Monday, March 25, 2024

An Artist’s Artist: Julius Lars Hoftrup

by Erin Doane, Senior Curator

Two different donors recently gave us paintings by Lars Hoftrup. One donated three watercolors and the other a single oil on board. It felt like an odd coincidence that these four paintings came to us in just two months’ time, so I decided I should write something about them for this blog.

The Haunted House, by Lars Hoftrup, 1947, oil on board, new donation
Upon doing some research online, I discovered that while the Swedish-born painter, who lived out most of his life in Pine City, was nationally-known in his time, there is very little about him on the internet outside of local sources. Elmira city historian Diane Janowski has a page about him and his longtime companion Armand Carmen Wargny on her website. There is also an active Lars Hoftrup and Armand Wargny Facebook group administered by Jan Kevin Liberatore. Otherwise, there are only a few very brief biographies on general art websites. Fortunately, the archive here at CCHS has a thick folder of information and a subscription to

Lars Hoftrup (standing) and Armond Wargny (seated) at Artstorp
taken by Star-Gazette photographer Wells Crandall in the mid-1940s
and reprinted in the June 1961 Chemung Historical Journal.
Julius Lars Hoftrup was born in Kjevlinge, Sweden in 1874 to parents Anders and Anna. He came to the United States with his family in 1881 when he was just six years old. At first, they lived on the top of Mt. Zoar before purchasing a farmhouse and barns on Curren Road near Pine City. The young Lars always wanted to be an artist. He got his primary education in Elmira schools then studied art in fits and starts when money was available. He attended Cooper Union in New York City briefly, worked to save more money, studied at the Art Student’s League for a time, then took a position as photographer with a small motion picture company. The company sent him to work in the Midwest and it was in Davenport, Iowa that his art career really took off.

Watercolor by Lars Hoftrup, new donation
While in Davenport, Lars became acquainted with the wealthy Mrs. Baker who bought a number of his paintings and became his first patron. With the money he made from the sales, he was able to take his first trip abroad. He traveled and painted throughout the Mediterranean, finding the South of France and Northern Africa particularly inspiring. After his journey, he moved back to New York City where he eventually became one of fifteen artists who established their own gallery called “The Fifteen Gallery.”

Play boat, Auray, France, by Lars Hoftrup, watercolor, new donation

During the summers, Lars spent his time painting at his family home in Pine City. When the Great Depression hit and the Fifteen Gallery closed, he returned to Pine City and settled there permanently. He established a studio there where he hosted artist friends and taught students. Sculptor Ernfred Anderson, another Swedish-born artist who moved to the Elmira in the 1930s, dubbed Lars’s residence “Artstorp,” meaning “art farm” in Swedish. Artstorp became a sort of mecca for established artists, watercolor enthusiasts, and students alike and Lars welcomed them all. The Elmira Art Club’s annual picnic was held there for many years.

Watercolor of Artstorp by Talitha Botsford, 1960
Many artists visited Artstorp but only one, other than Lars himself, lived there long-term. Armand Wargny was born in France in 1870. He came to the United States and studied art at the Chicago Institute. That was where he met Lars Hoftrup. The pair became close companions and in 1932, Armand moved in with Lars at his Pine City farm. According to Lars’s obituary in the Star-Gazette, “The men were such good friends that neither intruded upon the work or the mood of the other. Work over, they prepared their own meals and whiled away their evenings in artists’ talk.” Toward the end of his life, Armand became quite ill. Lars took care of him “with the loving care of a mother for her babe,” according to Rosamond C. Gaydash who spent some time at Artstorp. Armand’s death in 1947 was a severe blow to Lars.

Film of J. Lars Hoftrup and Armand Wargny
at Artstorp Studio, c. 1941

Lars continued to paint and travel. In the 1952, while in France, he underwent emergency surgery at the American Hospital in Paris. He never really regained his health after that. He returned to Pine City and died at home early in the morning on April 11, 1954. He was 80 years old. He was laid to rest in Woodlawn Cemetery. His beloved Artstorp was left mostly empty for years, only visited occasionally by the heirs of the estate. In the 1960s, vandals damaged the buildings and scrap metal scavengers looted the home and barns. In January 1972, the home was destroyed by fire. It was thought that vandals had set it ablaze.

Harbor Concarneau by Lars Hoftrup, watercolor, new donation
Long-time friend Ernfred Anderson described Lars Hoftrup as “an artist’s artist.” He was a modern impressionist working chiefly in watercolors but also in oils. The subject of many of his works was the beauty that he saw all around him on his travels throughout the United States and the world, and at home in the Chemung Valley. He once said, “real art is spiritual, not physical. It is the painter’s method of expressing emotion and is not made to sell.” His works have found permanent homes in major galleries such as the Brooklyn Museum, Cleveland Museum, Duncan Phillips Memorial Gallery, and the Arnot Art Museum, as well as right here at the Chemung County Historical Society and in countless private homes.


Monday, March 11, 2024

The Demise of the Beneficial Order of Earnest Workers

by Susan Zehnder, Education Director 

Every day when opening our social media accounts, we discover new scams aimed at tempting us to send money or provide personal information. Despite filters, and best intentions, it just seems to be part of doing business in the early 21st century. A blessing and a curse, digital media have increased our risk, and artificial intelligence has made scams more sophisticated. But, is this different than before? A look back at newspapers from the late 19th century proves that while the scale of scams may have increased, they are certainly nothing new.

One national scam with local impact took place in the spring of 1891. The Star-Gazette reported that over a period of four weeks, a group of citizens in Elmira lost a total of $1,500, or $50,000 in today’s money. The unfortunate group had joined a newly formed chapter of a national organization with the unlucky name of The Beneficial Order of Earnest Workers (BOEW).

Unidentified factory workers, 1890-1920, Elmira, NY

Headquartered in Philadelphia,  the BOEW boasted over 28,000 members nationwide, with the Elmira chapter counting for 128 members. The organization was one of a number of short-term beneficial societies that promised to pay investors $100 in return for their small investment in only nine weeks. At one time, the New Jersey branch took in over $25,000 in investments every week. Though not all beneficial societies were corrupt, this entire organization was.

Today, the name of the organization seems quaint, though it was a term used to describe a collective or cooperative financial group. Sometimes called friendly societies, benevolent societies focused on providing funds for a group financial or social purpose and were common before modern insurance or organized social services. Beneficial societies can still be found in countries where larger banks do not want to invest.

This society, however, wasn’t built on altruistic ideas. Instead, the officers schemed to extract hard-earned cash from anyone willing to risk their money. Men with titles like The Supreme President, The Supreme Treasurer, and The Supreme Secretary of the Beneficial Order of Earnest Workers enticed their unsuspecting victims.

When the scheme fell apart, after only a matter of weeks, various members were arrested in Philadelphia. At least one of these reportedly had his travel cases packed and tickets bought, knowing he needed to escape. One of the Elmira officers traveled to Philadelphia to recover money, but was unsuccessful. Sums lost ranged from $37 to nearly $700. Writing about the scandal, The Star-Gazette mentions a “prominent disinterested lawyer” in Philadelphia remarking that because the victims willingly invested, it would be hard to pursue justice.

It’s not clear if any of the victims ever recovered some or all of their investments. Certainly, the Elmira members were not the only ones, but for a few days in 1891, it made a dramatic story in the paper.

We like to think we’re smarter than that, but today’s schemes continue to lure unsuspecting victims. Below is information from the US government on ways to avoid being a victim of scams, and we encourage you to share it with anyone who might benefit.