Haven History: John Sloan: The born-again artist of Lock Haven

By Lou Bernard

November 8, 2012

You wouldn’t notice 206 N Grove Street ordinarily. It’s a small building, but it was the home of John Sloan.

John Sloan was born in that house on August 2, 1871. Sloan didn’t live there very long because his father, then a carpenter and cabinet maker, rarely had a steady job. Later in life, John Sloan wrote in his memoirs that his father was an inventor and just didn’t know it. Finally in 1876, his dad packed the family up and moved to Philadelphia. Sloan went to work doing design for the Philadelphia Enquirer, and made a name for himself drawing political cartoons.

Sloan returned to Lock Haven as an adult. In 1940, as a speaker at the University, he and his first wife Dolly came to visit, stayed at the Fallon Hotel, and were guided by Express editor Rebecca Gross.

While Dolly took a nap, Sloan decided to explore. So Rebecca took Sloan to the house where he’d been born.

Sloan didn’t like it.

The house was too respectable. Sloan had wanted to be a rags-to-riches story; he’d have preferred a birthplace that looked like it had been beaten up.

So he searched and found a house on West Church St. It was awful and no landlord would consider renting it out, but Sloan loved it.

He told Rebecca to show that house to Dolly as his birthplace.

John Sloan turned out to be one of the few people who attempted to choose his birthplace.

Sloan was living in New Hampshire when he died in 1951, but his second wife, Helen, returned to Lock Haven to scatter his first wife, Dolly, and his ashes over the Sloan family plot  on top of the hill.

Think there’s nothing special about Lock Haven? Guess again. It’s the only city in the world where you can study a famous artist, and see two birthplaces and a final resting place in one easy drive.

Lou Bernard is the Adult Services Coordinator at Ross Library.


One thought on “Haven History: John Sloan: The born-again artist of Lock Haven

  1. Ken Ratner says:

    I visited Lock Haven several years ago, and was thrilled to see Sloan’s birthplace and to explore the city where he spent his early years. Later, I went to the Ross library, where in addition to seeing fascinating memorabilia, there were original works of art on display by
    the artist.

    Before returning home, I visited the Sloan grave site where Helen, a close friend for many years, had scattered her husband’s and Dolly’s ashes. It was truly a moving and memorable trip that still resonates in my mind.

    I applaud the Metropolitan Museum of Art for hosting a retrospective on George Bellows, but isn’t it high time that the Met also honor John Sloan with a retrospective that he so richly deserves?

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