Homer Watson History & Archives

Roxanna “Roxa” Bechtel Watson | 1855 - 1918

Roxanna “Roxa” Bechtel was the daughter of Isaac Bechtel and Jane Tilt, and one of eleven children. According to their niece Ruth Whiting, Homer and Roxa met because they both liked music.[1] He would apparently walk eight miles to the House of C.M Taylor to see her, where the Bechtel family would meet to sing and listen to melodeon.[2] The couple married in 1881 after a seven-year courtship, on News Years Day. This was after Homer’s sale of The Pioneer Mill, and “it had only been the sale of that picture to their excellencies which had given him the confidence to take upon himself the responsibility of keeping a wife.”[3]

Roxa is described as having “lively brown eyes, an enchanting smile, and a happy disposition as well as a lively sense of humour.”[4] Besides her love of music, Roxa also had a “sparkling wit and was good at repartee” [5], oftentimes having fast paced conversational games with her sisters.

If there ever was an opportunity for a quip, it was provided with a flash of Roxy’s lustrous brown eyes. No matter how depressed Homer became in his work his wife’s solid commonsense, her unjarred faith in her husband’s genius and her witty repartee renewed his spirits.[6]

Her talents extended into many of the business and financial matters of her husband’s artistic career as well. Homer was allegedly “completely lost” [7] when it came to the family finances, and he “wisely left all business matters to her.”[8] Roxa worked in a managerial-type role for her husband, providing critiques of paintings, packing them for shipping, and taking measures to ensure artworks weren’t overworked or even destroyed by the artist himself.

Unknown photographer, Mrs. Homer Watson formerly Miss Roxie Bechtel, undated, Homer Watson Artist and Man (Kitchener: Commercial Printing Company, 1939), 137.  

Apart from furnishing a congenial counterbalance to his mercurial nature, Roxa (without any knowledge of art at all) seemed to know instinctively when Homer’s pictures were right or not. Never, in fact, was a picture finished without Roxa’s inspection of it, and often when the painter would be confused about how to obtain the effect he wanted, she – seemingly though her innate understanding of his nature and ideals rather than technical knowledge – would point out the deficiency.[9]

For, thanks to his increased self assurance and improved technical skill, Homer didn’t destroy as much of his work as he had in the past. Despite this, Roxa would still sometimes come into his studio to find a slashed canvas lying on the floor, and to prevent this, very often hid paintings to keep them from the artist to save them. She also hid paintings to keep him from overworking his themes just before they were scheduled to leave his studio.[10]

Roxa would join forces, getting help from all sides, in order to bind up tightly the painting. The ornate frame (some as large as 120 cm x 150 cm) and the glass covering, hemming all with sundry packing into a boarded-up nailed-tight case, sufficiently heavy so that every interested able-bodied neighbour could help with the lift into the wagon-back, and sufficiently sturdy to withstand the rough to and fro of ocean crossings.[11]

From left to right: Mary Watson (daughter), Grace Watson (niece), Homer Watson, Roxa Watson. 1917, HWHG Permanent Collection. 
Roxa Watson, undated, HWHG Permanent Collection.  
Roxa, Mary, and the family dog. c.1908, HWHG Permanent Collection. 

Regarding other aspects of Roxa’s personal life, she is frequently praised for her cooking. Her niece Myrtle Bean wrote that “her style of cooking was superb”,[12] however Roxa was apparently very averse to butchering animals and often couldn’t slaughter chickens by herself.[13]  Another niece describes her as a “lovely hostess and a very good cook”, [14] noting she enjoyed homemade elderberry pie while visiting her aunt and uncle.

Homer and Roxa had two children, a son named Charles who died shortly after his birth in 1882, and a daughter, Mary, who they adopted around 1907. The Watsons were apparently a bit hesitant to adopt as they were at this point in their older years, but after fostering her in their home for a while she brought them too much joy to not have her be a part of their family.[15]

Roxa passed away in 1918 after an ongoing illness and heart complications. Her death cast Homer into “an abyss of despondency”,[16] as he had always “looked to his wife to take the lead in all practical and social matters.”[17] His grief greatly impacted his ability to complete artwork and was also one of the largest factors in turning him towards the Spiritualist faith. Homer describes that one evening a vision of Roxa’s spirit came to him in an amber glow, descending the central staircase of their home.[18] After this alleged visitation, his paintings were “brighter” and had renewed inspiration.[19]

[1] Interview with Homer Watson’s niece Ruth Whiting, conducted by HWHG staff, November 2 1986
[2] Jane Van Every, With Faith, Ignorance, and Delight (Aylesbury: Homer Watson Trust 1967), 14
[3] Muriel Miller, Homer Watson the Man of Doon 2nd ed. (Toronto: Summerhill Press 1988), 37
[4] Ibid., 38
[5] Van Every, With Faith, Ignorance, and Delight, 14
[6] Ibid.
[7] Frank Page, Homer Watson Artist and Man, (Kitchener: Commercial Printing Company 1939), 39
[8] Ibid.
[9] Miller, Homer Watson the Man of Doon 2nd ed., 38
[10] Ibid., 65
[11] Gerald Noonan, Refining the Real Canada: Homer Watson’s Spiritual Landscape: A Biography (Waterloo: MLR Editions Canada, 1997), 39-40
[12] Myrtle Bean, The First Snow Typescript, n.d., photocopy of original manuscript, Homer Watson House & Gallery, 1
[13] Noonan, Refining the Real Canada: Homer Watson’s Spiritual Landscape: A Biography, 53
[14] Interview with a niece of the Watson family, conducted by Fran McIntosh and Mary Firth, November 30, 1987
[15] Miller, Homer Watson the Man of Doon 2nd ed., 81-82.
[16] Ibid., 92-93
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid., 94
[19] Interview with Ruth Whiting

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