by Jim Dodge
Frederick Lyder Frederickson was born in 1905 in Mandal, a harbor on the southern tip of Norway. When Lyder was a teenager he helped his uncles on a sailing ship transporting lumber south to England. He once told me about a beautiful day when the schooner was under full sail and how he climbed way up the ship’s rigging to the very top of the mast. Lyder was a strong athlete, a gymnast in his high school. He balanced his extended torso on the top of the wooden mast and held his balance on his hard stomach for as long as he could. He exclaimed how he could feel the ship moving through the waves and that he was momentarily flying with the seagulls with his arms outspread.
That wonderful fascination with the world around him was something Lyder kept throughout his amazing and creative life. As an artist his observations of the landscape, both natural and man-made, were reflected in his oil paintings and wood carvings. He studied art at Oslo University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree. Lyder moved to New York City in 1926 and took a job as a window washer. “Fourteen stories up with no safety belt!” he recalled.
He met his future wife Renee – newly arrived from Paris and working as a nanny – in Central Park during the Depression years. Lyder received a Metropolitan Scholarship to attend the Art Students League and study landscape painting under Leon Kroll. Lyder also studied with Raphael Soyer, a noted representational artist who was in opposition to abstract art. Some of Lyder’s early paintings follow what was known as the Ash Can School with gritty street scenes of New York City.
At one point Lyder and Renee were in Europe visiting relatives and luckily caught the last passenger ship to depart France before the war started! Lyder supported his family as the superintendent of their apartment building on Lexington Avenue, and as a carver of wood frames at the noted House of Heydenryk. Once he showed me a huge painting by van Eyck at the Frick Collection and asked me how I liked it. Not the portrait, but the intricate carved frame that he had gilded with gold leaf.
Lyder’s work was presented in various exhibit spaces, including The Hudson D. Walker, Montross, Marie Harriman and Marie Sterner galleries. Some of his exhibits were reviewed favorably in the New York Times. Lyder was considered at that time a contemporary of Milton Avery and Reginald Marsh. In the 1930s Lyder was a close friend of Louis Eilshemius, an outrageous self-promoter and painter of nudes. Lyder and Renee had a circle of artistic friends that revolved around a dynamic prewar New York City art scene, associates at the House of Heydenryk, and the Art Students League.
In the early 1950s Lyder and Renee read a newspaper ad for a summer cottage located on the Middle Branch of the Westfield River. It came with 60 hillside acres in Worthington and a house in Middlefield. They spent many summers fixing and expanding it with a studio where Lyder could paint. Renee grew flowers in her garden and Lyder painted them in her vases. Their young son Erlend explored the valley and eventually became a geologist. Whenever friends from the city would visit, Lyder and Renee took them up to Williamstown to see the classic paintings at the Clark Art Institute.
Lyder would often ensconce himself at the Worthington Golf Club’s restaurant with the New York Times and order his favorite breakfast, “Eggs Frederickson.” When he visited the town dump, he would retrieve any cans of discarded house paint that he could use for his work.
Lyder became friends with Dr. Harold Stone, who owned Brookstone Farm on River Road. He painted their farmhouse as well as the nearby grotto swimming pool, and the Stone family later donated both of these works to the Worthington Historical Society.
Lyder was a member of the Pallet and Trowel Club, a group of local artists that included Ann Rauch. For over twenty-five summers Lyder operated the Rondo Gallery and then the Tempo Gallery in Lenox, where he presented his own paintings as well as works by other New York artists including metal sculptor Bill Bowie and painter Pierre Jacquemon.
At first Lyder realistically painted portraits, landscapes and still lifes as well as sculpting in wood. He was influenced by the abstract impressionists in the 1960s, and a decade later enjoyed creating his complex collages. Every time I study one of his intricate collages I still discover something new.
In the winter months Lyder and Renee would migrate down to Key West, where he maintained his Tempo Gallery. On several occasions I drove them down to Key West in their old station wagon loaded up with artwork. Lyder would sit in the front passenger seat with the window down, smoking a cigar stuck in his corn cob pipe. Renee sat in the back seat calmly stroking her cat all the way to Florida! Those were wonderful trips where they related old stories that I had heard before and was always ready to hear again.
Once I helped Lyder patch the chimney on their cottage on River Road. Then a spry 80-year-old, he could easily run up and down the ladder keeping me supplied with bricks and mortar. When I delivered a load of firewood, they would give us a painting. When Renee served dinner, it was always gourmet!
The paintings presented here show how a classically trained artist of the old school evolved and changed over the years. One time I found Lyder out in his front yard glueing up a collage that included paper doilies, pieces of various objects from his workshop, shards of broken glass, and even a coating of sand and pebbles from the river. He set the finished panel on fire with some lighter fluid and stood there calmly smoking his pipe while watching all the ingredients melt. A few moments went by before he smothered it with a blanket. Lyder exclaimed that the secret to his artistic success was knowing when to put the fire out!
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Jim Dodge moved from Pittsfield, MA, to Worthington in 1976. He and his wife Michele raised their two daughters in an old farmhouse on River Road. Jim was a partner in the Newborne Company, a sales and marketing company based at Brookstone Farm in the 1980s. His innovative designs in juvenile furniture helped grow the business to the point that Fisher-Price acquired the company’s product line. He then developed another successful importing company in Los Angeles, L. A. Baby Juvenile Products, and traveled extensively in Asia. He has served the Town of Worthington on the Conservation Commission, Fire Department, Historical Society and Westfield River Committee.
Note: All photos of the artwork were taken by Kate Ewald.