Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Rockport years 2

Aldro Hibbard, Rockport, From the Smithsonian

This picture of Rockport was done from behind Hibbards home and studio. There are now large townhouses above this location, but I expect this place may still be pretty much unchanged, although the view is now occluded by trees. Hibbard painted a number of pictures in this location, and there is one that was made into a print. The few copies I have seen of that were done on poor quality paper and the ink has faded. This view looks out over Back Beach to downtown, there are two steeples visible, the one on the left is the congregational church called Old Sloop church. The steeple of this church had a cannonball fired into it by the crew of the British frigate, Nymph, in the war of 1812. Stretching out to the left, is the breakwater forming the old harbor, which marked the beginning of Bearskin neck where I had my first gallery.

I wrote before, of arriving in Rockport in 1983 here. Looking back on that time in my life it seems magical, and I remember it like one of those old photos where they put Vaseline on the lens to get a soft vignetted look. I worked at the art association in the mornings for the rest of that winter, and painted in the rest of my time. I had very little money, but I did sell a few paintings as I kept the gallery open most of the winter. When spring came I moved out of the inn and into an apartment in the jumble of houses that perched on Bearskin neck, a historic spit of land stretching out into Sandy Bay, where colonial shacks and 19th century fishhouses had been turned into galleries in the 20's and 30's by artists and then into seasonal tourist businesses in the 60's. Most of the established artists had their galleries uptown, but on the Neck rent was cheap, and it was very picturesque.That spring I moved out of the Inn as I was able to rent a small apartment on the top floor of a building built out over the old harbor on stilts. It had a little deck and a big picture window overlooking the water.

I befriended a whole generation of artists that year who are now almost all dead, they were the last remnants of the historic art colony.
At the entrance to the Neck was Lou Burnette, a cantankerous old man who sat on the stoop in front of his cluttered shop and had done so for 50 or 60 years. He had studied at the art students league, with Raphael Soyer I believe. His shop had paintings of purple beatniks playing bongos in East Village apartments, wearing berets and smoking cigarettes . Their girlfriends were green and dressed all in black.

At the top of the hill above the Neck was the Art Association and next to that, Paul Strisik had his gallery, he and Tom Nicholas senior were at the top of the pecking order. Although Strisik is dead, Tom Nicholas is still very much alive and undiminished. Strisik was a student of Dumond and in his seventies at that point. I knew him only socially through the Art Association. I remember being at a party in a summer cottage rented by Line and David Tutweiler sometime in that era, where a group of us sat around Strisik and listened to him tell us how to cut a roll of canvas down, on a bandsaw to eliminate waste. A very young T.M. Nicholas was there listening to Strisik that night also, he was to become a close friend, but at that point I didn't know him very well.

John Manship the son of Paul Manship, one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century (he made the golden Promethious unbound that is at the back of the skating rink at Rockefeller Center in New York) was the president of the Art Association. I later was acquainted with him, he bought a painting of mine in a charity auction, which though it didn't bring much money, was a nice recognition that I was thought of as a painter, even though I was much younger than that crowd and was after all.... the janitor. Incidentally, the janitor before me was John Terelac.

I remember meeting Charles Movalli whose work I have always admired, he did a lecture on design in Hibbards paintings that taught me a lot. At night sometimes I would walk around Rockport and look in the windows of all the tiny shops and galleries. Wayne Morell, still alive today, was in his prime and I was impressed with a colorful painting of an outdoor cafe full of people. It had as much paint on it as I used in a week! Seeing that got me excited about having fluid paint handling in my pictures.

At the Art Association I worked with and became friends with a tortured man named Reynolds Beal, who was the product of one of the many artistic families still gracing Rockport in those days. His grandfather had been THE Reynolds Beal, an American impressionist painter, his uncle was Gifford Beal, another painter of the era and he was related to Stow Wengenroth a well known lithographer from the heydey of Rockport too, but I don't remember exactly how. Ren and I started a little company that I gave the whimsical name of DORKOHELIX INDUSTRIES. We made handlettered signs for the little businesses around town. Ren could do showcard leettering in the 1930's style and we made signs that looked period Rockport. I sold the jobs and did any woodworking that needed doing as I by now, had a workshop in my apartment on the Neck. I had built a workbench you could have strapped a horse down on. Antique dealers would bring me old stuff to work on, worthless old paintings, pieces of old circus wagons needing to be repainted, and old gilt frames needing repair and regilding. These connections with the antique dealers got me invited to show in their booths at the antique shows scattered around Boston. There were almost no galleries in which to sell paintings that weren't modern, so it was a good place to show my art besides my own gallery. They were the first New England customers and allies.

I was once loaned a painting by Margaret Pearson, a Boston school painter to sell on consignment. I took it to an antique show in Boston. It was about five feet high and was a nearly life sized nude. probably painted under the direction of Tarbell as she was his student. It was not an idealized figure, but a studio nude of an actual woman with the blood pooling in her feet, and the swayed back of a tired model who had stood too long. The fleshtones were wonderful though. it was a very nice piece of work and I was shocked when everyone pointed and laughed at it like naughty schoolboys. I wanted 800 dollars for it, no one even made an offer. A few years later Pearson was rediscovered and her work brought real money although the market is for her interiors.

One day I got a phone call from Ren Beals parents who lived near me in town. They had a grand house with tiered balconies overlooking the harbor. They wanted to know if I would like some old picture frames. When I got there, they took me down into a cellar room and pointed out a large stack of gilt early 29th century frames that had belongred to Reynolds Beal. I guess they knew I could work on them, and I had been a friend to their troubled son. Many of the frames were huge, 40 by 60 or larger. I didn't have a car so I picked them up one by one and carried them the two blocks to my apartment on my shoulder. Each time I passed the gallery of another artist, Bruce Turner, I had a more fabulous old frame. Most were big Whistler designs although a few were of the wide and intricate Beaux Arts, Sanford White style. After I had gone by about three times he could stand it no longer and accosted me. Where are you getting all those frames? he asked. I gave him a nice one and went back to get the next. Today those frames would go to a museum or at least to a fancy dealer after being restored. But I was lucky enough to have them and I made good use of them. I stacked them, and hung them around the walls of my apartment, and over the next year or two I made big paintings to go in them. I was the first painter in Rockport with gold frames I think, although that changed rapidly in another year or so.
I will continue this tomorrow.


Philip Koch said...

Wonderful post Stape- I feel I am there back in Rockport with you as I read.

Diane Greene said...

These memoir-type posts are fascinating. More! :)

Kendra Melton said...

That's a gorgeous painting. i love paintings of snow, I'm just drawn to them for reason.

willek said...

Just great posts, Stape. The best part is that your kids will have a great record of your trials and triumphs... and so don't we. You're a great example for all of us. Keep going!

Unknown said...

Fascinating and entertaining. Maybe "Local Color" should've been about your life.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

I intend to do another tonight

Stapleton Kearns said...

The painting is an Aldro Hibbard. I have shown his art before in the blog. If you search the blog for Hibbard you can see more,

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, I am trying to remember it all as this is my record of this era. I don't know if anyone else will write about this tiny corner of American Art history. I want to leave some record.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I want to see that movie, the closest it has shown is Plymouth Mass, a long way from here.