Editor's note: The following essay was written in conjunction with the exhibition The Art of Sea-ing: William H. Drury, Charles Woodbury, and George Bellows, on view September 29, 2013 - January 19, 2014 at the Newport Art Museum. It was published November, 5, 2013 in Resource Library with permission of the Newport Art Museum. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the Newport Art Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:
The Art of Sea-ing: William H. Drury, Charles Woodbury, and George Bellows
by Nancy Whipple Grinnell
William Holland Drury was a Newport painter, printmaker, and first and foremost, an art educator. He headed the art department at St. George's School near Newport, Rhode Island, for 38 years; in Providence he taught at the Wheeler School and at the Rhode Island School of Design, where in 1927 he was among the first to teach etching. He inspired numbers of other young people including his five children. Two established artists played a formative role in Drury's own artistic development. From Charles H. Woodbury Drury learned plein air painting and etching techniques. Drury first attended Woodbury's Ogunquit Summer School in Maine around 1914, he taught there in 1927, and he absorbed his instructor's mantra that art is a subjective experience, important for personal growth. Drury's relationship with George W. Bellows, who summered in Newport in 1918 and 1919, was more social; they painted and picnicked together with their families, but Drury's later drawings and etchings show Bellows' influence and Bellows left him a color chart to practice with.
While Charles Woodbury had a wanderlust, rarely staying long in one place, and George Bellows' painting expeditions were largely confined to selected American art colonies, William Drury became a thoroughly Rhode Island artist. Born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, he spent part of his childhood in in Westerly, Rhode Island and attended The Rhode Island School of Design from 1906-1909. In 1913 he married Hope Curtis Davis, a Pawtucket artist who also graduated from RISD. In 1915 Drury began teaching art at St. George's School, located in the scenic Paradise area on the border of Newport and Middletown, terrain painted earlier by some of America's greatest artists. Although he loved the Caribbean and traveled frequently to the West Indies, Drury always returned to his home and studio on Paradise Avenue in Middletown. In addition to pursuing a long teaching career, Drury was a fine artist who chronicled the life of the waterfront in Newport, from the fishermen, sailors and swimmers, to the 1930 America's Cub races, to the beauty of its coastline. He wrote and illustrated for the Providence Journal and later illustrated the calendar section of the Newport Daily News.
Charles Woodbury left a legacy of art education, conveyed in three books including the Art of Seeing; Mental Training Through Drawing, the premise of which was that "art is not based on the way things are, but on things as you see and feel them." His course of instruction at Ogunquit attracted nearly a hundred students a summer and was so influential that an exhibition was later held of work by his students, many of whom became sought-after American painters. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in mechanical engineering, Woodbury became a disciplined artist who had a passion for portraying the movement of the ocean through studying the dynamics of waves. Unlike the glassy surfaces of luminist painting, Woodbury's painterly canvases diagrammed the intensity of a single wave with prismatic blues, greens, and browns. His views were not panoramic, instead using diagonals and fragments to create a sensation.
Drury likely first encountered Woodbury at the latter's studio in Boston, where in 1910 Drury was continuing his art education at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, under Edmund Tarbell. Both artists loved the sea. Woodbury's immediate effect on Drury's painting was evident from the comments of the reviewer of a 1915 exhibition at the Providence Art Club, "Mr. Drury is preeminently a lover of the sea and loses no opportunity to study its varied moods and the walls of the gallery are hung with a collection of marines vigorous and colorful, for the most part painted from the deck of the steamer crossing the Atlantic." Drury's oils and watercolors from the 1910s and 1920s often have a Woodbury perspective, coming diagonally into the force and the 'flying spray" of the water. The "feeling of salt spray and the tang of the sea are with the observer," wrote another reviewer, an opinion undoubtedly approved by Woodbury.
With the advent of the United States entry into the First World War William Drury enlisted in the Navy, where among other duties he reported on the effectiveness of camouflaged ships. His oil painting from 1919, Passing the Guard Ship, portrays a camouflaged ship and a patrol boat. While Drury depicts the turbulent sea in vivid blue and green brushstrokes, he pays special attention to the boats. Unlike Woodbury, whose boats and people were incidental to the composition, Drury was interested in the ships and their passengers as subjects themselves. A reviewer who noted the difference between student and teacher in 1922, wrote: "Mr. Drury is not alone concerned with the ocean, but delights to make it the background for a panorama of moving and living things. When he shows us the heaving transport laboring in the trough of the sea and again lifted upon the flying crest of the sky, or the sailboat scudding before the wind, or some old salt standing in the hatch with weather eye to the wind, he undeniably adds a dramatic touch."
The drama in the work of William Drury was partly due to his familiarity with the art of George Bellows. Drury would likely have seen the Bellows paintings from the summer of 1913 on Monhegan Island, Maine, which were ablaze with greens, blues, and oranges applied in slashing brushstrokes of thick paint, as in Green Sea and Autumn Flame. Bellows had been exhibiting his paintings at the Art Association of Newport (now the Newport Art Museum). His Warships on the Hudson won the Richard Greenough prize there in 1917, the same year that he also had an exhibition. Bellows obsessed on theories of color and composition and made continual notes in his record book. So it was in character to leave Drury with a chart of the colors used in the summer of 1919, when Bellows painted landscapes such as Clouds and Meadows, Sunbeams and Rain, as well as the monumental Children on the Porch, depicting his daughters at their house, a painting for which the Newport Art Museum owns the sketch.
Both Woodbury and Bellows were masterful draughtsmen and printmakers. Woodbury made quick on-the-spot sketches. Bellows was less spontaneous in his drawings, planning carefully ordered compositions. At the end of the nineteenth century Woodbury embraced the art of etching, at first emulating James McNeill Whistler's exquisite tonalities, but later depending solely on lines -- slanting, crossing, vibrating lines that suggested rather than described. Racing Tide is a prime example of Woodbury's innovative etching technique, as are his bathers' etchings from 1915 and 1916, in which the figures, the water and the beach are similarly linear. Bellows' medium was lithography; his subject was the teeming life of the city and beyond -- prize fighters, shipbuilders, tennis players in Newport, beach and park goers. Legs of the Sea of 1921 was inspired by beachgoers at Third Beach; with his bold modeling of figures, limbs and costumes, the artist has created a humorous, realistic portrayal of people at leisure.
Drury chose the etcher's needle and his earliest plates were characterized by the same undulating, rising tide of lines employed by Woodbury. Minesweepers, The Patrol Boat, On the George's Bank and Evening at Sea, all created between 1918 and 1920, have high surging water lines with small, mostly indistinct boats on the horizon. By the 1920s however, Drury was incorporating drypoint, adding a richness of line that gave form and character to his sailors and fishermen. He often made preliminary drawings for his etchings. On a sabbatical from St. George's in 1925 Drury traveled to the Caribbean aboard the U.S.S. Kittery. His tonal drawing of the passengers and crew on board is reminiscent of Bellows' lithographs of crowds of people at events. Both Bum Boats, Cap Haïtien, and San Juan Stevedore, done on that 1925 voyage, show strong men at work, loading supplies in a very Bellows-esque manner. And yet it is Drury's skilled use of line that creates the rigging, the ropes, and the boats.
Ultimately it was a "sea-feeling" that inspired Drury's drawing and printmaking. "My interest is not so much to record a subject as to make you feel what is going on at the time through the design and motion of the sea -- to get a kind of sea-feeling into it...." His sea-feeling extended to those men who "go down to the sea." Drury depicted the stalwart face of Ted Sturtevant gazing seaward, in two different etchings. The Skipper is annotated "Captain Reardon on the Gladys," and Drury made an almost anatomical-like drawing of the schooner Gladys with its sails furled and knots tied. The Lookout, with a sailor standing at the top of a mast, and Hunting Swordfish show that, like Woodbury, Drury could impart great power to one line. And yet, as in a Bellows lithograph, these prints also convey the drama and emotion of the moment. The End of Day and The Swordfisherman evoke Drury's own sea-feeling, observing "an old fellow smoking his pipe and keeping ship at nightfall," and "the trip home at the end of day with the flocks of gulls following astern in the sunset light."
In the late 1920s and 1930s the Drurys often traveled with Woodbury to the Caribbean, where they sketched and painted on the islands of Trinidad, Barbados, St. Croix, St. Vincent, Dominica, Montserrat, Martinique and others. Drury's etching reverted to a more fluid, less structured technique. Perhaps the swaying palm trees and languid days called for a gentler hand. Bellows had died of appendicitis in 1925, but Woodbury was still going strong. David Woodbury recalled his father squatting on the deck of the ship with paintbox open, creating hundreds of watercolors, "each one done in a few minutes." Drury's watercolor palette was vibrant: "Mr. Drury conveys its vibrating color and heat through the use of a hot palette ...With notable absence of muddy tones, each painting clings to the top of the spectrum swinging clock fashion from orange across red to violets and purple blues. Clean golden yellow washes on the mats serve to heighten the feeling of exotic color dancing in clear washed atmosphere." Exhibitions were held at Doll & Richards in Boston and the Art Association of Newport in 1936, where the reporter said the staid Cushing Gallery was transformed into "an anteroom of the tropics."
The scenery and activity of Newport continued to be a stimulus as well. In the 1920s and 1930s Drury, according to his young pupils Bruce and Molly Howe, would take them sketching out of doors, "around Second Beach, or Sachuest Point or up on the Paradise Rock ridges or else near Purgatory or Whetstone or along the harbor front, anywhere from Ida Lewis to King's Beach around to Long Wharf." A drawing of sprawled beachgoers on King's Beach from 1933 seems inspired by Bellows' Legs of the Sea. Although Woodbury had visited Newport around 1909 when his son attended the Cloyne School and he exhibited at the Art Association as early as 1914, the artist seemingly never painted in Newport. Woodbury's The Narrow Cove, 1906, acquired by Rhode Island collector Ellen D. Sharpe, focused on the rippling water in Perkin's Cove, with red cap attired female swimmers. Drury later painted a swimmer with red bathing cap also in Perkins Cove, and, like Woodbury he created many quickly done pencil, watercolor and oil sketches of bathers, usually on the beaches of Aquidneck Island.
Bruce Howe, a close family friend of the Drurys, attended two of Woodbury's Ogunquit summer courses, and also accompanied the family to the Caribbean. Every summer he took lessons from Drury, who bought him a paintbox and brushes from Hatfield's Color Shop in Boston. In 1930 when J-boats raced in the first America's Cup Races held in Newport, the students sat on the wharves of the Williams and Manchester Shipyard drawing the boats. From his own sketches, Drury created etchings of the event. And in 1930 Drury painted a six-foot square nautical map of Narragansett Bay, in the newly constructed Seaman's Church Institute.
Drury's contributions to art education both in and out of the classroom were substantial. At St. George's, from which he retired in 1953, he was credited with teaching technique, but also instilling the value of creative thinking in his students. He was a pioneer in making art an integral part of the curriculum. He welcomed technology into the classroom, specifically the motion picture, as had Woodbury before him. Never an advocate of copying photographs, Drury thought that drawing from a movie was the next best thing to drawing from real life. A lifelong education activist, Drury had been on the Middletown School Committee during the 1930s and 1940s, he was president of the Council at the Art Association and he was the first president of the Norman Bird Sanctuary. In all his endeavors William Drury followed the precepts of Charles Woodbury's The Art of Seeing, "the belief that drawing, painting and modeling have a general human value and are natural forms of expression rather than ways that belong only to special talent and the Fine Arts."
Finally, William Drury had a lasting effect at the Newport Art Museum as well. A member of the Society of American Etchers with an extensive exhibition record at prestigious galleries, Drury exhibited at the Art Association regularly in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s, and lectured and taught there as well. He was a devoted president of the Council from 1950-'60, designing a logo and even encouraging President Eisenhower, when he was in Newport playing golf, to exhibit his work. After his death from heart disease in 1960, the dining room of the Newport Art Museum's Griswold House was renamed the Drury Gallery.
1 Ogunquit Museum of American Art, Charles H. Woodbury and His Students, July 1-August 12, 1998.
2 Exhibit at Art Club: Paintings and Pencil Drawings Shown by William H. Drury," Providence Sunday Journal, January 9, 1916, William Drury Scrapbook, Newport Art Museum Archives.
3 Undated review of Providence Art Club exhibition of William Drury and Dorothy Hunter Brown, March 3 to 14, 1920, William Drury Scrapbook, Newport Art Museum Archives.
4 The Home Forum," Christian Science Monitor, July 7, 1922.
5 William H. Drury, "Painting the Sea, a Problem of Motion, Pattern
and Color," Providence Journal, 1927, 15.
6 Joan Loria and Warren A. Seamans, Earth Sea and Sky: Charles H. Woodbury, Artist and Teacher (Cambridge, MA: MIT Museum, 1988), 17.
7 Irma Whitney, "Five in Single Family Exhibit Their Art in Different Media," Boston Evewning Transcript, December 16, 1936. The entire Drury family showed their work, with Mrs. Drury exhibiting tropical flowers.
8 Bruce Howe, "Mr. Drury Taught Us to Paint and Draw," unpublished, undated written recollections.
9 Narrow Cove, 1906, was given to the Rhode Island School of Design
Museum, by Miss Ellen D. Sharpe, in 1921.
10 Roberta Zonghi, "The Woodbury School: the Art of Seeing," in Earth, Sea and Sky, 36.
About the author
Nancy Whipple Grinnell is Curator at the Newport Art Museum.
About the exhibition
The Art of Sea-ing: William H. Drury, Charles Woodbury, and George Bellows is being held at the Newport Art Museum from September 29, 2013 through January 19, 2014.
This exhibition was made possible by many lenders and the
generous support of Edward and Wendy Harvey, The Murray Family Charitable
Foundation, Diane B. Wilsey, Philip and Patricia Bilden, Felicia Fund, Thomas
and Elizabeth Goddard, Eugene, Lynn and Anne Roberts, St. George's School,
Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Brown, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Mauran, and Fund from the
grandchildren and great grandchildren of William Holland Drury.
Works in the exhibition