Samuel V. Chamberlain, Marblehead Artist and Photographer

A Lane at Vez, watercolor by Samuel Chamberlain, undated

One of my favorite manuscript collections in the Phillips Library is that of Samuel V. Chamberlain, noted artist and photographer. Early in his life, while living in Europe, he sketched all that he saw and later in life, he traveled all over New England, photographing homes and local landmarks.

Samuel Vance Chamberlain was born in Iowa in 1895 but was raised in Washington State. He began his academic career at the University of Washington in 1913. In 1915 he enrolled in the architectural program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, but his education was interrupted by World War I. He joined the American Field Service and drove ambulances in France. Stationed at Reims, he used his leave time to travel as much and as far as possible sketching many great buildings of France.

Samuel Chamberlain in Les Andelys, France, circa 1930s

After the war Chamberlain returned to MIT to finish his degree in architecture only to discover his real interest was in drawing. He tried his hand as a commercial artist but it wasn’t for him. He soon returned to France to pursue his passion. While in Paris he picked up skills in lithography and etching.

Chamberlain etching, undated

On the return voyage he met and fell in love with his future wife, Narcissa Gellatly (1899-1988) who had, like him, been a volunteer during the war. They wed in 1923 and had two daughters, Narcisse (1924-2008) and Stephanie (1931-1993).

Photograph of Stephanie, Narcissa, and Narcisse Chamberlain in Senlis, France, undated (1930s)

Together Chamberlain and Narcissa spent much of the 1920s touring in France, Spain, Italy, and North Africa. While living in Paris, Chamberlain studied various printmaking techniques under some of the world’s finest teachers. He and his wife met and socialized with a number of famous American expatriates including Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Louis Bromfield, and the sculptor Alexander Calder.

Letter to Narcissa Chamberlain from Alexander Calder, 1964

In 1927 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.

In 1930 the Chamberlains bought a house in Senlis, a small market town not far from Paris. Though several more books were to follow, the tough economic times of the ‘30s made life in Europe difficult. In the mid-1930s Chamberlain and Narcissa moved back to the United States and settled in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

During his career, Chamberlain worked for a number of publications such as Pencil Points, and published widely on subjects he encountered during his travels. He also wrote and/or illustrated nearly 100 books of architecture and interiors. Chamberlain taught graphic arts at MIT from 1934 until World War II. In 1942, he enlisted in the Army Air Force. He was shipped to Egypt, then to Tunisia and Italy. He was a reconnaissance photographer.

“Hitler Lines”, photograph by Samuel Chamberlain, undated (1940s)


Throughout the 1940s and 1950s Chamberlain broadened his focus to include cookbooks and fashion illustrations. The Chamberlains’ love for Europe would lead to the publication of engaging travel books on France, Italy, and England. The couple became experts in matters of gastronomy, and wrote many other books and articles related to the subject. Chamberlain invented the week-by-week photographic engagement calendar in 1940.

The New England Calendar (1940)

During his lifetime Chamberlain was widely respected for his work as a printmaker, artist, photographer, and writer. He 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 was a founding member of the Marblehead Arts Association. He died in Marblehead in 1975.

What I love about this collection is its depth. Chamberlain’s daughters had no children, so his wife donated the entire contents of his studio to the Phillips Library. We have 76 boxes of material including his mother’s diary when she was pregnant with him, personal and business correspondence from 1895 to 1989, a large amount of research material on France and England, his photographic negatives, many photographic prints, many of his published books, and 57 engagement calendars. The American Decorative Arts department of the museum owns several of his copper printing plates, sketches, prints, etchings, watercolors, and a drawing.

The finding aid for his collection, MSS 369, is online here and you are welcome to visit our Reading Room in Peabody to learn more about this fascinating artist.

14 thoughts on “Samuel V. Chamberlain, Marblehead Artist and Photographer

  1. Chamberlain was a Renaissance man, with many experiences and talents: soldier, etcher, photographer, writer, gourmand … he left a wonderful legacy, and he deserves a page on Wikipedia. This article, (along with a beautiful spread in the April 1959 issue of The American Home magazine, which featured photos of his Marblehead home and recipes from one of his books), would form the basis for such an entry. Would anyone be interested in posting such an entry on Wikipedia? He should not be forgotten.

  2. James, I would love to create a Wikipedia entry about Chamberlain. I’m looking into the procedure now.

  3. Samuel Chamberlain once owned the home I now own in Marblehead, MA so his history is of great interest to me. A copy of his book, “Clementine in the Kitchen” , was left for me by the previous owners of the house and is a treasured possession. I enjoyed reading this article and learning more about him.

  4. Hello, I have 11 of Chamberlain’s works. I am wondering if you know of anyone interested in them. Thanks, Frances

  5. Currently being shown on the BBC British TV is a 20 part series hosted by well known Irish broadcaster Sir Terry Wogan, based on Chamberlain’s “British Bouquet” book. It is a great series, and highly amusing. It has sparked an interest in Samuel Chamberlain and I now have his British book, as well as the French and Italian ones. There is very little about him to be found on the Internet, very sad, as he clearly was a highly talented artist, writer and photographer. Hopefully Tamara can get enough material together for a Wikipedia entry. In the meantime, many thanks for your article!

  6. I grow up watching my father Wallace’s sincere friendship with the Chamberlains. They were friends and my dad often spoke of their mutual artistic respect. Recently my dad died and I ended up with almost half the books Samuel Chamberlain wrote. Over the years I also accumulated a few of his striking etchings and photographs along with a thick file of many letters between the two. I feel so lucky . Two masters and me the lucky one who totally appreciates how good they both were.

  7. Lucky me came across a nice reproduction of Land of Our Fathers, with the original paperwork about the then-still-living Samuel Chamberlain. Can anyone tell me when the prints were made? The enclosure card with it has printing similar to 1950′s greeting cards. When I went to ebay to look for other copies of Land of Our Fathers, the seller supposedly markets art prints and should know better, but attributed the print to Samuel Chamberlain who was born in 1829 and died in 1908. Thank you for all this wonderfully detailed information taken from all the original documentation in your library. Although I have a reproduction of Land of Our Fathers, I will enjoy it just as much as a signed original etching.

  8. Thank you,and with some additional bibliographical information from Tamara Gaydos of your library, I may be able to learn more about Samuel Chamberlain and his art and photograph. Perhaps pushing the date to before 1935 will focus the hunt. If any other readers are able to add information, I will welcome it. Meanwhile, I will simply enjoy my aged copy of “Land of Our Fathers” just as it is.

  9. I have 2 framed works of Samuel Chamberlain interested to sell.
    “Taormina” and “AGgateway in Seville”
    Please contact my email if you have any interest to purchase

  10. I have become so fascinated with Samuel’s photographic work for the last several years. I have several vintage books on the Cape and Nantucket as well as Marblehead. It wasn’t just what was photographed, but HOW it was as well, there is beautiful dark tones throughout his images. I am always looking for information on him and a wikipedia page is incalculable as it would be a great way to spread the work of what a remarkable man he was.

  11. I have a copy of Cape Cod In The Sun. The photographs taken in the 1930′s take my old mind back to the times when Cape Cod moved at a slower pace. With this book we can do a little time travel and for a few fleeting moments the sand is between my toes and the smell of salt air fills my lungs. Thank you Samuel Chamberlain.

  12. Years ago I came across a book of photography by Samuel Chamberlain. I believe the title was Along the Maine Coast. In it was a photo of an antique shop in Wiscasset. I was struck by the incredible use of sunlight that gave the building a dimensional interest not often seen in architectural photography. I kept returning to that page. The more I studied it the more I liked it. As luck would have it, I had a physical mishap that landed me in bed for a couple weeks . I say luck because it gave me time to do a pen and ink drawing of that building. It was my first serious drawing and the result brought interest from many of my friends. That list kept growing so I finally had a local print shop make copies. That was over 40 years ago and
    I have been drawing and collecting Chamberlain work ever since. My favorite Chamberlain print is Springtime in Salem. The cookbook he and his wife wrote, “Italian Bouquet” went to friends who have a second home in Tuscany. They claim it is the best cookbook ever and use it exclusively when preparing Italian dishes in the States.
    To say Samuel Chamberlain changed my life would be an understatement….his artistry shaped it personally and professionally.

  13. Sam was a wonderful guy. We lived at 7 Lookout Court through the mid 60′s to about 1980. Sam had an old Volvo which he had sweets in the trunk of (which he was not supposed to have I think) He shared them with us local children . Oreo’s and Fig Newton’s if I remember correctly. We had Sam and other great neighbor’s in the day.

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