What About Bob

On one of our group trips to Cape Cod a few years ago Dave Henry and I stopped by an area, close to Eastham, known as Fort Hill for a morning session of painting.  We pulled into the small parking area, built to handle about fifteen vehicles, and exited the car to take in the vast multiple views.  Appropriately named, Fort Hill sits on a bluff that looks out toward the sea, offering its visitors some beautiful vistas.  A hiking path winds its way down a sloping hill from the parking area, passing through a grove of trees before turning to meander along the seashore and surrounding salt marshes.

On this particular morning, as we stood on the hill, criss-crossing our fingers in front of our eyes to frame potential compositions, we couldn't help but notice a lone, scruffy seagull walking around the perimeter of the lot.  Thinking at first that it may be injured we both started walking toward him to get a better look, but acting in true seagull fashion, as we got closer he would pick up his pace and manage to stay a good ten paces away.  If he was injured it certainly wasn't affecting his walking capabilities.

We came to the conclusion that the only way we could determine if this seagull was feeling poorly would be to offer it something to eat, knowing that if a seagull turned away from anything edible, it would be a safe bet that it wasn't feeling well.  As we rummaged through the painting gear in the back of the car all we could find at the time was a half-eaten box of gingersnap cookies, certainly not normal seagull cuisine, but it was the best we could do.   Now by this time it no longer seemed adequate to continue calling our new acquaintance "birdie", or "little fella"...as we had been doing for the first ten minutes that we had known him...so we followed the natural progression of impromptu pet adoption procedure and gave our new little buddy a name...christening him Bob.  For the rest of the morning, Bob became our close companion, gobbling down every morsel of gingersnap that was offered.

As we had finished our painting session that morning, and realized that our box of cookies was now empty, we only hoped that downing about twenty or so gingersnaps was not going to send our friend Bob to an early grave.  We left Fort Hill that morning with Bob still standing in the parking lot...watching us as we drove away.

The following year, as our group returned again to Cape Cod as it had for well over ten years, my buddy Dave and I loaded our easels into the car on one of our first days of the week and headed back out to Fort Hill.  We wondered, jokingly, if our old friend Bob would still be standing in the parking lot awaiting our return.  As we drove up to the crest of the hill, we pulled into one of the available spots commenting on how many more cars were in the lot than the last time we had visited the spot.

Much to our surprise, as we crawled out of the car to briefly survey the old familiar landscape before unloading our equipment, we couldn't help but notice one car in the front row with two elderly women seated inside.  Munching on their sandwiches under the extremely close scrutiny of a lone seagull standing on the hood of their car, he glared at them menacingly through their windshield obviously wanting to be offered a piece of a sandwich.

Was it possible this was our old avian buddy Bob...still hanging out all by himself at the Fort Hill parking lot?  We certainly wanted to think it was him, but we had no way to guarantee a positive identification.  Realizing that we had just crawled out of a car wafting in the scents of a freshly opened box of gingersnaps, we found it very interesting that he had quite decisively left the hood of the car with the elderly women inside to perch on the roof of a car next to our open SUV.

     


Murder at Amston Lake, the Warm Springs Lodge, and the Seven Lively Artist connection

Early in the 1970's, the specific year is not remembered, members of the group thought it would be a good idea to break up the long winter with a mid-season extended-weekend artist retreat.  The specific location selected was a cold, drafty old place by the name of the Warm Springs Lodge, about a forty-five minute drive from Harrisburg along Sherman's Creek in Perry County, near the village of Landisburg, Pennsylvania.  At one time, long ago, "very" long ago, it was a stagecoach stop.  Later on it became a hot (warm) springs resort.  In the 1970's, the current owners at the time operated the establishment more like an inn, renting out the rooms to anyone who wanted to spend a few nights, serving weekend dinners, and hosting the occasional wedding ceremony.  It was the perfect spot for the desired Thursday thru Sunday morning retreat.  Quiet, secluded, rustic, friendly owners, wonderful food, and plenty of room to open up easels and establish the getaway artist weekend that would break up the mid-winter blues.

Breakfast was served normally around 8:00 in the mornings and painting began immediately thereafter.  Mostly everyone would paint until 12:00 noon, stopping only when the call would come out from the cook that lunch was ready, and then all would take a break to eat before heading back to the easels where the painting would continue for the rest of the afternoon until dinner was served.

It turned out to be such a successful weekend, in terms of quality painting time, and camaraderie, that the group would return the following year....and then the year after that...and the year after that....and so on...and so on...for over the next forty years.

The Warm Springs Lodge winter weekend was part of being a member of the Seven Lively Artists, but there was one man who started to attend these annual gatherings that was not an official member of the group.  Not only was he not an official member of the group, this fellow wasn't even an artist, at least not in the sense of being a painter.  And unlike everyone else who only had about an hour's drive from home to reach the lodge, this non-painting guest for the weekend would drive six hours from his home in Connecticut to be part of this exclusive get-together.  His name was Larry Zimmerman, and even though he wasn't a painter, he was a talented writer who did have a special connection to the group, his cousin and Seven Lively Artist member Bob Zimmerman.

Back row left to right:  Ralph Hocker, Ted Webber, Bill Kerman, Jonathan Frazier Third row left to right: Karl Foster, David R. Henry, Joe Dudding, Steve Wetzel Second row left to right: Don Lenker, Dom Brandt, John McNulty Front row left to right: author Larry Zimmerman, Paul Gallo

Back row left to right:  Ralph Hocker, Ted Webber, Bill Kerman, Jonathan Frazier

Third row left to right: Karl Foster, David R. Henry, Joe Dudding, Steve Wetzel

Second row left to right: Don Lenker, Dom Brandt, John McNulty

Front row left to right: author Larry Zimmerman, Paul Gallo

Now, as it turned out, weekend winter retreats also seem to work out well for writers, and year after year Larry would return to take part in the activities...enjoying the food, the card games, and the occasional glass of wine or scotch, while sitting in the main room next to the stone fireplace, working on his latest story in the midst of the working artists and the smell of linseed oil and turpentine.

One year not so long ago, Larry arrived and set up his computer at the same spot where he sat, year after year, in the big room, usually with a stack of his previously published books close by, and announced he had finished the latest book in his series, "Murder at Amston Lake", producing a number of copies from a small box.  He hinted that we might be especially interested in this particular book as he distributed a number of copies as gifts.  It seems as if several members of the Seven Lively Artists, this meek, mild-mannered, innocent group of artists from Pennsylvania, had become involved as suspects in his latest murder mystery.......who would have known...

Books by Larry Zimmerman:

http://www.amstonbooks.com

     

Introduction

Easels on the Beach at Provincetown, Ma., Cape Cod Left to Right: JD Wissler, Robert Hughes, David R. Henry. Steve Wetzel Photograph by Jonathan Frazier

Easels on the Beach at Provincetown, Ma., Cape Cod

Left to Right: JD Wissler, Robert Hughes, David R. Henry. Steve Wetzel

Photograph by Jonathan Frazier

The landscape of Pennsylvania has long attracted and nurtured artists who were called to capture her natural beauty.  From individual artists pursuing their muse to the emergence of such notable groups as the 19th century Scalp Level School which formed in the western region of the Commonwealth near Pittsburgh, and the “Pennsylvania Impressionists” of the New Hope School to the east, just north of Philadelphia, the love affair between landscape and artist in Pennsylvania was strong and passionate.

                It was this way as well in 1956 for seven friends who were working at the time, as illustrators, graphic designers and commercial artists, with various firms in and around the capitol city of Harrisburg.  Seated on rolling chairs behind a draftsman’s table, the love for art far exceeded the boundaries of the stale fluorescent lit office spaces where their days were spent, and the lure of the landscape was just too strong to be ignored.

                The Susquehanna River valley was abundant in fertile farms and fields, pristine trout streams, and lush meadows, all gently caressed by acre upon acre of deciduous woodland.  Ridgelines of green through spring and summer erupted into every hue of red, rust and gold that one could possibly imagine during the autumnal harvest.  To not be standing behind an easel in the glory of this surrounding landscape was unimaginable to these seven artists.

                They had no conscious intent at the time to form an organized painting group.  Theirs was solely a fundamental common desire to paint the landscape and to enjoy the camaraderie and academic fellowship of others who shared similar ideas.  They found this in each other in those days, forging a bond that no one probably ever dared to imagine would thrive for decades and affect the lives of so many other painters.   Their names were Bob Bartlett, Walt Huber, Charley Krone, George Logan, Meade Logan, Earl Blust, and Jack Slepicka…and together they called themselves “The Seven Lively Artists”.

                In the fall of 1956 they met for what would be the first of many Friday lunches.  The weekly Friday lunch gathering would become a staple of the group, for it was here where they would talk about their paintings, their methods and palettes, and where plans would be made for their routine weekend plein air outings.  They painted in meadows next to the Yellow Breeches Creek, along the many bridges that spanned the Susquehanna River, and in places with names like Fort Hunter, Negley Park, and Boiling Springs.  One year later they would hold the very first exhibit of their work.

                Soon thereafter, others would be invited to join the seven.  Four would enter the ranks in those first few years.  Eleven more would follow during the 1960’s, and a total of twenty-one additional artists would be counted among the fold over the next 44 years up to the present moment.  Between the harsh reality of losing some of their members through death, and losing others who periodically stopped painting with the group due to relocation, poor health, or for a variety of personal reasons, the active number of painters within the group at any one time usually ranged from twelve to eighteen.  Despite the fluctuating number of artists over the years, however, one constant would never change, and that constant was the group’s name “The Seven Lively Artists”.  It had become their identity, and through the years, whether the active current roster at any given moment numbered twelve, fifteen, or seventeen, the name has since always stood as a tribute to those first seven artists, all of whom, with the exception of Earl Blust, have since passed away.

Earl Blust, pictured here on the left, painting on Cape Cod at Wellfleet with fellow Seven Lively Artist David R. Henry.

Earl Blust, pictured here on the left, painting on Cape Cod at Wellfleet with fellow Seven Lively Artist David R. Henry.

                For as many hours as they have logged painting local Pennsylvania scenes between the years 1956 - 2015, they have also put thousands of miles on their vehicles during this same time traveling along the east coast in search of new and invigorating plein air challenges.  A fishing village on Vinalhaven Island off the coast of Maine was one of the earlier destinations in the group’s long and storied itinerary.  Rows of fishing shacks, weathered piers and docks provided solid backgrounds for the rust-pocked hulls of the working vessels that sailed in and out of the village over the primed panels of these Pennsylvania artists.

                From Maine’s Monhegan Island as far south as Kitty Hawk and Nags Head along North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the painters of the Seven Lively Artists would anchor their easels against the wind and go to work.  The coastal towns of Cape May and Stone Harbor in New Jersey played host to numerous visits of the group, as did Tilghman Island in Maryland, where the “Livelies” would return for several years.  Here Captain “Buddy” Harrison’s Chesapeake House, a popular fishing charter business sandwiched between Black Walnut Point and St. Michael’s along the eastern shore, became their home away from home, where the painting spots were as memorable as Captain Buddy’s Oyster stew.

                Of the many distant locales visited by the group since 1956, however, one exceeds all others in the number of times they have returned to one particular destination.  Trips to Cape Cod became an annual sojourn for over a decade.  Sometimes as many as five or six cottages in the small community of Dennisport would be rented for the week and from there the caravan of artists would leave in the morning bound for the dunes near Truro and Provincetown, the town pier at Wellfleet, or down to Hyannis where the easels and gear would be loaded on board for the ferry ride to Nantucket.

                Back in Dennisport, as the week progressed, the tiny cottages became transformed into miniature galleries of wet oil paintings propped against the wall on fireplace mantels, on windowsills, and along every available inch of exposed baseboard.  In June of 2010, however, after all of the many trips to the area, and the hundreds upon hundreds of paintings that were completed there, the windowsills and fireplace mantels of the cottages in Dennisport were replaced by the main gallery walls of the Cape Cod Museum of Art where the Seven Lively Artists from Pennsylvania were honored with an exhibit of their Cape Cod works.

postcard from the 2010 exhibit.

postcard from the 2010 exhibit.

                Meanwhile at the very same time, back in their home state of Pennsylvania, their paintings were also hanging in a special exhibit at the Governor’s Mansion in Harrisburg, where the group’s longevity and contributions to the Pennsylvania art scene were being recognized.

At The Governor's Residence (2010). Pictured Left to Right: Joe Dudding, Steve Wetzel, Jonathan Frazier, Brian Eppley, Ted Webber, David R. Henry, Robert Hughes, John McNulty, Earl Blust, Ralph Hocker, Barry Ginder, Bob Zimmerman, Governor Ed Rendell, Karl Foster, Don Lenker, Bill Kerman, Mrs. Rendell

At The Governor's Residence (2010).

Pictured Left to Right: Joe Dudding, Steve Wetzel, Jonathan Frazier, Brian Eppley, Ted Webber, David R. Henry, Robert Hughes, John McNulty, Earl Blust, Ralph Hocker, Barry Ginder, Bob Zimmerman, Governor Ed Rendell, Karl Foster, Don Lenker, Bill Kerman, Mrs. Rendell

                Little has changed for these men since 1956 where the weekly Friday lunch gathering is still an essential element of this group’s bond.  Here they still meet to talk about a latest art book acquisition, or to see the proof of the next exhibit postcard, both of which are usually passed around the table before the menus have even been opened.  Conversations turn to discussions about recent paintings or lodging details regarding the next group excursion.  And most days, even after lunch is over, it’s not unusual to find some still gathered in the parking lot, hulking around the trunk of someone’s car, to look at the latest paintings of a colleague while holding an impromptu critique.  With ages of the current members ranging anywhere between forty-three and eighty-five years of age, certainly one of the longest-running painting groups in the country plans to keep the tradition going strong for many more years to come.

I starting painting and exhibiting with the Seven Lively Artists during the Spring of 2004.  The intent of this blog will be to introduce more people to the group's history and the work of those who continue the tradition.  2016 will mark the 60th year of the group's existence.  It will be celebrated with a special exhibit to be held at the Cumberland County Historical Society in Carlisle, Pa., in May and June of 2016, and a special exhibit engagement in November of 2016 at the William Penn Museum, the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  As these two events draw closer I will provide additional information.  The website address for the group can be found at the very beginning of the blog.