A Strong Artistic Tradition
by Hilary Mills Lambert
Driving through the environs of Southern Vermont, a place I know so well, I am struck by the colors and the beauty of nature, especially in the fall. Though I was raised on the East Coast, I have now lived on the West Coast for an equal amount of time, giving me a perspective of both places. This is the twelfth year I have organized and conducted plein air workshops in Vermont at the Landgrove Inn. My family built a second home over sixty-seven years ago right around the corner from the inn. This is a place I know very well and where I embrace myself as an artist. I always heard that as an artist you must connect with what you like to paint. Well, I like to paint Vermont. While I was in Vermont, going about my errands, I kept noticing paintings by Aldro Thompson Hibbard (1886-1972) popping up in unexpected places. In fact, while I was at the local bank, in the middle of Londonderry, right up on the wall behind the teller was one of his paintings! Hibbard painted many snow scenes from this area of Vermont. Who would have thought a bank teller, also named Hilary, could direct me over to the "Hibbard" specialist in the area. My quest took me to Karen Ameden at the General Store, who unlocked the treasures at the Jamaica Historical Society.
By "googling" I was able to find Hibbard's biography, paintings and photographs to enlighten me. However, I ended up learning the most about this fabulous artist from two hard to find books: A.T. Hibbard, N.A.: Artist in Two Worlds1 and A.T.Hibbard, N.A. American Master2. These books provided a history and catalyst for me to understand the serendipitous connections with my own work and network. Hibbard, like myself, found enough in nature for a lifetime of contemplation and study. I must admit, I’ve been a student for life, with a M.S. degree from Pratt Institute and a M.F.A. from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I feel many pressures of identity and success entwined in my work as an artist. I found myself questioning my skill sets, specifically with drawing, which is the most important skill in painting. So I decided to return to school and recently began rigorous academic training at the Golden Gate Atelier in Oakland, California. Here we follow traditional methods of copying cast drawings from plates by Charles Bargue (1826-83) and rendering from plaster casts of classical statues, which I find to be priceless. After many years of painting it may seem boring and of no significance to go back to the basics, but I found it necessary in order to improve my skills. When we go to art museums and contemplate various levels of mastery we ask ourselves, “why is one work of art more exceptional?” As a professional artist I have learned that it is evident in the training.
Paris, the center of the art world in the ninetieth and early twentieth century, was a magnet for aspiring artists. Established in 1868 by Rodolphe Julian (1839-1907), the Academie Julian was the place young artists went for their academic training. In the late 1800s three important American artists trained there – Edmund C. Tarbell (1862-1938), Frank Weston Benson (1862-1951) and William McGregor Paxton (1869-1941). During that time many famous artists were teachers at the Academie, a few of these included: Adolphe William Bouguereau (1825-1905), Jules Lefebvre (1836-1911) and Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921). The academic training at the Academie Julian included Bargue plate copying, plaster cast copying and copying Old Master paintings at the Louvre Museum. Also, during this period the impressionist movement was sweeping the artist colonies in Paris, influencing artists living there. Upon their return to Boston – Tarbell, Paxton and Benson – became teachers at the Massachusetts Normal Art School (now MassArt), where in 1909 Hibbard became a student. The painting style of this group of teachers and students became known as the Boston School, which was active for the first three decades of the twentieth century. Often classified as American Impressionists, these painters had their own regional style, combining the painterly approach of impressionism with a more conservative traditional approach to figure painting. Their preferred subject matter was genteel: portraits, picturesque landscapes and young women posing in well-appointed interiors. Major influences of their day included John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Jan Vermeer (1632-1675).
Hibbard, who represented the younger artists of the Boston School, received a scholarship from Massachusetts Normal Art School for further study in Europe upon graduation. It is said that he discovered his talent for snow scenes there, when caught in a blizzard in the mountains near Madrid. When he returned to America he quickly made a name for himself painting scenes of not only snow, but mountains, rural towns, oxen and streams. Hibbard’s work depicts the legacy of a time period in America of hardworking New Englanders living off the land. Hibbard was also a leader among the Cape Ann Artists Community, which evolved a style of painting known as the Rockport School. He influenced many Rockport artists including Emile Gruppe, Tom Nicholas, Paul Strisik and Roger Curtis. Among all the artists of the Rockport School, Hibbard’s paintings are regarded as some of the most expensive at auction.
Now let us fast forward to my artist lineage. My “art family” tree starts with Robert Hale Ives Gammell (1893-1981), who also studied at the Academie Julian and was latter part of the Boston School. One of Gammell’s students was Richard Lack (1928-2009), became well known for continuing the atelier tradition in Minneapolis. From there the tree branches off to one of Lack’s students Daniel Graves (b.1949), who is the founder and currently the academic director of the Florence Academy of Art in Florence, Italy. Graves also studied with Nerina Simi (1890-1987). Ms. Simi was the daughter of the Florentine painter Filadelfo Simi (1849-1923), who had studied with Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), the head of the French Academy in Paris in 1870. My current teacher at the Golden Gate Atelier, Andrew Ameral (b.1969), studied under Graves. While training in Florence Ameral became the primary teacher of Ecroche, he returned to Oakland to carry on this rich tradition.
This summary of name-dropping illustrates the continuum of education to train the eye of the artist. So, when I drive around Vermont and hear that there is a heroin problem it simultaneously breaks my heart and fills it with gratitude that I was spared by my appreciation of art and nature. My fortuitous luck just took a loving family, curiosity and education for which I am very thankful. When I contacted the Jamaica Historical Society the one fine September day, I was driven to the exact spots where Hibbard painted. I stood right where he stood, looked at the same views and wanted to tell him how I too love Vermont. If only I could tell him how I have carried on the French tradition. Now, I need to get busy and finish my Vermont paintings. I have no excuses when I consider Hibbard completed his paintings in subzero temperatures. As Benson would say, “Just go out and do it, and work, work, work.” Now that I’m back in my studio in California, I will have to use photos from Vermont, but such is the fate of being an artist in two different worlds! However, I am confident of success because now I know through knowledge comes confidence.
1. John L. Cooley, A.T. Hibbard, N.A.: Artist in Two Worlds, Rockport Art Association; 2nd edition, 1996
2. Judith A. Curtis, A.T.Hibbard, N.A. American Master, Rockport Art Association
About the Author:
Hilary Mills Lambert's education began at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York, where she was exposed to teachers who followed Timothy Leary’s philosophy “… you must turn on, tune in and drop out.” After graduation Lambert went to New York City where she studied at the Art Students League and the School of Visual Arts. She went onto receive a M.S. from Pratt Institute in New York City and an M.F.A. from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. More recently, Lambert is training at the Golden Gate Atelier in Oakland, working with Andrew Ameral.
To view Hilary Mills Lambert’s paintings visit: http://millsgallery.com