WEATHERBOUND: The Art of Jay Hall Connaway In Our Time

by Ruth Greene-McNally



 

Wall texts

 

Entry text

 

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 timeless landscape.
 
This installation explores Connaway's lyrical response to the encounter of nature and culture.

 

Section texts

 
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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