The Zadock Pratt Museum opens the 2023 summer season with an exhibition of rare 19th century drawings of Prattsville’s iconic buildings by James B. Gregory, local artist and apothecary.
In 2017, an early American portrait of Theodoric Myer bearing the signature of the artist, J.B. Gregory was exhibited at the American Museum of Folk Art in New York City. Not much was known about the artist at the time. A small, cracked leather daybook in handwriting that belies the writer’s artistic flourish can be found in the Zadock Pratt Museum’s collection in Prattsville, NY, and indirectly tells the story of a self-taught artist, journalist, and – of all things – druggist.
James B. Gregory (1818-1901) was born in England’s London suburbs on Dec. 4, 1818 to the Rev. Thomas B. Gregory and Sarah Bowden Gregory. James accompanied his parents to America, where they settled in Canasota, NY and where Rev. Thomas Gregory became pastor of a church before moving to Prattsville, NY where he became Pastor of the Reformed Dutch Church of Prattsville (1836-1841).
At age 15, James B. Gregory started in business as a drug store clerk in London. Upon arriving in Prattsville, at age 18, he opened a drug store that also served as a general store, art supply store, and gallery. There, he offered sugar, eggs and wine for sale while offering to clean, frame, cut glass for or exhibit paintings as well.
On July 19, 1840, at age 21, James Bowden Gregory married Cynthia Eliza Myers of Prattsville at the Reformed Dutch Church of which his father, Thomas, was pastor. Together, they had three children, Jacob M. (1842), Sarah E. (1843), and Emily C. (1850).
A pair of portraits of children in the Myer family, Theodoric and Henrietta Josepha, stands as testament to Gregory’s artist nature and offers us a glimpse of a self-taught artist of the mid-19th century.
In addition to his roles as village druggist, Gregory was deeply involved in the life of his new American home, where during his lifetime he held office as Prattsville Town Clerk (1852-53), Postmaster, Master of Oasis Lodge No. 119, F. & A.M. of Greene County, Sons of Temperance and Good Templars. In church work, he was an Elder in the Reformed Dutch Church for many years where he was a Sunday school worker and superintendent of the church’s school. In 1858, Gregory started The Prattsville News and ran it for two years until selling it to E.P. More in 1860.
In 1868, after 28 active years in the Town of Prattsville, James Gregory and Cynthia Myer-Gregory gathered up their children and their belongings and moved to Peeksill, NY, where J.B. Gregory joined with Dr. E.D. Fuller to run a drug store on Main Street for many years. Known for his “considerable artistic ability,” it is believed that he produced many drawings, book illustrations and oil paintings during his lifetime. Yet, the only evidence of his art that has thus far remain are the nine drawings in this exhibit and two oil paintings of the children, Theodoric and Henrietta Josepha Meyers, who we believe to be family members of the artist’s wife, Cynthia Meyers-Gregory.
Join us on May 27 at 1 pm for an opening reception that will in addition feature a lecture by Edward Renehan, “Jay Gould, Zadock Pratt, and That Annoying Thing When a Ruined Partner Commits Suicide,” exploring the tangled and calamitous tale of Gould’s first large business venture of the 1850s, a venture transacted in league with Prattsville’s founder, the inimitable Zadock Pratt.
James B. Gregory’s exhibition is curated by Carolyn Bennett and made possible through the support of Bank of Greene County, Greene County Legislature, and the Town of Prattsville. Special thanks to Joseph Imhauser, Kris Seto, and Marci Le Brun.