WEATHERBOUND: The Art of
Jay Hall Connaway In Our Time
by Ruth Greene-McNally
- WEATHERBOUND: The Art of Jay Hall Connaway
- This game called art, what is it? Am not sure I know. It seems that
realism, [is] a style of saying nothing very well; and Modernism, a style
of saying absolutely nothing very, very badly. There must be a middle.
- -- Jay Hall Connaway, Journal Entry
- Amid the storm of developments transforming America through the first
half of the 20th century an era marked by the political, economic,
and social upheaval of World War I, the Great Depression, and World War
II Jay Hall Connaway (1893-1970) earned eighty-five one-man exhibitions
and a reputation as "the master sea painter of his generation."
- Bound by dramatic locations and evoking a bold Impressionist style,
Connaway's painting appears searching for meaning that could not be found
on land or sea but solely in the rigor of a life devoted to art. Resisting
Avant Garde trends on the eve of modernity and, by mid-century, the momentous
ascent of the Abstract Expressionists, Connaway's subjects and united themes
translate the elemental powers of nature -- the weather-beaten ecospheres
of coast and countryside -- as an emotionally experienced, enigmatic, and
- This installation explores Connaway's lyrical response to the encounter
of nature and culture.
- Coast and Countryside
- Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first
- I came among these hills
- -- William Wordsworth
- Reminiscent of the visual traditions of 19th century American landscape
painting, Jay Connaway's marines and landscapes portray naturalistic subject
matter. Rather than allegorical or idealized interpretations, however,
Connaway's "moods of nature" emphasize psychological themes and
the all-encompassing transformations that defined 20th century culture.
Resisting prevailing trends in Social Realism, Regionalism, and Avant Garde
schools of art, Connaway responded to the outcomes and byproducts of the
precarious, ever changing, and largely uncontrolled industrial machine.
- Modern era developments revolutionized science, politics, and the arts,
including the traditional academic instruction Connaway practiced while
training in Indianapolis, New York, and Paris. An "en plein air"
painter like his predecessors, Connaway made use of the technology that
produced transportable materials, such as manufactured tube paints, yet
rejected a modern-day lifestyle to study the expressive language of wilderness
and sea. Inevitably, the progressive mood and individualism that marked
the period prompted many artists to abandon realistic imagery for flat,
hard-edged techniques suited to synthetic materials and the prevailing
social topics but the coast and countryside of Connaway's imagination was
represented as enduring, volatile, and enigmatic.
- Heaven and Earth
- Heaven that never was
- Nor will be ever is always true
- -- Dylan Thomas
- Connaway's figurative work and religious themes emphasize the artist's
outlook on humanity and the natural world. Early figurative sketches through
mid and late-career biblical subjects portray ideological human experiences.
Lone figures in the landscape observe the fundamental and unknowable realities
of a natural design greater than personal identity, while figures in interior
scenes represent individual purpose, resolution, and lament.
- Connaway's interpretations of iconic Christian subjects belie his agnostic
views but equal his equivocating stance between traditional Realism and
Modernist schools of thought. Created in deference to his wife, Louise
Boehl Connaway, these rarely exhibited sacred paintings were part of the
artist's estate collection. A relatively asocial figure, Connaway religiously
practiced his craft and favored reading world history and poetry, both
Lyric and Modernist.
Connaway and His Contemporaries
- Someone was saying
- how the wind dies down but comes back
- -- Mark Strand
- In 1947, Connaway relocated from Monhegan Island to Dorset, Vermont
in search of new subject matter and a more convenient lifestyle. He became
active in the Manchester arts culture and reestablished the art school
he had originated on Monhegan, welcoming advanced and novice painters as
well as returning servicemen studying under the GI Bill. In 1962, Connaway
merged his school with the Southern Vermont Arts Center and served as the
program's first director. He also taught art at Burr & Burton Academy
and in the Manchester Public Schools.
- Connaway seldom compared aesthetic notes with his contemporaries but
maintained connections with several regional painters including Luigi Lucioni
(1900-1988), Ogden Pleissner (1905-1983), Virginia Webb, (1920-2012), and
Leonebel Jacobs with whom he had shared a studio in New York. Connaway
continued to exhibit regularly in New York, throughout New England, and
locally at the Summer and Deeley Gallery. A beloved teacher and neighbor,
Connaway was widely collected by students and members of the community.
- About the Artist
- Jay Hall Connaway was born in Liberty, Indiana in 1893 to May L. (Brown)
and Cass Connaway, a prominent Indianapolis lawyer, judge, and collector
of Chinese art. Connaway began training at age seventeen at the John Herron
Art Institute in Indianapolis. Forced by his father's objection to abandon
his studies, Connaway worked his way cross-country by rail to the Pacific
coast and then to New York where he continued his education under scholarship
at the Art Students League and study at the National Academy of Design.
- In 1917, Connaway interrupted his incipient career to enlist for service
in France during the First World War. Suffering a combat wound shortly
into his tour of duty, Connaway was recommissioned as a cartographer and
subsequently reassigned to the task of medical illustration of wounds caused
by mustard gas exposure. Following his honorable discharge, Connaway studied
for two additional years in Paris at Academie Julien and Ecole des Beaux
Arts under the sponsorship of army doctors.
- Returning to New York in 1923, Connaway began exhibiting regularly
at Macbeth Gallery. While painting in the Adirondack Mountains and Head
Harbor, Maine, Connaway worked as a cook at a lumber camp and enlisted
as a surfman with the United States Coast Guard. He later became a doryman
with a fishing fleet off the coast of Newfoundland.
- Connaway painted in Peru, Vermont in 1926 and exhibited with the Dorset
Artists the following year. Under the sponsorship of Bartlett Arkell, Connaway
painted in Paris and Brittany between 1929-1931. Returning to a nation
overwhelmed by the Great Depression, Connaway retreated to the isolated
island of Monhegan, Maine, again at the behest of Arkell and opened an
art school in 1937. Connaway was elected as Full Academician by the National
Academy of Design in 1944. In 1947, Connaway moved his family to Dorset,
Vermont and reopened his school. In 1953, he bought a home and studio in
North Rupert. In 1962, Connaway merged his school with Southern Vermont
Arts Center and became the school's first director.
- Late career travels brought the painter to Spain, Portugal, California,
and Arizona. He returned to paint on Mohegan Island every summer and fall.
Jay Connaway died at his winter home in Arizona in 1970.
- Connaway is represented in collections throughout the United States,
including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Indiana Museum of Art, the
Colby College Museum of Art, the Arkell Museum, the Farnsworth Museum,
the Southern Vermont Arts Center, the Monhegan Museum, and the Portland
Museum of Art.
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