Manchester, New Hampshire’s Distinguished Artist, Instructor, Director, Civic Leader: Maud Briggs Knowlton (1870-1956)

Maud (Briggs) Knowlton, artist, first director of the Currier Art Gallery of Manchester NH, instructor at the Institute of Arts and Sciences.

Photograph of Maud Briggs Knowlton, taken in 1930. Credit: Teti Library , Institute Archives, New Hampshire Institute of Art

Although I credit Maud Briggs Knowlton to Manchester, New Hampshire where she lived and worked for most of her life, I should mention that she was not a native of this city. She was born in Penacook, which was then and is still today, a village and tight-knit community within the city of Concord NH. Maud’s mother, Louise (Morgan) Briggs was from Penacook, so they had family ties there.

The following biography is gleaned from a variety of sources, listed later in this story. Maud Briggs Knowlton was a remarkable woman, and I hope this story draws attention not only to her amazing talent, but also to her role in guiding Manchester’s early art and cultural organizations.

Maud Ashley Briggs, daughter of Henry C. & Louise M. (Morgan) Briggs, was born 17 March 1870 in the village of Penacook, in Concord, Merrimack County, New Hampshire. She was one of two children born to her parents, the youngest, and an only daughter.

The 1870 census shows Maud, at 3 months old, living with her parents in Concord’s Ward I.  Her father, Henry C. Briggs, was a foundryman by occupation. By 1880 her family had moved to Manchester.  Henry C. Briggs must have been a talented iron worker, because by 1900 he was foreman of Manchester’s famed locomotive works.

Photograph of an 1888 Class of Central High School graduate. Probable photo of Maud Ashley Briggs.

Photograph of an 1888 Class of Central High School graduate. Probably of Maud Ashley Briggs, mentioned in this article.

Maud was educated in the Manchester (NH) public schools, including graduating from Manchester’s Central High School, being listed in the class of 1888. This was followed by private instruction in art in Boston, New York, and Holland [per “American Women, 1939-40”]. The American Art Directory of 1910 states that: “she was a pupil of Rhoda Holmes Nicholls in New York, and that she studied in Holland and Paris. It adds that she was a member of the Copley Society in 1900, and Boston S.A. Crafts [now the Society of Arts and Crafts.] Her art specialty was in flowers and landscapes.”

Maud A. Briggs was married 21 June 1893 in Manchester NH to Edward T. Knowlton, son and 4th child of Joseph H. & Clara V. (Butler) Knowlton. He was born 31 July 1860 in Manchester NH. At the time of their marriage, his occupation was “Paymaster.”

The Boston Daily Globe of Wednesday, June 21, 1893 reported the following wedding notice:  Knowlton-Briggs. MANCHESTER, N.H. June 20–This evening at 7 o’clock the marriage of Edward T. Knowlton and Miss Maud A. Briggs took place at the residence of the bride’s parents, 58 Myrtle Street. The ceremony was performed by Rev. W. Ramsey of the Unitarian Church,. Morton J. Fitch, a cousin of the bride, was best man, and Miss Mary F. Chandler was bridesmaid. After the ceremony a wedding lunch was served and a short reception held, after which Mr. and Mrs. Knowlton took the 5.37 train for Montreal. On their return they will reside at 58 Myrtle st., and will receive friends.

Older photograph of the Institute of Arts and Sciences in Manchester NH

Older photograph of the Institute of Arts and Sciences in Manchester NH

Maude Briggs Knowlton was an instructor at the Manchester Institute of Arts and Sciences [now called the New Hampshire Institute of Art], and also later a director of its fine arts department for several years.

In February of 1922, while she was affiliated with the Manchester (NH) Institute of Arts and Sciences, she wrote to the American Magazine of Art the following letter: “The exhibition of Western Painters was a splendid success at the institute, the galleries in which the pictures were shown having people coming and going all the time, and one encouraging feature was that people came two or three times to see the works. Our city librarian very thoughtfully had her assistants place all reading matter concerning the different artists exhibiting, in one of the study rooms at the library, and she informed me that it was astonishing to see the interest manifested by people from the different walks of life who sought to better inform themselves regarding the lives of the Western Painters. — Maud Briggs Knowlton.”

In 1930 she established the Institute’s educational program. That same year she wrote an article about the Currier Gallery of Art that was published in the American Magazine of Art. In December 1933 Maud served on the Advisory Committee for New England Public Works of Art Project. On March 19, 1936 (per the American Magazine of Art) Maud presented a broadcast over radio Station WAAB, sponsored by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, on Arts and Crafts of New Hampshire.

According to a 2002 New Hampshire Union Leader article written by Aurore Eaton, “in 1926 two local women were sent on a mission. Maud Briggs Knowlton and Penelope “Nellie” W. Snow” to assess artwork throughout the United States for future acquisition by the Currier Gallery. Opened in 1929, Maud was named first director of The Currier Gallery of Art [now called the Currier Museum of Art], serving until 1946, and being one of the first women museum administrators in the United States. In 1939 she established a studio program called “The Children’s Annex,” located inside the Kennard House (a building just north of the Currier).

Older postcard showing entrance to Currier Gallery of Art.

Older postcard showing entrance to Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire. In 2014 the Currier celebrated its 75th anniversary.

Nancy Bea Miller wrote an interesting biography of Maud on her blog, “Women In the Act of Painting,” that is well worth reading, rather than my quoting her here. She also supplies a wonderful picture of Eric Hudson’s painting “Maud Knowlton and Alice Swett Sketching,” from the Monhegan Museum Collection.

The Manchester Historic Association Collections, Volume 4, page 124 states: “Mrs. Knowlton has made a specialty of flowers in water colors, and among the treasures she has at her studio are beautiful paintings of old-fashioned flower gardens, where asters, marigolds and stately hollyhocks reigned supreme before the coming of the later-day queens, if more graceful yet lacking their hardy beauty. She is also skilled in figure drawing and landscapes, having many fine specimens of these. Mrs. Knowlton has also done considerable in miniatures on ivory for people in and out of the state. Specimens of her work have been exhibited in the New York Water Color Club and at other places of exhibition of art.”

Maude Briggs Knowlton and her friend, Alice A. Swett, were the two women artist members of the famous Monhegan Island artist’s colony in Maine. A book written about Randolph County and Monhegan Island states: “Knowlton studied with S.P.R. Triscott. Arriving in the late 1880’s she eventually bought land and built a cottage in 1921 near Triscott’s house.” [I have not found mention of Triscott in any of Maud’s official biographies]. On August 4, 1929 Maud Knowlton showed an exhibit of her own paintings at the Nashua Public Library. Her main subject was Monhegan Island.

Maud’s other civic interests included membership and support of the Manchester NH Red Cross, the Y.W.C.A., the Y.M.C.A., and the Unitarian Women’s Alliance. Her stated that her favorite recreation or sport was painting and craft work (not a big surprise here). In 1948 the Manchester City (NH) Annual Report shows that Maud had been appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the board of Aldermen to the Art Commission, for a term of three years, chairman in that same year, her term to expire October 2, 1951. Other members of the commission were John W. Noga and Francoise Trudel Bourcier.

Holly and Mistletoe, Maude Briggs-Knowlton, Supplement December 1900, Printed in two colors, black and green. Size 10-1/2 x 8-1/2. Price, with treatment, 10 cents. With Magazine, 35 cents.

A sample of Holly and Mistletoe, Maude Briggs-Knowlton, Supplement December 1900, Printed in two colors, black and green. Size 10-1/2 x 8-1/2. Price, with treatment, 10 cents. With Magazine, 35 cents. The Keramic Studio Publication

Some of her students (at the Institute) went on to become prominent artists including Omer Lassonde, and Henrik Martin Mayer.  Her artwork can be found in many places, both in private collections and in art galleries.  Several beautiful examples can be found in the Currier Collections Online.  “One good canvas is worth a whole gallery of undistinguished paintings” is a quote attributed to Maud Briggs Knowlton, and reflected her philosophy on art acquisition for the (then) Currier Gallery of Art.

According to a Nashua Telegraph newspaper article, Maud Briggs Knowlton died 15 July 1956 at a hospital in Portland Maine.  The article mentions that she was [in addition to several accomplishments already listed here] a former trustee of the Elliot hospital and and a trustee of the Currier Gallery of Art. A funeral for her was held in Manchester, NH.

Emma Fish, nee Ryan, maid in 1910 to Maud Briggs Knowlton. Great-aunt of the author.

Emma Fish, nee Ryan, maid in 1910 to Maud Briggs Knowlton. Great-aunt of the author.

As many of my regular readers know, usually I indicate that I am a cousin or somehow related to the subjects of my articles.  In this case, I discovered a slightly different  connection to Maud.  In 1910 Edward T. and Maude Briggs Knowlton were living in Manchester, NH and had a maid, a young widow by the name of Emma Fish.  Emma was my great-aunt, and like her siblings made her living working as a servant in the homes of Manchester’s wealthy residents.

MAIN SOURCES of Biography:
1. American women; the standard biographical dictionary of notable women, by Durward Howes, 1939-40 page 495
2. American Art Directory, 1910, Vol. 7 ed by FLorence N. Levy
3. Collections, volume 4, by Manchester Historic Association, Manchester, NH, 1908, page 124.
4. Various newspaper clippings
5. American Magazine of Art, various volumes.
6. My deepest gratitude is extended to Betsy Holmes, Director of the Teti Library and Special Collections, New Hampshire Institute of Art, for researching and locating the amazing photograph of Maud Briggs Knowlton that was taken in 1930.


Children of William & Mary Briggs of England
1. +James Briggs, b. abt.  1802 England
2. +John Briggs, b 20 May 1804 England

 James Briggs, son of William & Mary Briggs, b. abt 1802 England , d 19 Jan 1885 in Wheeling, West Virginia; He m. Nancy —. She b abt 1805-7 England, d. 28 Dec 1875 in Wheeling, West Virginia. He, with his brother John bought land in Holderness (now Ashland) NH and manufactured cotton. James removed to Brooke Co. West Virginia before 1870 where he was involved with mills and mines. They are both buried in Brooke Cemetery, Wellsburg, WV.
The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, Wheeling WV, 19 Jan 1885, Monday page 4.
Mr. James Briggs, of this place, was taken suddenly ill on Saturday about noon and died at 6 pm. He had been enjoying his usual good health and was upon the streets between 11 and 12 am. He was a native of England and was in his 83rd year.
1850 US Census > NH > Grafton Co. > Holderness
James Briggs M 48 England
Nancy Briggs F 43 England
Ann A. Briggs F 22 MA
William Briggs M 21 NH
Eliza Briggs F 18 NH
Adelade M. Briggs F 16 NH
Caroline A. Briggs F 13 NH
John Briggs M 12 NH
Clarra E. Briggs F 10 NH
Frances M. Briggs F 7 NH
Allice N. Briggs F 5 NH
Helen P. Briggs F 2 NH
John Andrews M 31 England
John Andrews M 24 England
1870 US Census > West Virginia > Brooke Co. > Buffalo Twp.
James Briggs M 68 England works in woolen mill
Nancy Briggs F 63 England
Wm Briggs M 40 MA woolen mfg 2000/3000
Adalina Briggs F 33 MA
Alice Briggs F 25 NH Teacher
John Briggs M 28 NH Woolen Mfg 2000/2500
Helen Briggs F 19 NH milliner
US Dept of Interior, National Park Service
Re: Nicholls Resident and Mill, Wellsburg, WV
“William Briggs was awarded the property in 1864 following a lawsuit. He had been residing in the house and was probably operating the mill in the interim. The mill was then known as Briggs and Brothers for 20 years until 1884. Following Brigg’s death the property was sold to William T. Nicholls in 1887
Mr. William Briggs, proprietor of the Buffalo Woolen Mills, at Wellsburg West
WELLSBURGH WV, 1882-83 WV Gazeteer
Briggs Miss A M, millinery goods.
Briggs Wm, manager woolen mills.
Briggs Wm J, marble works.
Children of James & Nancy (–) Briggs:
1. Ann A. “Annie” Briggs, b. abt 1828 MA, died April 1878, West Virginia [per newspaper, the Wheeling Daily Intelligence of 24 April 1878, page 3].
2. William Briggs, b. abt 1829 NH; d. 13 January 1898; m. Margaret –. Merchant.
3. Eliza Jane Briggs, b abt 1832 NH; married 9 Aug 1860 in West Virginia to George K. Bartholomew.
4. Adelade M. Briggs, b. abt 1834 NH
5. Caroline A. Briggs b abt 1837 NH; m. as his 2nd wife (he was a widower) 1 Aug 1860 in Brooke County VA to Thomas L. Colburne, son of James & Zepporah Colburne. he b abt 1837 in Summerset Co. MA
6. John A. Briggs, b. abt 1838-40 NH, d. 7 Dec 1889 in Wellsburg, Brooke Co. WV, age 49 of consumption, Insurance Agent; m. Tersa L. –.
7. Clara E. Briggs b abt 1840 NH; she married 20 June 1867 in WV to Henry Haney.
8. Frances M. Briggs, b. abt 1843 NH
9. Alice N. Briggs, b. abt 1845 NH; married 17 Sep 1872 in Brooke Co. WV to Evander Morley.
10. Helen P. Briggs, b. abt 1848 NH

John Briggs, son of William & Mary Briggs, b. 20 May 1804 Ripenden, England, d. 13 Feb 1848 Ashland NH; m. Nancy Frankland, daughter of James & U. (U.)  Franklin/Frankland. She b. 15 April 1806 Whately England and d. 18 Dec 1883 in Ashland, Grafton Co NH. He was a manufacturer. He and his wife, son James and daughter Martha are all buried in Green Grove Cemetery, Ashland NH.  The history of Hillsborough County NH by George Waldo Browne, page 86 states: “factory operatives, John Briggs, wife Nancy and eldest son James, emigrated to America in 1829 and resided at Andover, Saugus, and Amesbury, MA until 1836 when John bought a small woolen factory at Holderness (now Ashland) NH. He he manufactured woolen cloth. Eldest son James worked in this factory from age 9 to 14.
Children of John & Nancy (Frankland) Briggs:
1. James Frankland Briggs, b. 23 Oct 1827 at Bury, Lancaster Co. England, d. 21 Jan 1905 in Manchester NH. He went to the academy at Newbury VT and later a school in Tilton NH. In 1848 he began the study of law in the office of William O. Thompson of Plymouth NH. His father died about this time and James stopped to help the family, finishing his law course. He then entered the office of Hon. Joseph Burrows of Holderness NH [see his bio]; He m. Roxanna S. Smith. Had son Frank O. Briggs, U.S. Senator.  [grave]
2. Sarah Ann Briggs, b. –; m. 14 June 1848 to George Sullivan Dearborn DD., Methodist ministers, son of Jonathan & Amanda Foster (Smith) Dearborn. He was b. 31 Oct 1822, d. 25 Sep 1903 in Topeka KS [bio here ]
3. +Henry C. “Harry” Briggs, b. 15 Aug 1842 in Holderness NH
4. Roxie Briggs, b. 1845 Ashland NH; d. 28 Sep 1888 in Manchester NH. She m. James Fitch. Her son Morton Julius Fitch was best man at his cousin, Maud Brigg’s wedding.
5. Martha C. Briggs, b. 21 March 1848, d. 17 Aug 1849 Locomotive works watermarked

Henry C. “Harry” Briggs, son of John & Nancy (Frankland) Briggs, b. 15 Aug 1842 in Holderness NH, d. 26 April 1907 in Manchester NH; he married 29 Oct 1865 in Concord NH to Louisa W. Morgan, daughter of Jesse & Mary (Seavey) Morgan. She b. 15 November 1839 in Penacook/Concord NH, and d. 25 October 1923 in Manchester NH. They resided in Penacook NH until about 1870 when they moved to Manchester NH. Harry was a machinist, carpenter and later foreman of the locomotive works. In Manchester they resided at 101 Orange Street, and 528 Chestnut Street. After her husbands death she lived at 1092 Union Street with her daughter Maud. Henry C. and his wife Louisa are buried at Pine Grove Cemetery.
1870 US Census > NH > Merrimack > Concord > Ward 1 > [Fisherville Post Office]
Henry C. Briggs M 28 NH machinist
Louisa N. Briggs F 29 NH wife
John H. Briggs M 2 NH son
Maud Briggs F 0 NH daughter 3/12
1880 US Census > NH > Hillsborough > Manchester > 101 Orange Street (2 family)
Henry C. Briggs Self M 38 NH England England carpenter
Louisa M. Briggs wife F 38 NH NH NH
Harry J. Briggs son M 12 NH NH NH at school
Maud A Briggs dau F 10 NH NH NH at school
1900 US Census > NH > Hillsborough > Manchester > 528 Chestnut Street (2 family)
Briggs Henry C. Head W M Aug 1842 57 married at age 34 NH England England, foreman, loco works
Briggs, Louisa M wife W F Nov 1842 57 married at age 34 2 ch 2 living NH NH NH
Briggs, Harry J. son W M Jan 1868 32 single NH NH NH civil engineer
1920 US Census > NH > Hillsborough Co. > Manchester > 161 Ray Street
Briggs Harry J. Head M W 52 married NH NH NH Civil Engineer, City Dept.
Briggs, Jeane wife F W 54 M imm 1869 naturalized b Scotland Scotland Scotland
Briggs, Louisa mother F W77 widow NH NH NH
Children of Henry C. & Louise M. (Morgan) Briggs:
1. Harry James “John H.” Briggs, b. 14 Jan 1868 Manchester NH, died 26 July 1953 in Manchester NH, aged 85; he married 22 Oct 1902 in Manchester NH to Jean R. McQuarrie, dau of Robert & Margaret (Wallace) McQuarrie. He is buried in Pine Grove Cemetery, Manchester NH
2. +Maud Ashley Briggs, b 17 March 1870 Penacook NH

Maud Ashley Briggs, daughter of Henry C. & Louise M. (Morgan) Briggs, b. 17 March 1870 Penacook [Concord] NH, died 15 July 1956 in Portland Maine; m. 21 June 1893 in Manchester NH by a Unitarian minister to Edward T. Knowlton, son and 4th child of Joseph H. & Clara V. (Butler) Knowlton. He was b. 31 July 1860 in Manchester NH. His occupation: Asst. Paymaster. She attended the Unitarian Church, and was a Republican. [He died after 1942] [Editor’s Note: Maud’s middle name taken from her 1888 Central High School graduation listing]. This story is about her, see photographs and biography at the top of this page.
1900 US Census > NH > Hillsborough Co. > Manchester > 639 Chestnut (2 family)
Knowlton, Edward Head M July 1860 39 married 7 yrs NH NH NH asst paymaster
Knowlton, Maud Briggs wife W F March 1870 30 married 7 yrs 0 ch 0 living NH NH NH artist
Abrahamson Emily M servant W F Oct 1859 42 widow 2 ch 2 living Sweden Sweden Sweden imm 1881 19 yrs servant
Abrhamson Ellen M dau WF Sep 1880 19 single Sw Sw Sw imm 1881 stenographer
1910 US Census > NH > Hillsborough > Manchester > 1046 Union Street
Knowlton Edward Head M W 49 m1x 17 yrs NH NH NH Asst Supt Elliot Slip Mill
Knowlton Maud B wife F W 40 M 17 yrs NH 0 ch 0 living NH NH NH no occupation
Fish, Emma servant M F 25 widow 0 Ch 0 liv b. Canada VT VT imm 1902
1920 US Census > NH > Hillsborough Co. > Manchester > 1092 Union Street
Knowlton, Edgar T Head M 59 Married NH NH NH Clerk Woolen Mill
Knowlton, Maude wife W F 49 married NH NH NH Instructor Institute of Arts
1920 US Census > NH > Hillsborough Co. > Manchester > 1092 Union Street
Knowlton, Edward Head M W 79 M H1 NH same place retired
Knowlton, Maud B. wife F W 70 H4 married NH
1928 Manchester City Directory
-Justices of the Peace-
Knowlton, Edward T. 1092 Union Street
1946 Manchester City Directory
Knowlton, Edw T. (Maud Briggs) removed to Dunbarton
No children

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6 Responses to Manchester, New Hampshire’s Distinguished Artist, Instructor, Director, Civic Leader: Maud Briggs Knowlton (1870-1956)

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  3. James Denison says:

    Hi Janice – I am looking for a photo of Maude Briggs Knowlton in her younger days for an exhibition catalogue in which she is discussed – can you tell me where you found the possible photo of her from 1888, and also what led you to identify the subject of the photo as Maud Briggs? If you know of any other images of her as a young person I might also be interested in those – any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated!


    James Denison
    Philadelphia Museum of Art

  4. Sheila Bruce says:

    Hi Janice I came upon your site while researching my Frankland/Briggs lines. I realized I mistakenly have perhaps combined families in my mind and on paper. On your blog I see a James Briggs married to a Nancy Franklin and a John Briggs married to a Nancy Frankland (my ancestors). According to what I saw here both Nancys died the same year. The 1850 Census shows Nancy alone with several younger Briggs’s. I assumed they were all hers, but maybe it’s a combined family? What do you think? Are James and John brothers? Thanks for posting all of this, some of which I had already but definitely much new info to enjoy!!

    • Janice Brown says:

      Sheila, I’ve corrected my post. James and John are brothers yes. As for their wives, they were both named Nancy but I can corroborate only that John’s wife’s maiden name was Franklin or Frankland. The other Nancy’s name remains a mystery for now.

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