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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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F.B.I. Artiste: 1938

F.B.I. Artiste: 1938

October 19, 1938. Washington, D.C. "F.B.I. messenger to exhibit paintings in one-man show. William Samuel Noisette, 37, who is just plain Sam to regular visitors at the office of J. Edgar Hoover, head G-Man, yesterday issued a statement to the press, and when close-mouthed Sam issues a statement, it's news. Sam's statement started out with crime and criminals, but that was just a teaser to lure the reader into the real subject of the release -- Sam's annual one-man art show, to be held at the local YMCA in Washington. Sam is shown with a view of Yellowstone Park painted in 1935, from a Kodak map. He has worked for 28 years in his spare time to create the exhibit." Harris & Ewing Collection. View full size.

On Shorpy:
Today's Top 5

Conversation Paintings

Washington Post, Oct 20, 1938

Sam Noisette, Federal Doorman,
Opens One-Man Art Show

With "Wash Day in Dixie" as the featured picture, the fifth annual one-man art show by William Samuel Noisette — colored messenger who tends the door leading to the office of J. Edgar Hoover — opened Tuesday at the Phyllis Wheatley Y.W.C.A.

"That picture really has something," Sam admitted as he showed visitors about. "It ought to have though. I kept thinking about it for years before I painted it. It's from things I remember about North Carolina, my home."

Sam, who has been painting since 1910, is completely self taught — but has no trouble selling his wares.

"Indeed, I do sell them," he declared. "More than 100 of my pictures have been sold to FBI officials. They started buying after I painted the portrait of Mr. Hoover's dog. That was a good picture. Mr. Hoover'll be down here to the exhibit before its over. He always comes. I sell outside the FBI, too. Courtney Riley Cooper has one of my pictures."

The Hoover dog is the only portrait Sam ever did. He's a landscape artist. "Mostly an autumn landscape artist, I guess you might say. I like to paint autumn scenes best," he said.

In almost every one of Sam's landscapes small figures of people can be found. Sam thinks they add interest to the landscapes. "See that old couple there in the snow scene?" he asked. "They're all bent over and almost slipping down on the slick ground. That helps the picture."

The Rocky Mountain pictures and the seascapes in the exhibit are what Sam calls "conversation paintings." "I haven't been to those places," he explained. "I painted them from conversations I have heard about them."

Every spare minute Sam has, he said, he spends painting or sketching. His pictures reveal a keen enjoyment of color and a masterful way of using it freely without blatancy.

"I key it down," Sam said. 'And I don't work on one picture too long a time. I always have two going at once. One is to rest me from the other."

Ebony Magazine, 1962, "The Negro in the FBI"

Noisette seems to have continued his career as Hoover's "doorman" in a way, as his position at the FBI was to greet visitors before they entered Hoover's office.

Thank you, Googlebooks, for making knowledge ever more accessible.

And thank you, Dave, for bringing us this amazingly nuanced and vibrant past.


I wonder how common it was to have an art opening at the Y!? After everything you hear about J. Edgar Hoover, this seems sort of surreal. But that just should teach me -- as it always does on Shorpy -- not to accept the conventional wisdom about historical figures. Everyone has more than one side.

J. Edgar's right-hand man

Sam Noisette had quite a career. In his obituary he was called J. Edgar Hoover's "right-hand man." After having progressed from doorman to "personal messenger" and receptionist for Hoover, Sam was made a Special Agent in 1957. When Hoover died in 1972, his will specified "equal distribution of all wearing apparel" between his chauffeur and Sam. So you're looking at the man who inherited half of J. Edgar Hoover's closet. Although he wouldn't have had much time to enjoy it -- Sam died later that year, on his 72nd birthday.

The Washington Post covered his art shows not just for years but for decades.

Patrons of the Arts

According to the Washington Afro-American, J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson attended the opening, and later sent flowers.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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