Published: September 19, 2000
Pencil Wash Drawings on View in Vermont
VERGENNES, VT. – An exhibition of drawings and paintings by New England landscape artist Rev Henry Safford Fiske (1849-1909) at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Basin Harbor, Vt., will run through October 15.
The exhibit features pencil wash drawings from the Rutland and Lake Champlain areas done during his ministry at St Pauls Universalist Church, Rutland, Vt., 1891-94. Works from northern coastal Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire will also be displayed
This first known exhibit of the art of Henry Safford Fiske (since his death) is the result of the research and collecting of his great grandson, Stephen L. Fiske, who wrote the following account:
“My great grandfather, Henry Safford Fiske, was an artist and a Universalist Minister who was born in South Danvers, Massachusetts, in 1849 and died in Beverly, Massachusetts, in 1909. He studied art in Boston with landscape artists Samuel L. Gerry and G.W. Southward, and taught art for several years in the Salem Freehand Evening Drawing School.
After studying for the ministry he was ordained as a Universalist Minister in West Romney, N.H., in 1879, thereafter taking pastorates in small rural towns throughout New England. Wherever he went he sketched and painted, selling his works to supplement his rather meager minister’s income. At church events, country fairs, book and art stores, local galleries, wherever he found a venue, he offered his various views of the countryside in oil, watercolor, ink, and pencil washes.
I first discovered his art when my aunt Ruth passed away in 1994 and I found a sketch book and several pencil/ink wash drawings in the attic vault of her Windsor, N.Y., cottage. Impressed by the quality of the work and filled with curiosity about my great grandfather’s life, I embarked upon a search to learn more about him and find more of his art.
As a relatively unknown artist, he is listed in Falk’s Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975 as well as in Brewingtons Marine Paintings and Drawings, published by the Peabody Museum. The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., has nine of his sketch books in their collection, and the Lynn Historical Society Museum, Lynn, Mass., has an H.S. Fiske oil painting, ‘The Galluecia House,’ also listed in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
None of his paintings have shown up in any auction records, and his works have proven difficult and challenging to find. Nevertheless, the collection that I have inherited and have acquired of mostly pencil sketches and ink washes is impressive in its artistry and historic significance. All the curators, collectors, and appraisers who have seen the Fiske family collection of my great grandfather’s works have been duly impressed. Several museums are currently interested in acquiring works for their collections.
Possessed by the soul of the artist to paint and by the calling of the ministry to serve humanity, Henry Safford Fiske lived a simple and honest life of meager means, but rich in the spirit that spoke through him. His ministerial outlook shunned things material. He loved rural New England and chose the communion of the countryside to the hustle and bustle of the cities. He selected remote country parishes for his ministry. He never sought recognition for his artwork, was never ambitious for an artistic career.
There was never a known major exhibit of his work and his art never entered the broader public sphere. He simply sold and dispersed his art as he went along. His sketchbooks suggest that he was a prolific painter, yet the question remains; where are more of his paintings, the cream of his artistic crop?
His works are signed ‘H.S.F.’ or ‘F.’ or ‘H.S. Fiske,’ and he always made notes of his locations on the bottom front or back. He often painted on artist boards.
The Fiske family is looking for any oil paintings, drawings, letters, photos, documents, or information pertaining to Henry Safford Fiske.”
Please contact Stephen L. Fiske at 310/396-8205 or write at 635 California Avenue, Venice, Calif. 90291.
The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum is at 4472 Basin Harbor Road, For information, 802/475-2022. The LCMM is open seven days a week from 10 am to 5 pm through October 15.
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