by William Washington Girard, ca. 1910
William Washington Girard
(Tennessean, 1873 - 1931)
10x 15 inches (canvas), 15 1/2 x 20 1/2 inches (original frame).
Signed lower left.
William Washington “Wash” Girard was born on Sycamore Creek in Cheatham County, Tennessee in 1873. Although little information about his childhood survives, it is known that he began painting when he was seven years old. He chewed the ends of broomstraws to create paintbrushes and used the juices of berries for paint.
After graduating from Pleasant View County High School, Girard began working odd jobs for Major E. C. Lewis, a mill superintendent. With the help of Lewis and a Kentucky landscape artist, Girard traveled to New York City to study under marine painter Edward Moran. After a year or two the death of his girlfriend prompted him to make his way home. He paid for his return trip with money earned from sales of his paintings. Postmarks from letters during his journey show that he may have traveled through Illinois, Union City, Tennessee, Cleveland, Mississippi and Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Girard’s career in Nashville began around 1910-1912. A prolific writer, he regularly contributed to the Nashville Labor Advocate and frequently submitted letters primarily concerning the principles of the Democratic Party to local newspapers. Besides his newspaper articles, Girard also published verse in the Nashville Banner. On 29 September 1931, the Williams Printing Company published Heart Throbs, a collection of verse with some praising those he admired and others more religious or patriotic in tone. His paintings usually illustrated one of two themes. Girard’s paintings of beech trees, his favorite theme, were often small and painted on Sycamore Creek or Brown’s Creek in Nashville. He was also recognized for his paintings of a small house or cabin in the woods. Not overly sentimental, these paintings were praised for their romanticism while remaining realistic. Girard showed paintings in local art shows and reportedly painted murals on the baptistry walls of Vine Street Christian Church (7th Avenue). However, the church was badly destroyed and no records of the murals survive.
He died at the age of fifty-eight in 1931 and is buried at Sycamore Chapel Church of Christ in Cheatham County. Although the cause of his death is unclear, it is known that two years before he was diagnosed with cancer. Girard painted until his death and wrote his last poem on the morning of his death. Richard W. Weesner wrote: “A few days before his death, he told his sister, Marie Hime, that there were still so many pictures he wanted to paint and poems that he wished to write and the lack of time to do these things seemed to distress him more than the thought of death itself.”
References: Weesner, “William Washington Girard,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly (Spring, 1986)