Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rockport part 3

Here is my old portfolio lettered by Reynolds Beal that was the official office of Dorkohelix Industries our little retro sign business. Ren did nice work, he had the old timey look down, and his signs looked like they had always been in the antique settings of Rockport.

For those first years in Rockport my life revolved around the Rockport Art Association and my tiny shop. I made lots of little paintings and sold almost all of them , very cheaply. But I was making enough money to pay my rent and eat. I didn't have a car and couldn't have afforded to keep one on the road so I walked to the grocery store, and every where else. Rockport is small so it was not a problem.

I had a number of duties at the art association, I swept floors and carried things around, and I hung shows. Often that meant hanging 150 or more paintings per show. We did four major summer exhibitions and numerous other shows in the smaller galleries of the art association. In those days most of the shows were juried, and every year there were two juries for membership. The jurying was done up in a space called the loft. There was a viewing area with a shelf where paintings could be brought before a panel of about seven artists who sat in a row across the small viewing area. They each had a square wooden block with an old fashioned doorbell button on it. The wires from all those buttons went back to a panel with lights on it that illuminated when the buttons were pressed. The director and the president sat at that panel and counted the votes yea, or nay.The whole room and light board setup must have been from the 30's. There was a big sliding barn door we could open on one end of the loft when it was hot. the building had that because it had been built in the 19th century to be a cotton warehouse. The placed reeked of history and I often thought of my heroes like Hibbard and Gruppe, Thieme and all the other Rockport painters who had sat in those chairs to jury thousands upon thousands of paintings.

My job was to carry the paintings up and set them in front of the jury. After their decision I would take one down and return it to the stacks and Ren Beal would put another up. I saw lots of juries and their results. That was a very valuable experience for me. I have written about some of the things I learned here. Routinely there were irate artists (and still are ) who had been rejected, they always thought there was some kind of corruption, or the fix was in. I can say that I never saw that, or anything that made me believe that was the case. I did often see juries surprised at how their cumulative judgement differed from their individual judgements.

I remember Harry Ballinger, who was, no kidding, a hundred years old, on one jury. He wrote an excellent book on seascape that was a classic for many years, he had been a well known painter long ago,in about the 30's. He kept falling asleep, when he did he would slump over onto his button and his light would go on. The director would have to call out to whoever was next to him to wake him up.

Many of the artists on those juries were very good. Some had been combat artists during the second world war, some had been illustrators back when the magazines were full of illustration and that was a lucrative and competitive field. There were many who were career painters. I had followed a few of them since I was in grade school in American Artist magazine.

When I first arrived in Rockport, so many places in it looked familiar. I always had this,"I have been here before" feeling as I walked around town, even though I had never been there before. I gradually realized I knew it from all the times it had appeared in illustrations. The town hall for instance, was the one that Mike Mulligan and MaryAnn the steam shovel built in Virginia Lee Burtons book. She died young, a decade before I arrived there. As a child I had earnestly studied the "how to" watercolor books by Ted Kautzky. Many of those watercolors were of Rockport street scenes and the harbor. All of those scenes were stored in my subconscious.

Frank Beatty, illustrator for Popular Mechanics and Harrison Cady who illustrated Thornton Burgesses books like Peter Cottontail had been in Rockport, at least in the summer season. So many illustrators, artists had used Rockport, Massachusetts for backgrounds and so many magazine ads were shot there in the 1950's that it was all imprinted in my memories before I even went there.

There were perhaps 30 members of the art association that gave it critical mass artistically. They could be expected to put something each year into the summer shows that was the work of a seasoned professional. Let me name a few I remember, there are sure to be many I will leave out, and I apologize to them, I AM accepting reminders.

There was Paul Strisik, Ferdinand Petrie, Chesly d'Andrea, Martin Ahearn, Harry Ballinger, Teresa Bernstein, Lou Burnett, Sven Orval Carlson, Bernard Corey, Ken Gore,Walker Hancock,( a member I met and knew, but who seldom showed his sculpture there) and Wayne Morell.

There was also Charles Movalli, Tom Nicholas, Natalie Nordstrand and Joe Santoro, there was Betty Lou Schlemm, Mildred Jones and Marian Williams Steele, Don Stone and Mike Stoffa, Bruce Turner, Charles Vickery (the seascape painter) and John Wentworth.

There was also. John Terelac occasionally, Don and Christune Mosher, the Tutwielers, David and Line, and John Caggiano. There was Carl Gustafson, Bernie Goestner and Joe Rimini also.

Some of these were painters of national reputation who I had known since childhood from reading American Artist others were just retired illustrators with the kind of chops that were required to cut it in the golden age of American illustration. There was a lot of good painting to look at in the Art Association then.While most of it won't end up in museums, I think a few things will, and it all served as a good grad school for me, seeing all of that painting and trying to learn from and often compete with it in the market place for art that Rockport was then.

There was also a lot of "dead" art around then too. I used to get the job of unpacking and moving around artists estates that were either left to the art association or shown there upon their deaths, I saw Carl Peters estate, I loved those and I had been unnfamiliar with his work before that. Many of the other artists estates I was familiar with because I had seen their work when I worked for the Guild of Boston Artists during my time studying with R.H. Ives Gammell. I also saw the Cirino estate. Antonio Cirinos system of placing highlights and accents lives on in my own painting. There were also Margaret Pearson's and the occasional Hibbard around. The yearly antique painting auction brought many things through the association. I remember the association acquiring a Childe Hassam watercolor one year.


Philip Koch said...

Great stuff.

Bob Carter said...

I absolutely love reading this.

willek said...

Another great post. I feel like a kid listening to my grandfather telling me a story. But I perked up my ears at the line about Antonio Cirino's systen for accents and highlights. Have you expounded on that yet?

Unknown said...

Art History, Centenarian critics, and romance... can this get any better?

"baritu" - costume for a low-voiced male ballet dancer

Diane Greene said...

I'm so enjoying your posts. I just ordered a Gruppe book from the Rockport Art Association.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

I am going to go romantic tonight.Ther blog veers towards a Harlequin novel.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Maybe I can return to that. It would be when I get through a lot more art history though.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Tonight the centenarians go to there graves and romance appears on stage.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you. Do you have the Hibbard book?

Diane Greene said...

Yes, I got them both!