Painting Vermont

Driving through the environs of Southern Vermont, a place I know so well, I am struck by the colors and the beauty of nature, especially in the Fall. Now that I’ve lived on the West Coast as much as the East Coast I have a perspective of the two places. This is the 12th year I have organized and conducted Plein Air Workshops in Vermont at the Landgrove Inn. My family has built and enjoyed a 2nd home for over 67 years right around the corner from the workshop barn at the Landgrove Inn. This is the place where I embrace myself as an artist. I always heard that as an artist you must connect with what you like to paint. Well, I like to paint Vermont.

My Backyard, Hilary Mills

My Backyard, Hilary Mills

One artist in particular that has popped up in unexpected places when going about my errands in Vermont is the artist, Aldro Hibbard (1886-1972). I go to the local strip mall bank in the middle of Londonderry and find right up on the wall behind the teller, one of Hibbard’s paintings. Hibbard painted many snow scenes from this area of Vermont. Who would have thought a bank teller also named Hilary could direct me over to the Hibbard specialist in the area. My quest took me to Karen Ameden at the General Store, who unlocked the treasures at the Jamaica Historical Society.

 

Road to Derry, Aldro Hibbard.

Road to Derry, Aldro Hibbard.

There are bios, paintings, and photographs through googling that enlighten me but the following out of print book and hard to find books are what really informed me about Aldro Hibbard. The books are: John L. Cooley, A.T. Hibbard, N.A.: Artist in Two Worlds, Rockport Art Association;2nd edition (1996) and the book: Judith A. Curtis, A.T.Hibbard, N.A. American Master, Rockport Art Association. These books provided history and proved to be a catalyst for me to understand and make serendipitous connections with my own work and my network. Aldro Hibbard like me found enough in nature for a lifetime of contemplation and study.

I must admit, I’ve been a student for life. I have an MS degree from Pratt Institute and an MFA from the Academy of Art in SF. Many pressures of identity and success are entwined in my work as an artist. I was however, questioning my skill sets, specifically drawing. Good drawing is the most important skill in painting. Currently, I am experiencing rigorous academic training at the Golden Gate Atelier in Oakland, CA. The tradition of copying cast drawings from Charles Bargue plates and rendering from plaster casts of classical statues is priceless. After many years of painting it may seem boring and non-sequetor to go back to the basics. When one studies art and art history in museums, humility forces the contemplation and comparison of levels of mastery. Why is one work of art more exceptional? It is evident in the training.

William McGregor Paxton, Tea Leaves, Oil on Canvas, 1909, Metropolitan Museum of Art

William McGregor Paxton,
Tea Leaves, Oil on Canvas, 1909, Metropolitan Museum of Art

There is a lineage of this training from the Academie Julian established by Rodolphe Julian in 1868. Aldro Hibbard’s teachers, were Edmund C. Tarbell, Frank Weston Benson, and William McGregor Paxton who had all received this rigorous academic training in Paris. Their teachers at the Academie were famous and respected artists employed by Julian were: Adolphe William Bouguereau (1825-1905), Henri Royer, Jean-Paul Laurens, Edgar Chahine, Ferrier, Tony Robert-Fleury, Jules Lefebvre and other leading artists of that time.

Paris, the center of the art world in the 19th and early 20th century was a magnet for aspiring artists. William McGregor Paxton, Edmund Tarbell, Frank Benson were exposed to the academic training at the Academie Julian, (Bargue plate copying, plaster cast copying, painting and composition) which invariably included copying Old Master paintings at the Louvre. The Impressionist movement was sweeping the city’s artist colonies and this movement and influence was impossible not to absorb as an artist. While in France these artists also traveled and were influenced by artists from different countries, especially Italy, Belgium, Germany and Spain

edmund-tarbell-reverie-1913-bostonmuseumoffinearts

Edmund Tarbell, Reverie, 1913, Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Upon return to Boston, Tarbell, Paxton, Benson became teachers at the Boston Museum School. They were often classified as the American Impressionists, as they had their own regional style, combining the painterliness of Impressionism with a more conservative approach to figure painting and a marked respect for the traditions of Western art history. Their preferred subject matter was genteel: portraits, picturesque landscapes, and young women posing in well-appointed interiors. Major influences included John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet, and Jan Vermeer.

Because Hibbard was a native of the Boston area, it was only normal from attending Massachusetts State Normal Art School that he would continue his education at the Boston Museum School. He received a scholarship to travel to Europe and upon his return quickly made a name for himself. Aldro Hibbard was not only an artist but also an active citizen of the town of Rockport, Massachusetts.  This man of many seasons traveled to his 2nd home in Jamaica, VT, where he painted scenes of mountains, rural towns, oxen pulling logs, and streams with snow as the backdrop. Hibbard’s work has the legacy of a time in America of hardworking New Englanders. Hibbard was also a leader among the Cape Ann artists community who evolved a style of
painting known as the Rockport School.

R.H. Ives Gammell, Lamentation

R.H. Ives Gammell, Lamentation

Fast forward to explain my lineage. Another student of the Academie Julian and the Boston School was Robert Hale Ives Gammell (1893 – 1981).  Gammell was the teacher for Richard Lack who is known for continuing the atelier tradition in Minneapolis. My teacher Andrew Ameral at the Golden Gate Atelier, studied under Daniel Graves in Florence. Daniel studied with Richard Lack and Nerina Simi.  Ms. Simi was the daughter of the Florentine painter Filadelfo Simi, who had studied with Jean-Léon Gérôme, the head of the French Academy in Paris in 1870.  With such a rich backdrop of training in Florence my teacher, Andrew Ameral was the primary teacher of Anatomy and Ecroche and has returned to Oakland to carry on the tradition.  The family tree of art if you will. 5. R.H. Ives Gammell, Lamentation

This is quite the summary of name dropping and the education of many but it illustrates the continuum of training the eye. So when I drive around Vermont and hear that there’s a heroin problem it simultaneously breaks my heart and also fills my heart with gratitude that I was spared by my appreciation of art and nature. My fortuitous luck just took a loving family, curiosity and education for which I am very thankful.

When I contacted the Jamaica Historical Society one fine September day, I was driven to the exact spots where Aldro Hibbard painted.  I stood right where he stood.  I looked at the same views he looked at.  I wanted to tell him how I too love VT.  I wanted to tell him how I have carried on the French Tradition.   I need to get busy and paint and correct my Vermont paintings now. I have no excuses when Hibbard completed his paintings in subzero temps. “Just go out and do it, and “Work, Work, Work.” Benson would say.  Now that I’m back in my studio in California, I work from life but will have to use photos from Vermont even though I know my subject.  It’s ok being an artist in two different worlds as I enjoy the idea, through knowledge comes confidence. Next time you drive through a non-descript, one store town in Vermont, you might want to slow down and consider it’s world history.

Town Sign from Jamaica Vermont

Town Sign from Jamaica Vermont

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