Ella Baker Weir

Ella Baker Weir sewing
Ella Baker Weir


Ella Baker with Dorothy and Cora
Ella Baker Weir with Dorothy (right) and Cora (left), circa 1892


1852 –1930

Ella Baker was born September 7th 1852, the eldest daughter of Charles Taintor Baker and Anna Bartlett Dwight Baker. Growing up in the Baker household, Ella and her family would occasionally spend summers in Europe. Ella relished these long European tours. She knew German, having studied the language in 1885 at Amherst. In 1886 –1887, Ella and her mother toured France, England, Scandinavia, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Russia, &Switzerland. Ella also took painting lessons and completed a number of watercolors during this European trip. In 1888 –1889, Ella and her mother visited Europe, North Africa, and Turkey. From 1891 to 1892, the Bakers took a worldwide tour. They traveled across the American continent, on the newly complete transcontinental railroad, and departed from Vancouver to visit Japan, China, India, Egypt, and Europe. During this time, Ella continued her German and painting lessons, but began to augment these skills with an interest in photography. Ella would continue her interest in photography for the rest of her life.

As Ella travelled, her sister Anna married the painter Julian Alden Weir. Ella and her mother, Anna, spent time caring for Anna and Julian's eldest child in 1889, when the couple went to recuperate after personal losses. After Anna's tragic death due to complication from childbirth in 1892, Julian asked Ella and her mother to again to help care for his daughters. He wrote to the Baker family asking, "Will not you and Ella live here with me? There is so much more demand from these little ones than I can do and we will try to bring them up as Puss [Anna] would have them."

Julian would leave his daughters in Windham in the care of his in-laws during the next few summers as he recuperated through teaching painting classes in Cos Cob and painting murals for the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Ella kept track of painting sales for Julian's work during 1893 and provided him with emotional stability during that trying year.
Julian Alden Weir. Silhouette. Private Collection.
Julian Alden Weir. Silhouette. Private Collection.


The relationship between Ella and Julian would blossom via letters about Julian's three daughters and the two would soon fall in love. Julian Alden Weir and Ella Baker Weir wed on October 28th 1893 in Boston. E. Winchester Donald, the same rector that married Julian and Anna, served as the rector in Julian and Ella's wedding. John Twachtman acted as best man.

Dorothy Weir Young later noted: "Hers [Ellas] was an unselfish and generous nature, and she gave herself unstintingly to make a home for the children, until the house that had at first been a dreary, desolate place to enter, with no lamps lit as the evening drew on and everything left at sixes and sevens, became, under her charge, once more a home and a happy place to live in. She loved the children, and they were devoted to her; and to Julian she gave the intimate companionship that he needed so badly. She had, besides, excellent taste and a real knowledge of art, for she was herself, an amateur painter of distinction."

Ella continued her interest in photography after her marriage to Julian, a fascination that would continue throughout her life. She might have also played a part in the creation of the Secret Garden, although the architect of that endeavor is not known. Ella would serve as a subject for a number of paintings by Julian Alden Weir, including: In the Dooryard, Silhouette, Autumn Stroll and others.

After marrying Ella, the Weirs began to travel more. At first, they divided their summers between Branchville, in June and July, and Windham, where Ella's family lived, in August and September. Ella's mother would pass in 1900 leaving her daughters with an inheritance. Ella and Julian were able to travel and improve upon their Branchville home as Julian's paintings gained recognition through the 1890s and early 1900s. Ella and Julian traveled to Europe in 1900 and 1901, as builders renovated the house in Branchville. Beginning in 1902 and lasting until 1913, the Weirs traveled Nassau close to seven times to visit Ella's sister Cora Baker Davis Rutherford.

Julian Alden Weir died on December 8th 1919 in New York, in the newly rented apartment for Julian and Ella. Following her husband's death, Ella wrote Robert Macbeth, "He was so true to himself and hated deception in any form, that I feel he placed his stamp upon his Art as he did upon life. For Art and Life were for him one." Ella and her sister Cora would spend the summer of 1920 visiting family friends in West Point and stop in Windsor, Vermont to see Augusta Saint-Gaudens. There is little documented about the life of Ella Baker Weir and the Branchville property during the 1920s, however, records indicate that Ella and Dorothy continued to live at and manage the Branchville property during the summer. Ella died on December 27th 1930 having dedicated so much of her life to the well-being of her family from Julian to his three daughters and ensuring the Weir House would pass to Dorothy.
White Bridge and Red Houses
Ella Baker Weir. White Bridge and Red Houses, n.d. Watercolor.

Brigham Young University Museum of Art.

Last updated: May 24, 2018

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