The First Generation

Emily Sibley Watson (1855-1945)


James Sibley Watson (1860-1951)

Emily and James Sibley Watson acquired their collections from Fifth Avenue galleries, international exhibitions, far-flung travels that ranged from Labrador to Morocco, and Rochester artists' studios. Thanks to their generosity, hundreds of works of art entered MAG's permanent collection between 1913 and 1951, the year that James Sibley Watson died. Their collecting focus was broad and spanned ancient to modern, American to Asian .

As a ten-year-old, she traveled with her parents to Europe and while her father, Hiram Sibley, furthered the business interests of Western Union, Emily and her governess toured Paris. Even at that young age, her letters indicate a strong interest in art and architecture that she would later share with both of her husbands, her children, and ultimately her community.

The end of her ill-fated first marriage left Mrs. Watson (then Mrs. Averell) alone to raise two young children. Her daughter, Louise, died of diphtheria in 1886 at the age of 9. In 1904, her son, James G. Averell, died of typhoid at the age of twenty-six. A Harvard-educated architect, he loved "life, beauty, and honor," a phrase carved on the base of Memory, on view on MAG's second floor. Mrs. Watson donated the funds to build the Memorial Art Gallery to commemorate this beloved son. 

From their gracious home at 11 Prince Street, the Watsons generously supported the Rochester community. In addition to MAG, Genesee Hospital, and Hochstein School of Music and Dance, many other institutions and individuals benefited and flourished thanks to this remarkable family.