Friday, April 3, 2020

Sully Artist/Architect Lived in Covington

The Sully family has produced some excellent artists. While Gilbert Stuart is credited for painting several well-known portraits of the Father of Our  Country, George Washington, when duplicate copies of his work were requested he called upon his friend and fellow artist Thomas Sully  to help him make copies of the more popular ones so they could be placed in public buildings throughout the young nation.

American portrait artist Thomas Sully, uncle of George Washington Sully

The name Sully thus became well-known as an important artist. His nephew and his nephew's son later became recognized artists and architects in their own right, and they both lived in Covington for years.

Since the Sully family name was now associated with paintings of George Washington, Thomas Sully's brother Chester decided to name his son after the famous American president. George Washington Sully, the son of Chester and Ann Hendree Sully, was born in Virginia in 1816, and the family moved to the West Florida territory shortly thereafter.The young G.W. Sully slowly developed his artistic skills, following in the footsteps of his famous uncle Thomas.

G. W. Sully became known for his artwork depicting local Native American tribesmen in West Florida. He eventually moved to New Orleans and became a cotton broker, all the while keeping up his painting efforts on the side. The Louisiana Sully created a variety of landscapes and pictures of sailing vessels. 

A George Washington Sully painting

 In 1862, G.W. Sully moved his family to Covington and he continued painting local buildings, landscapes and waterscapes.  According to Todd Valois, a parish historian in the 1990's, "In his younger days in West Florida, G.W. Sully painted many water scenes showing boats and rivers in the area. He had a keen eye for landscapes; his work still is regarded as some of the best amateur work of the time."

"The University of West Florida at Pensacola has many of his works on permanent display, as does the Tulane University architectural archives in New Orleans, which were donated after he moved to the city."

According to Valois, G.W. Sully married Harriet Green, and they had a son
on Nov. 24, 1855, and they named him Thomas in honor of his famous uncle. The family moved to Covington because "the cotton market had collapsed, so Sully spent much of his time painting the scenes of the Bogue Falaya and Tchefuncte Rivers," Valois stated.

Their young son Thomas would grow up in Covington and become a widely-recognized and respected architect in New Orleans and elsewhere.

"The Sullys built a home on the corner of Rutland and New Hampshire Streets in Covington," Valois commented, adding that the four lots were the site of a brick house, carriage house, stables and garden, all of which were rendered through Sully's artistic talent. The property has, over the years, become known as the Galatas home.

While G. W. Sully and his wife both died in Covington on July 23, 1890, due to unstated illness, his memory lives on through his many works of art which can be found in collections throughout the nation.

View of the Steam Paper Mill in rear of the Lower Cotton Press, New Orleans, by George Washington Sully

According to the University of Miami Library, "His surviving work consists primarily of sketches made as a young man living in a variety of towns on the west coast of Florida.  It is not known whether Sully took lessons in art from his more famous uncle, Thomas Sully, or if he had any formal education at all. From his surviving work, we know Sully visited Bermuda in 1829, and from then until 1833, he lived in the Panhandle region of northwest Florida."

Here are two samples of his landscapes:

His Son, The Renowned Architect

The son born to George Washington Sully was named Thomas in honor of his well-known great uncle. Thomas Sully was around seven years old when he and his parents moved to Covington. 

He went on to become a renowned Southern architect as well as a respected Captain and sailor. A Southern Yacht Club sailing competition was named the Sully Cup in his honor. In 1877 he served on the Covington town council.

According to Valois, "The son's architectural firm was called Sully, Burton and Stone Co., and it designed a number of well-known structures such as the third St. Tammany Parish courthouse in 1896 (see below) and the Abita Springs pavilion in 1887" (which has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.)

The famous Abita Springs Pavilion has been standing as the premier architectural landmark of Abita Springs since the late 1800s. According to former town mayor Bryan Gowland, it has been the centerpiece for thousands of events, and the 60-foot diameter floor is open, without any supporting posts needed to hold up the ceiling.

Thomas Sully's pavilion could tell more about Abita's history than has been compiled in all of the books, newspaper articles, and photos regarding the building and what has happened there, Gowland said in 2008. "Many old-timers reminisce about dances that were held there on a regular basis. The pavilion has hosted art showings, birthday parties and PTA functions, just to name a few. Some folks use it to get a bird's-eye view of the activities and musical performances at the several festivals taking place at the trailhead. It also is a nice place to just go and look at the surrounding scenery."

Click on the images to make them larger.  

Largely a self-trained architect based in New Orleans, Louisiana, Thomas designed many large residences on Upper St. Charles Avenue, such as the Picard House, and public buildings in New Orleans and in other cities as well. 

Architect Thomas Sully

After he studied architecture in the office of Lahnour and Wheelock in Austin, Texas, and with the firm of H.R. Marshall and J. Morgan Slade in New York City, he opened his New Orleans office in 1881 at the age of 26. He married the former Mary Eugenia Rocchi in 1884, and the couple had one daughter.

Among his designs were the Hennen Maritime Building, the original Whitney Building, Milliken Memorial Hospital, and the St. Charles Hotel, all in New Orleans; the Vicksburg Hotel in Vicksburg, Mississippi; the Shreveport (Caddo Parish) Charity Hospital (formerly called "Confederate Memorial Medical Center" and currently known as the "LSU Medical Center"), and the Caffery Sugar Mill near Franklin in St. Mary Parish. 

Thomas Sully designed this building in 1893

Thomas Sully was also a "captain" and designer of sailing vessels. Two articles from 1890 indicated his growing reputation for boat architecture. Interesting, since his father was well-known for his paintings of sailing ships.  

 Thomas Sully, the architect, was a member of the Boston Club, the Elks, and the Southern Yacht Club. He died on March 14, 1939. 


 Thomas Sully's St. Charles Hotel was torn down in 1973.

Here are a number of other articles from the St. Tammany Farmer telling the contributions and activities of G.W. Sully and his son Thomas, the architect. 

Thomas Sully, at right, fishing on his boat, the Helen. 

Other buildings designed by Architect Thomas Sully

See also: