James Sibley Watson, Jr. (1894-1982)
Hildegarde Lasell Watson (1888-1976)
James Sibley Watson, Jr. and his wife Hildegarde Lasell Watson were born to families that esteemed the arts. They were also well-matched in the creative talents they brought to their marriage. Sibley, as he was called, was a photographer, filmmaker, writer, and publisher of the forward-thinking art and literary magazine The Dial in addition to being a radiologist at Strong Memorial Hospital. Hildegarde, from a cosmopolitan family in Massachusetts, was a singer, an artist and a writer as well as a staunch advocate for the arts in the community. Their significant role in the international world of arts and letters, their keen appreciation of contemporary art, and their connections to The Dial resulted in a choice collection of painting, drawing, prints and sculpture.
While the senior Watsons' taste was traditional, with forays into the "art of the new," their son and his wife were interested nearly exclusively in the experimental and the unconventional. At Harvard in the 'teens, Sibley found friends who shared his interests: Edward Nagel, the stepson of sculptor Gaston Lachaise; the poet and painter E.E. Cummings; and Scofield Thayer, with whom Watson purchased and published The Dial. When they took on publishing The Dial in 1919, it became, in the words of poet William Carlos Williams, an outlet for "the heat in us, a core and a drive that was gathering headway upon the theme of rediscovery of ... the elementary principle of all art." The Dial published the work of modernists Picasso, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, and Brancusi, among others. T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land had its American debut in The Dial in 1922. A number of these luminaries visited Rochester and stayed with the Watsons at their home at 6 Sibley Place.
By 1928, the focus of Watson's prodigious intelligence had shifted from publishing to film; he is perhaps best known for the silent films The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) and Lot in Sodom (1933), both starring Hildegarde Watson. The two films were produced around the corner on Prince Street, in the barn behind MAG founder Emily Sibley Watson's home.