The Plein Air Scene

by Sarah Beserra

Scott Burdick, Sarah in Catalina, oil on panel, 8 x 10 inches


Brooks Sisters Paint

by Sarah Beserra

The following is an essay excerpt from a brochure published by the Ventura County Museum of History and Art to accompany the exhibition The Brooks Sisters Paint, showing through February 24, 2002.


When the Brooks children were growing up at a place called "Hilltop" in rural Carpinteria, freedom was an essential part of childhood. The Brooks family moved to Hilltop in 1945, where Robert Brooks grew fruit on the property. He raised sheep on wind-swept San Miguel Island, as well. He brought to his family a passion for hard work, the outdoors, and a practical appreciation on the land.

Opinionated and witty, Robert and Hope Palmer Brooks lived a somewhat isolated life on their ranch and truly believed in self-sufficiency. It is no surprise that the Brooks children found everything they needed to provide each other with a wealthy childhood. They borrowed from the land as well as from each other -- free to explore the rambling orchards, poke around in the treetops, or romp with the semi-feral cats that appeared at the doorstep.

The Brooks children were engrossed in the life that appeared all around them. Their imaginations sprouted while they played house in the canopy of an old oak, or took entire days to explore the mountains on horseback in the era before fences.

Artistically, the Brooks girls were each other's best teachers. Meredith Abbott recalls a game they played -- one girl choosing an image.from a magazine and describing it to the others without showing them the picture. The sisters had to draw the image based on the description. The one whose work was most similar to the original would win the round and would choose the next picture. As the sisters grew and their lives took separate paths, art continued to be a focus of each.

Hope Merryman majored in art at Connecticut College, and Palmer Butler at Stanford. Whitney Hansen majored in art at Scripps, and Meredith Abbott, after a false start, went to Los Angeles Art Center. Hope eventually pursued her art career in Chicago and New York, working both commercially and in fine art. She chose to work primarily in woodcut and watercolor.

Meredith Brooks Abbott, the third of the five Brooks children, currently lives near the Carpinteria ranch where she was born. Her vivid oil paintings of the local landscape are widely shown and collected. She is represented by Maureen Murphy Fine Arts in Santa Barbara. Palmer Brooks Butler, nicknamed "Blue" by her sisters, now lives in Tucson and practices plein-air painting.

Whitney Brooks Hansen now lives on Long Island, New York, where she concentrates on oil paintings of still lifes, architectural details, and portraits, often using oil paint to embellish images on woodcuts that are painted on rice paper. Hope Brooks Merryman, now deceased. spent her life making woodcut prints and became a children's book illustrator.

Publishers Note: Another Whitney -- not Meredith's sister but her daughter -- has become an accomplished painter in her own right. Also a teacher, Whitney Abbott shows her work at the annual MALT show in May and is represented by Ellen Easton in Santa Barbara who has been a champion of the OAK Group.

© Sarah Beserra, 2002

Read more of The Plein Air Scene by Sarah Beserra in Resource Library Magazine

Sarah Beserra is Editor and Publisher of The Plein Air Scene - a monthly newsletter on plein air painting in California. You may contact Sarah at or (707) 645-7361

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2008 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.