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Historical Materials: Contemporary Artists
Captain Addison Center (1830–92) was born in Gloucester. He was an artist of some skill and was listed in the local newspaper in 1858 as one of the three artists then resident in town. (1) He collaborated with Fitz Henry Lane on at least one piece of public art—a tableau for the Library Festival in 1858. (2) In 1872 he designed a new Town Seal, the center of which was “a fishing schooner anchored on the banks, copied from a picture painted by that talented artist, the late Mr. Fitz H. Lane.” (3)
In 1887, the newspaper reported that a copy made by Capt. Center—of Fitz H. Lane’s painting showing Fort Point in 1842—was on display in the window of John C. Calef’s store on Main Street. (4) Center was known for his portraits, especially of popular war heroes, but he also painted landscapes, and there is evidence of at least one marine painting. (5) He was a deputy collector of customs, businessman, artist, and captain in the Union Army. Before his appointment as Deputy Collector, he gave his occupation as ‘artist’ on all censuses, and his obituary stated: “it cannot but be a matter of regret that he did not give himself wholly to Art.” (6)
Addison Center lived most of his life in houses on Washington Street near the railroad crossing. As a young man he worked in a stationery store on Front (now Main) Street run by his cousin Henry Center. His title of Captain came from his military service, not from any maritime activity. He was a member of the Volunteer Militia, and at the outbreak of the Civil War was elected Captain of Co. G, 8th Regiment. In October 1861, he took command of Co. C, 23rd Regiment, the so-called Essex Guard, and led them through campaigns at Roanoke, New Bern, Bermuda Hundred (where he accidentally shot himself in the foot), Petersburg and elsewhere. He served as Republican Representative in the Massachusetts House in 1866, and became Deputy Collector of Customs for the Port of Gloucester in 1868.
Center was an excellent draftsman whose penmanship was so exquisite that the School Department and the Masonic Tyrian Lodge—of which he was a member—often called upon him to write testimonials and diplomas.
He was married three times and had six children, five of whom survived him. (7)
– Stephanie Buck
(1) The other two were Fitz H. Lane and Alfred J. Wiggin, Cape Ann Advertiser, January 2, 1858.
(2) Gloucester Telegraph and News, March 3, 1858.
(3) Cape Ann Advertiser, February 9, 1872. Center's design was not used.
(4) Cape Ann Advertiser, April 15, 1887.
(5) The schooner "Electric Spark," dated 1869 and signed A. Center. Cape Ann Museum Artist Files.
(6) Gloucester Daily Times, January 2, 1892.
(7) He married Elizabeth Story Gaffney (1833–59) in 1858; Mary Forbes Phelps (1836–76) in 1861; and her younger sister Eliza Phelps (1842–1929) in 1878.
1873 Gloucester City Directory (1)
"The design is very pretty and appropriate . . .In the centre of the seal is a representation of a fishing schooner anchored on the banks, copied from a picture painted by that talented artist, the late Mr. Fitz H. Lane." (2)
1. Gloucester City Directory. (Gloucester, MA: Sampson, Davenport, & Co., 1873), front page.
2. "The Town Seal": designed by Capt. Addison Center," Cape Ann Weekly Advertiser, February 9, 1872.
Oil on paper based board
Cape Ann Museum Collection
Handwritten on back:
Sch. Electric Spark of Gloucester. Commanded by Samuel V. Colby. At anchor at Port Mulgrave, N.S. (Nova Scotia)
Bound on a mackerel trip to Bay of Chaleur.
Painted by Capt. Addison Center from an ambrotype.