Come Sail with Us

Experience a time when the art world came to Bucks County.

The Painterly Voice: Bucks County’s Fertile Ground, October 22, 2011-April 1, 2012, brings together more than 200 of Bucks County’s finest works. Paintings by Daniel Garber, Edward Redfield, Fern Coppedge, and other legends of the Bucks County painting tradition, drawn from the finest work in regional collections, will be together for the first and only time in The Painterly Voice at the Michener Art Museum.

One of Edward Hicks’s “The Peaceable Kingdom,” one of the best-known and most beloved images in the history of American art, on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, will be a highlight of The Painterly Voice, as will rarely seen gems from private collections.

It may be hard to imagine now, but when the Bucks County landscape painters first came to national prominence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, landscape painting was one of the cutting edge, avant-garde styles of the day. Painters like Edward W. Redfield, Daniel Garber and Robert Spencer built stellar careers, and many Bucks County artists exhibited and won prizes at the most prestigious art venues in the country. For a time, the art world came to Bucks County to find the most accomplished and experienced artists who would sell their work in galleries around the country and serve as jurors for important juried exhibits.

“We know we belong to the land,” wrote Doylestown resident and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II for his 1943 musical Oklahoma! When you visit the Michener Art Museum in Bucks County, not only are you seeing the paintings created by the region’s finest artists, but you are seeing the land that inspired them. For more than 200 years, Bucks County’ fertile ground has nurtured the creativity of writers, actors, musicians and especially visual artists.

During the American impressionist movement, from Connecticut to California and many spots in between, art colonies were born and prospered. Each place had its own story, its colorful characters, and its own personality.

Many of the colonies were made up of summer warriors, successful artists looking for a quiet place to make paintings when the weather was warm. “The New Hope artists were an art colony year round,” says Brian H. Peterson, the Michener’s Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest Chief Curator. “They lived here, worked here, paid their taxes here, raised their children here, made many friends here and, most importantly, responded to the sense of place in their artwork.”

William L. Lathrop and his wife, Annie, nurtured the New Hope colony in their home at Phillips Mill. When Robert Spencer needed feedback about a picture, he called his friend Jack Folinsbee who lived just down the street. When Spencer’s daughters needed someone to play with, Rae Sloan Bredin’s two little girls were within shouting distance. “When Lathrop needed to share the latest news about the boat he was building, his friend Henry Snell would wander by,” continues Peterson. “And when wedding bells were about to chime, people congregated on the lawn of Lathrop’s house at Phillips Mill.”

What distinguishes Bucks County’s painterly heritage is not any singular, recognizable style, but rather a diversity of “fingerprints” – genres, tools and techniques. It’s this very diversity that is the most characteristic quality of Bucks County painting.

“But the word ‘diversity’ doesn’t do justice to the depth and breadth of the story of the region’s masters of canvas and brush,” says Peterson. “It’s the elusive but essential quality of individuality – what some call style or originality, but is better described by the more poetic term ‘voice’ – that the rich creative soil of Bucks County has most nurtured over the decades.”

Harry Leith-Ross, poet of the ordinary; the wise silence of Daniel Garber; the nights and days of George Sotter; A tale of two (John) Folinsbees; the red sails of Fern Coppedge (pictured above); the cities, towns, and crowds of Robert Spencer; the vibrant, energetic snowscenes of Edward W. Redfield; the radical stylistic evolution of Charles Rosen;hear these stories and more in The Painterly Voice.

Some Bucks County landscape painters took a different path. These artists were aware of the stylistic experimentation going on in Europe and New York, and decided to give it a try themselves. The artwork pushes the envelope in one way or another: sometimes it’s color, sometimes it’s the drawing style, sometimes it’s the way paint is applied to the canvas. These artists were fascinated with symbols, with rhythm, with surface. Still others were more interested in man-made subject matter – machines, urban environments – over natural beauty.

And let us not forget the work of artists undiscovered in their lifetime, yet highly regarded in today’s art world, such as Morgan Colt, whose wrought iron work was more well known at his premature death than his paintings.

There’s never been a better time to visit The James A. Michener Art Museum!

Curated by Brian H. Peterson, The Painterly Voice is the most ambitious effort in the museum’s history to demonstrate the depth and quality of Bucks County’s tradition of excellence in the art of painting. After more than two decades of research and publication in the field of Bucks County painting, the museum has amassed a wealth of knowledge not only about who these painters were but where their paintings are. Peterson’s many publications on Bucks County art include the 2002 Pennsylvania Impressionism, co-published by the Michener and the University of Pennsylvania Press, and major monographs on William L. Lathrop, Robert Spencer and Charles Rosen.

Works in The Painterly Voice will be featured in a web-based publication that will make the Bucks County tradition available to art lovers around the world.

The Painterly Voice will occupy three of the museum’s largest galleries, and will open its doors as the seventh major construction project in the Michener’s 23-year history moves toward completion. The Edgar N. Putman Event Pavilion, a state-of-the-art glass enclosed structure, scheduled to open in spring 2012, represents, along with The Painterly Voice, the culmination of more than 20 years of growth, professionalism and service to the community at the Michener Art Museum, the art and soul of Bucks County.   

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