Waterford Historical Society (CT)
Charlotte Brooks Neff (1861-1946)
Charlotte was the third-born in her family, eight years younger than Burtus and six years younger than their brother Percy, who died when she was only two. However, she named her first-born son Percy Ezekiel Neff (1898-1952) after her brother and her father. Percy later became well-known locally for being Chapman Tech’s machine shop teacher.
Charlotte lived most of her life on or near Shore Road, her final home being #9 West Strand Road. Only two known pieces of her work survive her, both watercolors of wintery woodland streams that demonstrate advanced techniques. It is presumed that her older brother Burtus inspired her and was her mentor.
"Woodland Stream in Winter" (15” x 11-1/2”) is the larger of her two watercolors and came directly from her birthplace at 11 Shore Road, Waterford.
Jessie Wells Brooks Geer/Peterson (1881-1969)
Jessie was the oldest of 15 children, 11 of whom grew to have children of their own. She was 21 and the mother of two when her youngest sibling, Oliver, was born in 1902 to her father Burtus and her mother Emma.
Like her aunt Charlotte, it remains unclear what training she would have received beyond viewing the examples of Burtus’ works and receiving mentoring from her father. She was reputed to be a talented seamstress, famous in her family for sewing all seven bridesmaid dresses for herself and her six sisters for a wedding they all attended at the Harkness estate.
She was known for a strong, independent spirit, such as when she separated from her husband Frank Geer, moving from their home on Great Neck Road to open a boarding house and dressmaking business in New London. In the 1930’s she relocated to Miami to live with her sister Martha’s family and began to list her occupation as “artist.” She became involved in Daytona Beach with an art shop owner, Charles Peterson, whom she eventually married on January 3, 1951, three days after Frank, legally still her husband, died.
"Sheep in Mountain Lowland Clearing" (24” x 20”) reflects her father’s influence on her subject matter and her style. Although her father and she were coastal dwellers all their lives, their works often include mountain backgrounds. Most of their mountains and large hills probably were artistic backdrops rather than depictions of landmarks actually visited.
Silas Henry Geer (1905-1982)
“Si” Geer was the third of Jessie’s four children. He is remembered fondly for having his grandfather’s compulsive interest in creating, whether it be carvings, folk art figures or an eclectic array of humorous, quirky sketches. He also did 3-D canvases, such as attaching balsa wood beams to a painting of a cabin’s porch and painting on clam shells.
During his mid-20’s, he was stationed in the Philippines on an Army stint as a private in the infantry. Thereafter he became a professional sign painter before earning his living as a maintenance man. It is unclear how much formal training he might have received beyond the inherited sharing of his grandfather’s proficiency in painting.
"The Nautilus Going Up the Thames in Front of EB" (18” x 14”) displays local subject matter. Though it seems more primitive than many of his other works, it certainly depicts the Thames in the 1950’s with a very active Electric Boat shipyard. The New London riverfront shows, quite likely, the Krohn family’s shanty where Fred’s Shanty now stands. Also note the artist’s signature, flourishing his distinctive “H.”
Alice May Getchell Morgan/Morris (1921-2004)
Alice was a gifted artist who studied art in a one-year program at the Norwich Free Academy after graduating from Williams Memorial Institute in 1939. While there she became a close friend of Herb Abrams, who thereafter attended the Pratt Institute in New York and later became a leading portrait artist. Although she too had been accepted to study at Pratt, she chose to do color-tinting of portraits and photographs at Genung’s department store in downtown New London.
During her early married years, she did oil paintings and watercolors, heading for meadows on warm days with her blanket, palette, canvas, picnic basket full of paint tubes and brushes and her oldest two children. Her ability to focus on her art cycled throughout her life due to family and work demands, but when she entered her sixties her second husband helped her to prioritize her time needed to revive her stalled career. She took watercolor courses with Lou Bonamarte, which led to numerous gallery shows and years of exhibiting in outdoor summer festivals on town greens throughout coastal Connecticut.
"Fisherman Casting a Net in St. Croix" (18” x 24”) is a good example of Alice working from a photograph of an attractive subject to interpret it. She painted this in the early 1960’s after a trip to St. Croix, where she and her first husband became regular visitors and made numerous friends. Notice the driftwood effect she brought to the subject through her choice of frame.
Harry Joseph Getchell (1930-2002)
Harry believed firmly that his grandfather’s artistic example of natural talent illustrated that persistence and trying to learn as you progress will lead to improving techniques and works of art. So, he approached his own oil painting with an unshakeable confidence that it was simply a birthright to give it a shot, take tips from other artists, and let those without paint stains on their hands just keep quiet.
He learned drafting and mechanical drawing at Chapman Tech in New London before earning a degree in biology and spending two years in the Army Medical Corps as an entomologist in the Louisiana swamplands. Within a few years of his discharge he got a job in the Quality Control department at Pfizer, from which he retired as a supervisor after 37 years. He also exhibited and sold his art for years at outdoor festivals on town greens throughout southern New England.
"Cabin on a Pond" (15” x 11”) is a good example of Harry, like his grandfather, choosing a pastoral setting with a building and some water to explore techniques of painting reflections. Note the detail in the reflection of the cabin and fence along with the lighter treatment of the impressionistic foliage. Another touch he shares with both his grandfather and Aunt Jessie is a fondness for letting a few sea birds soar in their skies.
Brechin Lee Morgan (1947-…)
As a toddler “Brec” went on many afternoon en plein aire painting trips with his mother Alice and soaked in the easy naturalness of globs of paint on a palette getting mixed there and stroked onto a canvas, ultimately to look just like the scene in front of him. Magic! At 18, Brec felt his life-calling was to be an artist, so he enrolled in a two-year art school and got going.
Subsequently Brec’s life has been non-stop swirls of canvas, paint, brushes, studios, sign-painting businesses, art shows, watercolors, and even a solo circumnavigation of the world on a 27’ sailboat! That 4-1/2 year journey yielded almost 60 watercolors from Bermuda to New Zealand, as well as scores of sketches and smaller color pieces in a series of sketchbooks made during the entire trip. Later he created full canvases based upon scenes from the sketchbooks. During and after those years traveling, he visited numerous art museums. His work has been displayed at the Maritime Gallery at Mystic Seaport Art Museum. He is a member of the American Society of Marine Artists.
"Looking toward Harkness from the Top of the Path" (9-1/2” x 9-1/2”) is a recent work depicting the view if taking a quick look from the end of West Strand Road to the beach toward Harkness State Park along the Strand. More impressionistic than realistic, it captures the seemingly eternal sweep of the Strand that generations of Brooks ancestors have enjoyed seeing and walking.
Cary Lee Getchell (1960-2002)
Cary had a natural talent and a winsome, low-key wit that showed itself early in an unusual place: greeting cards. In a classic example, a birthday card for his grandmother Getchell during his early teens depicted a determined woman stretched backwards until she was almost flat to the ground while pulling a huge sack of rocks, since she was fond of returning from the beach with rocks for her gardens.
Throughout his teens Cary demonstrated increasing interest in sketches, cartoons and painting. He won several “Highlights for Children” awards and regularly provided illustrations for East Lyme High School’s publication “The Viking.” Upon graduating, Cary studied for several years at the newly formed Lyme Art Academy, studying classical techniques under Deane Keller, among others.
An only child, Cary lived with his parents at the top of Grassy Hill Road in East Lyme his entire life and painted ceaselessly. The majority of the 400+ compositions in his estate fall into three broad areas: nature scenes (primarily seascapes and landscapes), whimsical art (gnomes, wizards, humorous subjects and dinosaurs) and fantasy art (scenes of warriors, mysterious laboratories and crop circles). He regularly exhibited and sold his art at festivals on town greens throughout Connecticut and Rhode Island.
"Painter Exploring His Medium" (12” x 16”) whimsically depicts a painter, who closely resembled Cary’s father Harry, who was left-handed. An occupational hazard of all artists is being pleasantly captivated by one’s own runny paint-blobs!
Burtus Anderson Brooks (1853-1935)
A great-grandson of Burtus A. Brooks, John R. Morgan, contributed most of the material for this overview of the life and times of Burtus, as well as other descendants of the Rogers/Brooks family. We thank John for all his heartfelt research and insights, found in this section of our 2020 booklet.
Burtus Anderson Brooks was prolific in two notable ways --- his art and his family.
His artwork is varied and abundant, and his fifteen children have themselves generated well over 400 descendants in the 120 years since the first of his 44 grandchildren was born in 1900.
Born and raised in a house that his father, Ezekiel Brooks, had built at 11 Shore Road, his father’s family had been “Goshen folk,” farmers and/or fishermen all, for nearly 200 years before “Bert” was born. Ezekiel’s maternal 5th-great-grandfather, James Rogers, had bought up most of the coastal property from today’s Waterford Town Beach to Pleasure Beach in the 1660’s.
Since then, the Rogers line has maintained a strong residential hold throughout the entire Great Neck area. In due time they built the Seventh Day Baptist Church, produced numerous early ministers of the First-Day Baptist Church and buried family in the Pepperbox, Old Rogers, East Neck and West Neck cemeteries.
For young Bert the Great Neck farms, its shoreline, Fishers Island and the coast from Westerly to Old Lyme all figured into his wanderings.
"Side Landing and Farm House off the River" (31” x 23”) is one of Burtus’ rare larger paintings, which eventually hung over the fireplace mantel of Alice May Getchell Morgan/Morris. The vast majority of Burtus’s works were compact, probably since he would often sketch while sitting in a chair and he would cater to family, friends and patrons with limited wall space on which to hang finished works.
His daughter Damaris Brooks Getchell said that Bert took her and several of her sisters to Fishers Island for a picnic when she was very young. He put away his art supplies and got everyone back in the rowboat when he saw a storm on the horizon. The girls enjoyed being splashed by the waves, while he rowed them to safety and protection on the Waterford shore.
His grandson Edgar Tracy would speak about Bert’s meandering ways. Once a teenage friend of Edgar was in Westerly on a chilly day and spotted a raggedy-looking fellow all bundled up out in a field with an easel, just smoking his pipe and painting away. The friend thought it might be Bert Brooks, so he approached the man and learned that in fact Bert was visiting in-laws nearby and decided to get some painting in while his wife was with her brothers. On another occasion, Edgar was at the Mago Point home of Louise Newbury, his future wife, and noticed a painting on the wall. Mr. Newbury said, “The man who just painted the outside of our house said he did canvas paintings as well and would do one of our house, so I paid him to do this one. I think it came out pretty well!”
Burtus Brooks had a natural talent and a lifelong compulsion to sketch, paint and carve. No one knows when his first efforts started or how they grew. However, his earliest known piece of art has delighted successive generations. At about seven years of age he carved a sailboat and his initials into the back of a pew at the family’s Seventh Day Baptist Church!
All his children recall sitting in his lap in the evening while he doodled something - a pastel of a flower, a sketch of the coast - and then gave it to a child before taking another piece of paper and drawing something else. He left hundreds of these smaller studies among his children, as well as more carefully executed pastels and oil paintings of landscapes, seascapes and local homesteads. One such painting, “The Morgan House,” is displayed currently behind the checkout counter at the Waterford Public Library.
Though self-taught, he was an appreciative student, who studied art in books and museums. He was enormously grateful for the fellowship, mutual respect and mentoring he found in his new neighbor Henry C. White, an artist and art teacher who moved from Hartford around 1900 to live one-half mile west along the shoreline.
These two became good friends, recounted in family stories of routine en plein aire painting together with White, borrowing his books and even an offer to pay for Bert to study in Paris. White owned several pieces by Burtus in his personal art collection. His lack of pretense was as much a part of him as his talent, which he passed along to subsequent generations, whether through drawing, painting, carving, photography or writing. And though he claimed that he feared Paris might spoil him, it is more likely that needing to fish, farm and paint to support his wife and their six youngest children at home was what made him inclined to stay home.
The display for the Waterford Historical Society’s 2020 exhibit represents a limited selection of other talented artists in the Brooks family, as well as Burtus himself. His sister Charlotte Brooks Neff (1861-1946) demonstrated a talent for watercolors.
His oldest daughter Jessie Brooks Geer (1881-1969) made a living as a dressmaker and seamstress, but she became adept at oil paintings of seascapes. His son Jim Brooks (1882-1977) had a flair for decorative carvings.
Among his 44 grandchildren were some with notable talent. Several listed below received art training and were employed professionally as artists or sold their work at summer “open air” shows and at galleries:
Silas Geer: canvas and mixed media
Dotty Brooks Newhall: mixed media, oils, carvings and painted tiles
Dwight Tracy: woodworking
Edgar Tracy: woodworking
Alice Getchell Morgan/Morris: oils and watercolors
Harry Getchell: oils
Bob Burdick: photography and art reproductions
Stan Burdick: illustrations and caricatures
Marion Burdick Maxson: poetry
Among his 131 great-grandchildren are a few artists:
Sally Condinzio: general drawing
Paula Briggs: photography
Donna Briggs Mazzone: oils and photography
Jim Fetrow: photography
Brechin Morgan: oils, watercolors and sculpture
Geof Morgan: oils and sculpture
Cary Getchell: oils and acrylics
Stephen Burdick: graphic design
Alan Burdick: nonfiction writing
In short, a self-taught, yet accomplished artist in this family has inspired many descendants to apply their creative talents in differing aspects of the arts.
George White recounts this story, "Burtus and Henry," told to him by his grandparents Henry and Grace White when he was a young man.
Burtus Brooks was revered by my grandfather and my grandmother as an amazing natural talent. These talents led my grandparents to decide to offer him a year’s study of art at the renowned Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. They would pay all his expenses and those of his very large family.
Brooks thanked my grandparents and said he would get back to them shortly. About a week later he thanked them, but said he was not going to take them up on the offer.
My grandfather Henry once again reassured him that all expenses both in Waterford and Paris would be taken care of.
Brooks still said, “No.”
My grandfather asked, “Why?”
Burtus said, “You see, Mr. White, if I went, I’m afraid I would get stuck up.”