Biographical / Historical
Oliver Ingraham Lay (1845-1890) was a painter of portraits and genre scenes. Charles Downing Lay (1898-1956) was a landscape planner, architect, and painter.
Born in 1845 in New York City, Oliver Ingraham Lay studied under the painter Thomas Hicks (1823-1890) and attended the Cooper Institute and the National Academy of Design. Best-known for his portraiture, Lay's subjects included socially and politically prominent individuals, as well as artists, actors, and friends, such as Fidelia Bridges and Edwin Booth, among others. In 1876, Lay was elected to membership to the National Academy of Design and the Artists' Fund Society; in 1887 he became a member of the Century Association. Lay was married to Marian Wait, the niece of the pre-eminent pomologist, Charles Downing (1802-1885) and landscape gardener and rural architect, Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852).
Oliver's son, Charles Downing Lay was born in Newburgh, New York in 1898. He attended the School of Architecture at Columbia University from 1896-1900 and earned a Bachelor of Science from Harvard University's School of Landscape Architecture in 1902. That same year, Lay established a landscape practice in New York City; he also served as Landscape Architect for the City of New York from 1911-1912. In 1904, he married Laura Brown Gill.
In addition to his public work projects, he received numerous commissions for private homes and estates in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Lay, along with Henry V. Hubbard and Robert Wheelwright founded the professional magazine, Landscape Architecture where he served as publisher, editor, and contributor. He was a consulting architect to the 1939 New York World's Fair. In 1948, he established the Housatonic Valley Planning Association.
Oliver and Charles's lifelong friend, Fidelia Bridges (1834-1923) was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1834. Orphaned in her youth, she supported herself as a mother's helper in the Quaker household of the Salem merchant, William A. Brown. In the mid-1850s, after Brown had moved to Brooklyn, New York, Fidelia Bridges joined the family, where she took on the role of governess to Brown's daughters. Around this time, she met Oliver Ingraham Lay.
In the 1860s, Bridges studied art at the studio of William Trost Richards (1833-1905) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1867, Bridges, along with a group of young women artists that included Anne Whitney (1821-1915) left for Rome to pursue her artistic training. Upon her return, Bridges set up a studio in New York City. In the early 1890s, Fidelia settled permanently in Canaan, Connecticut.
Bridges, influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite school, depicted landscapes and nature scenes with detailed renderings of birds, meadows, and wildflowers. In addition, Bridges sold her artwork commercially; in the mid-1870s, Louis Prang and Company produced her chromolithographic designs on greeting cards and calendars. Bridges also illustrated magazines and books.