Emily Sibley Watson

Emily Sibley Watson, Founder of the Memorial Art Gallery

Emily Sibley Watson ca. 1943

Emily Sibley was born in 1855 and educated in Rochester and abroad. A member of one of Rochester’s first families, she came by her love of art and her sense of community responsibility naturally. Although her father, Hiram Sibley, was best known as the founder of Western Union, he was also a philanthropist and an art collector.

James G. Averell

During her long life, she was instrumental in founding not only the Gallery but also the Hochstein School of Music, named for her young protégé. Mrs. Watson gave the Gallery to the University of Rochester in memory of her son by her first marriage, James G. Averell (left), who died of typhus in 1904 at the age of twenty-six.

Mrs. Watson’s legacy has lived on through the involvement of her surviving heirs. In 1891, Emily married James Sibley Watson, son of her father’s former business partner. Their only child, James Sibley Watson, Jr., (shown right with his wife Hildegarde Lasell Watson), was also to become a driving force in the community and at the Gallery until his death in 1982. And his children, Michael Watson and Jeanne Quackenbush, continued to support the Gallery founded by their grandmother.

Sibley Watson Digital Archive

On May 10, 2017, MAG, George Eastman Museum and UR River Campus Libraries Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation department launched the Sibley Watson Digital Archive, a website dedicated to digitally reuniting materials about the family of Emily Sibley Watson that have been scattered in local and national repositories. The Archives pilot project documents two trips made by Emily & James Sibley Watson: their honeymoon to Spain and Morocco in 1891, and a trip down the Nile in 1892-1893.

Visit Homes of Rochester’s Sibley & Watson families