Editor's note: The following 1996 essay was published on August 13, 2004 in Resource Library with permission of Thomas Daives, New Canaan, CT. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay please contact Mr. Daives through the Rockport Art Association, or by writing to the author at 58 Beacon Hill Lane, New Canaan, CT, 06480.
A. T. Hibbard, N.A.
by Thomas Davies
While at Normal, Hibbard frequently visited the Museum of Fine Arts where he was particularly attracted to Monet. Fifty years later he commented, "Monet made sense. I liked his color separation and the effects he got. I decided broken color was for me." Besides the French impressionists he liked and studied the work of Metcalf and Hassam.
In the autumn of 1909, Aldro Hibbard entered the Boston Museum School of Art with an intensive four year program ahead of him. Among his instructors were Boston's most prestigious artists of the day, Frank Benson, Frederick Bosely and Edmund Tarbell. Again, as an exceptional figure painter, Hibbard found portraiture to be confining. He said years later. "My forte is being outdoors. That's where most of my life has been spent, by choice. That's where you get the stimulation and the excitement of the unexpected. Nature won't come to your studio, you must go to her." Aldro T. Hibbard was becoming a committed landscape painter.
After seven grueling years of study Hibbard was ready, in 1913 to conquer the real world. He was honored as the only American, and one of only four students to receive a two year Museum School Paige Traveling Scholarship to Europe. In September of 1913 he departed on the White Star liner Arabic for the United Kingdom to begin his whirlwind exposure to European culture, art, museums and a constant barrage of new stimuli wherever he went. His diary entries show he was fascinated by the National Gallery in London and visited it frequently. By November, he established quarters in Paris on Montparnesse. His exposure to new movements like Cubism and futurist art were met with displeasure, "rotten from every point of view." However, be judged the work of Sisley, Pissaro and other Monet's he studied as "quite good." After France Hibbard headed for Spain and the Prado in Madrid. His journal entries note he found some great pictures by Murillo and Velasquez. From Hibbard's diaries, it appears he was most impacted by a visit to the great Joaquin Soralla's home and studio where he met the master, was deeply impressed by his studio and ample supply of antiques, sculptures and flower gardens. Although Hibbard disagreed with Soralla's views on the value of art schools and visiting museums, he certainly agreed with his strong view on painting direct from Nature.
It was in Cercedilla near Madrid, in January of 1914 that Aldro T. Hibbard encountered a life changing event. In this very rugged region, he embarked upon a hike into the nearby mountains, with his paints, brushes and canvases. He got caught in a snow storm of blizzard proportions. The temperatures dropped sharply and it, "became so cold my medium froze and snow and sleet mixed with my paints. I finally got under the eaves of an old barn where ox teams and sheep were. About froze working, but such is art." The ground work was laid, the pattern was set for future Vermont snowstorms, oxen, loggers, horseteams, and maple sugaring scenes. Aldro Hibbard had taken the first step to becoming one of America's pre-eminent snow painters.
After a brief trip to Tangiers and return to several other Spanish cities, Aldro T. Hibbard departed for Italy and the Isle of Capri. Here the strong sun and brilliant blue waters, especially the Blue Grotto, resulted in some of Hibbard's strongest paintings of his ex-patriot years. He spent almost two months in the region. From Capri he went to Venice and bumped into one of his old painting mates, Louis Kroneberg. After Venice, Hibbard journeyed to Chioggia and perhaps his most productive period while abroad. His sketch books were full of entries. The brilliant colors, fascinating boats and the dress of local residents produced an unending source of subject matter for the young artist.
However, world events were catching up to Aldro Hibbard as the dark clouds of war were brewing across Europe. The papers were full of ominous news. By September, events were worsening. At one point, Hibbard was briefly arrested; thought to be a spy. By the end of September, the U.S. Consul instructed him to leave and he worked his way back to London, via Dieppe and soon departed for Boston aboard his old friend the liner Arabic (later sunk by a . German torpedo). A.T. Hibbard arrived in Boston on November 26, his two year scholarship cut short to only 14 months but nevertheless, more mature, having produced an impressive body of work and totally convinced that art would be his life ... with time out for baseball.
Back home, Hibbard continued to paint and work, while teaming up with Ernest Majors. In 1916 his first one man show was held at the Boston Art Club consisting of 192 pieces of both European and American subjects which were met with great success and good reviews. The Boston Globe review noted "The artist has no mannerisms, tackles all his subjects with great zest and excels in felicitous color and treatment of sunlight. The exhibition is highly enjoyable and the observer feels that the artist may go far." In the next few years, Hibbard exhibited a number of major snow pieces at the National Academy of Design, the Pennsylvania Academy, the Chicago Art Institute, and in keeping with his scholarship requirements, had a major landscape added to the M.F.A collection. In 1918 an exhibition at the Guild of Boston Artists, sealed his fame as a major snow painter with which to be reckoned. The Boston Globe review glowed. "Hibbard is a realist, you feel the reality of everything he paints, but the sentiment, the poetry is there also. Others paint snow that looks like white paint streaked with blue and yellow. Hibbard paints snow that never looks like anything else but snow. There are Redfield, Symons (both 20 years Hibbard's senior) and a group of their followers ... but we do not hesitate to say Hibbard is going to give them a run for their money... he is already more subtle and more penetrating in his observation of delicate nuances of gray, the phenomenon of light on snow, than any of them." This review truly revealed the special feeling AT. Hibbard had for "white". As Tom Nicholas N.A a Rockport resident and artist with his own special feeling for snowscapes said, "Hibbard once told me white is the biggest challenge for the artist, whether its draperies, porcelain, an egg or snow. It picks up all sorts of delicate nuances. It teased his ability to put it down right. Yet he always said, never use pure white, it doesn't exist in nature."
The most dramatic Impact on Hibbard as a painter of snow was his discovery of Vermont in winter. In 1915, while working in the Ipswich Street studios in Boston, Hibbard asked the painter William Kaula about new places to paint. Kaula told him he had just returned from- Newfane, Vermont and that it was a wonderful place, "you'd love it." This began the fifty years of regular visits to Vermont's rolling mountains, and the symbol of Hibbard's life's work; rivers, covered bridges, ox teams, loggers, sugar shacks and out of the way villages nestled in the valleys. Hibbard visited Brattleboro and took the infamous West River Flier, a train that crept along a 25 mile stretch into the West River Valley. He liked what he saw very much. In the early years, he spent much of the winter at the Jamaica Inn, as the first artist to paint and continually return there in successive winters. Over time, Aldro Hibbard gained the acceptance of the taciturn local Vermonters. They liked his directness and his independence. Hibbard continually painted the areas surrounding the towns of Jamaica, Townshend, Rawsonville, Bondville, Windam, Londonderry and Kaula's Newfane.
Hibbard's commitment to Vermont in winter required preparation for which no Boston art school course existed. Dress required layers of woolens, felt padded boots, loose and easily shed gloves, snowshoes and, of course, woolen underwear. Mornings started before dawn, a quart of black coffee and a hearty breakfast. He often teamed up with loggers heading for the deep woods. Hibbard knew this arduous process of hand cutting, hauling on ox drawn sleds to steam driven sawmills making forest lumber was part of the American scene that would pass away in a few short years. Nevertheless, on his canvases, they live to this day.
Hibbard would prepare like an arctic explorer, "lugging fifty pounds of painting gear, whenever possible on a sled of his own design. Snow and paint, he would say, make a hopeless mixture. When a gale blows up, you need to scrape your palette clean and, if the colors are not too stiff in the tubes, reset it with fresh pigments. There is always the hazard of frozen ears and frostbitten nose; and painting with stiffened hands in zero weather is, in itself, something of a trick."
Often when asked why he never worked in watercolor, Hibbard would reply, "You just don't use watercolors outdoors in January and February in the State of Vermont." By 1919 Aldro T. Hibbard had found one home and studio in the State of Vermont, but he was soon to find a second.
ALDRO T. HIBBARD AND THE ROCKPORT ART ASSOCIATION
By 1919, Rockport had perhaps 3,000 permanent residents, but, along with the rest of Cape Ann; an already rich heritage. In addition to legions of painters, renowned writers and philosophers spent time in the region, Emerson, Thoreau, Holmes and Kipling, who collected material for Captain's Courageous while on the Cape. Winslow Homer had defined America's view of small. coastal village life by his scenes of Gloucester, as well. as re-defining the medium of watercolor. N.C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish learned to paint in Annissquam.
However, prior to 1919 perhaps only a dozen artists qualified as year round residents of Rockport. The first artist's studio was opened in 1873 by Gilbert Tucker Margeson, a marine painter as well. as manager of the stationary store, the telegraph office and the town's tax collector. Other colorful individuals claimed Rockport their home such as the dapper, fastidious marine painter Parker Perkins and Harrison Cady, illustrator of the Peter Rabbit stories, affectionately known as the "bug painter" amongst town's people. These longer term residents were joined by nationally prominent artists; Jonas Lie, Leon Kroll., Charles Kaelin, Eric Hudson and Harry Vincent. Rockport may have been founded in 1690 when Richard Tarr sailed around Straitsmouth, landed and built the first home, but by 1919, the town was undergoing significant economic and social change. The rock quarries that provided the granite for Boston's, New York's and Philadelphia's great buildings were doomed, as skyscraper construction required different materials. The cotton mills from the 1840's that made canvas duck for sails had closed. The fishing industry was being squeezed. The town was redefining itself. The natural beauty of the region and the engaging charm of names like Bearskin Neck, Loblolly, Whale and Folley Coves; Front, Back and Pepple Beaches were attracting artists and tourists; both were to contribute mightily to the town's economy and survival.
In May of 1920, Aldro Hibbard arrived in Rockport by train from Boston. A leisurely spring stroll from the railroad station to the town convinced Hibbard that he liked what he saw. Spotting a figure leaning over in a garden, he instantly recognized Rockport's famous artist son William Lester Stevens, a fellow student from the Museum School days. Approaching the artist from the back Hibbard asked, "This I believe is Mr. Stevens the artist." Stevens did not look up but acknowledged his identity. Hibbard tried again. "Do they need a ball player in this town?" Stevens rose, looked and laughed. "We sure do and maybe we can use another artist, too." Stevens said seriously, "AI this is a good place to live and paint you should come here." Aldro T. Hibbard found his second home; Rockport.
Hibbard first rented Tucker Margeson's former studio on Atlantic Avenue. That same year he opened up the Rockport Summer School of Drawing and Painting, which he operated for the next thirty years becoming a genuine institution on Cape Ann. Hibbard's natural ways and gregarious nature quickly resulted in his studio becoming the gathering place for students, artists and interested towns folk. Saturday night dances, and cookouts became the norm. Hibbard was quickly becoming the natural leader of this burgeoning artists' community. Hibbard's ability to "organize others", seen so early in art school years, was becoming very evident in his new home.
July 22, 1921 was a momentous day for Rockport art and for Aldro Hibbard. As the Gloucester Times reported, "An enthusiastic meeting of artists was held in Hibbard's studio for the purpose of forming an art association. About 50 of the artists who are located in town were present and the meeting was an enthusiastic one. It was decided to form an association and to hold an Art Week in August. It will be the first exhibit of the work of professional artists ever given in Rockport and it will be followed by annual exhibitions as the artist colony is already large and promising to gain annually. Harry Vincent was elected the first President and Aldro Hibbard the Secretary, a position he held for five years, until 1926 when he became President of the RAA. The first step was taken in inextricably linking the artist, Aldro T. Hibbard with the organization, Rockport Art Association.
Hibbard's Summer School was flourishing as the number of students increased to 35. The art shows organized by the fledgling RAA were free to all visitors, and created quite a lot of interest and generally favorable reviews. Many events other than exhibitions were sponsored by the RAA, with Hibbard always an eager organizer and participant, especially the annual costume ball. This event was eagerly awaited as the artist community really extended its imagination. Outrageous attire was the order of the day.
Aldro Hibbard was a vigorous participant in the RAA's social events. By all accounts, Hibb loved a good time. However, Hibbard was a socially active artist as well. Through his aggressive representation to the Rockport Town Fathers, Board of Trade and real estate promoters, he persuasively argued, "... to preserve as far as possible the quaintness and antiquity of the town. Rockport still has enough of its original character to be worth saving. To some, being up to date seemed more popular, but others grasped the importance of retaining the original appearance of the fishing port. He summed up, the town's all right, leave it alone."
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