Self-Taught Talent

Madison artist Taylor remembered
by family as well as art collectors

He was considered a 'southern gentleman'
by his many friends

(March 2015) –Madison, Ind., has been home to many creative and ambitious people throughout its history. The beautiful scenery and changing of the seasons has inspired many of Madison’s citizens to cultivate their artistic abilities. John Talton Taylor was among these painters and achieved this status with no formal training or schooling on the subject.
Born in a log cabin in the Hanover area in 1869, Taylor was known as “the southern gentleman.” According to his obituary in the Madison Courier, this was most likely due to his reputation for honesty and his polite nature. A hard worker, Taylor was employed for some time in building maintenance.

John Talton Taylor

Photos provided

The late artist John Talton Taylor is pictured in the rare photo that is part of the collection at the Jefferson County Historical Society’s Research Archive.

His granddaughter, Anna Jones, recalls that he would rise early in the morning in order to tend to furnaces in other people’s homes to ensure that they awoke to a warm morning. Taylor was also employed for a time at the Lanier Mansion as a doorman. Jones recalls very well the sight of her grandfather in his white coat and gloves as he prepared to leave for work at the mansion.
Despite his demanding schedule, Taylor somehow found the time the teach himself to paint. While it seems that he was influenced by the work of famed Madison artist William McKendree Snyder, he received no instruction from him. This means that Taylor first needed to learn to mix his colors. His daughter, Ivy, told the Madison Courier in 1980 that she loved to watch her father take a seat by his lamp in order to mix his paints.
Taylor would then have taught himself perspective and how to communicate which objects in a painting are further away than others. He also accomplished the ability to paint quality buildings as evidenced in his paintings of homesteads. Sue Livers owns a Taylor painting that once belonged to her grandmother, Alice Wells. This painting is an excellent example of figurative work by Taylor and is a testament that he taught himself many genres and methods of painting.

Taylor painting

Photo courtesy of Jefferson County
History Center Research Archive

Above is a sample of John Talton Taylor's artwork

An exhibit in the 1980s at the Jefferson County Historical Society displayed Taylor’s paintings with artists who were considered his contemporaries, such as Snyder and Edward Chowning.
While many paintings were shown by the other artists only two were on display by Taylor.
Apparently, this was all that was available at that time. According to his great great-grandson, Dominic Davis of Richmond, Ind., Taylor suffered from Alzheimers later in his life and was discovered burning his paintings.
This greatly reduced the number of paintings left for future generations. However, three paintings are in a collection at Historic Madison Inc. and were recently on display at the Madison Art Club, along with the painting owned by Livers. Another one, depicting a road though a beech grove, can be seen at the Historical Society. This painting was donated, along with one by Chowning, by Dr. Bob and Charlotte Canida. The work was appraised by local art conservator, Emmett Wood, in 1997. Wood noted that Taylor had his own style in his depiction of beech trees and considered it a “very good example” of Taylor’s work.

Nate Davis

Photo by Jenny Straub Youngblood

Nate Davis, a great grandson of the late artist John Talton Taylor, poses with a painting that he inherited.

The conservator also noted the rarity of Taylor’s paintings and added that this increased its value.
Taylor’s great grandson and Madison native, Nathan Davis, inherited a landscape that had also been restored by Wood. He believes that a cousin has another. According the 1980 Madison Courier article, Ivy recalled that two paintings had been sold to “Mrs. Robert Hines” in 1960, and another had been purchased by Charlotte Bovard Susnick of Versailles, Ind. Ivy also recalled that several paintings had been sold to individuals from Kentucky and one sold to a gentleman from New York. While the number of Taylor paintings in the local area may be limited, it is safe to say that a number of them made it into the hands of collectors and admirers and are being appreciated to this day.
It is clear that Taylor was committed to his art. He did not make his sole living off of his paintings, nor did he have a large amount of leisure time to hone his craft. He painted anyway. The inspiration he felt as an artist compelled him to make the time and commit to learning a skill on his own when so many others require instruction. The determination of this early Madison artist can now serve as inspiration to those that follow in his footsteps while serving as a legacy to future generations.

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