the Roarin’ Twenties, Prohibition, the Great Depression
and during World War II, there was a very unusual artist
who resided in South Framingham. His name was Floyd
Walser. In his early life in Texas, where he had been a
cowboy, Floyd suffered a devastating injury that
paralyzed him totally. That was back in 1909 when he was
21. As he bravely fought his paralysis, slowly beginning
to regain some use of his right arm and hand, polio
struck. He spent the rest of his life after that with
his useless legs tucked under his torso as he sat in his
special chair. His left arm and hand also remained
paralyzed, although he was able to physically move his
left arm around with his right hand. He could force the
fingers of his left hand to open or to clamp down like a
vise on objects he might place there. His chair was
“special” since it was an old livingroom easy chair that
had four swiveling casters fastened to its base in place
of its original short legs. He would be strapped into
this chair, and by thrusting his upper torso forcefully
toward the front, he could usually propel himself around
his small studio room. He would also push with his
wooden cane, and sometimes grab a strategically placed
“hand-hold” with his strong right hand to further assist
his efforts to get himself around a bit. Frequently, his
able-bodied friends and helpers would push him in the
chair to where he wanted to be.
He came to live in Framingham in 1923 when the very talented and
internationally famous musician, Madame Edith Noyes
Greene and her husband Roy, invited him to move from
Texas to live in their lakeside home as their protege.
While still living in Texas, Floyd had taken several
correspondence courses in art as a way of coping with
his handicap. He had gotten quite good at sketching
people and places and eventually came to the attention
of the Greenes.
Roy Greene (who conducted the Framingham Civic League Orchestra for many
years) drove Floyd into the famed art school at the
Museum of Fine Arts. Roy would drive him from his Lake
Avenue home, in his 1920 Ford Model T roadster, once a
week for what became nine years of intense and very
fruitful study by the developing artist. Floyd learned
to work in every art medium from pencils, pens and
charcoal to watercolors, pastels, oils and even etching.
Difficult for anyone, but seemingly impossible for a
person with his “limitations”. In addition to portraits,
he would capture many historic homes and buildings in
Framingham and nearby communities. Usually these were
pencil or charcoal sketches and many became etchings.
One of his favorite motifs was the gristmill near the
Wayside Inn in Sudbury, where he worked in oils, pastels
and watercolors that he did from life outdoors near the
mill. He seemed especially drawn to trees with twisted,
gnarled limbs whose deformed branches surely must have
had special meaning to him.
Floyd Walser, or as he liked to be called, “Tex”, gave art lessons to a
great many Framingham residents. In fact, when President
Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced the WPA in the
‘30s, as part of his “New Deal” to stimulate the economy
after the Great Depression, Floyd was employed as an art
teacher. Although he had previously given art lessons to
many of the town’s residents, this job increased the
number of pupils studying with “Mr. Walser”. A great
many of these aspiring artists were very young children.
Often in the summers when the weather permitted, he
could be found outside his studio that was attached to
the Greene’s Lake Waushakum home, with a large group of
well-behaved, and maybe even motivated, youngsters. This
location was adjacent to the Anna Murphy Playground. He
surely had to work to hold his charges’ interest,
considering the close proximity of all that the
playground had to offer.
It is estimated that Floyd taught somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000
students over the years of 1933 through 1948. Even after
that time, he continued to teach selected adults the
fine points of etching, as well as how best to mat and
frame their artwork.
His life story, including how as a young, able-bodied man, he stole rides
on freight trains, in true hobo fashion, then overcame
his life-altering handicap, and went on to do so well as
an artist and friend to many, is told in the book,
A Creative Odyssey by Richard L. Rotelli.
This book also contains much 20th century history,
including background material about the Greenes. In
addition, it recounts the marvelous liberating changes
in Floyd’s life when he moved in next door with Richie
Rotelli, his wife Angela and their young son “Dickie”,
the book’s author. Richie’s inventive genius, included
designing and building a motorized chair for Floyd in
1949, and shortly thereafter, a boat. These and other
innovations by Richie provided the artist more
independence to get around on his own than he had
experienced in 40 years.
Click here for a sampling of Floyd’s artwork as he
developed his talent over the years.
click here for a few photographs, most are right
from the book.