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Samuel Chamberlain (1895-1975)

On January 11, 1975, the Salem Evening News sadly noted the passing of Marblehead's "first citizen," the famous and locally beloved artist-author Samuel Chamberlain.

Chamberlain was born in Iowa in 1895 and raised in the state of Washington. In 1915 he enrolled in the architectural program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, but his education was interrupted by World War I. Like many other young Americans, including future literary stars Ernest Hemingway and E.E. Cummings, he sailed for France to join the volunteer ambulance corps, the American Field Service. By his own admission Chamberalin fell in love with the country even before he stepped foot on shore.

At the conclusion of the war Sam returned to Washington where he worked for a time as a renderer for various architectural firms and a commercial artist. But the lure of France was too strong, and in 1922 he headed back to Paris.

While he would he return periodically to live in the United States for short stretches—he taught for a time at both M.I.T. and the University of Michigan—Chamberlain spent most of the next dozen years living in France or traveling about Europe. In 1922 he married Narcissa Gellatly, his beloved "Biscuit," with whom he eventually had two daughters.

As newlyweds, they spent much of the 1920s touring France, Spain, and Italy. In 1927 Sam received a Guggenheim grant and he moved for a short time to London where he attended the Royal Academy. Out of these travels came two published portfolios, "Sketches of Northern Spanish Architecture" and "Domestic Architecture of Rural France," and, in conjunction with Louis Skidmore, his first book, "Tudor Homes of England." Later in this period Sam also provided the drawings for a book on the use of brick in French architecture by his former professor, William Emerson.

While living in Paris in the 1920s Chamberlain studied various printmaking techniques under some of the world's finest teachers. He and Biscuit had an opportunity to meet and socialize with a number of famous American expatriates including Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Louis Bromfield, and the sculptor Alexander Calder. In 1930 the Chamberlains bought a house in Senlis, a small market town not far from Paris.

By 1934 they were back in the U.S. for good. The Chamberlains settled in Marblehead, where they lived on Front Street and then in their beloved home at 7 Tucker Street, within commuting distance of M.I.T. where Sam was teaching.

While Chamberlain continued to work as a printmaker, his focus from 1935 was increasingly on photography. Early books of his photographs of Cape Cod and New England architectural treasures were followed by his "American Landmark" series. The small, inexpensive books that made up this series were specifically oriented to the lucrative Massachusetts tourism market. In each of these photo books Chamberlain captured the essence of the landscape and architecture of a popular tourist destination, among them Salem, Marblehead, and Nantucket.

Many of Chamberlain’s books from the mid-1930s on would be published by Hastings House, a company founded specifically by Walter Frese as an outlet for Chamberlain's work. Together they would produce four dozen books, and many of these, including "Salem Interiors," "A Stroll Through Historic Salem," and "Southern Interiors" were related to American colonial architecture.

The Chamberlains’ love for Europe would lead to the publication of superb travel books on France, Italy, and England. In these guides, all illustrated by Sam, the Chamberlains also provided the reader with ample information about the foods and wines of each region, The couple became experts in matters of gastronomy, and wrote many other books and articles related on the subject.

During his lifetime Sam Chamberlain was widely respected for his work as a printmaker, artist, photographer, and writer. He was a member of the esteemed National Academy of Design, the American Institute of Architects, and other prestigious societies in America and Europe. He received many awards and left behind more than eighty books. Also included in is legacy is the Marblehead Arts Association of which he was a founding member.