George Shrom, who grew up on East Street in Carlisle, wrote about John Spahr in an 1898 article in the American Volunteer newspaper.
In 1932, New York’s Museum of Modern Art held an exhibit titled “American Folk Art of the Common Man in America 1750-1900.” One of the paintings in the exhibit was titled “The Capture of Major Andre.” The painting had been found in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and was signed M. Boyle, but nothing about the artist had been discovered.1
The Carlisle Sentinel ran an item in their November 29, 1932 issue titled: “Andre Painting Shown in N.Y. Is Said to Have Been Purchased in Carlisle.” A reporter interviewed Miss Sarah Penrose who conducted an antique shop in Carlisle with her sister. She told them that they had sold a group of prints and paintings to the Museum of Modern Art, but she didn’t remember if the painting was among them. Newspapers in New York and Pennsylvania2 ran a blurb about the painting, and noted that “virtually nothing was known” about the artist. The Charleston, West Virginia Daily Mail ran a photo of the painting.3
In little more then a month after the articles appeared, the identity of the artist was revealed by his nephew, Percy A. Noirott of Carlisle.4 M. Boyle was none other than his uncle, Michael Boyle of Carlisle, a plasterer.
Michael Boyle (1828-1874) lived his entire life in Carlisle.5 He never married and lived with his brother Ambrose, also a plasterer, in the family home on North Bedford Street. His nephew said that “he took up painting in the winter months for diversion…painting came to him naturally…Noirott remembers distinctly of his uncle and his small amateur studio.
It is likely that Boyle’s inspiration for the painting of Andre was prompted by the well-known fact that Major Andre was held as a prisoner of war in Carlisle in 1776 and later executed as a spy. The Andre canvas “…executed in 1870 entirely from imagination…hung in the Boyle home6 until his death” in 1874. It then went to Noirott’s mother, Mary, who had it until her death in 1931. Her son sold it to a local auctioneer, along with some other of his mother’s belongings, for $38.7
The catalog for the 1932 MOMA exhibit mentioned that only one other painting was known by M.Boyle, and it was a still life. Percy Noirott recalled another painting that his uncle named the “The Hare Chase,” but he had no idea what had become of it.8 There are undoubtedly other Michael Boyle paintings still to be discovered locally.