsored by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker.

    I had not seen any of his work other than the piece at the Thomas More chapel at Yale.

    What a fine tribute. to a superb artist.

  7. RW FIsher Says:

    Uncle Bo was a fixture from my early life when I watched him work in his studio in my grandparents’ attic at BACK O’ BEYOND in Villanova.
    I was likely only five or six when I watched him gilding a cross – carefully lifting the gold leaf from its tissue paper and using a wide brush to position it on the cross’s gessoed surface. A very fascinating process that has endured in my memory and taught me care.
    He also taught me to draw which I have done all my life. He said drawing underpinned all art. The lesson was very simple: look at
    what you are drawing, not at the result on the paper.
    His breadth of knowledge, intermingled with a spontaneous sense of humor marked him as an unusual adult and his life’s tribulations
    didn’t defeat that sense of humor which was always present whenever we saw each other over the many gaps between our meetings.

  8. michenervolunteervoices Says:

    Is this the same Bolton Morris who worked with the Edward Byrne Studio in Doylestown, PA?

  9. michenervolunteervoices Says:

    The James A. Michener Art Museum Archives holds a collection of Byrne Studio cartoons and presentation pieces, many are labeled as designed by Bolton Morris.

  10. ambly Says:

    Great to know. Thanks for the information. I would love to see some of those some day.

  11. michenervolunteervoices Says:

    You would always be welcome! Contact me through the Michener website. Thanks

  12. William Morris Says:

    I just discovered this blog as a result of a google search for my grandfather’s birth date. My uncle, better known as “Uncle Bo”, was named after my grandfather. From 1946 to 1952, I lived at “Back O Beyond”. Uncle Bo’s bedroom was at the end of the hall on the second floor. My father and stepmother lived on the third floor but it was my grandmother “Mya” who cared for me. Even when my father and stepmother moved to New Jersey, and took me, I always thought of “Back O Beyond” as my spiritual home. From June 1960 to June 1965, I returned to live at Back O Beyond to finish high school and complete 2 years at Villanova University. Upon Mya’s death in June 1965, the house was put up for sale, forcing my Uncle and me to leave, and from there we went our separate ways. All this background is to say that I have pretty good knowledge of this period of my Uncle’s life before he moved to Norristown. He enjoyed He said that his father taught him to enjoy classical music. ,every Sunday morning during the early 1950’s the house used to ring with E. Power Biggs classical organ music from a radio station (WFLN?) that Uncle Bo tuned into. I always regarded it as church music, since it was every Sunday. He even bought a pipe organ, although he rarely played it. During the early 1950’s he worked in Norristown as a substitute teacher. As I waited for the school bus, I watched his head disappear from view as he walked down the hill to the County Line Road P&W station for the trip to Norristown. From about 1953 to 1958, he worked for Byrne in Doylestown Pa. In 1956,an Aunt and Uncle who lived on the 3rd floor moved to their new home, leaving that space available, From 1958 to 1965 his studio occupied a large room on the 3rd floor. All this is to say that I doubt that he ever had a business that failed before or after he worked for Byrne, although he used the name St Dunstan’s Workshop, perhaps beginning in the late 1940’s.

  13. William Morris Says:

    P.S. An Aunt gave mailed me one of Uncle Bo’s early paintings. It is a painting of an old abandoned weather beaten beach house on the Jersey shore in the 1940’s. It is a great painting, with a big dark sinister dormer window and a stormy grey sky in the background. I have it displayed in my living room. However, my engineering mind notices that a solitary brick chimney supports two thirds of the structure, which is a physical impossibility, since chimneys do not support houses. Also from the perspective that is shown, the left wall is not shown but should be visible in the painting. Even so, he portrays the idea of forlorn abandonment quite well, and I like it for the feeling it conveys, not technical details.

    • ambly Says:

      I know St Dustan’s Studio was not really a business per se, I guess my remark was intended to make clear that Bo wasn’t really interested in the “business” of his art. He struggled his whole life because he would really rather have given the work away. He detested working at Byrne’s Studio as there was a great deal of production work and very little in the way of creativity involved, but he did learn a great deal technically there. He certainly spoke of you and your father, though I never met your father, I knew your two aunts. I owe more to Bo that I could ever repay, except by trying to work as closely to his ideals as I am able.

      Thank you for your reminiscences.

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