Who Was Melissa E. Morgan?

Item of the Week From the East Hampton Library Long Island Collection

The image at right is a copy of an original pastel portrait of Melissa E. Morgan by John Ferris (Jack) Connah from 1935. Ms. Morgan died last year at the age of 94. She lived on Maidstone Lane in East Hampton Village and was considered an active member of the community, from volunteering at Southampton Hospital to working in the Ladies Village Improvement Society thrift shop to serving on the East Hampton Library’s board of managers.

Melissa Elizabeth Morgan was born on Jan. 6, 1923, in New York City to Thomas Earl Morgan and Catherine Gibson. Her father had a long career in shirt design, from 1908 to 1956, ultimately developing shirt and pajama fabrics for Dan River Mills in Danville, Va. Melissa attended the Hewitt School for Girls in New York and was most likely a student there at the time this portrait was completed, when she was 12 years old. Her mother died two years later in 1937.

According to the July 20, 1935, edition of The East Hampton Star, Guild Hall had an exhibition featuring pastel portraits of children by John Ferris Connah. Though not specifically mentioned in the article, it’s possible Melissa’s portrait was in the show, which included the likenesses of Jacqueline and Lee Bouvier, among others.

Not much seems to be known about the portraitist, though much is known about his father, Douglas John Connah. A landscape and portrait painter as well as an illustrator, he taught at William Merritt Chase’s Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art, the first art school for open-air painting in the United States, from 1897 to 1900. He was also the director of the New York School of Art from 1897 to 1909, now known as the Parsons School of Design.

Gina Piastuck is the department head of the Long Island Collection at the East Hampton Library.