Getting Baby’s Attention

Getting Baby’s Attention

In 1885, artist Thomas Jeff Nicholl was employed by the Youngstown, Ohio Vindicator newspaper as an illustrator when he made this drawing, although it may have been done as a family keepsake. Depicting the comical scene of a baby in a christening dress getting his (or her) photograph taken, five people and a dog do their level best to calm and cajole the child into a pose befitting the important occasion.

Through genealogical research, this website came across an intriguing possibility the drawing depicts the artist’s son sitting before the camera. William Brown Nicholl was born the same year this drawing was made, born March 15th, 1885 in Youngstown to the artist and his wife, the former Lillie Jane Brown. (1.)

Biography: T.J. Nicholl

The following undated typed biography of T.J. Nicholl was compiled by the artist’s granddaughter Jane Nicholl Roi (1913-2010) and taped to the frame verso of a 1912 watercolor painting by him titled “Peacock Vendor of Calcutta” registered for copyright that year. A photograph of this biography appeared as part of an online sales listing for the painting (since sold) conducted by Echoes Antiques & Auction Gallery, Inc. of Seaford, N.Y. on July 30, 2019.

Thomas J. Nicholl

T.J. Nicholl was born of Scottish parents in Dublin, Ireland, the 12th of thirteen children, on July 25, 1851. His father was an engineer who built the first railroad in Ireland. T.J. and his family came to Canada in 1854 when he was three years old. He was a stonecutter by trade but always wanted to be an artist. He and his father carved the coat-of-arms on the Parliament Building in Ottawa, Canada when he was thirteen years old. They later came to U.S. They settled in Youngstown, Ohio where he became an illustrator for the Youngstown Vindicator. He was one of the most colorful characters in Youngstown’s history. He married my grandmother and they had one son. They later moved Chicago where he became a cartoonist for the A.N. Kellogg Syndicate in that city where he turned out more than 85,000 sketches which appeared in the largest and smallest newspapers in the country.

He was multi-talented and was known for his paintings, drawings, sculpture, poetry, and sense of humor. His art work included charcoal, pen and ink, pastels, water color, and oils, though he had never had an art lesson in his life. Whenever he wrote a letter to friends the envelope and letter were dressed up with art work and much of the contents written in verse.

They came to Tacoma at retirement in 1924 to be near their son and his family. It was then he began painting mountains and Indians.

At Christmas time in 1974 the Tacoma News Tribune printed a full page of his Santa drawings, over 40 years after his death, and titled it “Happy Holiday from ol’ T.J.”

He died in Tacoma in December 1931 at the age of 80, one of the oldest living artists at the time.

-Jane Nicholl Roi

Commissions & Published Work

1884: Nicholl produces cartoons for two matching political posters: The Great National Fishing Match : “The Struggle” (Whose Is It?), and The Great National Fishing Match : “The Result” (It’s Mine!) published in 1885 by the Courier Lithographic Company of Buffalo, New York. The posters commemorated the struggle and eventual victory by U.S. Presidential candidate Grover Cleveland over opponent James G. Blaine in the 1884 American election.

1886: Artist for lithographic poster: The Monarchs of the Sphere : 1886 St. Louis Browns Champions. (Baseball)

Contributing illustrator to St. Nicholas magazine.

1897: Contributes 15 illustrations published full-page for the volume: Black Mammy: A Southern Romance. By William Lightfoot Visscher, H.J. Smith, Chicago.

1900: By the turn of the new century, Nicholl and his family had relocated to Chicago where he worked as an artist for the A.N. Kellogg Newspaper Company, the first independent newspaper syndicate in America supplying “readymade” (ie: syndicated) copy to 1957 newspapers nationwide. (Source: Elmo Scott Watson: A History of Newspaper Syndicates in the United States, 1865-1935. Chicago: 1936: p. 41.)  Ansel Nash Kellogg, 1832-1886 was considered the “Father of the Newspaper Syndicate”. 

1910: U.S. Census indicates Nicholl still living and working as an artist in Chicago.

1918: Tom J. Nicholl contributes seven illustrations published full-page for the volume: Saturday Night Sketches: Stories of Old Wiregrass Georgia. By J.L. Herring: Boston: The Gorham Press.

1919: Nicholl has five poems and an illustration published in the small volume: Second Suds Sayings: A Collection of Stories, Sketches and Articles Regarding the Laundry by Well Known Writers. Chicago: National Laundry Journal, Dowst Bros. Company.

1920: U.S. Census indicates Nicholl still living in Chicago but now in Oak Park at 220 Lombard Ave. working as an artist at home.

Drawing details: recto: signed at lower right corner in graphite: T.J. Nicholl  1885

Provenance: Acquired by PhotoSeed in December, 2019 from dealer in Tacoma, WA state.

1. William Brown Nicholl: 1885-1959

Getting Baby’s Attention

Image DimensionsTitle of work supplied by this archive

Support Dimensions36.6 x 49.8 cm Charcoal with white & colored chalk heightening on paper