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
A Boston Transcript critique of a 1940 show once hinted at criticizing Hibbard for his almost single-minded focus on rural New England snow scenes. Hibbard showed no signs of apology that his work sells, it is admired, and people want to own it. Hibbard was certainly a realist. His philosophy was, "A picture is for hanging. Beauty brings happiness to those who see it." A Boston Herald art editor (a female) offered the following direct observation, "Hibbard has never shown much interest in ivory towers, where so many painters less masculine in outlook get bogged down...with breezy directness, this New England painter goes after Nature in the rough."
Hibbard accepted other approaches to art, emphasizing there was room for all. He was indebted to the French Impressionists, but not at the expense of his own vision. The reality of Hibbard's paintings is His reality, born of an intimate, thorough understanding of his chosen subject. His standards were exceptional. When asked, he said he was never fully satisfied with anything he painted. He quickly admitted, he painted "too many paintings" yet emphasized he had a lifetime more in his head. John Cooley summed it up nicely "Aldro Hibbard belongs to his own school of painting. It is a school he founded, endowed, and which he is the sole member."
ALDRO T. HIBBARD - REMEMBERED
Although Aldro T. Hibbard passed away 24 years ago, the memories of this great American person (not just painter, or ball player, or teacher, or citizen) are very rich among many who were touched by him. Manager Hibbard's second baseman, Charlie Nelson, "Let me tell you what I think about Hibb, he's probably the nicest guy I ever met and a real gentleman all the time. Everybody liked him ... quite a guy."
Arnold Knauth, respected artist, Rockport resident and former student of Hibbard's, "I studied under him for almost three years. He was simply a wonderful man. He got me enthusiastic about painting. I was going to study elsewhere, but Gifford Beal talked me into staying in Rockport with Hibb. He was very encouraging, especially after I'd gotten to the level of painting something recognizable...which isn't important at all today of course."
Remembering the rugged winters in Vermont, Elaine Hibbard said, "When he worked, we rarely saw him. In the early Rawsonville days, in an uninsulated house, the dish towels would freeze overnight. Mother cooked on a wood stove. We bathed in a tub in the kitchen. We had the first real bathroom in the whole valley. This was the early 30's. Our meals were creamed cod fish on baked potatoes about every night and oatmeal in the morning. We kids attended a one room school house, we brought our books from Rockport. Dad had a small studio above the kitchen he painted in when the weather was too bad. Mother would poke the ceiling with a broom handle when it was time to eat. He was focused. He almost lost his life out there in the snow at least once that I'm aware of. We were in East Jamaica. He came stumbling through the door and hollered "Whisky". He had been in deep woods off the road. A severe ankle sprain caused him to almost lose consciousness in freezing weather. Sheer will got him back to the house. We were all so frightened. All because of his love for the snow." Elaine Hibbard's childhood friend Ann Fisk recalls the Hibbard studio, "always jammed with paintings and bats, gloves, balls. The two worlds were right there. At one of the costume balls we kids did a skit where we poked fun at Hibb, portraying a tourist looking in his gallery for a painting of "Fenway Park in Winter."
Hibbard was a major attraction for younger artists as well. Tom Nicholas N.A. recollected "He was one of the artists that brought me to Rockport, he and Ted Kautzky. He had the capacity to paint so many things well, with such authority, it was like an education looking at his paintings. You were absorbing his knowledge. You could learn from his work like no other painter." Paul Strisik N.A. recalls fondly, "As a young painter I was a bit intimidated by him. There was a bit of macho in him but he was a gentleman of the old school. He had a lot of integrity. He was very nice to me when I couldn't paint for sour apples at the time. When I first submitted for membership at the RAA, Harriet Mattson said to go see Hibbard, he would help me. I knocked on the studio door and Jackie his wife answered by saying Hibb was watching a ball game and I should wait a few minutes, it's almost over. Moments later, he entered the studio wearing a baseball cap, he put it on a hook and took his beret and put it on his head ... stepping out of his baseball world back into his art world."
Roger Curtis long time friend and business manager for sixteen years reminisced, "Hibb was a man's man, charismatic, he drew a crowd. There was so much goodness in the man himself that effected my life. His honesty, his sincerity." Curtis tells one of the many snow stories, "Hibb always had a cigar. He was chewing it on one particularly bitter day and it froze to his lip. He had trouble with that lip ever since. Hibb was very proud of his work, he knew he was a good artist. At the first exhibition I did with Hibb, a man saw a piece hanging he really liked. He started to ask Hibb about it and was told to go see Roger. The man bought the piece and started to remove it from the wall. Hibb agitatedly asked me what he was doing. When told it was sold, Hibb paused, then said abruptly, "Did he pay for it?" Elaine recalls a similar incident when an early student piece was hanging in his studio years later. Reluctantly it was priced, "not to sell." When a wealthy banker bought it, "he turned white and was sick over seeing it leave the studio."
The silent strength behind Aldro T. Hibbard was his wife, Winifred Jackman formerly of EI Paso Texas and affectionately known by all as Jackie. She was a former student of Hibbard's who had also studied at the Boston Museum School. Relating to her mother's role in the raising of the family, Elaine admitted, "Often others came before his family. He felt the family was an extension of his activities. He had no conception of the way women have their own lives and careers. He was of that era, where a woman's job was to support him, and Mom did a beautiful job of it. She could have been a wonderful artist herself. He told her before they married, if you want to be an artist, don't marry me. He was totally honest. He knew himself and she put his life and career first, and she wanted to."
Aldro Hibbard always remained keenly interested in other artists work in town. In his later years he would invite groups of artists to his studio. Tom Nicholas recalls, "Hibbard would invite a group of the younger artists in town one week, then the more established older artists the following week. It was his way of keeping in contact, staying informed. And we all knew not to mention baseball, or our questions regarding art would never be answered." Paul Strisik recounts an uncommon act of sensitivity "When I submitted for membership to the Guild of Boston Artists some forty years ago and was turned down, Hibbard personally brought my paintings back delivering them to my studio. He felt badly and just wanted to encourage me." Arnold Knauth recalls serving on juries with Hibbard and, "saw him take a piece by an artist who was seriously ill and ensure it was accepted and well placed. He really felt for people."
Hibbard's passion to paint alone is symbolized by a story he told regarding Emile Gruppe, fellow Cape Ann artist ten years his junior. Anxious to learn from the Master, Gruppe repeatedly asked Hibbard to paint together, telling him that he had found a great location to paint, "So Hibb reluctantly agreed to take him. They picked up Hibb's car and took off. Arriving at Gruppe's location they emptied Emile's gear then suddenly Hibb drove off, telling Emile he'd return in several hours. According to Hibb, Emile almost froze and he never asked again." Strisik, however, laughs aloud when recounting an episode in Smugglers Notch Inn Vermont where Hibbard, Gruppe and other renowned artists like Chauncy Ryder, John Carlson and Charles Curtis Allen gathered during the winter. After a night of "merrymaking", Gruppe remained up and at the piano keyboards long after all the others retired to bed, anticipating an early start the next morning. Hibbard awoke, came downstairs and bawled Emile out for keeping them awake. "Hibbard turned to leave, and Gruppe was mad but couldn't think of anything else to say, so he blurted, 'you paint too purple'. Hibbard's palette probably bothered Gruppe for years."
In seeming contrast to all of Aldro T. Hibbard's activities within the community, other artists, the RAA, there was a deeply personal, introspective side to him. His daughter observed, "Dad was reserved, yet gregarious but I think he held his deepest thoughts to himself. He didn't talk to us kids much about his art. It's a hard life unless you're very good...even than its tough." Paul Strisik noted that even though "He always treated me as an equal in meetings and gatherings at the RAA he had just a bit of an unapproachable quality as well, there was just so far you could go."
It is perhaps a sensitive issue, if not even dangerous to question or raise doubt over the "road traveled" by a person like Aldro T. Hibbard. Yet, it is equally true that time produces perspective. Hibbard's intense familiarity and deep knowledge of his life's focus, is perhaps the very thing occasionally questioned. "It has been said by some of his admirers later in his life, they wished he had circulated more broadly among other artists and schools of painters and not confined himself to Rockport and Vermont. Conversely he got so skilled at putting together the painting that later in life it became somewhat mannered. It comes with total command of his subject." Strisik suggested, "If he'd traveled more, when you do similar subject matter, over and over again, its bound to become somewhat evident. I think it would have stimulated him to go to even greater heights." Ann Fisk provided an interesting additional perspective, "He got to the point where he was so facile that one stroke would do it, almost a short hand. It's not that it wasn't good but it didn't have quite the depth of the earlier period. But painting styles change and the public was accepting the broader brushed approach." Reflecting the viewpoint of popular acceptance of the broader style to which Hibbard evolved, Tom Nicholas noted, "In the evolution of desired, accepted styles, Hibbard is the next step from pure impressionism."
Whatever period of Aldro T. Hibbard's work you prefer, he was a giant who truly knew his subject, perhaps better than any artist attempting to tackle one of natures most unforgiving elements, snow. Elaine Hibbard reflected, "He once said to me you have to let yourself go. I was surprised because of his reserve. But I really think he knows what's out there and he really loves what he sees, so much so he'll let himself go. He truly had immense feeling for it." Arnold Knauth said it in the simplest and most direct fashion, "Aldro Hibbard was one of the best men I ever knew... of course being an artist made him all the better."
The writer is indebted to the following books, articles, pamphlets, catalogues; and above all else, the time given and patience extended by the seven very important people interviewed for this article. Many thanks.
1 John L. Cooley; A.T. Hibbard N.A.: Artist in Two Worlds, p. 3
2 John L. Cooley, p. 12
3 John L. Cooley, p. 18
4 John L. Cooley, pp. 21, 22
5 John L. Cooley, p. 22
6 John L. Cooley, p. 25
7 John L. Cooley, p. 39
8 John L. Cooley, p. 55
9 John L. Cooley, p. 55
10 Tom Nicholas N.A. Interview
11 American Artist, June 1940, Aldro T. Hibbard, Painter of New England Winters, p. 8
12 John L. Cooley; A.T. Hibbard N.A.: Artist in Two Worlds, p. 63
13 American Art Review, Oct/Nov 1995, Legacy of Cape Ann, Canton Museum, James M. Keny, p. 129
14 John L. Cooley; A.T. Hibbard N.A.: Artist in Two Worlds, p. 70
15 John L. Cooley; Rockport Sketchbook, pp. 35,36
16 John L. Cooley, p. 43
17 John L. Cooley, p. 82
18 John L. Cooley, A.T. Hibbard N.A.: Artist in Two Worlds, p. 108
19 John L. Cooley, p. 111
20 John L. Cooley; Rockport Sketchbook, p. 102
21 John L. Cooley, p. 106
22 John L. Cooley, p. 94
23 Ann Fisk, Interview
24 Charlie Nelson, Interview
25 Charlie Nelson, Invterview
26 John L. Cooley, A.T. Hibbard N.A.: Artist in Two Worlds, p. 137
27 Elaine Hibbard, Interview
28 Paul Strisik, N .A. Interview
29 Paul Strisik, N.A. Interview
30 Ann Fisk, Interview
31 American Artist, June 1940, Aldro T. Hibbard, Painter of New England Winters, p. 9
32 Tom Nicholas N.A. Interview
33 American Artist, June 1940, Aldro T. Hibbard, Painter of New England Winters, p. 11
34 American Artist, June 1940, p. 8 .
35 John L. Cooley, A.T. Hibbard N.A., Artist in Two Worlds, p. 139
36 John L. Cooley, p. 139
37 John L. Cooley, Forward
38 Charlie Nelson, Interview
39 Arnold Knauth, Interview
40 Elaine Hibbard, Interview
41 Ann Fisk, Interview
42 Tom Nicholas, N.A. Interview
43 Paul Strisik, N.A. Interview
44 Roger Curtis, Interview
45 Elaine Hibbard, Interview
46 Elaine Hibbard, Interview
47 Tom Nicholas, N.A. Interview
48 Paul Strisik, N.A. Interview
49 Arnold Knauth, Interview
50 Paul Strisik N.A., Interview
51 Elaine Hibbard, Interview
52 Paul Strisik, N.A. Interview
53 Tom Nicholas, N.A. Interview
54 Paul Strisik, N.A. Interview
55 Ann Fisk, Interview
56 Tom Nicholas, N.A. Interview
57 Elaine Hibbard, Interview
58 Arnold Knauth, Interview
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