Hopper’s Still in Vermont … But Leaving Soon!

Edward Hopper in Vermont, the book visits the exhibition, with author and guest curatorAs I write this, Edward Hopper’s Vermont watercolors and drawings are in Vermont for just 10 more days, until the August 11th closing of the exhibition at the Middlebury College Museum of Art. If you haven’t yet seen this wonderful, unusual exhibition, hie yourself over to Middlebury to get a good look at these beautiful, unique Hoppers, displayed together and in Vermont for the first time — and probably the last time, sad to say.  If you need further convincing, read the glowing comments written by visitors to the exhibition, excerpted and transcribed on the Middebury Museum’s blog.

On August 12th the exhibition will be disassembled. The Hoppers, including the fascinating sequence of watercolors and drawings of scenes along the White River, will be carefully taken down from the walls of the gallery and prepared for crating and shipping back to their individual permanent homes in museums and private collections througout the U.S.  Those that are owned by museums will most likely be put into storage — as they are fragile works that are subject to damage from too much exposure to light — and they may not be put on display again for five or six years or more, even in their home institutions.  Thus I’m not exaggerating when I say that this week may well be your last chance to see them, other than in reproductions!

I will continue to write about Hopper and his Vermont works on my blog, as I still have some back stories to add to those that are in my book, Edward Hopper in Vermont (University Press of New England, 2012). The book includes color plates of all of the Vermont watercolors, the 16 paintings displayed at Middlebury and the 5 works that the Museum was not able to borrow.  I’ll write about those 5 — and why they weren’t at Middlebury — in my next post.  In the meantime, Hopper will soon depart from the Green Mountain State, so be sure to get over to Middlebury to pay him a visit and to wish him a fond farewell.  I for one will do so with a tear in my eye….

Josephine Nivison (Hopper): Life Before Edward

In 1920, four years before her marriage to Edward Hopper, the artist Josephine Verstille Nivison (1883-1968) spent the summer in Vermont, as a crafts counselor at the Aloha Hive camp on Lake Fairlee. It may well have been Jo’s experience at Aloha Hive, living for two months in the peace and beauty of the Green Mountains, that subsequently led her to urge Edward to “try Vermont,” as she put it, in search of new landscapes to inspire his paintings. At least that’s what I opine in my book, Edward Hopper in Vermont (University Press of New England, 2012).

The camps of the Aloha Foundation are still vibrantly active, with generations of Aloha alumni throughout the country.  Recently I shared this story — of Josephine Nivison, the future Mrs. Hopper, as an Aloha Hive counselor — through the Aloha Foundation’s newsletter, Reveille!  You can find the complete issue online, and here’s the excerpt with my article:
Jo Hopper at Aloha Hive, 2013 Summer Reveille, Aloha Foundation

While I was writing my book I visited the archives of the Aloha Foundation to search for any remaining traces of Jo’s stint there as a counselor. Two items turned up:  Jo’s original registration card, and a panoramic photo showing all of the counselors and campers in 1920.
November 2010 105With a magnifying glass and the zoom lens of my camera, I was able to pick out Jo.  Here she is, in the center of the back row, clad in the camp costume of middy blouse and tie (over bloomers, blessedly out of sight here!).
November 2010 057AWhen this photo was taken Jo was 37 years old, a frustrated artist who’d been earning a living as a teacher in the hard-knock elementary schools of New York City.  Years earlier, Jo had been a student of the famous New York artist and teacher Robert Henri (1865-1929). In 1906 Henri painted a lovely portrait of the aspiring young artist, 23 years old, elegantly attired and with a direct and somewhat wistful gaze.

The Art Student (Miss Josephine Nivison)

This was perhaps Jo’s first time to serve as an artist’s model, though certainly not her last.  During her 43-year-long marriage to Edward Hopper, she served as the only model for the female figures in his paintings. This was a role that she could not have foreseen in 1906, as she posed for Henri, or even in 1920, while teaching crafts to young “Hivers” in Vermont.


Robert Henri (1865-1929), The Art Student (Miss Josephine Nivison), 1906, oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo credit John Nienhuis.


As Edward Hopper’s wife, Jo Nivison did much to insure his success, while at the same time her own work as an artist received little recognition. Nevertheless, Jo is on virtually every page of my book about her husband, in text or subtext, as his constant companion and muse and, most significantly, as keeper of the Ledger Books that remain the primary record of the creation and sales of Edward’s paintings.

Jo Hopper’s presence “behind the scenes” was apparent in last summer’s exhibition of Edward Hopper’s Vermont works at the Middlebury College Museum of Art.  In this case, the scenes are all of Vermont, a place that she knew before Edward did, thanks to her summer on Lake Fairlee.  We know as much as we do about the Vermont paintings and drawings — when and where they were made, when they were sold and for what price, and who purchased them — thanks to Jo’s detailed notes and the loquacious letters she wrote to Edward’s colleagues and those who bought the works. Jo also maintained a lively correspondence with the Vermont farm family where the Hoppers boarded in the late 1930s.

Many readers of my book, as well as visitors to the exhibition, have expressed curiosity about Jo as an artist.  Let’s hope that some day we’ll see a book about Jo — and even an exhibition of her work.  In the meantime, to read more about her, and to see reproductions of her work, see these articles:

Gail Levin, “Josephine Verstille Nivison Hopper,” Woman’s Art Journal, Spring/ Summer 1980, pp. 28-32.

Gail Levin, “Writing about Forgotten Women Artists: The Rediscovery of Jo Nivison Hopper,” in Kristen Fredrickson and Sarah E. Webb, Singular Women: Writing the Lives of Women Artists (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

Elizabeth Thompson Colleary, “Josephine Nivison Hopper: Some Newly Discovered Works,” Woman’s Art Journal, Spring / Summer 2004 (Vol. 25, No. 1).

Marian Wardle, ed. American Women Modernists:  The Legacy of Robert Henri, 1910-1945. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Museum of Art; New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. 2005.

To peruse all my posts about Edward and Josephine Hoppers in Vermont — about my book, the Middlebury exhibition, and what I call “The Aloha Connection” — start from my home page.



They’re back in Vermont…Hopper’s Vermont Watercolors and Drawings, at the Middlebury College Museum of Art

Opening Event: Friday, 7 June, 4:00 p.m. ….Scroll down for details.


Edward Hopper.
Vermont Sugar House (1938).
Collection of Louis Moore Bacon.

Need I say more?  Well,  yes…this is, after all, my blog and my soapbox! I have to underscore that the Middlebury exhibition offers what is most likely a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Edward Hopper’s Vermont works reunited and hanging together in the Green Mountain State, the place where they were made. These watercolors and drawings have come to Middlebury from all over the United States, on loan from five private collectors and six museums.  They’ve been assembled as a unique group of Hopper’s works related to a single place — Vermont — for the first time, other than in the pages of my book.

Most of these works have only rarely, if ever, been exhibited outside of their owners’ homes or away from their home institutions. And none of them have come home to Vermont since Hopper packed them into the trunk of his car, at the end of his various summer sojourns between 1927 and 1938, and drove them back to his winter home in New York City.

Seen “in person,” Hopper’s paintings are strikingly beautiful, with colors that have remained strong — an advantage of their being so rarely on display and thus protected from the damage caused by too much exposure to light.  As watercolors, they have a translucence that reveals the artist’s underlying pencil sketch and, in some cases, traces of his changes and corrections. The Conté crayon and pencil drawings, which relate directly or indirectly to the finished watercolors, record Hopper’s interest in the details of the Vermont landscape — trees, rocks, water, the shape of the mountain ridgeline — and  evidence his process in developing final compositions.

Middlebury’s installation, by museum designer Ken Pohlman, provides a lovely setting for these Hoppers, spaced to favor intimate examination of individual pieces as well as to  facilitate comparison of works made on Hopper’s various visits to Vermont. Ken included location maps and photographs of Hopper’s sites and the Hoppers’ own records of Vermont paintings – Jo’s descriptive notes and Edward’s sketches – in reproductions of pages from their Ledger Books. A guest book from the Slaters’ farm, signed by Edward, original letters from Jo Hopper to Irene Slater, and other period ephemera are displayed in a case.  And there are two kinds of labels for this exhibition: I provided the storyline for the Hoppers’ time in Vermont, and Richard Saunders, museum director and Middlebury professor, wrote about the works from his perspective as an art historian.  Richard’s commentary, based on his direct observations of the original works in this rare assemblage, is another unique aspect of the exhibition, complementing and augmenting what I’ve written.

Need I say more?  Just one more thing:  The official opening event for the exhibition is on Friday, June 7 — a great chance to see the exhibition, hear my talk, and join the reception to celebrate bringing Hopper home to Vermont!  Details are below.


Friday, 7 June 2013
4:00 p.m.
Middlebury College Museum of Art
Edward Hopper in Vermont
Lecture and slide presentation
by Bonnie Tocher Clause, author and guest curator for Middlebury’s exhibition of Edward Hopper’s Vermont watercolors and drawings.
Book signing and reception following the lecture.


Lecture location: Concert Hall / Mahaney Center for the Arts
72 Porter Field Road / Middlebury, VT / 802.443.5007

Installation in Progress: “Hopper in Vermont” Opens on May 23!

photo (2)

Tuesday, May 21:
The Hoppers are hung at the Middlebury College Museum of Art, and exhibition designer Ken Pohlman is putting the finishing touches on a beautiful installation, an elegantly simple setting for Hopper’s wonderful watercolors of Vermont.

But no spoilers here!  You’ll have to go and see this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition for yourself, opening on Thursday, May 23, and running through August 11.  It’s free and open to the public,as is the official opening event on Friday, June 7. See the Middlebury Museum’s web site for details.

Thursday, May 23:
With a host of Hopper happenings, May 23 could be designated “Edward Hopper Day 2013.”  May 23 is the opening day for not just one but two exhibitions of Edward Hopper’s works, both “firsts” for their particular scope, focus, and content.

In addition to Edward Hopper in Vermont in Middlebury, an unusual Hopper exhibition opens at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Hopper Drawing is billed by the Whitney as “the first major museum exhibition to focus on the drawings and creative process of Edward Hopper.”

The two exhibitions–in Vermont and in New York–are nicely complementary, as there are five Hopper drawings in the Middlebury show of Vermont works. Four of these are on loan from the Whitney and one is from a private collector, and they have rarely, if ever, been displayed.  Hopper made these five drawings on trips into Vermont between 1927 and 1938 as he was scouting for scenes to paint. As preparatory drawings for watercolors, they show Hopper’s interest in the details of the landscape–trees on a hillside, rock formations in the river–and they evidence his process in developing compositions for paintings.

Also on May 23 in New York City is Christie’s auction of two Hopper works, Blackwell’s Island (oil, 1928) and Kelly Jenness House (watercolor, 1932). These two works are predicted to fetch record-breaking prices for Hoppers. You can watch the bidding online Thursday morning–and fantasize that you’re in the room and raising your card!

Well, we can’t all own a Hopper, but at least we have plenty of chances to visit them in great museums this summer!

Hopper’s Vermont in “Antiques & Fine Art Magazine”


Edward and Josephine Hopper in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, 1927.
Photograph: The Arthayer R. Sanborn Hopper Collection Trust (2005). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

In the summer of 1927 Edward and Josephine Hopper had been married for three years. They had just purchased their first car, a used Dodge, enabling them to drive from New York City for their summer excursion  into New England. That year they went first to Cape Elizabeth in Maine, where the photo above was taken.

From Maine the Hoppers traveled to the Whitney Studio Club’s summer establishment in Charlestown, New Hampshire. From Charlestown they made their first trips into Vermont, crossing the Connecticut River — the boundary between New Hampshire and Vermont — and driving into the area near Bellows Falls.

To read more, follow this link to my article in AFAnews.com, originally published in the Spring 2013 issue of Antiques &  Fine Art Magazine. This piece includes beautiful reproductions of Hopper’s Vermont watercolors and two of his drawings, along with my own photos of sites along the White River in Royalton, Vermont.  Enjoy — and for the full version of the story, read my book, Edward Hopper in Vermont!

Edward Hopper in Vermont … in New York


Christie's 02.24.2013 039c

Christie's 02.24.2013 039d



Edward Hopper in Vermont has surfaced in New York, and  I’m happy to report that my book is now providing escape reading for Manhattanites. Ideally, come June, these folks will make a real escape from New York—as did Edward and Jo Hopper—and head north to Vermont, where  Hopper’s Vermont drawings and watercolors will be on display at the Middlebury College Museum of Art. This will be the first return of these works to Vermont since Hopper made them, during various summers between 1927 and 1938.

Last Sunday, thanks to an invitation from Christie’s auction house in Rockefeller Center, I spoke to an appreciative audience of New Yorkers about my book and Hopper’s time in Vermont. Most of them were surprised—as are Vermonters—to hear this story and see my photos of the places that Hopper painted in the Green Mountains.  Actually, though, if affiliation were based on longevity of residence, many of Hopper’s Vermont watercolors would have to be considered New Yorkers.

At least seven of the Vermont watercolors have been in New York ever since Hopper unpacked them from the trunk of his car, returning to the city after summers in New England. These paintings were still in Hopper’s studio after Edward and Jo Hopper  died–in 1967 and ’68, respectively–and consequently they were part of the Josephine N. Hopper Bequest to the Whitney Museum of American Art.  They remain in the Whitney today, emerging from time to time to appear in the pages of the annual desk or wall calendars, but rarely (if ever) exhibited.  Happily, all of them will travel together from New York to Vermont this summer, joining their “siblings” for the Middlebury exhibit.

Another of the Vermont watercolors, Barn and Silo, Vermont, painted in 1927 during Hopper’s first trip to Vermont, also became a permanent resident of the Big Apple. It was purchased almost immediately after Hopper delivered it to the Frank K. M. Rehn Galleries,  along with other watercolors from that summer’s trip, to Cape Elizabeth and Portland in Maine and the Bellows Falls area in Vermont. The buyer was Lesley G. Shaefer, a New York stockbroker who was on an art-buying spree during the economic boom that preceded the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Shaefer paid $300 for Barn and Silo; Rehn took a one-third commission, and Hopper received $200. [Compare this with the $1.7+ million price realized for Barn at Essex, a Hopper watercolor from 1929, auctioned at Christie’s in November 2012!]

Barn and Silo, VermontBarn and Silo, Vermont remained hidden away in Shaefer’s New York abode until 1973, when it was part of his widow’s unexpected bequest of antiques and fine art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This Hopper watercolor has been on display only briefly at the Met and otherwise has been exhibited just once, in 1989 at the Musée Cantini in Marseille, France. Like White River at Sharon, which was in the recent Hopper exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, Barn and Silo has traveled to France but it has never been shown in Vermont. This gap it its resume will be corrected in May, when it will return for the exhibit at Middlebury.

Oddly enough, the Metropolitan Museum published a poster of Barn and Silo, Vermont  in 1995, even though the painting was in storage at the time, unavailable for viewing by visitors to the museum. Years later, however, this poster served a fortuitous purpose for me: It was my initial tip-off to the connection between Edward Hopper and Vermont.  The Met’s Barn and Silo, Vermont, the poster reproduction, now hangs in a place of honor in our South Royalton home. Hopper’s Barn and Silo, Vermont, the original watercolor, will travel from New York to Middlebury in May, returning for the first time to its birthplace of more than 85 years ago.

I’ll write more about the back stories of Hopper’s Vermont paintings — the New Yorkers and the ones that reside in other places throughout the country — as we get closer to May and the opening of the Middlebury exhibit.  Stay tuned!

Christie's 02.24.2013 045

Hopper is BIG in New York! The super-sized image In Christie’s window, facing Rockefeller Plaza, is Hopper’s “October on Cape Cod,” sold in November 2012 for nearly $10 million. The original, an oil painting from 1946, is considerably more modest in size, at approximately 26 x 42 in.

Hopper’s White River: Living Up To Its Name

Edward Hopper didn’t visit Vermont in the winter (he hated cold weather), so he never saw the White River cloaked in snow and ice. His seven watercolors of the river landscape in Royalton, Bethel, and Sharon display the colors of late summer — grasses and trees with the yellowish tones that are a harbinger of autumn, pale blue waters rippled by wind, and the deep indigo shadows that mold the hills in the late afternoon.

Clause_FNL_web.jpgHopper’s First Branch of the White River, painted in 1938 in South Royalton, is the most intensely colorful of his Vermont landscapes.  This watercolor, in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston, is the best-known of Hopper’s Vermont paintings. It was included in the 2007 – 2008 Edward Hopper exhibition — the most recent retrospective of Hopper’s works in the U.S. — which travelled from Boston to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Art Institute of Chicago, so you may have seen it in one of those venues. First Branch is also the most-often  published of the Vermont works, and it’s on the cover of my book, Edward Hopper in Vermont.

We think Hopper missed something of Vermont’s beauty by not being here in the winter.  So last week, after a few days of frigid weather (-16 degrees F, one morning…yes, that’s a minus sign!) we decided to take a ride up Route 110 to take a look at the First Branch of the White River as Hopper never saw it. Here are the results — and just click on the photos to see them full-size.

Hopper's VT in Winter, Jan 2013 011Hopper's VT in Winter, Jan 2013 020

Hopper sat on the hillside near the Slaters’ farmhouse to paint the First Branch. In 1938 the area was still in pasture, but now it’s densely overgrown, making it impossible to exactly re-create Hopper’s perspective. But in winter, with the leaves off the trees, you can just see the curve in the river from a spot on Ducker Road that’s close to the place where Hopper propped his stool and easel. As you move down the road a bit, toward Route 110, the bridge becomes visible, crossing the First Branch near the site of an old mill.

There’s no place to stop along Route 110 for a view of the First Branch, so we drove down to the bridge so I could shoot photos of the frozen river on the far side of the bend. Hopper was facing south, roughly, and I faced north, looking back toward the hillside where Hopper sat. The tall pines may be the same ones that are in Hopper’s painting, as these trees live to a ripe old age. The slabs of concrete in the river are probably from the foundation of the bridge that was there in Hopper’s time, remains of the landscape of 75 years ago. Within the river there’s a whole new landscape, albeit a temporary one, a microcosmic universe formed by the ice.
Hopper's VT in Winter, Jan 2013 022Hopper's VT in Winter, Jan 2013 029









While the sun was shining, we drove back up Ducker Road to take a look at the Slaters’ farm property in the snow.  I photographed an old sugar maple, one that may have been there before the land was subdivided and the new owner built this house.  Were it not for the structures,”Bob Slater’s Hill,” as Hopper called it, would be visible in the background, as it is in Hopper’s picture, Sugar Maple, from 1938.
Hopper's VT in Winter, Jan 2013 005

Edward Hopper, Sugar Maple






There was still enough daylight to catch one more of Hopper’s views of the White River looking white, so we drove southeast on Route 14 to the place shown in White River at Sharon.  I’d noted in a previous post about the French connection (“Hopper’s White River: The View from Paris”) that this spot is a swimming hole in the summer —  but no bathers were in sight on this January day!  The rock formations are now snow covered, but if you click on the image and look closely, you can see the match with Hopper’s watercolor — and there’s even a dead tree in the center of the outcrop.
Hopper's VT in Winter, Jan 2013 032Edward Hopper, White River at Sharon, 1937. Watercolor and pencil on paper, 21-3/4 x 29-3/4 in. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.






This painting, by the way, is still in Paris. The Edward Hopper exhibition at the Grand Palais was so successful that it was extended for an additional week, then stayed open round-the-clock to accommodate the anticipated 40,000 last-minute visitors! The exhibition closed on February 3, so in a few days this picture of the White River will be crated up and on its way back to its home in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

It’s Winter in Vermont…

It’s wonderfully cold and snowy in Vermont, weather that gives me hope that winter hasn’t entirely disappeared from our planet. I thought that this would be a good time to replace my header photo — the one of a stack of books outside on a balmy autumn day — with a more seasonal shot, showing the book situated cozily indoors.

Vermont is beautiful in the snow, but Edward Hopper didn’t like cold weather, and so we have no Hopper watercolors of the White River looking truly white.  For those kinds of pictures we have to look  to Aldro Hibbard and Willard Metcalf, who painted en plein air even in frigid weather and left us some gorgeous winter scenes, some of them in Vermont, with rivers and brooks streaming through islands of ice.

Hopper Studio 069Edward and Josephine Hopper spent their winters in New York City’s Greenwich Village, at 3 Washington Square North. Their residence, a walk-up on the top floor, comprised living quarters and two studios, Edward’s in the front and Jo’s in the rear of the building. They lived there from the time of their marriage, in 1924, until they died, Edward in 1967 and Jo less than a year later.

Presumably the Hoppers kept reasonably warm, with both a fireplace and a cast-iron pot belly stove, made by the W. M. Crane Company, but they had to bring coal up from the basement, either using the dumbwaiter or walking up four flights–a climb of 74 steps.

Hopper Studio 060Hopper Studio 046The building was and is owned by New York University, and although the space has been used for offices for many years, some of the accoutrements of the Hoppers’ home are still there  — the coal-burning stove (sans stovepipe), Edward’s etching press and easel, and a few pieces of furniture. A  few years ago I signed up for a group tour of 3 Washington Square, with fellow alums from Columbia University, and I took these pictures then. Note that the place looks pretty much the same as it did in 1947, when Bernice Abbott took the famous photo that’s now hanging over the fireplace. Even at his most successful, Hopper remained frugal, and his and Jo’s homes were sparsely furnished, in keeping with their rather Spartan lifestyle.
Hopper Studio 041The Hoppers also had a cookstove, a York range with burners and an oven, but it’s hard to imagine preparing meals in the tiny “kitchen.” It’s a stretch to even use the term for this cramped space, divided by the narrow hallway that runs through the center of the apartment, with the stove on one side and a small sink and half-sized Frigidaire on the other.  No wonder Jo hated to cook!  I suspect that the  “Do not touch” signs placed by NYU would have met with her enthusiastic approval.
Hopper Studio 048Mike and I — no Spartans we! — have a Vermont Castings stove that we use for atmosphere and extra warmth on really chilly nights.  It runs on propane and is certainly easier to operate and probably a lot more efficient than the Hopper’s cast-iron coal stove. But it nevertheless reminds me of him, and so I thought it would be another good setting for a photo of the book.  Since Edward Hopper is here in Vermont this winter, figuratively speaking, the least I can do is to keep him warm.

January 2013 Hopper in Winter 024

Jan 2013, Vermont, Russ Hill 014Today, while taking a walk on the road that runs up the hill from our house, we found evidence in an abandoned shed that some of our long-ago neighbors had something in common with Hopper, at least in the stove department.

I guess this is just Jan 2013, Vermont, Russ Hill 013yet another take on “Finding Edward Hopper in Vermont.”

And a postscript:
While you’re keeping warm on these cold winter evenings, I can recommend a great book to read while you’re curled up by the fire:  Edward Hopper in Vermont.

Hopper’s White River: The View From Paris

One of Edward Hopper’s Vermont watercolors, White River at Sharon (1937), is now on view in Paris, in the major Hopper retrospective exhibition at the Grand Palais. It’s on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum until the end of January 2013, when it will return to its home in Washington, D.C.
Edward Hopper, White River at Sharon, Smithsonian American Art MuseumEdward Hopper, White River at Sharon, 1937, watercolor and pencil on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation.

I’ve been wondering what the French think of this small painting–whether this modest watercolor and others of its ilk attract any attention among the scores of major Hopper works on display, including the iconic Nighthawks (1942) and Gas (1940).  So I did a search to see if the Vermont watercolor received any notice in reviews of the Grand Palais show. Not surprisingly, I found no mention of it by critics or curators, but Googling nevertheless revealed that White River at Sharon is not a total stranger to the French.  In 1995, a portion of this painting was used as the cover image for the French edition of Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America (La pêche à la truite en Amérique). Thus this Vermont watercolor may actually have had more popular exposure in France than in America!
Brautigan, Trout Fishing in America, French editionI found this unexpected piece of Hopperabilia on a blog called A propos de livres…”  The blogger writes that even before seeing the Grand Palais exhibition he was familiar with many of the paintings without knowing the name of the artist.  He then presents the covers of some 50 books–French editions, all–that carry images of Hopper paintings. This is an amazing compilation, and I wonder if anyone has done this for American book covers. New research project, anyone?

By the way, Richard Brautigan’s novella, originally published in 1961 and a classic from the hippie era, has nothing to do with Vermont.  But you can indeed fish for trout in the White River.

On another blog from Paris, Colleen wrote about seeing the exhibition and her impressions of “Hopper and the Continuation of the Impressionist Influence.” I wrote and asked if she’d seen White River at Sharon, and if she had any comments about this Vermont painting from the perspective of Paris. Today I had a wonderful reply from her.  She returned to the exhibit specifically to see the painting, examined it closely, and asked other visitors for their comments, which she then reported to me in vivid detail.  This is almost as good as being at the Grand Palais myself (perhaps better, since I don’t speak French and Colleen relayed the comments in English!).  Our exhange of comments is below, and you can read her original commentary on Colleen’s Paris Blog.”  As a rejoinder perhaps I’ll ask some Vermonters to comment on Hopper’s paintings of the Seine.

From Colleen’s Paris Blog:

Bonnie Tocher Clause wrote:

I see that my recently published book, “Edward Hopper in Vermont,” is listed at the end of your blog; great! It includes reproductions of Hopper’s Vermont watercolors, and one of them, “White River at Sharon,” is in the Paris exhibit. Did you notice it? I’m curious to hear comments about it from the Parisian point of view.

Colleen wrote:
Dear Ms. Clause, Standing close, far away, to the side, the watercolor, “White River at Sharon” attracts little attention. The attention is general in nature. The works in the room “Watercolors 1926-1937″ related to the audio guide and the wall explanation attract the visitors. Whispering, it is difficult to hear what visitors say about “White River…” so finally I ask.

Two French guys probably in their late 20s stand and look at the painting. They stand a while. I tell them about Jo’s notes (wife of Hopper) of a railroad track. Until reading that passage in your book online (Google books), I had seen nothing of interest in the work, only the nature.

Once I posed questions to the gentlemen, a group formed and listened as we conversed. The guard approached us, telling me that pointing at the paintings is not permitted. Perhaps she was afraid I would slip and put my finger on the art.

Once the line of the track is pointed out, they see the embankment. It now stands out among the nature. Otherwise, the watercolor held no particular interest for the visitors.

I leave and then return to the room as a fresh crowd enters.

A mother and daughter stand in front pointing to the upper right corner.

Questioning them, they notice the previously unnoticeable brown line. They have no idea of its meaning; however, they speculate.

The daughter presents the idea that Hopper paints stable, unmoving objects in all his other works. This painting is unusual for the movement of the trees, the clouds, the water lapping up against the rocks. The mother is interested and curious about the composition of the tree on the rock: leaves and green on one side, dead branches on the other.

The daughter is in preparatory studies for literature at university. They are looking for the literary in the paintings. In that frame of thinking, I suggest that perhaps the dead side of the tree points toward the railroad track and represents a road to nowhere; a road of inactivity, which leads to death.

I hope this is what you had in mind as to commentary on “White River at Sharon”. Colleen

Edward Hopper, Vermont, and the Aloha Connection

No, this is not the title of a new song by the Muppets. Rather, it’s a short story about coming across an odd and unexpected reference to the Aloha Spirit while doing the research for Edward Hopper in Vermont—a connection that’s aside from my having lived for many years in Hawai’i. Bear with me while I establish the links.

A couple of weeks ago I read a wonderful article in the New York Times travel section about the visit that Georgia O’Keeffe made to Hawai’i in 1939.  Of course I was immediately struck by the parallels with Edward Hopper’s visits to Vermont during the same time period. Both of these stories involve New York artists’ anomalous sojourns in beautiful, rural places, far off the beaten track. O’Keeffe stayed in Hana, a plantation town on the outer island of Maui, and Hopper boarded on a farm in central Vermont, where cows outnumbered people. In both cases, the result was a small number of distinctive works that could not have been painted elsewhere, the flamboyant O’Keeffe’s dramatic and brilliantly colored oils of I’ao Falls and tropical vegetation, and the quiet Hopper’s watercolor scenes of the White River, a more peaceful and subtle landscape. The eye witness to each of these stories was a child, both now elderly but still with us to tell the tale. In Hawai’i, Patricia Jennings, the 12-year-old daughter of the plantation owner, served as a guide for O’Keeffe, and in Vermont, 7-year-old Alan Slater, son of the owners of Wagon Wheels Farm, joined the cows in watching Hopper paint the First Branch of the White River.  Jennings has a photo of Georgia that she snapped in 1939. Slater owns a watercolor portrait of himself, painted by Jo Hopper in 1937.

The Georgia O’Keeffe story got me thinking about Hawai’i, and since I’m sitting in Vermont, it was a natural segue to thoughts of the Aloha Foundation and its camps—Aloha Hive, Lanakila, and Ohana—which are not on the beaches of Maui, O’ahu, or Kaua’i, but on the Vermont shores of Lakes Fairlee and Morey, just about 30 miles north of South Royalton. Unlikely as it may seem, these camps reflect a very real historical connection between New England and “the Sandwich Islands,” in this case, between Vermont and Hawai’i.  The Aloha camps were founded over 100 years ago by Edward Gulick and Harriet Farnsworth Gulick, who were the descendants of missionary families who had emigrated from New England to Asia and the Pacific in the early 19th century.  The Gulicks grew up in Hawai’i, most likely attended the missonary-founded Punahou School, and then reversed their ancestors’ itinerary, crossing the ocean to the U.S. Mainland and returning to New England.  In 1905 “Mother” and “Father” Gulick opened their first camp for girls, named Aloha in loving remembrance of Hawai’i, and based on the ideals of ethical service and community responsibility. Aloha was followed by Aloha Hive, for younger girls, and Lanakila, for boys. The Aloha camps have subsequently hosted multiple generations of loyal campers and continue to be vibrantly active to this day.

And now we get to the Hopper connection.  In the summer of 1920, four years before her marriage to Edward Hopper, Josephine Nivison worked as an arts and crafts counselor at the Aloha Hive camp. Jo was an accomplished artist—having studied painting with the famous Robert Henri—but an impoverished one. To earn a living she taught in the public schools of New York City. As a teacher, she may have been recruited by the Aloha Camps, or she may have answered an ad in the New York Times, offering “A Summer Opportunity” with “good salary” in an appealing and beautiful location, a respite from the heat and crowds of the city.  In any event, in 1920 Jo traveled by train to Ely, Vermont, and spent two months at Aloha Hive. Returning to New York after this stint in the country, she wrote that the problems of city life seemed remote and unreal.
I found no other mention of Aloha Hive in Jo’s letters in the Whitney Museum archives. But Josephine Nivison’s 1920 registration card, identifying her simply as a “craft councillor,” remains in the files at the Aloha Foundation in Fairlee, and I visited their archives to look for any traces of Jo’s summer in Vermont. In a box of assorted memorabilia I found a panoramic photo of all the Aloha Hivers from 1920, campers seated in the front row, counselors lined up in the back—and there was Jo, unmistakable for her curly hair and diminutive stature, dressed in the camp uniform of middy blouse and tie. Truth be told, her brow is furrowed, and she does not appear to have been infused with the esprit de camp—the Aloha spirit, in this case. Perhaps she was ill, as she had been when she left a difficult teaching job in New York City.
November 2010 057A

Nevertheless, the Aloha Hive landscape must have made a positive impression on Jo, for seven years later she encouraged Edward Hopper to drive across the Connecticut River into Vermont, in search of places to paint.  Perhaps she did indeed absorb the Aloha spirit–Vermont version–and the idyllic directive to the Aloha Hive campers in this paradise on the shores of Lake Fairlee:
“Get the rest and inspiration of this lovely spot. . . . Store up happy memories . . . and an  intimacy with the many beautiful places about Aloha. Shut your eyes and see if you can carry away with you for long years to come the picture you see from your tent, the wooded hills, the rippling lake, and the gray distant mountains.” (From a brochure cited by  Katherine S. Christie, “History of the Aloha Foundation,” 2003.)

Writing this makes me think once again how much Vermont reminds me of Hawai’i, something that seems odd only to those who haven’t experienced both places.  But that’s the subject of another story.

Lake Fairlee, Vermont, site of the Aloha Foundation camps. Photo: Bonnie Clause, 2010.