I’ve been wondering lately about the force that nudges a person onto their life path. Is it heredity? Is it serendipity? Is it a desire to be like someone they admire? It’s probably a bit of everything, but, yet, I don’t think it’s an accident that there is, in my family, a line of artist/painters descended from the Harts of Durham, Connecticut. There must be something genetic in the desire to not only observe the world but to record those observations.
My great-grandmother, Lydia Jane Hart Hall, the woman whose journals I quote frequently in this blog, introduced the Hart blood into the Hall family. The Harts were a prominent and long-time Durham family who lived for four generations in the little homestead memorialized in this picture. The Hart family will be the subject of a future post, but today I’m concentrating on Mary E. Hart and the other women in our family who admired and emulated her.
I’ve written about Mary E. Hart before in “Violets,” and “Violets, An Addendum.” She lived the prime of her life during the Civil War years – she was born in 1836 and died in 1899 – but her paintings radiate peace. In her early life she’d been a teacher but later on became a prominent artist in the Durham area. She was especially famous for her depictions of violets. Her touch with paint was as delicate when she used oil as it was when she painted with watercolor.
Melissa Hall, my mother’s much-older cousin, was born around 1896, and exposed early on to Mary Hart’s paintings. She, like Mary, never married. In this photo from a 1904 Thanksgiving at the farm, she sits to the left of her two sisters, Alice and Gertrude.
Cousin Melissa made copies of many of Mary’s paintings, (the picture of the Hart Homestead is a copy made by her of a Mary Hart painting), but she had a style of her own. To the end of her life she made and sent me and other family members Christmas cards, Easter cards, birthday cards, and postcards.
My mother, Janet Hall Crump, began painting early, influenced not only by Mary Hart but also by her cousin Melissa. She especially loved painting the flowers she picked from her garden. Here she’s set up her pansies – maybe to be painted – next to Mary Hart’s painting.
And Janet, too, liked to make cards and decorations with her brush and paint. This must have been a place card for a dinner.
I grew up surrounded by the paintings done by these three women. There’s no denying their influence on the path I chose. Paintings by Mary, Melissa, and Janet will surface again in my blog posts. Here’s an early still life done by my mother when she was at Boston University. Watercolor was the perfect medium for her. She was a woman who “lived in the moment,” and the immediacy of watercolor suited her perfectly.
Sixty years later I did my own painting of a yellow cup.
I can’t resist closing with this example of how the artistic influence travels down the family tree. My daughter did this painting of flowers when she was nine years old. It made me smile today when I took it down from the wall to scan it and noticed that she had signed it Mara “Crump.”
On Monday: Washday