A Wooded Watershed by Daniel Garber

Daniel Garber (1880-1958)

Image credit: Daniel Garber (1880-1958), A Wooded Watershed, 1926, oil on canvas, 129.25 x 257.25 inches, James A. Michener Art Museum Acquired with a Legislative Initiative Grant awarded by Senator Craig Lewis

About the Artwork

By the mid 1920s, Daniel Garber had achieved remarkable success as a landscape painter, draughtsman, and teacher with no mural painting experience. In April 1926, he completed a 22 foot mural, A Wooded Watershed, in only six weeks in his studio at Cuttalossa. Although not part of this exhibition, this work should be recognized for its unique departure of Garber’s oeuvre. A Wooded Watershed was commissioned for the Pennsylvania Sesquicentennial Exhibition in 1926 and exhibited at the Pennsylvania Building in the “Natural Resources” exhibit.

As a student, Garber sought mural painting experience and even wrote to Will H. Low, a well-known American muralist, to obtain his apprenticeship. According to Low’s reply, Garber lacked sufficient “instinct for decoration”. However, by the time of his mural commission, Garber had honed a decorative instinct, as well as an impressionist approach. His strong sense of composition and surface design found roots in his travel fellowship in Europe (1905-07), which exposed him to the great murals of England, Italy and France, including murals by Puvis De Chavannes at the Sorbonne and in the Pantheon in Italy. Like Puvis de Chavannes, Garber emphasized surface pattern, treated space in terms of a few simple zones, and employed soft pastel colors – not merely in this mural, but also in his easel paintings.

The Imagery of A Wooded Watershed

Daniel Garber’s lunette, A Wooded Watershed, depicts a dark stand of trees, with a view of the Delaware River. The mural’s title emphasizes the two key elements of this landscape: specifically, woods of American sycamore trees and the waters of the Delaware River. Garber imagined Pennsylvania in its primeval state before industry, before agriculture, and before human intrusion.

The American sycamore, a tree “not at all happy in urban atmospheres and better suited to country places,” seems an appropriate symbol for Pennsylvania’s natural beauty. In the 1920’s, American art became increasingly polarized between urban and rural imagery. The American sycamore, found only in the wild, typifies the rural. Throughout his career, Garber represented American sycamore trees in many of his landscapes. He exhibited The Aged Sycamore (1902) at the National Academy of Design Annual in 1904, and this painting became an early success. International Studio reproduced the paining, accompanied by a favorable review by Charles Caffin. Eliminating vines as coverage in A Wooded Watershed, Garber emphasized the characteristic mottled surface of the sycamore created by peeling bark.

The configuration of the riverbank as seen through the trees suggests the Delaware Water Gap. Both Edward Hicks in his Peaceable Kingdoms and Asher B. Durand painted the Water Gap before Garber – and similarly. The distinctive outcroppings, depicted by Durand, Hicks and Garber, point to a spot north of the sharp bend in the river, just above the Water Gap. By the 1920’s, the railroad had made the Delaware Water Gap a popular vacation spot for Philadelphians and New Yorkers. Travel brochures, like one handed out at the Sesquicentennial, promoted this “natural wonder” of Pennsylvania. As a retreat from the pressures of city life, the Delaware Water Gap stood for the rural over the urban. In A Wooded Watershed, Garber portrayed an idealized image of rural Pennsylvania – of Pennsylvania as a paradise.

The Pennsylvania Building and Its Murals

The Pennsylvania Building, designed by Ralph Bencker, cost $750,000 – a large sum at the time, and one of the largest spent on a building at the Sesquicentennial. Bencker constructed a U-shaped building around a 120-square-foot courtyard, with “no forms borrowed from European architecture.” The gabled ends of the “U” contained two allegorical groups of sculpture, representing Industry and Agriculture. Bas-reliefs depicting “notable events in Pennsylvania history” decorated the courtyard. The building featured exhibitions on the Commonwealth’s natural beauty, as well as on Pennsylvania’s cultural, political, industrial, and agricultural achievements. Captain George Harding, an illustrator, muralist, and former student of Howard Pyle, directed the mural program. He ordered specific murals for displays in the Pennsylvania Building – Garber’s among them – and showcased fourteen murals by Violet Oakley, works commissioned for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Harding’s own lunette-shaped mural, on the south wall of the entrance corridor, depicted a World War I battle scene – as he said, “Pennsylvania’s Contribution in 1918…to the Mother Countries of the American people.” Directly across from it, on the north wall, hung Harvesting, by the prominent artist, Joseph T. Pearson. On the opposite end of this wall hung Garber’s mural. A Wooded Watershed formed a pendant with Harvesting – joined by the lunette shapes and by two sculptures, allegorical female figures with heads turned toward each other. Harvesting held a platter of fruits and vegetables (products of agriculture), while  A Wooded Watershed held a leaf and fern branch (offerings from nature). In addition to A Wooded Watershed, the “Natural Resources” display included another landscape – Penn’s Woods – by Howard McAllister and Arthur Meltzer. At a width of ninety feet, Penn’s Woods covered the entire end of the north wing. In the south wing, Alice Kent Stoddard’s The State, Guardian of the Family hung behind the Pavilion of the Sun in the “Welfare exhibit”.

These murals did not integrate to a high degree with the architecture. Rather, they seemed independent from it. All done by artists with ties to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, they shared unity to the degree that they contributed to the themes of their respective exhibits. Compared to other displays at the Sesquicentennial, the exhibits at the Pennsylvania Building seemed a hodge-podge of artifacts thrown together – with a thematic plan, perhaps, but lacking visual unity.

Looking Questions

  • What do you see? Describe all the painting’s details.
  • Describe the shape of the painting. Why do you think Garber chose to paint it this shape?
  • What animals and plants do you see?
  • Do you see any symbols? What could they represent?
  • Describe the colors and brushstrokes used in the painting.
  • How does Garber make the background look like it is far away?
  • Does this scene remind you of any place you have been before?

About the Artist

Daniel Garber was born April 11, 1880 to a Mennonite family in North Manchester, Indiana. Garber showed an early interest in the arts, preferring to paint than go to church on Sundays. By age 16, Garber was anxious to pursue professional training in the arts. This natural aptitude for painting prompted his family to send him to the Art Academy of Cincinnati, where Garber studied from 1897 to 1899. In Cincinnati, Garber became part of the circles of Frank Duveneck, the American Impressionists, and the European-trained faculty. In addition, Garber made fast friends with mentors Julian Alden Weir and John Twachtman, whose works greatly influenced his own later in life. Following his time at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, Garber moved east, where he studied under Thomas Anshutz and Hugh Breckenridge in the summers of 1899 and 1900 at the Darby School of Painting in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. While attending classes at the Darby School he met his wife, Mary (May) Franklin, when she modeled for one of Breckenridge’s portrait classes. In 1899, he sought further instruction at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied until 1905. Garber courted Mary from 1899-1901 while both attending night classes at the Academy. They were married in June 1901. At this period in his life Garber was also working as “an illustrator, commercial artist and painter” to support himself.

Garber also began teaching at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art and Design) in 1904. However in 1905, he put his teaching career on hold to accept the prestigious William Emlen Cresson Traveling Fellowship from the Pennsylvania Academy, which allowed him to study in Paris, London, and Rome. While in Paris, Daniel and May welcomed their first child, Tanis. His work from these two years studying abroad reflected an impressionistic style, perhaps due to the influences of seeing the work of Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Alfred Sisley in Europe.

Upon returning home in 1907, Garber and his wife took a house in Bucks County at fellow artist William Lathrop’s urging. His father-in-law had also purchased some land and a home in Bucks County. Coincidentally, the house, barn, and adjacent buildings were on a site which had been shown by Lathrop a few years back. This home, later named “Cuttalossa,” was to be a vital part of the burgeoning of the New Hope Arts community in the next few years. Garber purchased a home on Green Street in Philadelphia in 1911. From this time to the mid 1920s, Garber commuted between Philadelphia and Bucks County, spending his winters in town and the summers in Cuttalossa.

Garber continued teaching at the Philadelphia Design School for Women until 1909, when he took a position at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, as an assistant to his mentor, Thomas Anshutz. Garber’s repute as an instructor gained status as the years wore on; students both feared his criticism and sought his praise. He remained an instructor there until 1950.

In addition to his teaching career, Garber developed professionally as an artist, entering competitions and garnering praise for his meticulously orchestrated works. Notable awards include: the first Hallgarten prize of the National Academy of Design (1909), a gold medal at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco (1915), the William A. Clark Prize at the Corcoran Exhibition (1921), the Pennell Medal from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1942) and many others.

In 1916, Garber helped found the New Hope Group, a colony of artists that showed and worked together from 1916-1926. While primarily a painter, Garber was also a proficient draftsman and printmaker. His distinctive style – the close, almost tapestry-like brushstrokes and restrained use of color – set him apart from his contemporaries. This, along with his prestigious teaching career, earned him a position as one of the most influential artists of the New Hope Art colony. Garber is also represented in the permanent collections of many major institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Michener Art Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. Daniel Garber died July 5, 1958, at his home in Lumberville, PA.


  • Is A Wooded Watershed related to Pennsylvania landscape and history? Learn more while engaging in the activity Pennsylvania Landscape and History.
  • Create a landscape showing your ideal place. Read about it in the activity Landscape: An Ideal Place below.
  • All About Rocks. In A Wooded Watershed, Daniel Garber shows a lot of rocky areas on each side of the Delaware River. One type of the rocks is called diabase (the same rock that is the Bucks County rock). These are the dark rocks in the foreground of the painting. These rocks were made 140-250 million years ago. Look at the rocks in the background of the painting that make up the cliffs. Can you discover what kind of rocks they are? Do you think the color is really the color of the rocks? If you are interested in rocks and rock formations, learn more at the National Geological Survey.
  • Pampering your painting. This painting was not taken care of; it took several months with many people working on it to repair, or conserve, the painting. A person who repairs a painting is called an art conservator. This is the perfect job for someone who loves art and science. Learn more about art conservation at the Conservation Register.
  • The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission lists several Pennsylvania state symbols, such as the state insect. Read more about them and discuss how they relate to A Wooded Watershed.
  • Today, the Delaware River Water Gap is still a beautiful place where people like to canoe and kayak. It is part of the United States National Park Service. Read more about it and discuss how it relates to A Wooded Watershed.
  • Can you guess why A Wooded Watershed was given to the School of Forestry at Penn State University? This university currently offers an excellent course of study in forestry. Learn about the program.
  • Garber studied with Will Hickok Low, in order to learn more about murals. Research this artist and compare his work to Daniel Garber.
  • The Delaware Water Gap was not close to Daniel Garber’s home, but he painted a view of Lambertville Beach along the Delaware River, which was close to his home. See the painting on the Michener’s website and compare it to A Wooded Watershed.
  • The Delaware River was very popular with artists Charles Rosen, John Folinsbee, and Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze. Look at the work of Rosen and Folinsbee on the Michener’s Bucks County Artists’ Database. Leutze’s George Washington Crossing the Delaware is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • Elsie Driggs, another Bucks County artist, shows us a baby deer resting in one of her paintings. How does her work compare and contrast to Daniel Garber’s?
  • Daniel Garber’s mural was first exhibited in Philadelphia in 1926. It was displayed inside the Natural Resources Building for the Sesquicentennial Exposition. Philadelphia now has many murals displayed on the outside of buildings. Do you think you could create a mural somewhere in your home? In your neighborhood? In your school? What would you include in the mural? See see a slideshow of murals in Philadelphia.

The Acquisition of A Wooded Watershed

After the Sesquicentennial’s closing in December 1926, the State dismantled the site, sending Daniel Garber’s A Wooded Watershed to the State Forest School at Mont Alto (part of the Pennsylvania Department of Forests and Waters). Installed under Garber’s direction, the painting hung in Science Hall. The sides of the 22-foot canvas were folded back to fit on a wall that was too small, at 19 feet, to accommodate the mural’s full width. Two years later, the campus became part of Pennsylvania State University, with Science Hall transformed into its General Studies Building. Garber’s mural became the backdrop for the stage of the school’s auditorium – not so much “lost” as “lost track of…” for over sixty years.

In 1992, Marjory Blubaugh, archivist at Penn State’s Mont Alto campus, read of James A. Michener’s “Endowment Challenge.” The author pledged to match donations of works of art by the Bucks County community with funds to endow the James A. Michener Art Museum. Recognizing Daniel Garber’s name among the list of artists in the museum’s collection, Ms. Blubaugh wrote to the Director of the museum. He, with representatives from the Board of Trustees, traveled to Mont Alto, there to find behind the curtain of the auditorium’s stage the 22-foot lunette from the Sesquicentennial, dirty and damaged, but intact.

Penn State’s Mont Alto campus agreed to send the painting to the Michener Art Museum in return for a scholarship endowment in Daniel Garber’s name. Former State Senator Craig Lewis obtained a Legislative Initiative Grant for the acquisition and conservation of A Wooded Watershed. Originally intended to decorate the “Natural Resources” exhibit of the Pennsylvania Building, this important work now takes its place as the “keystone” of the Michener Art Museum’s permanent collection.

Related Resources

  • A Wooded Watershed Curriculum Guide
  • A Wooded Watershed Looking Activity Sheet
  • A Wooded Watershed Landscape Activity Sheet
  • A Wooded Watershed Ideal Place Activity Sheet
  • Bucks County Artists Database: Daniel Garber
  • See A Wooded Watershed on Google Arts and Culture, the largest painting created using the Art Camera shown in Gigapixel resolution
  • Youth Audio Tour: A Wooded Watershed
  • The Painterly Voice: A Wooded Watershed
  • Michener Art Museum’s Mobile Guide: A Wooded Watershed
  • Exhibit Gallery Guide on In Exaltation of Flowers and A Wooded Watershed
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