CHURCH, HENRY JR. (20 May 1836-17 April 1908), a CHAGRIN FALLS VILLAGE blacksmith, achieved a posthumous reputation as an American primitive for his avocation of painting and sculpting. He learned the blacksmithing trade from his father, one of the founders of Chagrin Falls. The younger Church was born in Chagrin Falls and educated largely by his mother. He married Martha Prebble in 1859 and set up his own blacksmith shop in the village, setting aside the second floor as a studio where he experimented with painting and later sculpting. He was entirely self-taught, not even meeting another artist until the 1870s, when he traveled to Cleveland to watch ARCHIBALD WILLARD at work. In the 1880s Church began carving bas relief figures in Squaw Rock on the bank of the CHAGRIN RIVER. Variously interpreted as a memorial to the rape of the Indians or an allegorical depiction of the progress of U.S. civilization, the work is today part of the South Chagrin reservation of CLEVELAND METROPARKS. Church was unsuccessful in his efforts to support himself by his art, which included the operation of a museum at Geauga Lake Park in 1888. His painting, The Monkey Picture (c. 1895), was sold by his daughter for $12 in the 1930s before becoming part of the permanent collection of the Abbey Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center in Williamsburg, Va. Having previously carved his own tombstone, Church preached his own funeral sermon by means of a pre-recorded wax cylinder. He was survived by his daughter, Mrs. Jessie Sargent, and a son, Austin Church, co-founder of the Brewster & Church dept. store in Chagrin Falls.
Lipman, Jean and Armstrong, Tom (eds.). American Folk Painters of Three Centuries (1980).
Theis, Jana M. "Chagrin Falls' Henry Church," in Western Reserve, Vol. XI, No. 1 (1983).