Sinclair Hamilton Hitchings (1933 ∼ 2018) | Chapman, Cole & Gleason Funeral Homes
by Wendy Artin
In Memory of Sinclair Hitchings, Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the Boston Public Library
Sinclair Hitchings was a great man, a generous patron, a unique mentor. I was lucky to meet him right at the end of my student years at the Museum School in Boston, and to have his support and enthusiasm carry me from art school to Rome.
Many years ago, the wonderful painter Henry Schwartz, one of my teachers at the Museum School, handed me a sealed envelope and told me to bring it and my artwork to the Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the Boston Public Library, Sinclair Hitchings. So I walked, carrying my portfolio, through the majestic spaces of the Boston Public Library: past the statues and the frescoes and the glossy ornate banisters, up the marble stairs, into the balconied room lined with glass cases, to yet another staircase. The Print and Drawing room was not a tiny attic at the top, it was a surprisingly airy, shelf-filled place with long tables, a bit like an old library in a grandly proportioned mansion. Sinclair Hitchings had me write my name, my arrival time, and my purpose into a great big ledger that sat on a wooden desk, in longhand. He read the letter from Henry. He looked carefully at each picture I had brought, asked perceptive questions, and made a selection, to my surprise. He showed me how to do a bill of sale, in beautiful legible script, not typed. He had me write my departure time in the ledger before leaving. This was the first of many happy visits to the Print and Drawing room.
Sinclair Hitchings was a patron who appreciated variety, which felt refreshing and liberating, since the popular notion was that an artist had to do just one thing and stick only to that. He was equally interested in single drawings and in series: he collected a series of large charcoal drawings of statues that I made in New York City in 1990, a painting of a small yellow taxi cab, several big monochromatic oils on rabbit-skin-glued paper, charcoal drawings of models from the Museum School, sketches of people around Rome and the beach, small watercolors of cars and trucks and fruit, sepia landscapes of Rome, delicate pencil drawings, aging urban walls from Mexico, from Guatemala… He was unconcerned with considerations of what constituted contemporary, and was enthusiastically supportive of quality. He was charming, funny, smart. For years, he was one of the people I most looked forward to showing my paintings to: he gave my work value and importance. The Boston Public Library owns 60 of my best works on paper from the years that I was a graduate student, from my vagabond years in New York City, my travels through Mexico and Guatemala, and my arrival in Rome. In 1996 this culminated with a solo exhibition of all 60 of the paintings, displayed in the glass cases of the Wiggin Gallery, and the publication of my first writing about my art.
He had great dreams and did great deeds, and I am so very fortunate to have been one of the many Boston artists whose work he supported. Thank you, Sinclair Hitchings.
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Here is the beautifully printed booklet Wendy Artin In Art, artist statement for the 1996 exhibit
After decorating a careful magic marker contour drawing I had made of my sneakers with little shoes drawn the way everyone did at age 7, I was indignant when my parents thought that Miss Kornblue, the teacher, had drawn the best sneaker. From candle-making to calligraphy, music, dance and art, my parents put us in all the classes, banned the television, took us abroad, taped up our drawings, commissioned their friend Janii to paint a lush English countryside mural in the front hall. By junior high I was drawing live models in neighborhood livingrooms and statues in the Museum of Fine Arts with Andy Serbick; in high school the highlight of my week was the muscular overlays in Anatomy with Joe Capacetti at the Museum School; I stayed awake late nights drawing.
The summer before college I had the first of many painting classes with Miroslav Antic, who taught me to look for the color behind the local color, to keep the marks making the illusion rich and exciting, and who welcomed me in his classes during my college breaks, a wonderful teacher. As a French Lit major at the University of Pennsylvania I discovered “mass drawings”, covering the entire page with charcoal and then rubbing out the lights with a soft eraser. At the Pennsylvania Academy the technique was to gently shade, in the direction of the light, everything but the brightest spot (top of the head), then everything but the next brightest and so on until finished. Although I changed classes rather than lose precious model time on this method, I still love the way it makes the pencil or charcoal be the atmosphere, gently dissipating light.
At the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Férit Iscan’s drawing studio always had two models. One held the same pose each morning or afternoon for the entire week, the other did a variety of shorter poses. There was ample time to draw the models from different angles, do expressive sketches, return to previous drawings refreshed: I cannot imagine a better set-up. Two days each week the teachers appeared and treated us to coffee and critiques, encouraging experimental mark-making and the suggestion of light and atmosphere rather than the rendering of detail. The first summer in Paris I wanted to paint my own souvenir street scenes to bring home, and ended up with a lot of atmospheric drawings of French cars. The car series eventually led to my wall series, and many years of sitting on sidewalks and painting, trying to capture the urban landscape. The Boston Public Library has two of these early street paintings, a typically French Blue Door (1987) from Paris, and an inky taxi from the yellow cab repair yard below my Cambridge apartment (1987).
I spent five years at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston in the Masters program, studying mostly with Miroslav Antic and Lou Gipetti, and for one year teaching a class of my own. The loose structure was perfect: in cycles I would work at home or at school, sometimes surprised when it closed for summer vacation, making use of the models, the teachers, the printing press, the student shows, the luxury of being where everyone is busy making art. Lou Gipetti drew so fluidly that it was almost worth not drawing to watch. Henry Schwartz’s lyrical oil wash paintings were an inspiration. Henry introduced me to Sinclair Hitchings and the Boston Public Library collection of drawings.
It was at the Museum School that I began to work in transparent oil paint on rabbit-skin glued paper, trying to recreate the effect of monoprints without the press, of greasy paint smearing descriptively over a smooth surface. I would work into inky washes and stark brushstrokes with a stiff brush dipped in turpentine. One of my preferred subjects was statues on buildings, their inanimate obscurity giving me freedom to imagine and paint the people who had been the models, the idea for the statue, the light, the gesture (Cherub 1990). Real people I would try to see either as epic statues or the way their mother did, and paint that, as in “The Model”(1989).
After graduation and six months in Paris I moved to New York, where a friend brought me to the cast hall of the New York Academy, a large room with classical statues on wheels, spotlights, easels and barely a student: it was like a private museum. I wanted to do big beautiful drawings that nobody does any more, using the charcoal like a paintbrush, combining the marks and energy of a gestural sketch with focussed details, and with areas of such spare suggestions of volume that alone they make no sense, yet within context they pop out, 3-D, like the foot in “Crouching Venus” (1992). Back and forth across the studio I would move the easel, to have the focus in the drawing jump the way it does when one knows a face well, from far away to suddenly close, subjective. After lovingly drawing the blushing ear of the Discobole (1992) with my head cocked to the side, I noticed that everyone who came to look at the drawing leaned over, too.
The absurdly time-consuming pencil drawings that I continue to do, winters, are quite similar to the charcoals. I try to have the mark move over the paper as though it is moving over the surface of the marble belly or the garlic press, like a rubbing. The drawings should have about as much illusion as a bas-relief, not really supposed to fool you. In New York I calculated that even if every pencil drawing in a show of mine were to sell, the costs of the show would not be met, so, embracing a career as an oil painter I painted my “Pencils in Oil” (1993) and put them away. Then I put the oils away and took my watercolors to Mexico and Guatemala.
Summers I like to be outside. Often it takes ages to find the perfect wall to paint, not because none have been nice enough, but because it is a nice day for a walk. Painting the exemplary or the unusual wall gives me a new way of seeing the city, of travelling, of meeting people, of using many colors. I chose the “Positive Wall” (1995) because it was pink, with hearts and a sign saying do park here, fun to paint and funny, a visible voice. Watercolor travels well, trapping dirt and soot only until the paint is dry, allowing me to sit in very grubby places. It lends itself to wall paintings almost organically, washing like the rain, dripping like a stain, spreading like graffitti, and painting like paint over everything but a skinny edge of light. Perfect for meticulous realistic posters and wild abstract washes of colour, it is also easy to put away quickly in times of need, for instance when the small man with the large machete wanted dollars. Painting walls through New York, Paris, Mexico, Guatemala and Rome led to many adventures, an odd friendly feeling about facades, and my first big show in Paris at the Galerie Jaquester in 1993.
After the symbolism of Mexican art, I wanted to be reimmersed in the tradition of naturalism. I went to Rome to look at statues and walls, spent months painting an English street person, and finally discovered that when in Rome, one paints Rome. Loose yet delicate landscapes were a liberating challenge, and the trees, domes and walls of Rome endlessly absorbing. With sepia watercolor evaporating in the dazzling Roman sun I tried to perfect the puddle, as masses of parasol pines (Villa Borghese 1995) or as shadows on the statues of the Piazza Navona, my models (Neptunes 1994, 1995). I painted these statues over and over, discovering the beauty of a wet ghost image beneath a crisp wash, how to bleed one edge of the puddle into volume, the way it is to have a brush totally loaded or almost dry, the happy accident of an incidental drop. The paintings from Rome led to my second big show in Paris, at the Galerie du Passage in 1996.
To paint and draw figuratively is to pay tribute to the beauty that I see. It is a way to remember, to explore, to stare for hours at a person I do not want to know without seeming strange. In invaluable contrast to galleries, the Boston Public Library Print Department collects one-of-a kinds and series with equal enthusiasm. This eclectic appreciation has given me a tremendous sense of artistic freedom and timelessness, with which I have been able to pursue such unique treasures as the “Poire Bizarre” (1995), a natural wonder. I am honored to be a part of the Boston Public Library collection. I cannot thank enough my marvelous family, for their constant support.