UPDATE: Click here for a link to a Google map with locations of Hopper’s sites in the White River Valley, labeled with the titles of the paintings.
Visitors to this weekend’s Vermont History Expo, on the grounds of the Tunbridge World’s Fair, will be driving past some of the places associated with Edward Hopper’s visits to Vermont in 1937 and ’38. To facilitate a quest, here’s a brief guide, with photos, for locating “Hopper’s places” along Route 110 between South Royalton and Tunbridge.
Hopper’s First Branch of the White River (1938) — the watercolor that graces the cover of my book, Edward Hopper in Vermont — shows the big curve in Route 110 that mirrors the bend in the river below. To paint this picture Hopper perched on the hillside above Route 110, near the intersection with Ducker Road, but the slope is now so heavily overgrown that it’s impossible to recreate his exact perspective. If you drive up Ducker Road and look back, however, you can just catch a glimpse of the First Branch. Look for the bridge that crosses the river a bit to the south. Stand on the bridge deck and in the riverbed below you’ll see the remains of the bridge that appears in Hopper’s painting. Look beyond to see the bend in the river.
Just to the north of the curve in Route 110 is the Slaters’ farmhouse, where Edward and Jo Hopper boarded in 1937 and ’38. Originally called Wagon Wheels, the farm property has been broken up and sold to various owners; the farmhouse is now divided into apartments that are usually rented to students at the Vermont Law School (located in South Royalton). Later this summer a historic site marker will be placed on the lawn, commemorating the practice of farmers accommodating tourists — including the Hoppers — during the Great Depression. (And in 1941, Eleanor Roosevelt slept here, while visiting Camp William James, an offshoot of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Tunbridge.)
On the northeast edge of the Slaters’ farm property is Jigger Hill, which forms the boundary between South Royalton and Tunbridge. Hopper dubbed it “Bob Slater’s Hill” and gave this title to his watercolor. He painted the hill from the field directly behind and above the farmhouse. To replicate his view, just drive up Ducker Road and use a zoom lens, as I did, to shoot across the field from the edge of the property (no trespassing in the field!).
In Jo Hopper’s sketchbook is a rough drawing labeled “Big hill at line bet. S. Royalton & Tunbridge – tawny color – clumps of dark masses. Line of willows following stream along foot of hill. Make big canvas.” Neither Edward or Jo, as far as I know, made a large painting of this scene, but both Jo’s sketch and Edward’s watercolor record their interest in “Bob Slater’s Hill,” the most prominent feature of the landscape that they gazed upon daily during their two month-long sojourns at the South Royalton farm.
I found a photocopy of Jo’s sketchbook in the archives of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York several years ago, while searching for any mention of Vermont in the files of the Edward and Josephine Hopper Research Collection. I was so thrilled to find Jo’s sketches with the handwritten notations of “S. Royalton” and “Tunbridge” that I broke the library’s silence with an exclamation of glee — surely a reaction to these scribbles that no one else has experienced, before or since!
Even more exciting, when Mike and I returned to Vermont we found that “Jo’s barns” are still there, alongside Route 110 about halfway between Wagon Wheels farm and the Tunbridge town center. I took the photo above from a roadside pull-off place that affords a view exactly duplicating Jo’s of a “dark-colored barn…L. of road.” We realized that the Hoppers must have parked their Buick in the very same place — more than 75 years ago. Once again, we imagined that we were indeed tracing the Hoppers’ path through our part of Vermont, with Mike at the wheel, like Edward, and me in the passenger seat, like Jo, recording the scenes that captured the Hoppers’ fancy as they scouted for places to paint.
Note: Jo Hopper’s sketchbook remains in private hand, and I’ve not been able to obtain permission from the owners to reproduce any of the sketches that I describe here and in my book (pages 37-38, 62, 79-82, 84). To my knowledge, the Vermont sketches have not been published elsewhere, but other pages from Jo’s sketchbook are reproduced in J. Anton Schiffenhaus, Silent Light–Silent Life: A Window into the World of Edward and Josephine Hopper, Provincetown, MA, 1996.
The town of Tunbridge, Vermont, is just a few miles north of South Royalton and Wagon Wheels Farm, where Edward and Josephine Hopper sojourned in the summers of 1937 and ’38. The White River, the subject of seven of Edward’s Vermont watercolors, runs through Tunbridge, but there are no known Hopper paintings or drawings of the river in that locale. It is clear, however, that the Hoppers drove up Route 110 toward Tunbridge, scouting for places to paint. From the passenger seat of their Buick, Jo Hopper sketched several barns, labeling them as along the “Tunbridge Road.” Although Jo’s sketches were never turned into paintings, the structures that captured the Hoppers’ interest are still there. They are immediately recognizable as the barns in Jo’s rough drawings, remaining as a visual link between Tunbridge and Edward and Josephine Hopper, and to me, a reminder of the Hoppers’ time in Vermont.
This weekend, June 21 and 22, the Hoppers return to Tunbridge — figuratively, at least — for the Vermont History Expo. On Sunday, at 11:00 a.m., I’ll be speaking in the authors’ tent about my book, Edward Hopper in Vermont, certainly a perfect fit for this year’s Expo theme: “Artists and Artisans: Vermont’s Creative Heritage.” See the full roster of the History Expo’s talks by Vermont authors, on both Saturday and Sunday, here. This wonderful two-day celebration of history and creativity will showcase many of Vermont’s fine artists and craftspeople, past and present, including folk artist Lee Hull of South Royalton. The beautiful artwork for the Expo poster (below) was donated by Vermont artist Anne Cady.
And there’s another Hopper connection at the Expo. The state’s Historic Sites Division will display a new roadside marker to be placed near the intersection of Route 110 and Ducker Road, on the lawn of the farmhouse formerly known as Wagon Wheels. With the heading “Tourists Accommodated,” the maker commemorates the practice of farmers taking in paying guests as a source of extra income during the Great Depression. The Hoppers are listed as among the famous guests who stayed at Wagon Wheels, as is Eleanor Roosevelt.
I’ll write more about the marker and post photos when it’s installed at the site, later this summer. Meanwhile, be sure to see it if you go to the Expo, and I hope you’ll also come to hear my talk. This time my focus will be about what I learned about Vermont history while researching the context of Hopper’s Vermont paintings. In other words, I’ll be talking about Hopper’s art as history. See you on the grounds of the Tunbridge World’s Fair!