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Past Perfect: The Landscapes of Thomas B. Higham

May 9 through June 25, 2006

 

 

(above: Thomas B. Higham, "Northwest Wind, Menemsha" 2001, acrylic on panel)

 

"Past Perfect: The Landscapes of Thomas B. Higham" will open May 9 and run through June 25, 2005 at the Cahoon Museum of American Art. As a retrospective, this exhibition of more than 30 works looks back on more than two decades of a well-known Cape artist's career. Thomas Higham's paintings themselves look back in time, giving us glimpses of an unspoiled Cape Cod, such as the artist remembers from growing up in Osterville in the '50s and '60s. (right: Thomas B. Higham, "Wing Fort" 1999, acrylic on panel)

Higham's acrylic and watercolor scenes belong to the here and now, but contain vintage buildings and boats and pristine shorelines, marshes and meadows. More often than not, Higham has found ample inspiration within his native Barnstable's town lines. "Past Perfect" includes paintings of the Centerville and Bumps rivers, Ropes' Barn in Cotuit, West Parish Church and the old Jenkins' farm in West Barnstable, Crosby Yacht Yard in Osterville, Maraspin Creek in Barnstable village and a cranberry bog in Marstons Mills. From points slightly farther afield are views of a Colonial house on Route 6A in Yarmouthport, the Wing Fort House in Sandwich and the harbor at Menemsha.

"Tom has a special talent for bringing back the way Cape Cod never was, but we all think it used to be," says Julian Baird, the president of Tree's Place Gallery in Orleans, which has carried Higham's work for 20 years. "The sun is shining at exactly the right angle. The flowers are open just the right amount. Everything is perfect, but it doesn't look hokey."

Higham saw an exhibition of Andrew Wyeth's work at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston while he was in high school and immediately thought, "This is how I respond to the world." Like Wyeth, he employs a pared-down Yankee realism that quietly draws us into a scene, making us imagine how it feels, smells and sounds, as well as how it looks. With a silvery light, subtle tonalities and uncompromising honesty, he creates a barebones visual poetry that stirs feelings of nostalgia. Higham's style -- like the subjects he chooses to paint -- has changed little over the years. "Past Perfect" is a retrospective marked more by consistency than change.

Higham, who is distantly related to Harwich artist Charles D. Cahoon (1861-1951), has never had trouble selling his work. While still in high school, he had his first show at Osterville Free Library and sold three paintings. Later, he majored in painting at the Swain School of Design in New Bedford, receiving his BFA in 1977. For a few years, he made his living primarily through woodworking and carpentry, but around 1993 committed himself to painting.

Julian Baird recalls that Higham's first two shows at Tree's Place sold out. One year, when the artist asked the gallery to refrain from pre-selling his work, Baird found 45 to 50 people waiting by the front door when he and his wife arrived to open the gallery on the first morning of Higham's show. They gave people numbers and let them in one at a time, with only one purchase allowed per customer. "When we got through with that process, all but one painting had sold, and we sold it the night of the opening," Baird recalls.

 

(above: Thomas B. Higham, "Remembrance of Things Past" 1998, acrylic on panel)

 

Opening reception

An opening reception will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, May 12. Refreshments will be served, and Noel Tipton will provide live music on piano.

 

Tuesday Talk

Artist Thomas B. Higham will give a gallery talk at 11 a.m. May 16.

 

The "Past Perfect" exhibition is sponsored by Tree's Place gallery.

 

Wall text for the exhibit

Barns at Jenkins' Farm 1999
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
PRIVATE COLLECTION
 
I love this beautiful Cape farm. What you don't see is the real work of this farm ­ the bogs, crimsonly supine just around the corner. The Jenkins should be given a tax break for beautifying our town with this jewel of West Barnstable. Stand in any spot, close your eyes and spin around. Open your lids, and there's beauty just asking to be painted. What artist could ask for more? Thank you, thank you!
 
Barton's Barn 1999
 
Thomas B. Higham
Watercolor on paper
 
COLLECTION OF CHRISTINE BEDNARK
 
The brown grays, the deep green doors and cupola, faded a bit. The dull green of overgrown cedars. All bring me back to some mysterious earlier Cape. What was the life lived here? What mysteries lie within?
 
Blue Blue Crab c. 1998
 
Thomas B. Higham
Watercolor on paper
 
COLLECTION OF THE ARTIST
 
To paint in watercolor you need a strategy. Once you have covered the white of the paper, there's no going back. So, when your subject is a light color on a dark background, you paint what is not the object. In this picture I needed to reserve the white paper of the crab, in order that the blue of the claw would shine forth from the clean white paper. Blue is my favorite color. To me, there is something noble about this creature, even in death. Isn't it strange that something so fierce as this claw should be such a heavenly color?
 
Boat Meadow 2001
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
PRIVATE COLLECTION
 
The Boathouse 2006
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF THE ARTIST
 
Bump's River, October 1987
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF CLARE PUTNAM
 
This river valley and marsh are ever-changing ­ at times softly lit and sentimental, at others darkly dramatic. I've driven over the old bridge many, many times and it's never the same. I went for The Drama in this painting. Soft and beautiful drama, but do not err: This is a battlefield, everything fighting for its life. Maybe gaining, maybe losing against the scourings of the tide, the winds and the acts of man.
 
Cotuit Senior 1984
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF JAMES HINKLE AND ROY HAMMER
 
I love the peacefulness of the after-season, of course. The Senior waits patiently perhaps there will be a few Indian summer sails left before haul-out time? There is an echo between the curiously sloped mast and the perfectly upright church spire.
 
Jim Hinkle, who owns the painting, wrote the following:
 
On the reverse side of the painting is the inscription: "Bought of the artist, Thomas B. Higham, by James Hinkle, November, 1984." That following summer, on a visit to Lower Cape art galleries, I showed the painting to Julian Baird of Tree's Place, Orleans. The next day I called Tom to tell him he might be receiving a call from Julian. Tom responded, "He's already called me," and the rest is history.
 
Dillingham House 1992
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF JOHN AND NANCY TAFT
 
Drifting In 1988
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF ELISABETH EATON CLARK
 
Mike Powers was a shellfisherman. No longer with us, I would see him often at the end of Bay Street, coming and going with his orange baskets of quahogs. This was a particularly beautiful late July day with a gentle breeze. Engine hauled up and booted foot over the side of the boat, he was ready to hop out, haul up and tote another basket of quahogs up to his battle-scarred truck.
 
18 Bay Street 1986
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF JULIAN AND ELAINE BAIRD
 
I lived in this ancient half-Cape for many summers in the 1970s. The floors had a roll to them like an ocean swell. The mice held the winter lease. The stairs were so steep you could grab the railings and swing down in one go ­ in your twenties at least. Since then the house has been restored by Bill and Heather Wright. Bill's an excellent carpenter. Don't tell Bill, but I miss that old roll to the floors.
 
Friend Ship c. 1995
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF THE ARTIST
 
Harvest in the Mills c. 1999
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF CHARLOTTE AND BRAD LYNCH
 
Her Room c. 1991
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF THE ARTIST
 
My good friend Lis Clark's living room in her 1820 Osterville home. On the chair, a compass rose. On the wall, sailboats. The sea is not far away, but I have brought it to her doorstep. She is a lifelong sailor, in love with the sweep of the tides and a good sailing breeze.
 
Horace Crosby Boat Shop c. 1997
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF THE ARTIST
 
In the 1800s, many small boat shops dotted the shores of Osterville. They were owned individually by different Crosbys. This was Horace's shop, which stood ­ or rather leaned ­ at the water's edge, where Bill Koch's Nauticus Marina now is. Today, it's been moved up the hill and is part of the nautical display at the Osterville Historical Society.
 
Island Church
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
PRIVATE COLLECTION
 
Jenkins' Place c. 2000
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
PRIVATE COLLECTION
 
This is not one of those wishing wells you can buy at the Mill Store. It's the real McCoy, surviving from when? You'd grasp the chain or rope and hand the bucket down to the well. The weight of the sapling butt would then do you the kindness of leveraging it up. Just down the hill, the open pond. Up here, hidden and cool, the potable.
 
Looking Through 1969
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF ELISABETH EATON CLARK
 
Maraspin Creek 1994
 
Thomas B. Higham
Watercolor on paper
 
PRIVATE COLLECTION
Marstons Mills Spring 1986
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF J. FORD O'CONNOR
 
Many times I drove past this homestead on my way to the wilds of the Mills. Finally, the light was just right, bringing out an atmosphere of age and settledness. To the birds, the house could be gone, but please stand the eloquent tree.
 
Menemsha 2006
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF THE ARTIST
 
I would call this the classic Menemsha view: a fishing shack, junk-covered pier, fishing boat and a view through the jetties out to Menemsha Bight. All under a raking late afternoon light. In this piece, I repainted the sky four or five times. Clouds are difficult to paint. They must have structure and logic in their arrangement, must not detract from the composition, yet need to have a weight and emphasis of their own, and, yet again, must retain a moving, ephemeral quality. A difficult thing. Often you'll get a look more akin to a flying potato, or lump of concrete. Less is more, but too much less is not enough!
 
Midwinter 1985
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF JOHN AND NANCY TAFT
 
Moonrise, Centerville River 1990
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF CHRISTOPHER H. BABCOCK
 
North Wind, Menemsha 2000
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
PRIVATE COLLECTION
 
Menemsha, on Martha's Vineyard. This open lobster boat is probably at the end of a well-lived career. But I can feel her still, knifing through a salt-tinged chop out on Menemsha Bight.
 
Northwest Wind, Menemsha 2001
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF MARY-ETTA SCHNEIDER AND JOHN BEARDSLEY
 
The Patriot, Yarmouthport
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF JOHN AND NANCY TAFT
 
This old house is probably Artist Motif #1 in Yarmouthport. It's been painted countless times by many a fine Cape artist. I, too, am guilty ­ it's irresistible. And when you tire, just a skip across the street brought you to Jack's Outback for a cup of "cawfee" and a little delightful abuse from Jack, if you were lucky.
 
Provincetown Pickets 1999
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
PRIVATE COLLECTION
 
This is the home of the well-known Provincetown artist John Dowd. Simple, classic, white with green shutters; a few shadows, a few roses, a white picket fence, much like his paintings.
 
Rainbow Roof 1997
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF DAVID H. AND CAROLYN P. McNAUGHTON
 
Remembrance of Things Past 1998
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF PEGGY AND GILL WOODS
 
Whose door is this? What does this ribbon ­ fresh, but soon to fade, blowing in the sea breeze ­ mean? Could it be a lover's token? How many knocks on this door till the lost sailor takes off his sea boots at the hearth again?
 
Road to the Bog 1987
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
PRIVATE COLLECTION
 
This road could be anywhere on Cape Cod. Cordwood Road in Cotuit where? When I was a teen, my friend Jim Leonard would take me on terror rides on these roads, of which there were many in those days. His speedy driving still terrifies me.
 
Ropes' Barn 2002
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF THE GREENWOOD FAMILY
 
Still there, a shingle or two dropped since the last drive past. Still the field (most of it) and still the dry, but oceanic light of Cotuit. What a boon to the roving Cape artist. Sadly, too few of such places remain.
 
Slight Breeze, July c. 2002
 
Thomas B. Higham
Watercolor on paper
 
PRIVATE COLLECTION
 
Spindrift 2000
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
PRIVATE COLLECTION
 
Twilight, Bumps River 2004
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
PRIVATE COLLECTION
 
This is a moody place and used to be at the far reaches of Osterville ­ to a child on a bicycle at least. I love mystery, and what more mysterious than the inaccessible ­ wet, marshy, full of distant birdcall and shadowed by deep green swamp cedar?
 
View of Lewis Bay c. 1997
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF THE ARTIST
 
Pines, red roses, blue sea, white sails and a schooner. The burnt grass of July. What else could I need? I love to look through, and beyond. A tree to duck behind, a fence to anchor me from being swept out to sea. At the end of a long, hot journey to the Philosopher's house, a dense hedge, a cool fountain. Only when one stoops to drink, a view of the sparkling sea beyond.
 
Voyager 1992
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF JOHN AND NANCY TAFT
 
The water glints with the sun, our own star. The ship is to the sea as the planet to the vast ocean of the cosmos. The ship, so brave, newly painted, ready to venture upon the infinity of the sea. There at the edge of the water, tiny sparks of life, so bright, so lively, so brave. I think of the spacecraft Voyager, so very far away, such a minute speck of our lives, never, never reaching the end of things.
 
West Parish 1989
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF JAMES HINKLE AND ROY HAMMER
 
In the 1880s, the church was enlarged. Split down the middle, jacked apart and Victorianized. In the '50s, they decided to restore the building as it was in the 1700s. Split again and rolled back together. All the original timbers came from the site when first built. When it came time to restore the bell tower, the timbers, all in one length, had to be cut and trucked down from faraway New Brunswick.
 
The painting's owner, Jim Hinkle, wrote this recollection:
 
By 1989, Roy Hammer and I were in our third year of running our own art gallery, Cummaquid Fine Arts, with Tom Higham as one of our artists. We asked Tom to do the invitation painting for our exhibition "350th Anniversary of the Towns of Barnstable and Yarmouth," and Tom painted "West Parish." Following the opening reception, several of us, including Tom, were having dinner next to the gallery. One of our guests looked up to exclaim, "Tom, there's a red dot next to "West Parish." Tom responded, "Who's the damn fool who bought it?" I quietly replied, "I did."
 
Whale Watch 2005
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on illustration board
 
COLLECTION OF JOSERCI DeSOUZA
 
I'm doing a series of seaside shacks with letters painted on the roofs. The whole alphabet perhaps. Just for fun, a bit of a conceit. My own quiet little Cirque du Soleil.
 
Winding Road to the Sea 2006
and Study for Winding Road to the Sea 2006
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylics on panel
 
COLLECTION OF THE ARTIST
 
This is not an actual place ­ though some day, I might round a corner, and there it would be. The world can be a strange and mysterious place. Having spent many hours on this piece, it's now as real to me as anywhere. Perhaps I wouldn't even be surprised to come upon it. I'd work up my courage, drive in and say hello to the inhabitants.
 
Wing Fort 1999
 
Thomas B. Higham
Acrylic on panel
 
COLLECTION OF THE GREENWOOD FAMILY

rev. 5/9/06


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