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Tracing the Roots

Madison-Carrollton connection led
to family's artistic beginnings

By Mary Ann Gentry
Contributing Writer

The business and family connections between Madison, Ind., and Carrollton, Ky., are many. One of the most interesting is that of F.G. "Bert" Hill, master craftsman and artist.
His father, Pete Hill, came to Indiana from Germany in the 1840s and bought a farm in Trimble County, just across the Ohio River from what is now the Madison Country Club. Bert's greatest thrill growing up was to accompany his father to the annual Chautauqua, where they sold vegetable soup and fried fish. Bert was 13 years old in 1897 when his mother died from a bad fall.

Mary Ann Gentry Painting

Photo by Don Ward

Mary Ann Gentry of Carrollton, Ky.,
learned art techniques from her father,
F.G. Hill, who in turn learned
from William Snyder of Madison, Ind.

Pete sold his farm and moved the boys in with their older sister, Kate, who was then married to a riverboat pilot and living in Madison. There the boys continued their schooling while Pete and his son, Bill, began a carpentering business.
Afterward, Bert worked in a factory in Madison for 10 cents an hour, 45 to 50 hours per week.
One Saturday while downtown, he noticed some beautiful oil paintings in a store window. He began saving his dimes and quarters to buy paints and canvas. He learned that the artist was William Snyder, and one day he got up the nerve to visit Snyder in his studio. When he asked to take lessons, Snyder said they would be $8 each.
"That is more than my salary for a week," Bert said.
"You can sit in my studio and watch me, and I'll give you information as I go along," Snyder offered.
For the next two years, Bert learned Snyder's technique so well that many years after Snyder's death, he could renovate and retouch his paintings exactly.
In 1914, the Carrollton Furniture Factory was hiring hands at 20 cents per hour. So Bert thanked his sister for their years together and moved to Carrollton on the packet Hattie Brown. There he lived for the next 66 years.
He married in 1919, built a home, raised his family, endured the Great Depression, survived the 1937 flood and moved up in his factory work to become superintendent of the Finishing Department.
In 1954, the factory changed owners. Bert was 70, so he retired to his workshop where he refinished antiques and made beautiful furniture for his wife and daughter, who was me.
In a few years, he was back at his easel and from 1962 to 1978 painted many commissions in addition to selling others. Quite often he made his own frames, and when I was learning to paint, he made mine, too.
In 1970 when I submitted an oil landscape in the county fair, the judge from Madison awarded it the blue ribbon with the comment, "I see a touch of Snyder in this painting."
I beamed. Thank you, Daddy, and Mr. Snyder.
My father lived to be 96 years old and painted until he was 95. His oil paintings and furniture are still enjoyed around this area.
My second connection with Madison was with Birl Hill, Bert's nephew. Birl was a lifelong resident of that Madison. Birl designed and built beautiful yachts for many years until an arsonist burned his plant, including the just-finished yacht inside. Our friendship with Birl's family continued throughout the years.
My third connection with Madison began in 1949 when I married Enos Baglan, whose family resided there. We visited back and forth often. When Enos died in 1966, Grandaddy Bert and our son, Charles, became friends. Charles learned woodworking and patience from his grandfather. Our family's association with the Baglans has continued through correspondence and visits.

• Mary Ann Gentry is a local historian from Carrollton, Ky., who has recently published a book titled, "A Bicentennial Look at Carroll County." The book can be purchased for $12.50 by calling her at (502) 732-5889.

Back to January 2000 Articles.

 

 

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