While preparing for an upcoming lecture on early 20th-century Salem artists who were neighbors or friends or both, I happened upon a blog posting by Donna Segar, a member of the history department faculty at Salem State University and a resident of Chestnut Street in Salem.
The subject of the article was Isaac Henry Caliga, a well-known painter of portraits and genre scenes who had also lived for a time on Chestnut Street. Isaac quickly became the obsession of the week, and further research made it clear that he was a man on the move and a man in the news, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.
The artist was born Isaac Henry Stiefel in Auburn, Ind., in 1857. He eventually headed east and studied art at the famed Art Students League in New York and in Munich, Germany, before settling in the Boston area. In January 1890, Henry legally changed his last named to Caliga in a Boston court.
Three years later, Caliga wed Phoebe Woodman, a niece of John Greenleaf Whittier, at Oak Knoll, the Danvers estate her family had shared for nearly 16 years with the poet. Phoebe had made The New York Times a few years earlier when she mysteriously disappeared after a “grievance” with her aunts and resurfaced in Saginaw, Mich. The couple would have two sons. By 1901, the family was living at 1 Chestnut St. in Salem. After a brief stay at that address, they moved a few blocks away to 130 Federal St. and then eventually to 142 Federal. Isaac also maintained a studio in Boston.
Along the way, Henry built a top-flight collection of antique Colonial pewter. According to author Mary Northend, an authority on such matters, “several of the pieces (in his collection) are numbered among the choicest in the country.” Caliga also managed to acquire a U.S. patent while living on Federal Street, in 1910, for improvements to the design of the automobile fender.