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Picture Perfect: The Art of John Folinsbee

[Exhibition from Summer/Fall 2003]

We were pleased to present the work of John Fulton Folinsbee (1892-1972) as part of the Mattatuck Museum's Picture Perfect project. John Folinsbee’s arrival in Washington, Connecticut, as a student at The Gunnery was propitious both for his career and for his life. At The Gunnery his artistic talents were nurtured and encouraged. In 1914 he married Ruth Standish Baldwin of Washington, and after a time they moved to New Hope, Pennsylvania. John Folinsbee became one of the most successful landscape painters to come out of the New Hope, Pennsylvania artist’s circle of the 1920s and 30s. His career spans a period of nearly sixty years from his first public showing in New York in 1914 until his death in 1972.

[Click on pictures for enlargements.]

Upper left: Cider Mill in Washington, Connecticut. Oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches. Collection of a Gunnery Alumnus. Known as Dipple’s Cider Mill, this large factory site began in 1832-33 as a cotton-woolen plant. It was located off River Road on the Shepaug River. It passed through many hands, including Herman Baldwin, owner of a grist mill and shingle mills and a blacksmith shop; Frank J. Kilbourn, owner of a grist mill, feed and cider mills and Charles Dipple, who had a cider mill only. Operations continued until 1947 when Dipple ended all production. This scene was painted by Folinsbee before the mill and its 10 ˝ ft. dam were destroyed by the destructive flood of August 19, 1955.

Upper right: Canal Below New Hope. Oil on canvas, 20 x 30 inches Newman Galleries - John Folinsbee Art Trust. The Folinsbee’s found their way to New Hope, Pennsylvania, a village on the banks of the Delaware River. New Hope was a picturesque town during the early years of the 20th century and provided a peaceful rustic retreat for the many artists who lived among its gently rolling hills and graceful woodlands. Much of Folinsbee’s work was painted here before development and urbanization forced him to seek inspiration along the rugged coast of Maine. Aware that New Hope and Bucks County were rapidly changing, he endeavored to portray its best features in an attempt to preserve for future generations the appearance of this region.

Lower left: Evening at Swan’s Island. Oil on canvas, 35 x 50 inches. Newman Galleries - John Folinsbee Art Trust. Folinsbee and his family spent their summers in Maine, where the powerful sea and rugged coastline along with its harbor and fishing activities, provided him with fresh inspiration. In 1952, Folinsbee acquired a 25-foot lobster boat and named it "Sketch." As well as fishing from the vessel, he used it as a floating studio. When the weather permitted and the sea was calm, he would travel the coast, observing and making sketches. Evening at Swan’s Island was produced on one of his boating trips.

Lower right: Beth and Joan. Oil on canvas, 32 x 40 inches. New Hope, 1924. Collection of Joan F. Cook. The medical profession gave Folinsbee a very short life expectancy, and children, he was told, were out of the question. Ruth’s response to the doctor was, "Perhaps the Lord will decide that." Beth was born in 1917 and Joan, two years later. Folinsbee’s interest in portrait painting developed when he began sketching his daughters in their childhood. Although he was primarily a landscape painter, he painted hundreds of portraits during his long career and always claimed that he painted a portrait the way he painted a landscape. Those who have known only Folinsbee’s lusty landscapes may view his portraits with surprise: Great is the contrast between the two facets of the artist’s talents. His portraits are painted with great sensitivity, those of women and children with appropriate delicacy; yet they are as forthright in their way as any landscape he ever painted, being quite rapidly executed, not requiring over two or three sittings. This implies unusual perception in character analysis and a brush that caresses features as expertly as it lays-in the waters of the North Atlantic.

In the first half of the twentieth century there were certain few painters who stuck to their beliefs, resisted the lure of fame and notoriety to pursue their own course of development without becoming swept up in the necessity for change to "keep up with the times." Folinsbee is among that number who followed his own course and developed his style according to the dictates of his own thinking without radically changing his deeply felt purposes.

Most of his working life was spent in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and beginning in the mid-1930s he spent summers in Maine where there was a whole new world to paint. The stronger contrasts of light and dark, sharper lines, and open horizons of the Maine seacoast all had a telling effect, even on his subsequent treatment of Pennsylvania subjects.

Our exhibition included forty paintings by Folinsbee reflecting changes in his style and composition over a lifetime of painting. Though Folinsbee predominantly painted landscapes, he developed additional skills as a portrait painter, and this show included a representative sampling of the diversity of his work.

Picture Perfect: Images of Northwest Connecticut included exhibitions, a publication and many programs and activities, showcasing the work of American artists who worked throughout Litchfield County from 1790 to 1940. Participating institutions included the Cornwall Free Library, Flanders Nature Center, Kent Historical Society, Litchfield Historical Society, New Milford Historical Society and Old Bethlehem Historical Society.

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