In his younger years, Blossom Farley was fairly successful with many artistic credits to his name.
The digital image on the left was part of a collection, containing 25 of his other paintings, shown at the Memorial Art Gallery of Rochester, New York, in the spring of 1914.
He was a prolific painter in his prime around that period, winning the 1912 Fellowship Prize from the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, capturing a $5,000 prize from the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D. C., a tidy sum for 1914. The artist won the Silver Medal at the Panama Pacific Exhibit in San Francisco in 1915.
Blossom kept busy with many commissions from his benefactors, patrons and their cronies. During WWI, he was instrumental in preparing designs for the Camouflage Section of the U. S. Shipping Board, and supervised the painting of several warships.
“His works languish in museums,” wrote the Philadelphia Sketch Club in a short memoir about their former member, claiming Farley’s art remains unseen in storerooms of the Allentown Art Museum, the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Reading Museum of Art, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts: Blossom’s alma mater. Shame on them.
The club claims that in their membership files are “decaying sketches of Richard Blossom Farley”; such a disservice to one of their compatriots, a waste of his hard work and fine talent, in my opinion.
Still, many of his paintings can be found at venues today such as the Schwarz Gallery in Philadelphia. An Internet search of the artist finds a bevy of his artwork available for sale in New York, Ft. Lauderdale and elsewhere. His legacy lives on, gloriously as seen in some of his works below:
Farley’s whereabouts from during his heyday of artistic notoriety to relative obscurity were accounted for by the US Census every ten years after the birth of his second child in 1920. Philadelphia was his last reported address as of the 1940 census. Blossom didn’t show up on the 1950 records.
Jack said he and his brother met the elusive artist circa 1946 down on the beach near the Delaware River at Sarobia. He was carrying a large canvas bag used typically by paperboys to deliver newspapers.
In an e-mail, Jack wrote:
He was hunting for rocks to built his underground home. We did not talk . He seemed upset at our meeting, mumbled and waved us off. My brother and I avoided him from then on. I was only 10-11 yrs. old at the time. I would see him on the Logan property a lot, but we never talked.
Accordingly, while Farley constructed his underground estate—laid out like a maze of 15 variously sized rooms—this avant-garde architect and builder got his materials mostly from washed-up bottles along the Delaware’s shoreline, rocks and stones from the riverbed at low tide.
Collecting the booty in his sack, he’d return to the site, dig a hole and pour a floor. Robert Logan, a life-long friend and patron of Blossom, supplied the concrete for the project.
Once the floor cured, Farley used rocks and concrete for the walls, filling the interior hole with debris and leaves after everything set, covering the result with canvas; then using concrete and bottles for the skylight. An intended opening provided the space to remove the debris that supported the laying of the roof when the room was finished. He’d move on to the next one afterward.
Farley was 65 in 1940, which would have put the man at 71 by the time Jack and his brother met him. To be building a house underground, doing all the digging, rigging, and cement-mixing at that age said a lot for his health and physical stamina.
The rooms in this subterranean villa were fully furnished for Blossom’s summertime habitation, to keep cool by the river in the hot summers of Lower Bucks County, Pa. The endeavor was quite a phenomenon, something I would’ve loved to have seen.
Over a decade after the deaths of Blossom Farley and Robert Logan, prior to the time the state fully took over all responsibilities for maintaining the park, vandals broke into the underground dwelling, set tires on fire, leaving a scene that required the use of the local fire department to put out the small inferno.
Ultimately the entrances to Farley’s masterpiece were bulldozed over. Furthermore, erosion from rain and the elements created cavities in some of the roofs, going straight through the outer surface to inside the structure. Those holes were filled in also by the state.
Recently, I went out to Sarobia and found a few openings that show parts of the underground framing. The following are shots of what’s there:
Had I won the 1.3 billion-dollar lottery last week, I’d approach the state and offer to finance an excavation crew to restore this fascinating abode as a tribute to an American Impressionistic master.
More on Farley in a future update. Thanks for stopping by for a bit of local history.