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
Aldro Hibbard became the RAA's President in 1926 and was very involved in the next two important steps for the RAA. The first, in 1928 when the organization achieved formal legal status by being incorporated for the purpose of "furthering the advancement of art." In 1929, the search for permanent quarters began and Hibbard was on the search committee. The Old Tavern on Main Street, one of the town's great landmarks, was acquired and became the Rockport Art Association's permanent home. This building, built in 1787, virtually older than the United States Government, had been converted to a town tavern and for years was the terminus of the Rockport Salem stage. Aldro Hibbard was instrumental in raising the necessary funds to complete the purchase, through his costume balls, dances and even auctioning some of his own paintings.
The first RAA exhibition in the new quarters was held August 1930 with 83 pieces being exhibited. Hibbard opened the show with a piece of good advice "Hold fast to the highest ideas and take rejection in the proper spirit." Probably not bad advice for life itself. Hibbard was responsible for installing the Jury System in the RAA as well. As he put it, "... anybody walking down Main Street with a paintbrush and a beret could get in." This new system ensured high quality work would be exhibited.
One cannot discuss Rockport without mentioning America's most famous, and most often painted building; the red lobsterman's shack at the end of Bradley's Wharf, universally known as "Motif #1." The building was constructed at the end of the Civil War, its prominent shape and position relative to the harbor attracted the. immediate attention of artists, tourists, and later photographers. The illustrator, etcher Lester Hornby, had been a drawing instructor in Paris during the winter months. Here students drew standard subjects, "or motifs." While teaching in Rockport during the summers, he found many students choosing the red shack at the end of the wharf as their subject. Frustrated, when yet another student approached him with one more rendering of the building, Hornby exclaimed, "What - Motif Number One again!" And the name stuck. Although Hibbard did not "paint pictures of the Motif" as often as Anthony Thieme, Hibbard did supervise "painting the building itself." He was charged with mixing exactly the right shade of red, whenever the old structure was in need of a facelift.
Aldro Hibbard may well have been more instrumental in putting Rockport and the Motif on the national map than any other individual when, in 1933, he suggested that the town of Rockport build and enter a giant float.in the American Legion Convention parade in Chicago. The proposal was accepted by the Legion and the town. Hibbard was in charge of the design, many people contributed to its construction, among them Lester Stevens, Anthony Thieme and Maurice Compris. This exact replica of the famous Motif including the dock upon which it stood surrounded by lobster pots, dories and buoys was constructed on a 27 foot long bus chassis, almost 13 feet high. In a stroke of unprecedented publicity, the entire float was driven across the country to Chicago. Escorted by "Smilin" Johnny Quinn the chief of police and four other motorcycle policemen from the town, the five day trip occurred only during daylight hours for maximum visibility. Tens of thousands of Americans saw this true work of art as it crossed the United States. There were 199 floats in the parade, 160,000 participants and as the Associated Press put it, "Rockport was bringing the sea to the fresh-water streets of the Illinois metropolis.' Of course, the story has a perfect ending. Motif #1 earned first prize, and Rockport national acclaim.
Hibbard's leadership and organization abilities to make things happen guided the RAA until 1943 when he resigned his office, having been its President for sixteen years. Hibbard's retirement formally occurred on August 27 at the . twenty-third annual meeting of the RAA. Gifford Beal spoke on his behalf, "No other man living could play a doubleheader in the afternoon, conduct a meeting in the evening, and also appear before the selectmen with equal zeal on any town affair." The Gloucester Times observed, "... he has lived and breathed for the best interests of the Association." Ann Fisk, former Director of the RAA for ten years and friend of the Hibbard family noted "Hibbard's legacy to the RAA was to create a place that was always vital, but not stuffy, of reaching out to the community, while having a life itself." Aldro T. Hibbard left his indelible imprint on the town and the organization he helped found and guide for twenty-two years. One wonders how he found time to pursue his two greatest passions; painting and baseball?
ALDRO T. HIBBARD - BAT AND BRUSH
When Hibbard arrived in Rockport, he knew it was a good baseball town. Rockport had supported a team since the beginning of the century. Hibbard played for and managed the Rockport team for nearly 40 years. As a player in the North Shore League he was a .300 hitter, and while a manager would even pinch hit from time to time until he was 50 years old. Charlie Nelson, who played second base for Hibbard remembers fondly, "He was a terrific line drive flitter, a terrific player. He had a good throwing arm and was a good fielder. At the end of a season he'd have a big party at his studio and invite speakers from Boston, like Johnny Pesky and Walt Droppo. Hibb had style as a Manager. Today you see Managers scream at umpires and carry on. Hibb, if he didn't like a call, would walk down the third base line up to the Ump and get nose to nose, and talk quietly... it didn't do any good, but neither does screaming. It was just his style." Charlie Nelson, who today lives in another important Cape Ann artist, Antonio Cirino's home sold fish in town and, recalling a painting of Hibbard's he fancied, asked him if he'd trade the painting for a few dollars worth of fish every week. Hibbard chuckled good naturedly and replied, "I won't live that long." Nelson further recalls, "He spent a lot of his own money on balls, bats, uniforms. He auctioned off his work from time to time. He held the teams together, even during the war years. Hell of a ball player." It was the former sports writer, John Kieran who eloquently commented on Hibbard's baseball prowess; " ... the only genuine Old Master in Rockport hangs out at Evans Field, which is a baseball play-pen. This genuine Old Master is Aldro T. Hibbard. He is an Old Master of Baseball Strategy and Rockport is the only town in the world with a baseball manager who can write N.A. (National Academician) after his name. He is, in other words, the Rembrandt of the hit-and-run, the Picasso of the pick off and the EI Greco of the double steal." Elaine, Aldro Hibbard's daughter summed up his commitment to the game, "He took it very seriously. His team was to show up for a game, if there was a wedding, or even a funeral in the family, the game came first. This is what he asked of his players. He lived up to the commitment himself."
One cannot talk about Aldro Hibbard the artist, and separate it from Aldro Hibbard the man. Paul Strisik N.A. resident and. long established artist in Rockport summarized both qualities, "For Hibbard, art was a serious business. He was an artist who understood his responsibilities and took them seriously, whether as a painter depicting the scenes he loved so much; snow, mountains, Rockport or as an administrator and leader in the RAA and North Shore Arts Association (in Gloucester) or as a citizen in the town, he was a person that understood what he had to do and simply went ahead and did it." As open, outgoing and social as Hibbard was outside of painting, he was exactly the opposite as a painter; totally private. Paul Strisik N.A. noted "as a painter he was a loner, as part of society a joiner and a doer."
Hibbard was clearly committed to painting on the spot outdoors. Ann Fisk emphasized "within the realm of New England, he was one of the founding greats of plein air painting. The idea of outdoor painting in lovely weather and apple orchards has been with us a long time, but the idea that, in winter, one could get out there, showed it could be done and not from photographs. There's no substitute for feeling the cold, it shows in his work." Hibbard was not a mid day painter, he believed the high sun bleached out the color and contrast in nature. Before 9 a.m. and after 3 p.m. were the hours he preferred, the "illusive light moments that pass quickly in early morning and late dusk."
Hibbard's early broken color style proved increasingly less suitable to the weather conditions he endured, and the fleeting light moments he sought to capture. He needed to find a short hand, broader method. Tom Nicholas N.A. asked the artist about his transition to a more direct from nature approach and Hibbard responded, "You're up against time to get it all down. I had to find a manner to capture it in the weather conditions I worked in." Regarding his skill Nicholas added, "He painted anatomically, structurally, you could sense the anatomy of the landscape. This was his greatest strength. He was a master of aerial perspective. It was almost chronic with him to be seen as a location painter. It was a macho thing but he was capable of tremendous finesse in his work, of subtlety. But it kept him rugged." Hibbard summarized his view simply, "Paint with speed. Use up your nervous energy. A morning's painting should wear you out."
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