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Spring on the Island,
Alfred Heber Hutty (1877-1954)

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Watercolor on paper
15 1/2 x 21 inches
Watercolor on verso titled Spring Day
Signature Details: Spring on the Island
Status: Available

Alfred Heber Hutty was born in Grand Haven, Michigan, on September 16, 1877. His boyhood was spent in the lumber towns of Michigan and on a military post in Kansas - places hardly conducive to the development of his artistic talent - yet at fifteen he won a scholarship to art school by executing the best drawing of his school building. He studied at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts and seems afterward to have worked as a designer of stained glass in Kansas City and in St. Louis. Later he studied at the Art Students' League in New York under William Merritt Chase and Birge Harrison. He also received instruction in landscape painting at Woodstock, New York.

After World War I, in which Hutty served in the camouflage corps, he accepted an invitation to establish an art school for the Carolina Art Association at Charleston. Thus began a thirty-four year love affair with perhaps the most charming of American cities. He established a winter studio adjacent to a seven mile beach. As his old art instructor Birge Harrison wrote, "To one with an eye for line and a feeling for form, these quaint old houses of an earlier epoch, as well as the many charming old gateways, doorways, and vistas down cobbled streets and between high walls, called aloud for transference to canvas or drawing pad."

Hutty heeded that call. In Charleston he discovered he had a felicity for etching, and his first published etchings, in 1921, were all of Charleston. In 1924 he won the Logan Prize and Medal from the Chicago Society of Etchers. A volume of his etchings, with an introduction by the famous Washington collector Duncan Phillips, was published in New York and London in 1929. Hutty seldom produced more than eight to ten plates a year and usually no more than seventy-five impressions were made from each plate.  He was a consummate draughtsman, whose line alone suggested spatial relationships and values. Besides Charleston, his favorite subject was trees, although whether this was by preference or under pressure from critics is not clear. In any event, he seemed able to endow individual trees with human, sympathetic qualities by line and shadowing alone, without any tricks or distortions for effect.

Although Hutty achieved his greatest recognition as an etcher, he never gave up painting. Oddly, there is nothing linear at all about his paintings. His graphics were graphic and his paintings were painterly. Indeed, painting came to be a relief from the monotony of continuous etching. In a 1940 letter to the art critic Leila Mechlin he wrote, "I have d a sort of renaissance of pleasure in doing the water colors and I hope that some of it has been transferred to the paper!" She, in turn, wrote in the Washington Star in praise of his ability to discover hidden beauty in homely subjects, thus elevating them to a higher plane.  In one column she wrote, "His color is delightful, his use of pigment fascinating . . . This is the top notch of art."

Apart from wintering in Charleston, Hutty lived at Woodstock, New York, and he regularly exhibited at galleries in New York City and Boston. He died in 1954. His works are represented at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, the British Museum, Los Angeles County Museum, Gibbes Art Gallery at Charleston, New York Public Library, Art Institute of Indianapolis, University of Michigan, Harvard Medical School, and the Bibliotheque National at Paris.

LINE, COLOR AND LIGHT, Robert M. Hicklin Jr.,. Inc., Spartanburg, South Carolina, 1985, page 45.

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This essay is copyrighted by Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.

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