Seth Cole, Jr. was born October 20, 1829, in Great Valley, Cattaraugus County, New York. He was the youngest son of Seth and Lucretia Salisbury Cole. As a young man, Seth, with his family, moved to Wayne County. He lived the remainder of his life here in the hamlet of Alton.
In 1855, Seth married Maria Elizabeth Shipman, and two children were born to them. Several years after Maria’s death in 1869, Seth married Katherine Espenschied, also of Alton, and two daughters and a son were added to the family.
Seth taught himself to draw using charcoal, and by the age of seven was drawing exceptional sketches. He was also an adventurous young man. At the age of nineteen, he left home for New Bedford, where he signed on with a whaling ship headed for South America. Here he traveled around Cape Horn, Chile and Peru for the next two years where he sketched many scenes depicting events and highlights of his voyage.
At the right is a photograph of a painting by Seth Cole. The following was written on the back of the painting: “Drawn from nature on Jan 1st, 1849 by Seth Cole…hand on the whaling bark of New Bedford on the afternoon we took two small sperm whales Saint Anthony and Saint Vincent Cape Verdee” This was painted on ship sail canvass and the colors were various mixtures of whale oil, lamp black, lead white paint and other ‘naturals’ from the station.
Early in his career, Seth Cole, Jr. seemed to prefer sea and landscapes as his subjects, he later perfected the art of portrait sketching and made his living as an itinerant artist. Seth had his own unique style. His portraits suggested a sense of timelessness. They were very carefully executed and very finely detailed. Most of Cole’s subjects are sketched at a slight angle so that a three-quarter view of the face is presented. His portraits are so precise and life-like he could easily compete with the camera. Some of his work can be seen at the Wayne County Museum on Butternut Street in Lyons.
Although drawing was his first love, Seth Cole, Jr. was very knowledgeable on a variety of subjects. He spoke several languages, his hobby was astronomy and he dabbled at inventing.
Seth Cole, Jr. died at his home in Alton on December 23, 1903. Having attained the age of 74, he never lost his talent or zest for life. He was described as “an artist of superior talent, a man of exalted intelligence, a poet of gifted thought and expression and the soul of honor”.