During his six-decade career, John C. Menihan was one of the most prominent and beloved artists in upstate New York. Although he never sought national or international acclaim, Menihan’s work is represented in the collections of the British Museum in London, The MFA Boston, the Boston Athenaeum, the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, the New York Public Library, The Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY and other collections. His papers are held by the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. He was a member of the American Watercolor Society and the National Academy of Design.
Menihan was born in 1908 in Rochester, New York, and was fascinated with art from an early age. In 1924 while in high school, he designed a cover for Five O’clock, a magazine published by Rochester journalist Henry Clune. After attending Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and graduating from East High School in Rochester in 1926, Menihan entered the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, where he designed sets, posters, and program covers for the Mask and Wig Club.
In the early 1930’s, he began to draw portraits of news makers for Town Tidings – The Magazine of Western New York and The Rochester Times Union. Excited by an exhibition of lithographs , Menihan acquired a lithographic press and stones and, in 1934, went to Woodstock, NY, to study with master lithographer Bolton Brown, now acknowledged to be among the most important American lithographers of the 20th century. In the late 1930’s, Menihan exhibited prints at the Los Angeles Museum of Fine Art, the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo (now the Albright/Knox), and the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
Although he gave up art temporarily to work in his family’s business making parachutes during World War II, his activity increased in the mid-1940’s. “John C. Menihan, Lithographer” by Norman Kent was published in American Artist magazine in 1945. In 1947, Menihan won an unprecedented four First Prizes – in oil painting, watercolor, print making, and drawing – in the Finger Lakes Exhibition at Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery.
He began a twenty-five year teaching position at the University of Rochester in 1947. Among the many portrait commissions of children and adults which he painted in all media throughout his life were luminaries publisher Frank E. Gannett and Bishop James E. Kearney.
Menihan expanded his media in the 1960’s, designing and executing large relief murals for Xerox Research and Engineering Center, R.T. French Company, Security Trust Company (112 feet long), and Rochester Telephone Corporation (a mural now located at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf).
Ron Netsky is Professor of Art at Nazareth College in Rochester NY, where he has taught printmaking since 1975. He also teaches printmaking at the Woodstock School of Art.