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Every essay and article written about Samuel Chamberlain tells of a man whose love for life, beauty and capacity for hard work were enormous. His work as a printmaker, artist, photographer, and writer prove that Chamberlain was indeed an unusual creative figure of the first part of the twentieth century. Beyond his productive work, there was a warm and generous man able to spot beauty in almost any circumstance, including World War I and II.
Samuel Chamberlain was born in 1895 in Iowa but grew up in Washington State. He studied architecture at the MIT in Boston until World War I destabilized the world. He, as many of his compatriots, sailed for France to join the volunteer ambulance corps, the American Field Service. Although it was a terrible time to travel and discover a foreign country, Chamberlain fell instantly in love with France. This event was essential since it shaped the rest of his life. Chamberlain would from now on and until his death alternate stays in France and the USA, devoting the next fifty years to travel the world and record his observations through writing and art work.
After WWI, Chamberlain returned to the USA. On his way, he met and fell in love with Narcissa Gellatly who had, like him, been a volunteer during the war. They will marry in 1923 and move immediately to France. Together they will spend much of the 1920s touring France, Spain, Italy and North Africa. In 1927 Sam Chamberlain received a Guggenheim grant and he moved for a short time to London where he attended the Royal Academy. Out of these travels came two published portfolios, "Sketches of Northern Spanish Architecture" and "Domestic Architecture of Rural France," and, in conjunction with Louis Skidmore, his first book, "Tudor Homes of England." Later in this period Chamberlain also provided the drawings for a book on the use of brick in French architecture by his former professor, William Emerson.
While living in Paris in the 1920s Chamberlain studied various printmaking techniques under some of the world's finest teachers. Until World War II, Chamberlain alternated teaching at the MIT in Boston and travels in Europe as he restlessly worked on his art including his new passion for photography, something that he will pursue until his death. In 1942, Chamberlain enlisted in Army Air Force. He was shipped to Egypt, then Tunisia, and Italy. During these years of war, Chamberlain never ceased to record his impressions through sketches and photographs but moreover to see beauty beyond the horrors of war.
After the war, he resumed his life sharing his many jobs as teacher, artist and traveler. He was as often as possible accompanied by his wife and their two daughters. 1970 marked Chamberlain last trip to Europe. His work by then was an extraordinary sum of years or studying drypoint, lithography, etching, dry-wiped etching, but also photography, and writing.
Samuel Chamberlain and his wife’s love for Europe would lead to the publication of superb travel books on France, Italy, and England. In these guides, all illustrated by Chamberlain, the Chamberlains also provided the reader with ample information about the foods and wines of each region. The couple became experts in matters of gastronomy, and wrote many other books and articles related on the subject.
Until his death in 1975, Chamberlain continued to work. His productive art work will be exhibited in the years following his death all over the USA.
Sam Chamberlain was a member of the esteemed National Academy of Design, the American Institute of Architects, and other prestigious societies in America and Europe. He received many awards and left behind more than eighty books. Also included in is legacy is the Marblehead Arts Association of which he was a founding member.