Impressionistic master Aldro T. Hibbard (1886-1972), the consummate painter, helped lead the tiny seaside town of Rockport to a place where it would gain a national reputation as a New England art colony with the founding of the Rockport Art Association in 1921.
Now celebrating the end of its 90th yearlong celebration, the Rockport Art Association has organized the largest retrospective exhibition with 114 works of this artist who was both a gregarious resident and dedicated teacher and plein air painter. He earned the coveted designation of National Academician.
The retrospective, which includes many works not previously exhibited, opens with a gala preview party on Friday and officially opens Saturday.
Hibbard, who died at the age of 86, had the stature of an athlete and an offer to play professional baseball. However, he chose to flex his muscles in honing his artistic talents and became one of America’s foremost painters, though he remained active in local baseball circles.
“He’s best known and most admired for his snow scenes, and is widely regarded as one of the traditional painters who was most successful in capturing the rhythms of the New England landscape,” said Erica E. Hirshler, Croll senior curator of American Paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The Museum of Fine Arts has three Hibbards in its collection, all of them snow scenes of Vermont.
“His snowscapes are faithful to the scenes they depict, but they are also harmonious arrangements of form and shape, enlivened by thick strokes of paint that mimic the drifts and furrows of the snow they represent,” said Hirshler. “One of my favorites uses hints of blue and pink to indicate different lights on the snow, and the hillside is enlivened by the deep tracks of the artist’s own footprints as he found the perfect spot to paint.”
Hibbard grew up in the Boston area, though he made Rockport his home in 1920. He spent time during the winter in Vermont, where his landscapes often include covered bridges and sugar houses.
Robin Starr, director of American and European works of arts for the Skinner auction house in Boston, said last winter, the auction house sold one of Hibbard’s large Vermont landscapes from the 1920s for more than $80,000.
“Usually when someone says Hibbard, what comes to mind is views of beautiful Vermont valleys covered in snow with drifting, thawing icy streams,” said Starr. “We see his works on a regular basis. His work is sought after and very well collected.”
Hibbard also nurtured the next generation of artists in the budding Rockport art colony. Tom Nicholas, who too would earn recognition as a National Academician, was one of them. He called his former mentor a master of aerial perspective.
As a young man, Hibbard studied with Ernest L. Major and Joseph R. DeCamp at the Massachusetts Normal Art School (1906-1909), and with Edmund C. Tarbell, Frank W. Benson, and Philip L. Hale at Boston’s Museum School (1909-1913), which later awarded Hibbard a Paige Traveling Scholarship. However, his trip abroad was cut short by World War I.
Back in the United States, he returned to the area and taught charcoal drawing at Boston University and later settled in Rockport, where like other artists of the time, he was drawn to the art community and landscapes of Cape Ann. He founded the Rockport Summer School of Drawing and Painting (1921-1928), which was later named The Hibbard School of Painting.
His artistic memberships were many and included the The Guild of Boston Artists, Salmagundi Club, Allied Artists of America, Hudson Valley Art Association, The Copley Society of Boston, and the National Academy of Design, of which he was elected a full member in 1934.
Hibbard influenced many Rockport artists including Emile Gruppé, Roger Curtis and Tom Nicholas and Paul Strisik, both also National Academician.
Cape Ann art historian Judith Curtis described Hibbard as a social extrovert who was happy to organize and paint backdrops for the Rockport Art Association’s annual Artists Ball and an “introverted painter” who disliked the strong reds and greens of summer and fall.
“He saved most of his serious painting for the winter and spring of rural Vermont where he could paint alone and commune with his muse among the tall pines and pristine snow of the West River Valley,” said Curtis, who wrote the book published by the Rockport Art Association in commemoration of this show.
“Although Hibbard passed away in 1975, his memory lives on through his inspirational work,” said Curtis. “He bequeathed several pieces to the town, which are featured in Rockport Art Association’s rousing finale to their 90th year as a tribute to their founder and the man in the vanguard of those bringing fame and fortune to the town as the premier art center of the East Coast.”
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3445, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go Who and what: Aldro T. Hibbard Retrospective, National Academician (1886-1972) Where: Rockport Art Association, 12 Main St. in downtown Rockport. When: Show opens Saturday, Oct. 6; admission is $5. Gala opening celebration is Friday, Oct. 5, from 6 to 8 p.m. Gala tickets are $30 and reservations are required. The show runs through Nov. 11. Why: This is the largest Hibbard exhibition ever, featuring more than 100 works of the Rockport Art Association founder. The show will be accompanied by a month-long roster of events and educational programs, including a gallery walk with artist Stapleton Kearns on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 11 a.m. and panel discussion next Thursday, Oct. 11. with artists Tom Nicholas, T.M. Nicholas, John Hagan and Sandy Lepore. Moderated by art collector Walter Manninen. Details: For information, call the art association at 978-546-6604, or visit rockportartassn.org.