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Gardiner Cameron CRISWELL

Painter / Art Educator

Born: 30 May 1900, Hellam Township, Pennsylvania USA

DIed: 11 April 1969, Columbia, Pennsylvania USA

Gardiner Cameron Criswell may have been a quiet, reserved, and respected gentleman within his circle of friends and associates, but he certainly got around and made himself known. Pick up a regional newspaper during his active years in and around Columbia and it would have been likely there'd be a blurb about him and his activities. Columbia, Lancaster, and York papers. Many knew him as an art teacher at Lancaster's McCaskey High School. But, he affected far more change than that grand position suggests. 

In 1932, he organized artists to found The Lancaster Sketch Club. Another founding member was Alice Malone, another profiled creator on this site. Two years later, he offered art instruction to those in need under the FERA program (Roosevelt's Federal Emergency Relief Administration. It was later replaced by the Works Progress Administration).  Seven years later, he was president of the newly formed Lancaster County Art Association. He even crossed the river (via a bridge, I hope) to judge some competitions for the York Art Club. Yeah, this guy got around.



Mr. Criswell attended Columbia public schools and was a graduate of the Edinboro State Teachers College, Later, Gardiner studied painting at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia (now, the Philadelphia Museum of Art). He tutored under the likes of Gertrude Schell, Mabel Hall, H. Pullinger, John Dull, and Ralph McClelland. He majored in illustration but his love was landscapes, "particularly landscapes with buildings that are dramatic in their individuality. Buildings that suggest the life stories of the people they shelter." He attended New York University and even studied at the Sorbonne, Paris. 

During his student years, he found time to work on a Standard Oil tanker which took him to tropical waters. He also traveled from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico... walking most of the way. Upon his return, he concluded that "America, rather than Europe, will be the Art Center of the future." He admired the work of Winslow Homer, Albert Pinkham Ryder, and Charles Demuth. In fact, during a landmark exhibit at the Ivy Club in Lancaster, both Demuth and he exhibited (but, Charles renamed himself 'Gustav Demuth' for that event).

Founding art groups wasn't enough. He also dabbled in theatre production, working on promotions and even staging for McCaskey High School (he once fabricated two alligators as props for the play, "The Happiest Millionaire"). He designed the sets for the production of "A Noise of Archers," a play written by his brother, Carl S. Criswell, a published poet, then, living in Philadelphia.

In 1960, Gardiner was commissioned to design a plaque and plate to commemorate the American Civil War Centennial used nationwide. 

Gardiner Criswell was fondly remembered, too, for his yearly original Christmas cards. These pen-and-ink sketches depicted old landmarks of the area that time and progress erased. Columbians considered his cards part of Christmas, a source of nostalgic memories to be shared around the holiday dinner table. 

Gardiner was once asked what he would consider to be the ideal painting studio. Without pause, he replied, "One of Lancaster County's charming old stone houses." Nice to hear that he was born in the right place and loved being there.

Effie Detwiler, daughter of banker, Soloman Detwiler

by Gardiner Criswell

Reclaiming Wood from Burning Bridge / Gardiner Crisell

Old Columbia House / Gardiner Criswell


Lancaster New Era newspapers: 1932, 1934, 1941, 1949, 1958 & 1963.

Intelligencer newspapers: 1934 & 1960.

York Gazette newspaper, 1955.

Painting of "Effie Detwiler" courtesy of the First National Bank Museum, Columbia, PA.

Painting of "Old Columbia House" courtesy of Rich and Charlene Bair, Columbia, PA.

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