Walter Baum was born December 14, 1884 in Sellersville, Pennsylvania. Though coming from a family of barbers, Walter began pursuing a career in art from a young age. He studied Pennsylvania-German folk art, known as fraktur, under the tutelage of Isaac Hilker. Baum got his start designing decorations for official documents of local families. In 1904 he apprenticed under the artist William Trego, then attended classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1905 to 1906. There he studied under prominent painters such as Thomas Anshutz, Daniel Garber, Hugh Breckenridge, William Chase, and Cecilia Beaux.
Walter Baum was a member of the New Hope Art Colony. A painter, critic, author, and educator, he was the only one of the Pennsylvania Impressionists to be born and raised in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. To many, he was considered the “father of art in the Lehigh Valley.” Early into his career, he gained national recognition in winning the prestigious Jennie Sesnan Gold Medal for his painting Sunlight and Shadows at an exhibition in 1925 at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Displayed in over one hundred fifty museum exhibitions and receiving more than thirty awards. He later won the Zabriskie Prize in 1945 from the American Watercolor Society and the Medal of Honor in 1953 from the National Arts Club. Baum maintained a constant association with Philadelphia's prominent art organizations, including the Philadelphia Art Alliance, The Sketch Club, and The Art Club. Dedicated to the preservation of the arts, Baum helped to found the Lehigh Art Alliance and the Allentown Art Museum, where served as first director and taught for 40 years thereafter. He established his own school, the Baum School of Art, in 1929, but retired as director of the school shortly before his death in 1956.
Baum found inspiration in the realist art of Homer and Eakins, the Ashcan artists, plein air depictions of Edward Redfield, and the paintings of Walter Elmer Schofield. He worked across many mediums, including pastels, casein, lithography, ink and graphite, and watercolors, creating works as small as a photo to spanning several feet across. Preferring to paint outdoors even in the worst weather, living in Sellersville provided Baum with endless subject matter.