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Artist's work represents a lifetime achievement


Augusta Griffen is pictured with some examples of her artwork at the National Guard Armory. While Lynne McGee Tutor has been gathering together photos of Mrs. Griffen’s artwork, these six paintings have not been accounted for. Contributed by Lynne McGee Tutor, the Griffens’ great-granddaughter.


MARY LOU MONTGOMERY


Augusta McKee Griffen was a woman ahead of her time. Born post Civil War, in 1869, she not only raised five children to adulthood, but also served as the catalyst behind the successful establishment and management of her family’s long-time Hannibal business, Griffen’s Flower Shop.

In addition to her business finesse, when she died in 1958 at the age of 91, she left behind a legacy of artwork now dispersed to locations across the United States.

When she died, no one had an accounting of how many paintings she had completed during her long life. In recent years, Augusta’s great-granddaughter, Lynne McGee Tutor, has attempted to rectify that by assembling a digital portfolio of paintings known to exist.

She asked her cousins to send photographs of the paintings that they continue to proudly display in their homes, some 64 years after the family matriarch’s death. Lynne has compiled the collection onto thumb drives, which have been distributed throughout the large family.

And whenever she begins to believe that the collection is nearing completion, Lynne reverts back to an old Hannibal Courier-Post photo of Mrs. Griffen standing in front of some of her artwork during a show at the Hannibal Armory.

“There are five or six paintings behind her (in that picture) that I don’t know where they are,” Lynne said. “I’ve never seen them.”

Most of Mrs. Griffen’s art pieces were painted in oil, on Celotex tiles, rather than canvas, “because the tiles were cheaper,” Lynne explained. “It’s amazing that any of them made it this long.”


Not an artist

Lynne Tutor says that her great-grandmother didn’t consider herself to be a painter, but rather a copyist.

Wikipedia describes the difference: A copyist is a person who makes duplications of the same thing. The term is sometimes used for artists who make copies of other artists’ paintings.

Lynne said that Augusta Griffen used postcards for inspiration, or photos, or images from her own mind.

“She would take somebody else’s picture, or something she saw in a vista or in her mind, and would paint that. She would copy postcards. If somebody admired one, she made another one for them. It was a copy.”

In one painting series, Mrs. Griffen portrayed a family crossing the state in a covered wagon: a husband, his wife and their small daughter. That was her image of her family moving while her father was a Methodist minister.

One of Mrs. Griffen’s paintings is of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home on Hill Street. Lynne knows of two versions; the landscaping in the two versions varies.

“The Griffens used to take care of the (Mark Twain Boyhood Home) gardens when I was growing up,” Lynne said. “Even later, Richie (Griffen, Dan Griffen’s son) took care of the gardens after he took over the flower shop.”


Memories

Lynne retains vivid memories of her great-grandmother.

“She passed away when I was 7. My memories are indelible. She was a force in my life; in all of our lives. At one point or another everybody worked (at the greenhouses or flower shop.) I helped deliver. If you were at the greenhouse you better have a broom in your hand. I remember her house; I remember the smell, deep earth of the gardens. She was strict but also very generous. She loved showing off her gardens back behind the house. She had a rock wall around the garden. Those rocks came from all over the United States.

“After her death, the house sat empty for quite a while. A lot of her paintings went missing during that time.”

Her house on Orchard Avenue began as two log cabins, put together, and 30 years of modernization and renovations followed. In the 1950s, a picturesque chandelier made of an old fashioned wagon wheel hung in the living room.

While no longer in the family, the house remains occupied today.


Welcoming visitors

Mrs. Griffen enjoyed having visitors to her home.

In July 1952, the Mendelssohn-Emersonian club gathered at Mrs. Griffen’s home, and celebrated her birthday. A large covered-dish luncheon was followed by the serving of a large birthday cake made by Mrs. Frank Hansbrough.

The same club members met at the Griffen’s gardens for their annual picnic in September 1946.

The Philathea Class of Palmyra made the trip to Hannibal in October 1954 to visit the Griffen home and gardens.


Biography

Augusta Maria McKee Griffen was born July 15, 1869 to George Alexander and Henrietta Maribah Sprague McKee in Lathrop, Clinton County, Missouri. She had two sisters, Amy Henrietta McKee McCue and Faye Marietta McKee Kuhns, and one brother, Morris Sommerville McKee. Her parents had adopted a son, Augustus Alexander 'Charlie' Taylor, 1886-1904, who died young. They also had two other children who died in infancy: William Horace McKee, 1871-1872, and Delia McKee, 1879-1879. On March 20, 1888, Augusta married Walter Griffen, and they had five children: Carrie Sprague Griffen Akers, Vernon Sommerville Griffen, Joe Griffen, Alta Lucinda Griffen Stewart, and Walter Merritt Griffen.

Griffen’s Flower Shop continued under family ownership for 106 years.


Augusta Griffen painted at least two versions of the Mark Twain Boyhood home. The photo at left is from Rodney Nunn. Note the slight differences. Both of the photos were contributed for publication by Lynne McGee Tutor, the Griffens’ great-granddaughter.


This photo of Santa peeking through a log cabin window is the property of April Griffen, and was painted in 1947 by Augusta Griffen. Contributed by Lynne McGee Tutor, the Griffens’ great-granddaughter.


Tom, a black man, lived further down (south) of Orchard Avenue, past the Griffen’s home and green houses, near where the Abrights lived. He would sell eggs along Orchard Ave and New London Gravel. Tom and the Griffen kids got to be friends, and sometimes Tom would take them fishing. Augusta (Nammie) Griffen painted this scene, with Tom and Joe. This painting is now owned by Joe and Kathryn Abright Griffen of Bettendorf, Iowa. Contributed by Lynne McGee Tutor.


Augusta Griffen sent this hand-made card to her mother, Henrietta McKee, in 1902. Contributed by Lynne McGee Tutor, the Griffens’ great-granddaughter.



This painting by Augusta Griffen is a prime example of “copyist” work. She copied a famed work by Norman Rockwell. This is owned by Dorothy Griffen Dexheimer. Contributed by Lynne McGee Tutor, the Griffens’ great-granddaughter.


This was the home of Walter and Augusta Griffen, 3102 Orchard Avenue. The Shortline Railroad ran just in front of the house at the retaining wall, according to Lynne McGee Tutor. Walter Griffen died in 1948 and Augusta Griffen died in 1958. (Note: In later years Randall and Helen Beedle occupied this house.) Contributed by Lynne McGee Tutor, the Griffens’ great-granddaughter.




Rodney Nunn contributed this image by Augusta Griffen of the Huck Finn Home in Hannibal, Missouri. Submitted by Lynne McGee Tutor, the Griffens’ great-granddaughter.

Walter and Augusta Griffen. Walter died in 1948, and Augusta died in 1958. Contributed by Lynne McGee Tutor, the Griffens’ great-granddaughter.



Augusta touches up a painting of "Jerry," one of Dr. Glenn Miller's prized bulls. In 1955 Dr. Glenn Miller of Hannibal was state president of the Missouri Shorthorn Breeders Association. Augusta Griffen, painted two portraits of Dr. Miller’s bull. One was for Dr. Miller, and the other for the state association. Dr. Miller operated Glenndale Farms on McMaster’s Avenue. He was Mrs. Griffen's physician. Contributed by Lynne McGee Tutor, the Griffens’ great-granddaughter.


Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on Amazon.com by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870,” and “Hannibal’s ‘West End,’” 47 stories of the Market Street Wedge and on west to Lindell Avenue. Montgomery can be reached at Montgomery.editor@yahoo.com Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com

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