Fun & Games with the Super Rich The Birth of Hard-Edge Realism
James H. Cromartie as told to J.W. Nostrand
Copyright © 2008 by James H. Cromartie Library of Congress Control Number: All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means—graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying or information storage and retrieval systems— without written permission from the publisher. The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book or any part thereof via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized editions and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. “Schiffer,” “Schiffer Publishing Ltd. & Design,” and the “Design of pen and ink well” are registered trademarks of Schiffer Publishing Ltd. Designed by Douglas Congdon-Martin Type set in Linotype Zapfina/Zurich BT ISBN: 978-0-7643-3112-1 Printed in China ••••• Published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd. 4880 Lower Valley Road Atglen, PA 19310 Phone: (610) 593-1777; Fax: (610) 593-2002 E-mail: Info@schifferbooks.com For the largest selection of fine reference books on this and related subjects, please visit our website at www.schifferbooks.com We are always looking for people to write books on new and related subjects. If you have an idea for a book please contact us at the above address. This book may be purchased from the publisher. Include $3.95 for shipping. Please try your bookstore first. You may write for a free catalog. In Europe, Schiffer books are distributed by Bushwood Books 6 Marksbury Ave. Kew Gardens Surrey TW9 4JF England Phone: 44 (0) 20 8392-8585; Fax: 44 (0) 20 8392-9876 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.bushwoodbooks.co.uk Free postage in the U.K., Europe; air mail at cost.
Photographer: James M. Cromartie Map Designer: Casey Girard
Acknowledgments I want to thank J.W. Nostrand for his patience and dedication to this project; without him this book would never have happened. Thanks to the Late Nelson Rockefeller and Roger Firestone; without them I would not have had a painting career. Period. Also thanks to all my collectors for their financial support and encouragement over the years. And special thanks to Elisabeth Provo for all her support and assistance in putting together the contents of this book. —Jim Cromartie Most of James Cromartie’s paintings are available as Giclees and some have been reproduced on ceramic tiles. Originals can only be obtained at the Cromartie Gallery, 7 Easy Street, Nantucket, MA 02554, Phone 508-228-6708. Websites offering Cromartie Art reproductions are: www.cromartiegallery.com www.ArtistsOnTiles.com www.ThirdJewel.com
I would like to dedicate this book to my two sons James and Andrew May the good Lord grant them the courage to follow their dreams.
Old Mill Acrylic
Canvas One – Miacomet Genesis 19 Carolina Roots 33
Canvas Two – Children’s Beach Strugglin’ 55 Snow Birds 69
Canvas Three – Old South Wharf 81 Rocky One 91 Why Don’t’cha Take a Snapshot? 105 Rocky Too! 115 The Birth of Hard-Edge Realism 125 Canvas Four - Commissions Smithsonian Castle 137 U.S. Capitol 143 My Tar Heel State 151 White House 159 The Supreme Court 165 Epilogue
Road to Great Point Acrylic
Just the Two of Us Acrylic
In addition to being a talented artist, Jim Cromartie is also a born story teller, possessing a North Carolina accent not entirely forgotten after forty years as an expatriate in the north. To capture Jim’s unique style of telling a tale, we elected to use a hand-held tape recorder that he carried with him, ready to put to use whenever he remembered a particularly enlightening episode of his life. It didn’t take much coaxing to get him started. Once he became comfortable with the technology, a jumble of stories poured out of him, in no specific order, to be captured by the little tape spinning in his hand. My job became that of transcribing his words and sorting and editing the various segments of his life into a memoir that was somewhat connected and entertaining to read. I realized, early on, that the charm of Jim’s stories depended on reproducing his style and the way he expressed his feelings about people and life. Most storytellers don’t speak in precise written English. There are often unfinished sentences and literary errors that are overcome by how their words are emphasized and through the use of body language, facial expressions, and hand gestures. When people
sit around to chat and exchange stories, timing and delivery make the difference between an enthralling tale and one that falls flat. Ask any standup comedian or other performer about this fact. The way something is told is just as important as the content. The biggest challenge that we’ve had in assembling this book was to keep it true to Jim’s style and personality. Technically we should put quotation marks around the entire book. Most of the editing was in content and sequence, not language. However, we have used italics to highlight comments made in the present, describing Nantucket today or comments about the story, in contrast to most of the text, which is about events which took place in the past. Nantucket Portrait: The Birth of Hard-Edge Realism is a memoir of Jim’s life experiences during his growth as a realistic painter leading to the development of his artistic technique of Hard-Edge Realism. This part of his life represents the molding, growing, learning part of his artistic saga. Our purpose in creating this book is to present stories to enjoy and art images to savor. We both hope you enjoy the experience of reading his first artistic memoir. —JW Nostrand 9
Miacomet Pond Photo
To me this location, Miacomet Beach, where we’re sitting, is the most beautiful spot in the whole world. The pond comes up and almost meets the ocean; only a hundred yards of beach separate the ocean from the pond. Every year the town opens it up, drains it, and lets fresh seawater in to keep it healthy. Lo o k ! R i g h t o v e r there is a little beach shack that I must have used in at least 30 different paintings. I do at least one painting a year of the beach here because it’s my favorite place on the island. Not only that, but the fishing’s pretty good here too and right down from here is the nude beach. You would be amazed at how many times the fish run down into that part. If you’re a good fisherman and those fish swim down toward the nude beach you just have to follow them don’t you? And I am a good fisherman! Well, I’ve been sitting here at Miacomet Beach on Nantucket Island, remembering all that’s happened to me over the past thirty-five years. It’s almost too much to comprehend. There have been
many people that had a part in who I am and what I’ve become today. There were my benefactors Nelson Rockefeller and Roger Firestone, who supported my efforts to bring realism back to the art world. Then there have been my three wives . . . so far; plus the many friends I’ve made since I began to paint. Of course there’s my family, my Dad, “The Hammer,” my Mom, “The Politician,” both of whom encouraged my artistic career, and my brother Mike and sister Vicki, too. Plus there Miacomet, Nantucket Island Map Image by Casey G. are all those Cromartie ancestors who passed on their stories, their land, and their genes, all of which inspired me and gave me the freedom to become an artist. It’s just overwhelming when I think back on all these people, and their stories. Well, I guess I’ll just have to tell you all about it. For me as an artist, there are no prettier beaches than those of Nantucket, like this one. Here at Miacomet it’s the combination of the pond and the ocean and the high dunes with that beach shack over there. The intersecting dunes and the valleys 13
Opposite page: Beach Shack at Miacomet Watercolor
and the beach grass, and in June there are flowers. Artistically it’s like a feast. I guess you’d just have to see some of the paintings I’ve done of this spot. Over the years I developed an artistic technique I call “Hard-Edge Realism.” My paintings are actually more real than photographs; they capture an “otherworldly” quality that makes people want to step right into them. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but with “Hard-Edge Realism” that probably becomes two thousand words. I’ve had friends come and go and I’ve had wives come and go, but Nantucket, for the last 35 years, has been the one constant in my life. It took me a while to comprehend that Nantucket was my place. I kept thinking, “Oh, I can’t just keep going there. I can live anywhere.” So I lived in Carmel, California, I lived over in Portugal, I lived in San Francisco. I lived in the South, lived in Florida, and in Old Town Washington. During the winter I’d try those different places. Then it dawned on me that the only place I really wanted to be was Nantucket. I feel privileged to be able to live here and to be an artist and to stay here year-round, because there are very, very few artists, men or women, who’ve ever been able to accomplish that without another job or a spouse to support them. To be totally self-supporting from your art work and live here year-round is a personal triumph. So, I’m a happy guy.
Sitting here at Miacomet Beach, on this beautiful day, let me tell you how it all began. No, wait. Let me paint a picture for you, a word picture, complete with the false starts, blemishes, and running pigments, just like in a real painting. I’m warning you, though, it’s going be like a Nantucket Sleigh Ride back through time. It’ll be like sitting in a whaleboat being pulled up the waves and down into the troughs, not knowing what’ll happen next. It’ll cover the good things, the difficult times, and the rough spots. I’ll tell you how I stumbled into developing my super realistic style, and, along with Rocky and Roger, helped re-establish the credibility of realism in the art world. There have been visions, ESP, clairvoyants and even a white witch along the way. But most of all there have been a lot of wonderful people, characters full of fun, many of whom are no longer here, but who still exert their influence on me. I want to tell you about them. So dig your beach chair into the white Miacomet sand, put up your umbrella, and make sure you have enough sunscreen on your legs. Just sit here with me for a while and let me paint you a realistic Nantucket Portrait using warm and cool colors just like I use in my paintings.
Study for Living is Easy Watercolor Opposite page: Living is Easy Acrylic Painting
Sunday Afternoon Acrylic
Nantucket Harbor Photo
Life-defining events often go unrecognized; especially if the life being defined belongs to a southern boy encrusted with three centuries of family history. My artistic alliance with Nantucket really began in 1960 during my first ferry crossing from Woods Hole to “The Island.” But at the time, I sure didn’t know it. I was just one of four southern college boys, enticed to the island by tales of wicked northern girls. How different they were from southern girls. You could actually kiss them on the first date! Now this was back on the 1960s, so that was a big deal to be able to kiss somebody on the first date. Not like it is today. That first trip also began my transformation to the different cultural mores of the north. My conservative upbringing in North Carolina hadn’t prepared me for the Yankee world that existed north of Virginia. I first heard about Nantucket when I was an art major at college and joined a fraternity. It was my sophomore year and a fraternity brother came back from a summer job and he was talking about this
place Nantucket. “It was such an incredible party place. You could make so much more money there than you could make in another summer job. It was so different and unique.” He also told us a lot of stories about those Yankee girls and how incredible they were. So the next summer, four of us climbed into Jim Foster’s car, a fifty-six Chevy and headed north. I’d never been above Virginia before. Coming through New York City we were scared to death. I’ll never forget going across the George Washington Bridge. All you could see were four guys, Arriving from Woods Hole Map Image by Casey G. their eight eyeballs as big as saucers, looking out the window. We thought that some kind of gang was going to get us or that we would be shot. Our whole image of New York City was people with machine guns, and criminals; stuff like that. Now we weren’t exactly country boys; we were all fairly sophisticated, but we never had seen a really big city. Good Lord, at that time the north had shopping centers bigger than Charlotte, North Carolina. Since then, Charlotte has exploded and 21
gone on to become a big banking Mecca; but not back then. We had not slept and the whole way we’d been drinking the college cocktail of that time; diet pills and Budweiser. We drove all night and all day and caught the last ferry from Woods Hole. By then we were just exhausted and fogged out, and the real fog was so thick that we couldn’t see Nantucket when we came in. I couldn’t have seen it anyhow because I was so “tired.” We crashed that night with somebody at what later became the Warren Krebs Studio. Arriving on Nantucket late at night and in a fog, I certainly wasn’t thinking about art and at that moment I had no premonition of how important this island would Opposite page: become in my life. First Light The next morning I was up early before everybody Acrylic Painting else, got dressed and decided that I’d walk into town and see what this Nantucket place was all about. I’d been a lifeguard at Myrtle Beach and I just assumed that this was just another summer place. I expected it was going to be like Myrtle Beach, with ferris wheels and rides, a pavilion where you’d go down and dance, and beer joints. That was my assumption. But as I walked down Union Street for the first time, I sensed that Nantucket was different. It was a walk that absolutely changed my life. The first thing that struck me was how clean this place was. The second thing was the architecture; how the shingled houses were built right up on the street and everything seemed to be two stories.
I was a neat-nik, a realist, with a love of architecture. I loved doing paintings of houses, getting the details right. That’s where my style of Hard-Edge Realism had its beginning and it’s probably why I connected with Nantucket. There was nothing fake or phony about Union Street. It was real, just like it had been for the past 300 years. It was then that I began to realize how different Nantucket was from Myrtle Beach or any other resort areas I’d been in. It was so clean and so neat. I loved it. There was a pristine quality to everything on Union Street. I loved the architecture, I loved the houses but I’ve never painted Union Street. Perhaps it’s because I just never felt I could do it justice. I walked all the way down to Main Street and I saw the cobble stones. I remember asking a couple where the Pavilion was, and they just looked at me and said, “The Pavilion, what’s that?” “Where all the kids go and dance. Where are the rides?” I was in for a steep learning curve. Just how steep began to sink in quickly during that first summer on the island, and the lessons were not just about neatness and architecture. My roommate, Roland Tolly, and I decided to go out. At that time you couldn’t buy mixed drinks in Charlotte, or anywhere else in North Carolina, for that matter. You went to the liquor store that was run by the state and you brown bagged it. You took your liquor to the restaurant with you.
1st Study for 007 Watercolor
2nd Study for 007 Watercolor
Detailed Study for 007 Watercolor Opposite: Final 007 Painting Acrylic Painting
Sailing the Cord Acrylic Painting
So the first place that Roland and I went to was called the “Upper Deck” on Main Street. We went in and sat down and we told the bartender that we’d never had a mixed drink. We asked him what we should have. “Why don’t you try a whiskey sour?” he suggested. So, our first mixed drink was a whiskey sour. We were pretty sophisticated guys, I’ve got to tell you, sitting there drinking our whiskey sours, and smoking our Marlboro cigarettes. Then we left the Upper Deck and went down to another bar, “The Rope Walk.” By then we were feeling so sophisticated that we just went in, sat down at this bar, and ordered a whiskey sour. There was a guy to my right at the bar who looked up and greeted us, “Oh, how are you doing?” I replied, “Just fine, how are you doing?” Then he asked what my name was and I told him it was Jimmy Cromartie. He looked straight at me and said, “My, what a fascinating name.” I think my heart stopped for a second and I turned and looked back at Roland, and then I looked around the room. I realized there was nothing but guys in this place. I looked at Roland and he looked at me and I said, “Roland, I think we may just be in the wrong bar to meet girls.” He looked around the room again and agreed, “You know, Jim, I think you’re right.” It was the first time I had ever walked into a gay bar. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a gay
bar. We had absolutely no clue that gay bars existed. At that time in the south if you were gay you didn’t let anybody know it, and we were southern boys, the South’s finest. This was like a new world to us and it was a world that continued to expand during the rest of that summer. My college mates and I stayed on Nantucket that summer getting jobs and expanding our knowledge of wicked northern girls and the strange ways of the north. Since I had been a lifeguard at Myrtle Beach, I just assumed that I would get a summer job as a lifeguard on Nantucket. But, of course, I’d not called ahead or done anything about it before we got there. So the next day I called the Town Department of Beaches and said I’d like to register for the summer to be a lifeguard. Well, they said, they had all their lifeguards, but their tennis pro had broken his leg and they were looking for a tennis pro. I said, “You’re kidding, because that’s the other thing that I do, I teach tennis.” Now to be truthful about it, since this is now forty years later, I had never played tennis in my life before coming to the island. But the town official was relieved to hear that I could take the job. “Well, that’s wonderful!” he said, “That certainly takes care of that problem, so if you could just be at work tomorrow you can start right away.” “Well,” I said, “I can’t be there tomorrow. I just got here on the island and we’re getting moved in, but I could be there in a few days.”
Brant Point with Berries Watercolor
He said, “Well, OK, I guess we’ll have to live with that. It’ll work out.” So the next day I went out and bought a tennis racket, abook about tennis, and took tennis lessons. I was fairly athletic (I had played football) and I was sure I could learn fast. The tennis lesson lasted two hours and I wrote down everything the instructor said and how he did it. He got a bucket of balls and he started hitting them across the net to me and telling me how to hit them back and since I didn’t really know how to play, I really did need the lessons. He’d tell me something and I’d run over and write it down. This confused him and he asked what I was doing I just said, “This is really good I don’t want to forget any of it.” So I took those two hours of lessons and started work as a tennis pro. Essentially what I became was the most expensive baby-sitter on the island that summer. The folks would come by Jetties Beach, drop their kids off, and for a couple of hours I would be there teaching them how to play tennis, and keeping them occupied. Actually I became a pretty good teacher. Since I didn’t know how to play myself, I had to learn, so we all kind of learned at the same time. By the end of the summer I had a pretty good game together. That first summer I also visited the first real art gallery I’d ever seen. Roland Tolly and I heard
that on Friday nights there was this thing called the Gallery Stroll. The galleries offered free hors d’oeuvres and free booze. So of course we said, “We want to do that!” We went to the Lobster Pot Art Gallery where I met Roy Bailey, who I knew until his death in 2003. He had a one-man show there and he was the first actual self-sustaining artist I’d ever met in my life. At twenty-one years old, I’d never met an artist who made a living painting. I didn’t think it was possible, because, at that time, I had not heard of one self-sustaining artist in the whole southeastern United States, not one. Roy had a wife, two kids, and owned a home. He was getting $1,200 for a painting, which looked to me like a million dollars, and people were buying them. I was just impressed beyond belief. That was when I realized that you could actually make a living as an artist if you were good enough. I remember that I went back to college that fall and told them about this, that I had actually met artists who were making a living from painting, they said, “Well, they must be just prostitutes.” “No, no,” I said, “these are good artists; they’re doing beautiful work.” “Well that’s just not possible.” And they really believed that it wasn’t possible to make a living in art. They were just that closed off down there. But that first show was an eye-opening experience for me. I realized that there was actually a chance that
Brant Point with Roses Acrylic
you could make a living by being an artist. The summer passed quickly, with more revelations and learning experiences, both good and bad. Then it was time to leave. Several visions have shaped my life and my art. I can remember lying in bed one night when I was sixteen-years-old, trying to imagine where I would be living when I grew up. All of a sudden I saw this little harbor with sailboats sitting in it, and a hill up behind the harbor with two steeples. It was very clear. And I thought, â€œOh that looks like such a romantic place.â€?
We had arrived in Nantucket at night in a dense fog, in more ways than one. But as we sailed out of Nantucket harbor on the steamer at the end of that first summer visit it was a clear day. I turned and looked back at the town as we rounded Brant Point on our way back to the mainland. It was then I realized that this place looked like exactly like my vision of a few years past. There was the little harbor with sailboats sitting in it, and a hill up behind the harbor with two steeples. I knew at that moment that I would be back and would eventually settle here.
Flag Day, Brant Point Acrylic
Pump Bucket Acrylic
We all carry our family history with us into the present. For some that history may be a burden that drags along behind us like an anchor. But for me it’s always been like being tethered to a hot air balloon that’s lifted me over the roughest moments of life. The Cromarties established strong roots early in the history of North Carolina and these have nourished me throughout my life. You might say that my ancestors and family gave me the opportunity to develop my aesthetic sensibilities and to expand my creative energies.
one tenth of the territory. The romantic story of William’s first marriage is something I can relate to. It was told that William Cromartie met his first wife during his voyage to this country. She was said to be of royal birth, but her name is not known. The captain of the ship was much in love with this beautiful young lady, who did not return his affection. Somehow, though, the captain got her on board his ship and set sail intending to force her to marry him. During the voyage William also fell in love with her, and married her on board ship, thus protecting her Originally from the from the unwelcome atIsles of Orkney in Scottentions of the captain land, William Cromartie of the vessel. She gave arrived on these shores birth to one son but she in 1758 in possession of a land grant from the King lived only a short time and her grave was marked as of England. Legend has it that William came by boat the “Grave of the Princess.” up Old South River in what is now Garland, North William married a second time in 1766 to Ruhamah Carolina. He climbed up in the tallest tree on a hill Doane, who was said to be a descendant of Deacon and said, “All the land I see belongs to me,” and that John Doane, who came to Plymouth, Massachusetts, encompassed 20,000 acres of land. The land was in 1630. This may explain why I felt drawn back to registered in a local courthouse as land grants dated Massachusetts three hundred plus years later. It between 1758 and 1773. This made William one of must have been my ancestral genes directing me to the ten original landlords of North Carolina, owner of Nantucket.
Opposite page: Chair from Cromartie Plantation House Watercolor Study Map of North Carolina Image by Casey G.
Opposite page: Cromartie Plantation House Acrylic Painting
William and Ruhamah had twelve children, four sons and eight daughters. My genealogy is traced back to Peter, the youngest of the boys. Being from the family of one of the largest original landholders in the state has given me a real advantage out in the world. I’ve always been very grateful for that. You know my name is actually pronounced CROMer-tee, with the accent on the CROM. That’s how William pronounced the name when he first arrived here. But on Nantucket everybody was absolutely determined to call me Cro-MAR-tee, with the accent on the MAR. Cromartie is a Scottish name and for years my family fought the pronunciation battle. So when I moved to Nantucket permanently in 1991, I was ready to carry on the fight. When we first moved to Nantucket we didn’t have a mailing address so we were getting our mail general delivery. My wife would go down to the Post Office and ask if there was any mail for the CROM-er-tees. And they would say, “Nope, no mail for them.” This went on for about four days and the fourth day when she came back and she didn’t have any mail. “You know,” I reasoned, “People may not be writing us letters, but I’m certain that we’ve got bills coming in.” So the fifth day I went down and asked, “ Don’t you have any mail for Jim CROM-er-tee?” And they said, “No, we sure don’t.” I said, “What about Jim Cro-MAR-tee?” “Oh, we’ve got lots of mail for Jim Cro-MAR-tee.”
From that day on I just gave up the fight. I realized that I was known as Cro-MAR-tee and that’s the way it was. I bet my Dad is spinning in his grave, because he would always correct people and tell them it was pronounced, “CROM-er-tee”. Dad was a southern gentleman and very conservative. My Mom was a flaming liberal and a feminist. How these two ever got together has always been a mystery to me. They were as opposite as day and night. My mother was very political and she had a gift with people. I guess you would almost call her a relationship genius. Everywhere she went she made friends. When a good friend of hers ran for congress and lost, she was very embittered by the process and became an organizer for the Democratic Party in North Carolina. Another good friend of hers, Terry Sanford, ran for governor. She worked day and night on that campaign and when he won the governorship of North Carolina he appointed her the first woman chairman of the Democratic Party of North Carolina. Terry Sanford was the first southern governor to come out and back Jack Kennedy. President Kennedy then appointed Luther Hodges, a former democratic governor of North Carolina, as Secretary of Commerce. Luther Hodges chose my Mom to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce. I think at that time she was the highest woman in the Kennedy administration. We were all pretty proud of that.
Reflections Acrylic Painting
My Dad’s nickname was “The Hammer.” In the South, the nicer you are, the more power people know you had. It doesn’t seem to work quite that way here in the North, but in the South, the more polite and nice you act, the more of a southern gentleman you are, the more land people knew you owned, and the more power people knew that you had. I remember one time, I was sixteen and I’d run a red light and a policeman pulled me over and asked to see my driver’s license and registration. I handed him my driver’s license and he looked at it and looked down at me and asked, “Is your Dad ‘The Hammer’?” I said, “Yes Sir.” He stood there looking at my license, kind of slapped it against his thigh and said, “OK, so look. If you won’t tell, I won’t tell.” He handed me my license, got back in his patrol car and pulled off. That absolutely scared me to death. I thought, “Good Lord, I know I’m afraid of ‘The Hammer’ but I didn’t know the police were afraid of him too.” When I was ten years old a milestone event occurred for my family and in my life. We were all going somewhere in the car one night and we were sitting at a stoplight. This was in the 1950s and the South was still very segregated and black people still weren’t allowed to eat in white restaurants; we were totally segregated. There were separate drinking fountains and separate public bathrooms for whites and blacks and
my Dad was all for that, but my mother being a Yankee was just horrified. But there we were that night, sitting at a stoplight when a bunch of drunken rednecks in a car ran the light and plowed into another car driven by a black family. I remember to this day the sound of my Dad’s voice shouting to my mother, “Run, go call an ambulance. Go into that house over there and call an ambulance.” He ran over to the wrecked cars to give assistance. When the ambulance showed up it was from the white hospital. Of course, my mother in her haste had called the white hospital. The medical people in that ambulance would only take the white people that were hurt; they refused to take the black people. So Mom had to run back and call the black hospital. Because of the time lag between the phone calls, one of the black kids died. With that incidence, my Dad, “The Hammer,” a powerful southern gentleman, went instantly from being a far right conservative to being a staunch supporter of civil rights. Things were either right or wrong for my Dad and about that event he said, “This is not right. It is wrong.” From that night forward, my Dad became an integrationist. You just can’t imagine what a radical change that was. So that was the kind of family that I grew up in; powerful and political with roots in North Carolina that went back to the original settlers. My Southern
heritage provided me with stability and freedom, along with a certain privileged status. I must say that my heritage and the strength and fortitude of my parents gave me a tremendous advantage. No matter where I’ve gone or where I’ve been, I’ve never been intimidated by anyone I met. That strength of character has been something I’ve been able to rely on throughout my life and it has formed the basis of the business side of my artistic career.” I was told that, from the time I was born, I was always leaving, I was on an adventure, and I seemed to be fearless. I think it was my grandfather who said that I always wanted to see what was on the other side of the hill. One of my very first memories was when I was on the Cromartie farm one summer. I had two dogs and decided that I wanted to go down and investigate the swamp. The only problem — I was just four years old. But I got down there and I walked into something and got stuck. I couldn’t move my legs. I remember standing there and thinking, “Oh my, what am I going to do now?” There was an old black man who tried to come down and help me but the two dogs wouldn’t let him get close. Then about two hours later the police showed up. They’d had search parties out for me and they were scouring the woods.. That was my first memory, being stuck in that, well, I wouldn’t
call it quick sand, it was mud, mud and sand. I just couldn’t get out of it. Not only was I the first born in my family, but I was the first grand kid from both sides of the family. On my Dad’s side, since he had nine siblings, there ended up being thirty-two grandchildren and I was the oldest. Every Thanksgiving, we’d all gather down at the Cromartie plantation house in Garland, North Carolina, and as the oldest, I was in charge. I think I’ve been in charge ever since. When my brother Mike was born I was six years old; until then I was an only child and my mother’s great experiment in raising a perfect kid. Was I glad to see Mike come along because I knew the attention was going to get off of me and onto him. In so many ways I was raised a little prince As a young boy growing up I spent my summers at the plantation with my Grandmother. I can remember sitting in a kitchen chair daydreaming while she prepared breakfast. I created a watercolor painting of that plantation chair so that I can return to the plantation whenever I want to, just by looking at the picture of it. When I was in the third grade I had my first revelation about my artistic talent. I was going to a private school, Country Day, in Charlotte, were all the wealthy kids went. In our town we were one of the wealthier families, mainly because of the land the family owned.
Day Dreaming Watercolor of Chair from Plantation House
At the school we had a gang and called ourselves the Cadillac Kids. Everybody else called us the Cadillac Kids, too. They never had art classes at Country Day until one day a woman came in, put a paper on each one of our desks, gave each student a pencil and said, “Draw something.” I had never picked up a pencil and drawn anything before. Model airplanes were something that I loved. I liked all the little guns and the details. So I thought, “I’ll draw one of my model airplanes.” As soon as I started to draw it was like something literally went off in my head. It was like a shift, a click, and I knew how to draw that plane. It was almost like I was tracing this plane. Right there I could see the plane, right there on the paper, and I was tracing it. There was this little blond girl that sat beside me and she never paid any attention to me. She looked over and said, “Look what Jimmy did!” And all the kids got up and came over and went “Wow! Look at that!” The girls really liked it. I said, “Well if you think that was good, look at this!”
and recognition for artistic endeavor, formed the foundation for my future career in art. Our house on Habersham Drive in Charlotte had a really large picture window, which was very much in vogue in the fifties. It was right after Thanksgiving and Christmas was coming, so I decided on my own that I would paint a large Santa Claus on the picture window of our house. Our neighbor across the street saw it asked if I would come over and paint his window and he would pay me for it. I was agreeable to that arrangement and went over there and painted it using food coloring and Windex so when it Christmas was over he could wash it off. I ended up that year doing about five different neighbor’s homes, painting different Christmas scenes for their windows. They Opposite page: Roses in Basket all paid me something and the link between art and Acrylic Painting money was firmly planted into my mind. A feature writer for the Charlotte Observer lived on our street. On the front page of the paper that Christmas Eve there was a photograph of me working on a picture window with the caption, “The Art of Making Money.” It was a story of how I’d started my own little Christmas decoration business. The next year, when I was thirteen, several busiAt that moment in time, an artist was born. nesses in downtown Charlotte asked me if I would come down and do Christmas scenes on their When I was twelve years old I was already artisti- windows. One was a real estate office and another cally inclined and it was then that I sold my first works was a clothing store. So I hired my best friend, Jack of art and first became recognized for my artistic tal- Hemphill, and we formed our first partnership, splitent. You might say that those two concepts; money ting 50-50 on expenses and income.
The plate glass window at the real estate office was like twenty by forty feet. These were big, big glass windows, major projects for thirteen-year-old kids. This time, both of us got on the front page of the Charlotte Observer because of doing these decorations, and we started getting on local television and became well known locally. For about the next three or four Christmases that’s how we made our extra holiday money, doing Christmas scenes for businesses and homes. We actually became quite renowned, at least in Charlotte. I suppose you could say I first became an entrepreneur right around twelve years old. I liked the publicity; it was fun, you know, being known by people you didn’t know. Strangers recognized you on the street. Best of all, the other kids in the school were jealous of us! When I was about thirteen my parents bought a house at Myrtle Beach, on the ocean, and I started spending my summers at the beach. It was there that I fell in love with the ocean, something that persists even today. I think that Myrtle Beach was the only place I ever saw my Dad relax, laugh, and start having a good time. So, of course, I associated the beach with good times and relaxation. People were happy
when they were there. At home in Charlotte, there was always a lot of tension anda great deal of pressure. But summers at the beach, that was the time we all relaxed and had a good time. When I was fourteen I started spending my summers at our house in Myrtle Beach instead of at the farm. I think the seed of the idea that I would always live in a seasonal place was pretty much planted there. I wanted to live close to the ocean, close to the beach; I just fell in love with it. It was during that time that I decided I was going to live my life close to an ocean because it was connected with good times. People were happy when they were there, because at home, in our Charlotte house, there was always a lot of tension, always a great deal of pressure. But summers at the beach, that was the time we all relaxed and had a good time. To this day I love to paint beach scenes. Every beach painting I do still reminds me of those happy times with my family and I guess that’s why I became so attached to Nantucket. It just seemed to be the natural place for me to be. I enjoyed summers because I loved the beach and being there made me feel comfortable and safe.
Swept to Sea Acrylic Painting
Fisherman’s Bell Acrylic
Right now the sun is getting pretty low here at Miacomet and that wind has picked up off the ocean. Maybe it’s time that we headed back into town. Let’s go down by Children’s Beach and I’ll show you where my first “Studio” was on the Island. Well actually it was someone’s garage, but it was the beginning of my professional, artistic association with Nantucket. Let me help you pack up your gear. We’ll head into town on Miacomet Road past all the new houses on what used to be open moors. As I look around the island I’m amazed at how much it’s changed, and yet how little it’s changed. That’s one of the remarkable things about Nantucket. It’s grown tremendously, the real estate values have skyrocketed, and during the summer the island probably sinks a few feet into the ocean with the weight of all the summer people. But with all that, it still looks the same and you can still see what it must have been 300 years ago. That’s due to the very strict zoning and building codes that can be a pain but in the long run are a blessing.
OK, here we are at Children’s Beach. There are some new benches here and a bandstand. The town has turned it into a little park with trees planted in memory of some of the people like Fred Osborne who lived and worked on the island in the past. This is the only public beach that is right in town. It’s right next to the Nantucket Yacht Club and it’s always bustling. You can see all the boats on moorings and the ferries to the mainland coming and going. Because it’s a protected harbor there aren’t many waves and that’s why people bring their children here and Children’s Beach, Nantucket Map Image by Casey G. how it got its name. Right over there, in the house on the corner of Harbor View and Walsh, is where I stayed the first summer while I was in college. Roland Tolly and I rented a room from Buddy and Marion Butler who owned it then. Roland and I actually stayed there for two summers and then on the third summer we rented an apartment up on Main Street, mostly because Marion was beginning to get upset about all the girls that we had traipsing up the stairs. What can I say? With a southern ac49
Cisco Beach Watercolor
cent it was an unbelievable time with those Yankee girls. When I came back after college, married to my first wife Barbara, Marion and Buddy welcomed us, figuring it was safe to have us there because they knew I wouldn’t be inviting any strange girls then. They also agreed to let us open our first art gallery right there in their garage. The Butler’s house sat at the corner of Harbor View Way and Walsh Street with their ga-
rage facing the side entrance to the White Elephant. That meant a lot of high paying traffic walking right past our door. Well I’ll get into all that, but first I need to explain how we came to the decision to come to Nantucket and sell our art work. So, let’s sit on this bench for a while here at Children’s Beach and let me continue this saga that led up to that first summer that Barbara and I spent on Nantucket.”
Path to Madaket Acrylic
Afternoon Tea at Cisco Watercolor
Garage Studio Photo
Opposite page: Study of Sankaty Light Watercolor
I don’t believe there has ever been an artist of note, who lived on this planet, who didn’t struggle at some point during life. Perhaps struggling is just part of an artist’s job description. I certainly had my periods of struggle. But it was during those periods of self-doubt and financial panic that I forced myself to improve my painting techniques and to create Hard-Edge Realism, a new form of artistic realization. During those down cycles I also had to learn to market my paintings. Maybe selling is the difference between today’s successful artists and the giants of the past who died before their greatness paid off in high valuation of their works of art. But to me the definition of a successful artist is simply someone who can make a living by just painting. Let me tell you how I learned to do that. High school, then Art College, and then an unsuccessful attempt to make a go of art in North Carolina are all part of the story of my development as an artist. These were the beginnings of my struggle to become a self-sustaining artist.”
a serious artist. She was one of the most creative people I’ve ever met. If it wasn’t for her, I doubt I actually would have become an artist. She backed me to the hilt to become an artist because she also wanted to be one. Because she was a year ahead of me in high school, she went off to art college first and the next year I followed her there. We dated all through high school and college and without Barbara I probably wouldn’t have had the nerve to come to Nantucket by myself. After I graduated from high school and went on to college, my Dad realized that I was not going to take over his real estate business in Charlotte and he had the opportunity to become part of the federal highway organization for the southeastern United States. My parents were very politically connected, particularly my mother. They had moved to Atlanta where my mother became the Fulton County Democratic Chairman, running the Democratic Party office right in the middle of Atlanta. One of my Mom’s young volunteers, who spent many hours working in the office, was a young woman by the name of Meredith Brokaw. When My first wife, Barbara Lewis, was my high I would go down to visit my folks during vacaschool sweetheart. I met her the first day of the tion breaks at college, they would have Tom and tenth grade in our first day of art class. She was a Meredith over for dinner and we got to be good year ahead of me in school and pretty soon after friends. meeting we started dating and we dated all through Tom and I became friends and the first piece of high school. my work he acquired was one of the woodcuts I Barbara was very intelligent, talented, and quite had done in college. Actually my mother made me
Sankaty Light Acrylic
give it to him. We still have a photograph of Tom and me holding that woodcut. Little did I know at that time that he was going to go on to become the anchor with NBC. Barbara graduated from college a year ahead of me, so when she graduated I left college too, at the end of my junior year. We moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where I went to work for my Dad’s best friend in the real estate business and she began teaching elementary art in the public school system. I had worked for about six months when my Dad said to me, “Jim, why don’t you give it a shot? Why don’t you try to be a full-time artist? If you don’t make it, you can always come back to the real estate business.” We decided to try what he suggested, so the first thing we did was open an art gallery; the very first commercial art gallery in Charlotte. It didn’t take long for us to discover why there were no art galleries. There was absolutely no interest in art there! But at least the newspapers were very excited about it. The Charlotte Observer, and the Charlotte News both wrote stories about our new gallery. It had been open for about four months when in came Margaret Holt. She was one of the few great things that happened to us there. She had seen the newspaper articles about Barbara and I opening the gallery and she’d come in to look it over. Margaret was married to Donald Holt who was then the President of Cannon Mills and after meeting us Margaret
commissioned me to paint a portrait of her husband. She agreed to pay me $1,000 which to me at that time was all the money in the world. She invited me up to her home where I met her husband, Donald Holt, and she gave me a tour of the Cannon Mills, where they made Cannon towels among other things. Then I went back to our studio in Charlotte and worked on his portrait for two months. I had already decided that I was going to use the money to strike out from Charlotte and go to Nantucket the next summer Margaret considered herself to be a psychic, which was as unusual in North Carolina as art galleries. She thought she had a lot of ESP and she had actually been involved in studies about ESP at Duke University sometime prior to that. Perhaps it was her ESP that led her to decide to come and see us in the first place. It was actually snowing the day I finished the painting, which is something else that is not normal in North Carolina. But I was very determined to take the painting to Margaret, to collect my commission, and to begin planning for a summer on Nantucket. So I decided, “The heck with weather,” we’d drive up and surprise Margaret with the portrait. They had closed the schools that day, so Barbara wasn’t teaching. We had just put the painting into the car all safe and sound and came back inside stamping our feet when the phone rang. It was Margaret. I had not talked to her for weeks, but she said, “Jim, don’t you bring
Three Cat Boats Acrylic
Water Pump Watercolor
that painting up here today. Those roads are treacherous and you’re not used to driving on snow.” I was stunned. It was one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had and at that moment I became a believer in ESP. But ESP or no ESP, I was determined. So in the snow, Barbara and I drove about twenty miles from Charlotte to Concord, North Carolina, where the Cannon Mills were located. We got there safely, showed Margaret the painting and she was thrilled with it. She wrote me a check for a thousand dollars. I’ll tell you, this boy was in pig heaven! We came back that night and the celebration must have lasted for several days. This was the largest payment I had ever received for my work and I was thrilled. That’s how we were able to get enough money together to head north that first summer. That June ,when Barbara finished her contract teaching for the public schools, we packed up our little Volkswagen convertible and headed for Nantucket. Barbara had never been there but she had heard me talk about it often, about how there were artists there who actually made a living painting, and she was ready to see for herself. She was as excited as I was. We stayed that summer in the house that later was owned by Stiller and Meara. Their son, Ben, is now a Brant Point with Berries (Vertical) Acrylic
Dories with Daisies Acrylic
big movie star, but at the time we stayed there Buddy and Marion Butler owned that house. Their garage faced the White Elephant and the front door faced Children’s Beach. The White Elephant has always been one of Nantucket’s premier resorts and at that time the side entrance opened right across from Buddy and Marion’s garage. I asled them if they would rent us the garage space for 10% of everything that we would sell. They thought it was a good idea, so the next day they pushed everything to the back of the garage and we set up our two easels and opened up the garage door. We started painting and we started selling our paintings for twenty-five to thirty dollars apiece to people walking from the White Elephant or from Eastern Street to Children’s Beach. We were a pretty big hit. At that time our paintings were quite simple and it would take us about three hours to do one so I figured that we were making anywhere from $10 to $15 an hour, which to us was big time. We would sit out there and paint from about 10 to 2 and then we’d close for the day and go to Children’s Beach or to some other beach. It was a nice arrangement and it covered our expenses. That summer, while Barbara and I were renting that garage, a couple by the name of Nixon, no relation to Richard, came in and bought three paintings for ten dollars apiece. They had a young daughter, Jane, who was about ten years old at the time, and Jane used to come over to the garage and watch us paint.
A few years ago a young woman came into my gallery on Old South Wharf and started talking to me like we were the oldest friends in the world. I didn’t have any idea who she was and finally I said, “Hey look, I’ve got Half-Timers Disease and I can’t remember who you are. Tell me how we met.” Jane looked at me and said, “When I was ten years old, you were painting in a garage and I had the biggest crush on you. I used to come over and watch you paint and you never made me leave.” So here it was about twenty years later and she had married this very successful guy and they came in and bought a painting. Ten years old! I learned over the years to be nice to people’s children because the kids come back later on. I learned to be particularly nice to daughters. I don’t know why it is, but parents listen to daughters more so than to their sons. If a daughter comes in and likes your paintings and says good things about you, then the parents think you’re OK. If a son says nice things about you they say, “OK, so what?” The daughters have this power which has constantly amazed me, particularly over their Dads, though not so much over their Moms. I make sure that I’m especially nice to daughters. Toward the end of that summer I read in the Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s local paper, that Walter Beineke, who owned sections of the wharf, the A&P Building, and a lot of the town, was going to rebuild the whole wharf. So I went over to Sherburne As-
sociates and met with the man who was managing the project. I could rent one of the cottages that they were redoing on Old South Wharf for $3,500 from May through the middle of October. The Granary Gallery was then renting for $1,000, so they had tripled the rent from what had been normal in the past. It was overwhelming, the first of May through the middle of October for $3,500! But I agreed that I would do it, signed on the dotted line, and put down $600 for the next summer.
The gallery would be in the first boathouse as you look all the way down South Wharf. There are all those little shanties and then at the end, they built little boathouses. It was the first boathouse and it faced right down Old South Wharf. That was to be the home of Cromartie Gallery, our place of business, for the next summer season. Then, committed for the next summer, we left Nantucket.
Meeting of the Board Watercolor
Basket of Daisies Acrylic
Sidewalk Art Show Photo
I guess the biggest lesson I learned in life is that no matter how difficult things become, if you’re really dedicated to your profession, you can’t give up. Even when you have to overcome major hurdles you just have to keep on going and learning. During that first summer on Nantucket, and the winter that followed, we struggled along, learned a few hard lessons, but at least we didn’t give up. Of course it’s always easier to start than to finish. Little successes at the beginning of any venture will give you the confidence to continue, but may not prove to be enough to sustain you through the coming rough times. Perhaps our easy success on Nantucket that first summer gave us unrealistic visions of things to come. There were, however, still several mountains to climb. After that successful first summer on Nantucket, Barbara and I decided that the island thing was a pretty good deal and that we’d go down to the Virgin Islands, planning to live there for the winter. “I betcha we can find somebody’s garage to rent down there
and we can sell paintings out of it, just like here.” That was my plan. I figured the worse thing that could happen is that we just wouldn’t come back and I’d lose my $600 deposit. We drove to Miami, parked our car in a place where you can park it by the month and flew over to St. Croix. We stayed there exactly 24 hours. The Chamber of Commerce didn’t give us a very warm welcome. Their message was loud and clear, “We don’t want you here.” Not only were we not wanted, but we realized that it was not where we wanted to be Vero Beach, Florida Image by Casey G. either. We came back to the mainland, got our car and then drove up the eastern seaboard of Florida. We were very taken with Vero Beach. In town we saw a little park area, beside a jewelry shop. It was an area that was like a little garden where you could sit and relax. We rented the area from the shop owners for the same 10% deal we had in Nantucket. The first week we sold $400 worth of paintings. We were on a roll! The second week we sold $300. Still not too bad! The third week we sold $200. Wait a minute, what’s going on? Finally, in the fourth week
we sold nothing and knew that if we things didn’t improve, we were going to have to give up and go home. We’d given it our best shot and if we weren’t going to make it, then it was meant to be that way. I’m sure that both of our parents would have lent us some money, but we felt we had to make it on our own. On Saturday morning Barbara came down to relieve me at my stand. I was pretty dejected. We had not sold anything all week and I figured, “Well this is it. Well, at least we gave it a try.” I told Barbara I was going to get lunch and that it looked like we were not going to make it and that we’d probably be packing up as we didn’t really have enough money to pay the next month’s rent. I went down to a little bar that looked out over the beach and ordered a beer. I was just sitting there staring out at the water and thinking. I began to accept the truth. “You know you’ve tried Jim. You gave it you’re best shot, you just didn’t make it and you didn’t have what it takes. That’s the way it is, you go back now, you work for your Dad’s friend in real estate, and Barbara will teach art in the schools, and you’ll have a great story for the rest of your life.” So there I was sitting at that bar looking out the window, when suddenly something welled up inside of me and I jumped up and said, “Well damn. If this is it then let’s go down in flames!” We had been taught in art school that artwork sells itself, that you weren’t supposed to sell it. True artists are professionals and are just not supposed to be salesmen. Being a polite southern boy I believed
that. But the chips were now on the table, it was nowor-never time. With great resolve I marched back to our little art stand in the park and started offering deals to anyone who was walking by. I offered paintings we had been selling for $50 to anyone who would pay $25 for them. I would talk to people, anyone who would stop, and I would say, “You know, we have to sell some paintings here and if you like any one of these, I’ll take $25 for it.” I ended up selling $100 worth of paintings that day, which meant about four paintings at $25 apiece. So we made $100 and we went back to our rooms. On that one day I felt that I’d overcome my shyness and I’d overcome a great deal of southern breeding too. But I also felt that I’d been like one of those pushy used car salesmen. I wasn’t exactly proud of myself, but it had worked! Back in our rented digs that night we watched the evening news and they were talking about a sidewalk art show going on that weekend in Fort Pierce. “Barbara,” I said, “We’re going to get up tomorrow morning and we’re going to be in that art show.” It was Saturday night and the first day of the weekend art show was already over, but the next morning I got up at five o’clock, dragged Barbara out of bed, and we packed the car. Fort Pierce was only 30 to 40 miles from Vero Beach and we got there at 8 o’clock. I told the people in charge that we wanted to get into the show. “Well”, they said, “This is Sunday, the last day, but you will have to pay the whole weekend price of $10 for your
space for just the one day.” That was OK with us. We agreed readily, and plunked down the $10 happily. When our stand was set up, I continued my act of the day before, offering deals to everyone who wandered by our booth that day — and you know what? It worked. We seemed to have learned some new tricks, and for the rest of that winter, we joined the Florida sidewalk art show circuit, painted, and “hard-sold” our work. That’s the story of how I became a salesman and a marketer as well as an artist. I must say it was a milestone in my life. That winter we were able to get together enough money to continue to make payments on the Old South Wharf gallery that I had rented on Nantucket. Many young artists come to me and ask for advice. I try to encourage them but one day it dawned on me that, you don’t choose art as a profession, it chooses you. People who are creative, whatever that pursuit is, don’t realize that they don’t have a choice. I don’t mean to imply that it’s something supernatural. Artistic talent is either born in your soul or it isn’t. It’s in your genes or is given to you by your maker; however you prefer to look at it. But unless you recognize it, nurture it, and train it, the talent may never blossom and grow to its fullest extent.
that they could predict the future, but they may have the ability to look into one’s soul and see a reflection in me of what I already knew. I remember my first aesthetic vision. I was only five years old and I remember being on a swing set in my backyard, through which a creek ran. I was sitting there, swinging back and forth slowly, looking at the creek. I can remember it vividly to this day. I looked up across the yard, there was a hill, and several hundred yards away was a valley. Our backyard went down to the creek and it went back up the hill again. There was a house sitting up there on bricks. I recall becoming mesmerized as I sat there looking at the house up on the hill. It was intriguing. There seemed to be a real mystery to it. It had a very deep effect on me and to this day I remember the feeling. I think that was my first recognition that there could be haunting beauty in a building. Another remarkable vision occurred when I was about thirteen. I was at my best friend, Jack Entail’s, house, and I was sitting on his back step. It was a summer day and we were just sitting out there, bored; we didn’t know what to do. So Jack went in to get us more lemonade, more tea. I was sitting there alone looking out at his backyard and all of a sudden everything got very bright. I don’t know how to explain it, but the light intensified ten-fold. It was like there was a little halo effect around the leaves and the grass. It was hyper-realism,
My life has been filled with visions, moments when I knew that I would become a well-known artist. Clairvoyants with ESP told me, on several occasions, that I would someday succeed as an artist. I don’t believe a super realistic feeling to everything. I just sat there
Treasure Chest Acrylic
Ocean bound Acrylic
looking at it and was entranced. It’s that same effect I’ve been trying to reproduce in my paintings ever since. At that moment I also knew that I was going to be an artist; it was like am epiphany. It only lasted maybe a minute, maybe half a minute, maybe two minutes; it didn’t last long. The intensity of it just burned itself right into my soul. An I knew that, not only was I going to be an artist, but I was going to be a well known, successful one. When I was in my junior year in college my painting instructor, Dr. Gordley, came into class one day and spoke to us. We were all fine arts majors in his class and were supposed to be the really serious art students. He asked us for a show of hands of how many of us expected to make a living from art. There were twenty-five of us in the painting class and twenty-five hands went up. After all, we were in art school and our parents were paying tuition money for us to become artists. Then Dr. Gordley stood in front of the class and said to us, “I do need to tell you this. There’s thirty thousand BFA majors graduating from colleges across the country this year. In five years, there will only be 100 of them making a living as artists, and in 10 years there will only be five making a living as fine arts artists. In fifteen years there will only be one making a living in art. So I suggest that you folks all find day work.”
Sitting there I thought to myself, “Nope. In fifteen years there’s going to be two. Whoever was supposed to be that person, . . . and me.” I’ve had a “knowing” since I was young and it’s been unshakable. Even though I still have my own insecurities and I get scared whenever I get pushed into a corner, when things looked bad, I still knew down deep that I was going to be able to do this. It goes beyond explanation, because I’ve known people who could draw better, people who could paint better, people who are more creative, who haven’t been successful. But there was something lacking in all of them. There’s an “It” factor that is unexplainable. I think you have to say it’s a spiritual thing. Since I mentioned spirits let me tell you about Sybil Leek, who was a witch, a self-proclaimed white witch! In order to afford the Nantucket gallery rental fee, during the first few summers on Nantucket, we had to spend our winters selling paintings in the Florida sidewalk sales. It was at a juried show at Indialantic, Florida that a strange thing happened. One of the judges there was named of Sybil Leek. Sybil was a white witch and she said that she had real strong ESP, something that I believed in after my experience with Margaret Holt. She and the other two judges came around and asked me about one of my paintings. It was a painting of a chair sitting in a room next to a window with an American flag draped across it. 77
They asked me if that was a still life and when I said it was and they awarded me best still life for the show. Then Sybil started talking to me and she said, “I want to tell you something, Jim. I can read things and you’re going to be a famous artist. Within six months from now you’re going to get $500 for a painting.” I thought, “Well, she may be a witch and she may
be able to read the future, but I doubt very seriously that within six months I’m going to get $500 for a painting.” That was like somebody saying to me that you’re going to get $5 million for a painting in six months. But then we went back to Nantucket to the first summer on Old South Wharf and the story continued.
Fishermanâ€™s Bell Watercolor
8 Old South Sign Today Photo
While we’re talking, let’s walk over to Old South Wharf so I can show you exactly where the real part of my artistic career was born. On the way we’ll pass the busy Steamer Wharf and my later gallery location at 7 Easy Street which is part of Old North Wharf. Walter Beinecke and his Sherburne Associates rebuilt the entire wharf area and marina in the late 1960s. Before he bought it there was only room for about five or six boats. I guess in about 1968 it cost sixteen million dollars and it now has 200 boat slips and has became a point of destination, a place to come for boaters, from New York, Long Island, or Maine. Walter was just getting the redevelopment underway the first year that Barbara and I were living and painting over by Children’s Beach. At the time no one had rented anything here on Old South and I, an unknown artist, was the first renter who signed a lease.
to the marina slips and some little houses that they planned to rent out to yachtsmen or just people that wanted to live on the wharf. Behind the gallery building was the entrance to
the marina with a sign saying that, “Only Boat Owners Allowed Past This Point.” That meant that anyone wallking down the wharf, who wasn’t a boat owner, couldn’t go beyond my gallery and, I hoped, would end up coming inside to visit. At least that was my theory. During my first summer here, Walter created quite a controversy on Nantucket with his reconstruction plans. Nantucket was being discovered and, as far as I was concerned, he was doing a first rate job. But the local people did not like him; they fought him tooth and nail. Before the redevelopment, all the old oil tanks needed to run the island’s electric power plant stood at the town end of Old South Wharf. The first As the first lessee on Old South Wharf, I had my things you saw when you came into the harbor choice of locations, so I chose a small gallery at the were huge, ugly, oil tanks. One of the first things end because it faced down the wharf; everything kind Walter constructed was a new building where the of led right into it. Behind the gallery was the entrance A&P is today and then he moved those oil tanks
Old South Map Image by Casey G.
back behind the A&P so you couldn’t see them from the harbor. Today the electricity runs through underwater cable from the mainland, but those oil tanks are still there. Along the main part of the wharf were rows of little shanties, fishermen’s shacks where they cleaned fish and bay scallops. Walter turned those into gift and craft shops, boutiques and galleries. My, how the town folks hated him! That first summer, because I had rented from Walter, I was considered to be one of Beinecke’s lackeys. Local people actually would not talk to me on Main Street. They were protesting the whole concept of redevelopment. Well, I had a different take on things. One day standing in my gallery door looking down the wharf, I saw some workmen show up with a tree and they put the tree in the ground, and it was a nice tree. About an hour later after they put the tree in, two carpenters showed up and they build a little bench around the tree. About thirty minutes after that, Walter Beinecke himself showed up and he sat down on one side of the bench and then sat down on the other side of the bench and then he left. It couldn’t have been fifteen minutes after that, when the two carpenters were back. They tore down the bench and built a much better bench with a back on it. That’s when I
became sold on the fact that Walter had Nantucket’s future in mind. If he would spend that much time and money on little details like that bench, then he was dedicated to what he was doing. Up on Main Street he also put up the lamps that looked like gas lamps but are really electric. At the same time he had all the wiring put underground, which gave the town back its original atmosphere. Well, my little gallery on Old South Wharf would become the hallowed spot of my first meeting with the Rockefellers. Once the new marina was complete, the whole world sailed in here. The Rockefellers, and everyone from the Onassises to Ringo Starr. Ringo Starr had the biggest boat that ever came in here. It had two helicopters sittin’ on the deck. I guess if you were Ringo, then you had to have two helicopters, because if you had only one it might break, and that just wouldn’t do. Well I can’t offer you a helicopter ride but maybe we can sit down here on this bench for a few minutes while I explain what happened to me here. Oh no, it’s not the original bench that Walter had built but it’s not bad. Let’s just sit here for a while and I’ll tell you how Nelson and Happy discovered me and how I began my Nantucket sleigh ride into the next phase of my artistic career.
Great Point Light with Roses Acrylic
Nantucket Reds Acrylic
Washington St. Beach House Acrylic
Coatue Shacks Acrylic
Old South Gallery Photo
There have been so many instances of serendipity in my life that it’s incredible. As I look back there were dozens of times that, if I’d gone left instead of right, I wouldn’t be the artist I am today. Yet I really don’t believe that you have a choice in this. Of course I can say that now with forty years of hindsight. At the time I was not aware that I really didn’t have a choice. I would have said then that I’d made a commitment. And it’s true, I made a commitment and I believed that, “where there was a will there was a way.” But I sincerely believe that if Nelson Rockefeller hadn’t shown up, then somebody else would have. If it hadn’t happened, then something else would have happened, because when you’re committed you will find a way. Which brings me to my first meeting with Mr. Rockefeller and of course Sybil, the white witch, was hovering just over my head laughing in her know-it-all way. By doing the sidewalk shows that first winter, I was able to get the money together to pay Walter Bieneke the rent for the first little gallery on Old South Wharf. Barbara and I set up shop there and we were able to live upstairs over the gallery. It was the 4th of July weekend of 1969 and the holiday was being celebrated on a Sunday. We were open at night then and it was around 9 o’clock on the Saturday night before the Fourth when Herb and Shirley Holmes dropped in and bought the first painting that I had ever sold for $400. They asked if
it would be all right if they came back and picked it up on Sunday. At that time, the gallery was closed on Sundays. There was still a lot of the southern culture left in me and in the South you didn’t work on Sundays. I still didn’t comprehend how these Yankees worked. In the South you could drink or you could fish on Sunday, but you couldn’t work. But I was really excited about selling my first painting for $400 and, of course, said, “No problem at all.” The next day, Barbara and I were lounging around in our rooms above the gallery and I was watching professional football on TV. I’m a big football and basketball fan, always have been, and I was watching the Dallas Cowboys, my favorite team. I heard a knock on the door and went down and there were Herb and Shirley to pick up their painting. I gave it to them, thanked them, and when they left I went back upstairs to continue watching football. A few minutes later I heard another knock on the door and I moaned, “Oh crap, what could this be?” So down I went again and opened the door and there stood Herb and Shirley with Nelson, Happy, and Winthrop Rockefeller. It seems the Holmeses had been going up the wharf with my painting in hand when they ran into the Rockefellers, and Rocky had asked where they had bought the painting.
“Oh,” they said, “We got it from Jim Cromartie down at his studio gallery.” So Herb and Shirley walked the Rockefellers down to my studio on a Sunday afternoon and knocked on the door. When I opened the door, I immediately recognized Nelson, but I was fortunate that I was young enough and southern enough that I didn’t quite grasp how important he was. Perhaps my parent’s involvement in politics gave me enough confidence to treat big name politicians just like ordinary people. But I did know that he was the governor of New York State and I knew that was important and I certainly treated him with all due respect. But I looked at him and the first thing I said was, “Gee, Governor, you look taller in the newspapers.” He just started laughing, and soon the laugh had grown into a howl. When he recovered, he said, “Well at least you talk educated.” “No, I’m not educated,” I replied, “It’s just my southern accent.” That sent him off into more howls of laughter. Nelson had one of the best personalities. He was one of those people who you met and within five minutes you felt like you’d known him your whole life. He had a way of putting you right at ease. You felt like you were talking to your next door neighbor. He was a fantastic politician. Before long we were verbally sparing back and forth. He had a great sense of humor, at least I thought so, and he thought I had a great sense of humor.
We were just laughing it up for about ten or fifteen minutes and then they chose two paintings. Happy actually made the choices. We all shook hands and they left. Of course to this day Herb and Shirley Holmes are just beside themselves that they were there that day and that they were instrumental in that turning point in my career. They still have a house on Nantucket and occasionally I see them, and we still laugh about that day. But that’s the real Nelson Rockefeller story, at least the real first story. I didn’t know then that there was more to come. It was an incredible experience. At the time we couldn’t afford a phone, so, after they left, I went out and found a pay phone and called my parents and told them that Nelson Rockefeller had just bought two paintings and they were very impressed. Little did I know that my whole life had just changed. After Nelson, Happy, and Winthrop Rockefeller left the Island, word spread across Old South Wharf and, then, across the entire town like a wildfire. “The Rockefellers only bought two paintings while they were on the island and they both were Jim Cromartie’s.” Within days, paintings began to fly off the gallery wall. Up to this point, Barbara’s work and mine had been selling pretty much about the same. We had also been right around the same price range. But it was like somebody put me on a rocket and my work just took off.
Beach Buoy Watercolor
By the time we were finished with that first summer and paid all of our bills, we actually didn’t have a lot of cash left. Our rent was $3,500 so we had to sell ten paintings at $350 each just to pay the rent. When we left Nantucket that fall we had a grand total of $1,200 to live on that winter and I knew we were going to be doing the Florida sidewalk shows again, just to be able to get back to Nantucket. But after watching what had happened after Rockefeller bought the paintings I knew I needed to come back. That winter we moved to a place called Bayport, Florida, which is right outside of Brooksville, Florida about 40 miles north of Tampa. We rented a little house that was right at the turn into Weeki Wachee Springs in the middle of a marshland. Our nearest neighbor was six miles away. Barbara and I had a deal. Barbara was not a very social person, as a matter of fact at that time she bordered on almost being a hermit. So our deal was we would live eight months down in Bayport where we had no neighbors, just she and I painting and talking. Then I got to be four months on Nantucket and do the social scene. It worked out pretty well. This was during the period when we were true hippies. I had long hair like an Afro, which I’d worn that way since college. I had also grown a big bushy beard and looked like an overgrown Teddy Bear. At that time I think we were mostly drinking beer and smoking a little grass. There is no other way
to put it; Barbara and I were just a couple of old hippies, living in the Florida swamplands. Right out in front of our house were hundreds of acres of grassland swamps with Great Blue Herons, all kinds of exotic birds, alligators, otters, turtles, and snakes. We were literally living in a swamp, but not a swamp like Okefenokee in Georgia. These were grassland swamps like you see in the Everglades. It was like living in a nature preserve and all that winter we went snorkeling in the Weeki-Wachee River. The alligators weren’t too bad in that area but the water moccasins were, so we always had to be on the lookout for them. We’d be out snorkeling around and see a water moccasin swimming Opposite page: Path to Dionnis by. It was our understanding that the water snakes Acrylic wouldn’t bite you if you were in the water but you had to be more careful when you were on land. Most of the time we’d swim off someone’s dock and keep a good lookout. At one of the sidewalk shows I had done that winter, I sold a painting to a surgeon in Tampa. He invited us to a party where we met David and Fiona., who had just moved over from Great Britain. David was a doctor working in Tampa. Fiona had one of the best figures I have ever seen and, being an artist and a student of the human figure, I was, of course, entranced. She had the trimmest little body but a fantastic, well you know, figure. My whole thought, with all due respect to her husband, was
Opposite page: Play Time Acrylic
that I had to see this woman naked. It was just purely from an artistic point of view, of course. Soon David and Fiona began coming up on the weekends and they really got into snorkeling. We’d all put on our bathing suits, take a boat up the river, and find a house where the people were away so we could use their dock as our point of departure. After several weekends of this, I was still quite curious about Fiona’s true figure, but I tried not to be too obvious about my interest. Then one weekend, I guess it was about the fourth visit, we were snorkeling up and down the Weeki-Wachee. We were sitting on somebody’s dock out in the middle of this empty swampland, when I suggested that this snorkeling thing would be a lot more free if we did it in the nude. “You know, all these bathing suits arre cumbersome, and are getting in the way of the true experience of nature. After all the fish don’t wear bathing suits and it would be so much better if we didn’t have our bathing suits on either.” I always did have a pretty convincing way of putting things. So Barbara and I just got up and took off our bathing suits and started swimming around naked. David looked at Fiona and Fiona looked at him and they went, “Oh well, what the heck.” They came up every weekend after that. Of course we never had to worry about Fiona drowning. I had to keep swimming or I’d sink like a rock, but Fiona just stayed on top of the water with no problem. She had a hard time going underwater,
which was OK because I like to swim around on the bottom facing up so you could see the light coming down through the water. Of course, they were all swimming up there above me. It was a very interesting perspective. Weeki-Wachee Springs has the mermaid show where you go under water and watch the mermaids swimming around. The water is just crystal clear and there is very little distortion. Our own snorkeling got even better after we got rid of those bathing suits! There are all the fish swimming around, all with different colors and shapes, and there was Fiona swimming along right in the school of fish. I can remember that I looked at Fiona a lot more than I looked at the fish. It was the best snorkeling I’ve ever experienced. I can still close my eyes and see Fiona swimming by, O my, what a great figure model Fiona would be. But I never did get to paint a picture of Fiona in the nude, at least not on a canvas. We spent the whole winter snorkeling up and down the Weeki-Wachee with Fiona and David. Then we got into body painting and I finally got a chance to paint Fiona in the nude, but not the way you might imagine. One weekend we decided it would be fun to paint ourselves like the American Flag. Of course, I was the artist. I lined up the other three, Fiona first, then Barbara, then David. I had to be the last in line because I was doing the painting. Besides I wanted to put the stars on Fiona, because she was the start of the flag
Study for July at Great Point Watercolor Opposite page: July at Great Point Acrylic
and they were the most difficult things on a flag to paint. Barbara was the second part of the flag with some stars and stripes. Then the rest of the stripes were on David and me. To do those stars took an artistic touch. You just didn’t want to put white blobs on people, you wanted to get real five-pointed stars. First you put on the blue and wait for the blue to dry before painting the white stars. After that experience I’m still into painting stars even today. You know, I did paint some pretty good stars on Fiona, and I’m proud of that accomplishment. I couldn’t get quite all fifty on Fiona, but I came darned close. So I had to finish up doing that part of the flag on Barbara. I probably put at least four or five on Barbara in order to get the full field of stars. David and me? Well that was easy to do and we each painted the stripes on ourselves.
Then we took our picture with an instant camera, the kind where you can set the timer. You know, I think Barbara still has those photographs, I don’t have any of them. But it was a classic and patriotic photograph of four of us standing there, naked as jay-birds, with this American Flag painted across us. It wasn’t just a flat boring flag. I even had a nice wave in it. It looked like it was rippling in the wind. Some of the stars had to bend around and there were lots of folds in the flag too. It was quite an artistic endeavor. That whole winter Barbara and I snorkeled up and down Weeki-Wachee River with the doctor and his gorgeous wife, all nude. That was one of the best winters of my life. It was really a stand out. But when springtime arrived we were off to Nantucket again.
Island Light Acrylic
Beach House Watercolor
Standing out there at the Florida sidewalk shows, selling my paintings, when anybody in the world could walk up and say anything they wanted to, was painful. You’re right there on a sidewalk, on a public thoroughfare, so you get all kinds of people strolling by, many of who have never in their lives bought a painting and never would. So I really had to learn to put my pride aside anytime I was standing in front of my work. I must say that for the first few shows it was excruciating to listen to some of the comments people were making about my work. “Why don’tcha just take a snapshot?” Oh, that used to get all over me. It would drive me crazy that these “lovers of fine art” couldn’t comprehend that my paintings are more realistic than photographs.
that side. The rest of the time it’s the side that has to move these paintings if I want to be able to keep painting them. So there’s two different parts of my life, painting and selling. For them I use two different sides of my brain. I learned to develop a real public persona which had a lot to do with putting my pride aside and becoming humble, and that was pretty hard for somebody as arrogant about their art work as I was about mine. “Who do these people think they are coming up here saying these things to me?” We l l , a c t u a l l y, I learned a great deal out there on those sidewalks about my artwork and some of the criticisms people were making, were correct. I would go back and make changes the very next day. So it was trial by fire, and boy, that fire burned the bullshit right out of me! Growing up in my household, art was the furthest thing from anybody’s mind, including mine. We had one piece of art in the house, a reproduction of a Van Gogh with the boats at the seashore. I think that was the only thing that came close to real art. To me
There is the creating of the painting and there is selling of the painting. They require two completely different skills that in time became almost two halves to my personality. Very few people ever get to see the Jim that creates the painting. I would say that, with the exception of my wife, my family and a few close friends, there are few other people that see at a young age it represented everything there was
to know about painting. My mother was into early American antiques, so we had pitchforks hanging on the walls, old wagon benches, things like that, but no paintings. When I was growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, there were no galleries either, no art museums — nothing. So in the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, I’d get on a bus, go down to the library, and just sit and look at the paintings in the art books. Most of the books they had were about Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and all the Old Masters, so naturally I thought, “That is how you’re supposed to paint.” But then I remember finding a book of twentieth century art and seeing a picture by Edward Hopper. It Opposite page: was “House by the Railroad.” I remember turning the Brant Point with Berries Acrylic page and seeing this, and I was dumbstruck! It just hit me like a baseball, right between the eyes. There was a certain loneliness, a starkness, the shadows on the buildings that to this day I still try to reflect in my own paintings. From the very beginning I had the knack for making things look real. But it wasn’t until I saw that photograph of Hopper’s picture that I first experienced realistic art at its best. It had an impact, affecting me very much, and I started trying to paint pictures just like it. I loved the lighting and the way Hopper approached things architecturally. After seeing the Hopper painting I continued to look with even more interest for art by other painters. Although we didn’t really have any art galleries, we
did have one little museum called the Mint Museum. They had a small bookstore in the museum, which had little books on Cezanne, Monet, Picasso, etc. that you could buy for a dollar. As a young third and fourth grade child I would steal those little books from the Mint Museum. Well I didn’t actually steal them all, I would buy one and take three, but I guess that’s the same thing. I didn’t want to be a complete thief, even at nine or ten years old! You might say that this was the beginning of my art education and perhaps, some would say, my criminal education, too. But who would deny a little kid with a developing interest in art a chance to expand his knowledge of the great masters of art? Isn’t the purpose of a museum all about education? Well as long as I wasn’t caught, I didn’t think too much about it, and I did enjoy looking at those little books. A few years AR (After Rockefeller), when my work took off into the stratosphere on Nantucket, Julien Shere, of the Charlotte Observer, who had written the article on me when I was painting Christmas windows in my neighborhood, did another feature article on me. Julian called me in Nantucket and asked me how I was doing. So I told him what was happening and pretty soon an article came out in the Charlotte paper headlined, “Eight Years Later, A Famous Artist.” The article was about how I had opened the first gallery there in Charlotte and then realized that the reason it was the first gallery was that nobody there was interested in art. It went on to tell how
Charlotte has grown and how it is now a metropolis and there are now lots of art galleries. When the Observer ran the article in the newspaper and a group of people who were starting up a Boy’s Town in Charlotte saw it and called me in Nantucket one day to see if I would donate a painting to Boy’s Town. I told them I couldn’t donate an acrylic but I would donate a watercolor, because I was still doing some watercolors at that time and I could do them faster than acrylics. I finally stopped doing watercolors because I started working just as hard on the watercolors as I was on the acrylics. So I said, “Sure, I’d be glad to donate a watercolor to the Boy’s Town auction.” They said, “Let us know when you’re going to ship it.” I said,”OK, I’ll let you know,” but then I didn’t even think about it. Two days later they called back again and told me that, “We’ve arranged for Channel Three here in Charlotte to cover the arrival of the painting.” I was impressed, “You mean televise the arrival of my watercolor?” “Oh yes,” They said, “We’re going to get great publicity for this.” However they arranged it, they actually bought a seat for the painting on the airplane and the painting flew down to Charlotte in its own seat. They had armed guards meet the plane with an armored car. The television station was at the airport covering the arrival of the painting. On the local newscast
it said, “James Cromartie, now a famous artist on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, has donated a watercolor worth thousands of dollars to Boy’s Town, and here it is arriving in Charlotte.” They had guards with guns, two guys ahead, two behind, and two guys carrying this watercolor up to the armored car and putting it in. I got a call from my Mom and she said, “You’re not going to believe this.” And she explained the whole thing that was happening. I realized then that I had to go down to this auction. So I went down to Charlotte, taking some more of my work for display at the auction and I was presented on television. Coming into town they put up a billboard, “Come to the Boy’s Town Auction and meet world famous artist James Cromartie.” Now I was not just a local boy who made good, I was world famous! So there I was in the reception line and many of those people had never met a live artist, you know somebody who actually made a living by painting. “You mean he’s just puttin’ paint on a board and their giving him thousands of dollars for it? Can you imagine somethin’ like that?” I was still doing a lot of beach shacks at that time and had brought a few along. They looked at them and said in shocked amazement, “Look at that. He gets more
Buoys on Beach Watercolor
for his paintin’s than them shacks is worth.” It was completely baffling to them. That night twenty people got together, bought the painting, I think for about $5,000. “That’s outrageous. That much money for just a pitur?” They had raised $5,000 for Boy’s Town, but they had twenty people owning one painting, so what were they going to do? One of the donors suggested, “Why don’t we give it to the Mint Museum of Art and we’ll get publicity for doing that.” So they did. There was a noonday TV show there called the “Todd Boyd Show.” The whole TV studio went out to the Mint Museum for the presentation. The Mayor was there, as was the City Council and anybody who was anybody, all hoping to get on television for the presentation of this painting to the Mint Museum from Boys Town. While we were standing there waiting for the ceremony to take place, I met the head of the museum, I guess you call him the curator. I decided it was an appropriate time to confess to him about the $1 art books that I stole as a third or fourth grade kid. “I used to come over here as a kid and steal the little books that sold then for a dollar. They’d have one on Cézanne, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Michelangelo. Well I think I’d buy one and pocket three.” I kept waiting for the Mint Museum curator to laugh at my little story, but he didn’t
I thought he was going to laugh and say, “That’s great, taking those little books helped to start you on your life’s career as an artist.” But he didn’t laugh. He just stood there looking at me very seriously and said; “Really now?” I had taken all this stuff as a kid and I thought it was a very funny anecdote to the whole presentation of one of my watercolors to the museum that my interest in art had started with stealing one-dollar art books from the Mint. I thought it was hilarious, but he just looked at me and said; “Really now?” I thought he was going to ask me to fork over the money right then and there. Undaunted, I kept trying. “Yes, that’s how I got a lot of my art education, from those little books.” And he just looked at me and said; “Really now?” I began to think that he seriously wanted me to pay now, twenty years later. Well, the books might even be $2 by now, I guess if they let me throw in ten bucks that should cover it. Well, at least he could have laughed a little bit. Standing there in the reception line that was honoring the hanging of one of my watercolors in the Mint I felt like I should turn myself into the authorities for art theft.
Porch with a View Acrylic
Chairman of the Board Watercolor
Roger Firestoneâ€™s Dream Yacht Photo
Barbara and I arrived back on Nantucket for the second year on Old South Wharf. We got the gallery set up and things just took off for my work. It didn’t let up. The Rockefeller thing from the previous summer had spread all over the island by word of mouth. It must have been again about the beginning of July when in comes Nelson, “Rocky,” and he’s carrying the album “Rubber Soul” by the Beatles and a pitcher of ice. His old college buddy is behind him carrying a fifth of Scotch and glasses. They come in and I greet him and he hands me the record and asks if I had a record player. I said I did, and he said, “Well, put this on, we love this album.” So I went and put the record on a the turntable. By this time his friend was mixing up drinks. He got out three glasses, put the ice in, and poured the scotch. Oh yeah, he was carrying water too; Scotch, water, and cups. Nelson says, “Jim, I want you to meet my college buddy.” Rocky had that real rough, gravely voice. “Boy, we sure drank a lot of ‘Bruskes’ together.
I want you to meet Roger Firestone.” Well now, I knew who Firestone was. I am from the South and down there where NASCAR got its start. Firestone was a big name because of the tires and I was really impressed. I shook hands with him and I said in by broadest North Carolinian drawl, “You mean Firestone like tars?” They both howled. They thought that was hilarious and Roger goes, “Oh yeah, we make a few of them.” So we sat down, Beatle’s “Rubber Soul” Album started having our drinks and listened to the music and just chatted about the weather and stuff. Well now, Roger drank like me— non-stop. Nelson didn’t really drink much, he had that one drink and that was it. But between Roger and me, I knew we could finish that bottle. After about an hour I started trying to explain to them about “Hard Edged Realism” but at that time I think I was calling it “Photo Realism.” Andrew Wyeth was calling his work “Magic Realism.” So I don’t think 117
Opposite page: Hide & Seek Acrylic
I even had a name and I think that Roger may have been the one to name it Hard-Edge. We were talking about my artwork and I was explaining it to them. I said that when I was in college, everything was abstract and impressionistic. I was the only realist, the only one in my class who wanted to paint very realistic scenes when I finished college. Andrew Wyeth was my super hero and Edward Hopper too. I was trying to get that detail of Wyeth and that kind of surreal feeling that Hopper had. I told them that I was trying to take it a step further. In college we were told that you had to get back ten feet to look at a painting. But it seemed to me that the closer you got to something the more detail you saw. So I was trying to achieve a technique so, no matter how close you get to the painting, it stayed just as realistic; it didn’t change. The work of my gallery mate today, Kerry Hallem, is a great example. You get up close to Kerry’s work and all you see is colors and splotches of paint. But then you get back ten feet and all of a sudden there are people and sails and sailing boats. That is impressionism, which is fine. But it’s like apples and oranges. I told them that the problem that I ran into was that when I got it looking real good up close it didn’t look good from a distance. When I’d get it looking good from a distance and it didn’t look good up close. Nelson and Roger were sitting there listening, and we were walking back and forth looking at my paintings. Some of the paintings I had there really looked
good up close but nothing from a distance, and visa versa. Finally Roger turns to Rocky and he says, “Listen Rocky. Why don’t we just buy all his paintings until he figures that out?” Rocky just sits there and scratches his chin and says, “OK, let’s do that.” The Alleluia Chorus started playing in my brain. I thought that I really didn’t hear what I had just heard. So Roger turns back to me and he says, “Well I tell you what Jim. We’re here on my boat. It’s the one that’s 110 feet long; you can’t miss it. It’s the very last one at the end of Old South. Come down at 6:30 tonight and I’ll give you the address of where to mail all of the paintings that you have in the gallery. Add them up, how much they are, come down at 6:30, have a drink with us and I’ll give you a check and an address of where to mail the paintings.” I just go, “Yes Sir, I can certainly do that.” The whole time my wife, Barbara was upstairs overhearing all this and didn’t just dare come down. When they gathered up their stuff and left, I ran upstairs and Barbara is up there waiting and I ask, “Did you hear that?” She said oh yes she did hear it and we’re jumping up and down and celebrating and stuff like that. After a few minutes of hugging and kissing each other and saying, “That’s unbelievable,” we started all over again. That’s all we kept saying, “That’s just totally unbelievable.”
Study for Madaket Morning Watercolor Opposite page: Madaket Morning Acrylic
As it turns out, Nelson and Roger, at that time, were supporting about twenty-five young artists, young realists, around the country. They didn’t necessarily hate abstract artwork, but this was like their hobby. Some guys follow football and basketball like me, but they were following art. This was like an aside for them. They had so many other things to do in business and politics that this was their relaxation. It was the fun part. Nelson and Roger had a great deal to do with promoting realism in art. Because it really does take a long time to learn how to paint realistically. Think about all the different techniques that you have to learn to be able to paint with realism. There’s a wide assortment from the water, to the grass, to the buildings, to the clouds, to sailboats, to docks, to reflections. It all takes time. The list is endless. You have to learn the techniques for each object because each one has it’s own technique, and it takes years to develop those skills. Painting abstractly is not nearly as technical a thing to do. In total, Nelson and Roger put a floor under about twenty-five young realists around the country and all of a sudden the art world started to turn. When other artists on Nantucket found out that Rockefeller was buying work from me, more representational pictures began to appear and then much more realistic work began to be seen even here. It was a real turning point in the world of art.
Rocky and Roger stayed in Nantucket for two weeks that year and they invited me down to the boat for a drink several times. On one of those occasions the three of us were sitting around the back of the boat just talking about stuff. Roger kept talking about how his boat, “The Tire Man,” was 110 feet long. Nelson really loved to bait Roger and get him going. Nelson would start saying, “Why do you keep saying that your boat is 110 feet long. Is it some kind of ego thing. You know I’m on boats this big all the time and this boat can’t be more than about 90 feet.” Well Roger gets his back up, “What do you mean? Are you kidding? I know this boat. Well let’s measure it.” Roger turns to me and says, “Jim, go get a tape measure, I’m sick of this, we’re going to settle this once and for all.” So I went down to the crew’s quarters and asked for a tape measure but all they could find is a little, one foot, 12-inch, plastic ruler. So I came back upstairs with the ruler. By then we weren’t feeling any pain, so we started at the back of the boat with that little twelve inch ruler going ... one ... two, ... three, at least I’m doing that. We’d get along to about 30, 40 or 50 sometimes and somebody would say something and we’d all crack up. Then we couldn’t remember the count so we’d have to have another drink and start over again. Well, we never did get to the end of that boat. But I’m sure to this day, that Roger Firestone knew what he was talking about.
Beach Blossom Watercolor
True Dory Watercolor
Study for Brant Point with Roses Watercolor
I guess I confused Rocky and Roger enough about Hard-Edge Realism to get them to agree to support my efforts for a couple of years, but what was I really trying to do? There is a lot more about this new artistic technique that I need to explain. Actually I created my new painting style because of a mistake I made while studying Andrew Wyeth’s paintings in his big book. Let’s go back to my school days and I’ll try to explain how I worked my way up to it. I was in the fourth grade that I saw my first Edward Hopper and then I was in the ninth grade when I saw the first book of Andrew Wyeth. Those two artists had a major effect on me and the style I finally adopted. From the ninth grade on, I began trying to develop my skills of drawing with realism, to make things look real on paper using paint. You have to remember, now, that everything was abstract then and when I went to college everybody except me painted abstractly. Being a “Lone Ranger” kind of became a crusade for me. I felt like I was up against it, and because I was fighting a very lonely battle with my back to the wall, I referred to that “other” style of art using some very earthy terms. However, at that time, I seemed to be the only one who thought that way. Others thought that abstract art had “deep hidden passion and meaning.” I just couldn’t agree with that and continued to fight my battle.
The first book of Andrew Wyeth’s was just a book of drawings and in it there was a plain white page with a limb and a chain hanging over it. For some reason it moved me deeply and emotionally. It hit somewhere down deep in me, even more so than Hopper did. I’ve noticed that both of these painters had a sense of loneliness about their work and I started out trying to capture that feeling of loneliness. Hopper believed that an artist’s work was a reflection of what was in his soul. Maybe loneliness was in his soul and I wanted it too! Andrew Wyeth put out some smaller books before the big one. I saw the first one when I was in a tenth grade drawing class. In college they hated Andrew Wyeth. Oh, they hated him; he was like the anti-Christ as far as the art schools were concerned, because what they were teaching then was abstract expressionism. When Andrew Wyeth appeared on the cover of Time Magazine, it was an outrage! My painting professors were furious. They were enraged that Time had gone and put an illustrator on the cover. He was just an illustrator nothing better than an illustrator! I can still hear them ranting. Expressionism was the hot topic of the day and here I was in college painting little realistic pictures while everybody else around me was working with huge ten by ten foot, abstract canvasses. They would say, “This is an expression of my emotions”. I would ask, “But can you really draw?” After I finished college, Andrew Wyeth came out with his big book, a coffee table book. When I first saw it I
was amazed at how precise the pictures looked. Unlike most impressionistic paintings you could not see any brush strokes. I was determined to learn to paint that way, to paint with absolute precision and realism. Later someone bought the rights to Wyeth’s book, sold the prints in it individually, and made a fortune. I still have that book in my studio sitting on a board supported by two cinder blocks. They are the same cinder blocks and boards that I used when I started out as a starving artist a third of a century ago. I can take those cinder blocks, break down my easel, put them all in the car and carry my studio along with me wherever I go. As a result of seeing Wyeth’s big book I spent years trying to learn to paint without paint strokes. I thought Opposite page: that was the way Wyeth painted, a mistaken assumption Blue Dory Acrylic I labored under for years. But it was that misconception that led to my developing Hard-Edge Realism. It was what I told Rocky and Roger the first time I met with them. I was trying to develop a style that looked just as good at a distance as it did up close. I guess it was about five years later that I was going through Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, stopped at the Brandywine Museum, and saw my first actual Andrew Wyeth originals. I was shocked to find that, when I walked up close to his paintings, I could see all kinds of paint strokes. They were not realistic at all when you get within two or three feet. Then it dawned on me what had happened: his paintings were photographed for his book from about four feet away. All of the paint strokes were kind of blurred together and they didn’t show in
the photographs. I guess you could say that, in a sense, I had accidentally created Hard-Edge Realism by trying to copy photographs out of a book. I must say that when I realized my mistake it actually pleased me to know that I had taken a very different path than Wyeth had. I wasn’t painting just like him, but had developed my own advanced realistic technique. Years later, in 1984, I had a show of realistic art with Andrew Wyeth, Jamie Wyeth, and Ray Ellis at a gallery on the Martha’s Vineyard. I think that was the only time in my life that I felt intimidated. Andrew Wyeth can paint anything and inject into it a sense of emotion that I’ve never seen in any other artist. Single-handedly, he turned the whole art world around and literally he brought realism back. I just loved watching the turn of events; it was like a crusade. You can’t imagine the animosity between the abstract painters and the realistic painters. At that time the realistic painters were considered scum. The scum of the art world! We got no respect. Actually my work is surrealistic impressionism. I paint natural objects as I perceive them using a surrealistic approach. This means I take great liberty with everything I paint and my paintings become more real than photographs. By that I mean that if you compare a photograph with my paintings you would see a great difference. My lighting is better than real life. My composition is better than it is in real life. I add things to the painting that might not actually be there if you took a photograph. Sometimes I leave things out that are
there. My paintings have emotion and feeling in them that cannot be captured on film and, of course, the warm and cool colors I use enhance the scene and give it an otherworldly flavor. Andrew Wyeth started calling his technique “Magic Realism,” which means everything is like the way the eye sees it, everything is in focus right in the center and, as you go to the edges, it becomes unfocused. My technique was to just take it one step further, the whole canvas is focused. From the very back to the very front, everything is in focus. Because of my mistake, of looking at Wyeth’s work in a book, I fell into my technique of Hard Edge Realism. I created a technique that no matter how close you got, it was still just as realistic. I actually ended up creating two different paintings. There’s a painting for up close, and then a painting from a distance. I was able to accomplish by using a mirror while I’m sitting down. When I get it looking good up close I hold out the mirror and look at its reflection. This doubles the distance to the canvas and I can see how this is going to look from far away. Then I start trying to establish a balance, to make a compromise between the two. When I’m finished there are actually two different paintings. As you approach my paintings your eyes refocus and you begin to see the second painting. Just try it with one of my originals. Of course with a print or photograph of my paintings you wind up with the same effect that I had with Wyeth’s book. Each
of my paintings is actually two paintings in one and that’s why it takes me about a month to do one. You know, if you keep looking at my paintings you find that they are almost more real than real. They kinda jump off the canvas at you. You can start seeing the two different paintings as you move back. When someone is truly moved by one of my paintings, they feel like they could just step into the picture. Try stepping into an abstract painting, no matter how good it is, and you will probably wind up getting strangled in the maze of haze. I have never been able to put my paintings into words. The words always seem too shallow compared Opposite page: Summers Remembered to what I’m actually feeling when I create that piece Acrylic of work. People come to me and say, “What does this painting mean?” If I could really tell you what a painting means then I’d be a writer not an artist. You can look at it, you can see it, you can feel it. It’s like those moments that you’re walking down the beach or you’re going down the road and you see something visually and it just has an strong impact on you and it sticks with you. I try to capture that feeling in the painting before it’s lost in time. That’s one definition of impressionism. There’s one last thing I have to explain about how I developed my current technique. It happened the first winter I spent in Bonita Springs, Florida. To keep up with the demand for the paintings between Rocky
and Roger and the different people I was meeting, I would stay up, literally, for two or three days straight, just painting, trying to meet the demand. On one of these marathon painting sprees, at about two o’clock in the morning of the third day, I was just painting on instinct. My brain had ceased to function somewhere around the second day and I was right down to the end of a painting and I needed to finish it. I was sitting there looking at it, thinking, “What does this painting need to be finished?” Then it was like a door opened. All of a sudden I saw very clearly the relationship between warm and cool colors that I had never seen before. Within those few moments my work went from ground level right into the stratosphere. While I was sitting there looking at it, it began to dawn on me what the implications were of what I was seeing. From that moment on I believe my work was separated from the pack. I’m really a surrealist at heart, but nobody wanted to buy my surrealistic paintings. So I use Hard Edge Realism. I’ve tried to explain it here in a lot of different ways, but really it’s just painting natural objects using a surrealistic technique.
That brings us right back to the people who say, “Well this is like a photograph. Why don’tcha just take a snapshot?” Well, maybe, but it has taken me 35 years to get to where I am now in my paintings. I actually believe that my paintings today are more realistic than photographs. They have an otherworldly quality about them. It all springs directly from my connecting surrealistic techniques with natural objects that night in Bonita Springs. What I discovered then about warm and cool colors gave them this slightly, otherworldly feeling. Today I could take a wooden bucket and paint it and it would still have a surrealistic feeling to it. That’s what I have been seeking ever since seeing Edward Hopper’s “House by the Railroad” and Andrew Wyeth’s first book. It’s the loneliness and otherworldliness that I was searching for all these years. That night in Bonita Springs, when I first experienced this new technique, was like a moment in time when you step through a door and you see something that you know is extraordinary, a brief glimpse of other worlds.
South Shore Watercolor
Commissions There is a major part of my artistic career that is separate from my main focus on beaches, lighthouses, and boats. Because of unplanned circumstances, I backed into doing commissioned paintings of famous historical buildings and places. Somehow it did not register with me at the time that it would be an honor to paint these buildings or that it would become a major milestone in my career. After Nelson Rockefeller bought my first paintings I concentrated full time on improving my technique with beach scenes and lighthouses. Historical buildings were just not part of my long range artistic goals. But in mid-career I made a detour which developed not on Nantucket, but in Washington, DC. Well I guess Iâ€™ll just have to explain it all to you.â€?
First of all, you need to understand that my expenses continued to go up as I went through marriages. As my financial requirements increased, I was forced to find ways to expand my market and sales enough so that I could paint full time, without worry, and without a day job. Dr. Gordley’s prediction still haunted me, but I was still determined to be one of the two art students from my college class to make a living in art. My main objective in life, and this sounds simplistic, is to be able to paint. The more time I get to paint, the happier I am. But, of course, you also need to live and you can’t paint all the time. The cruel fact is that an artist has to get money for his paintings so he can continue to paint, otherwise he has to work at some other job and paint in his spare time.
It started with the Smithsonian, but when I finally got into commissions, I went on to the U.S. Capitol, the White House, and, finally, the Supreme Court. Along the way I was also commissioned to do the North Carolina State Capital and because of that I ended up painting Pinehurst No. 2. Recently I accepted a commission to paint the Inn on Mount Washington. Since it was something that I was able to do while living on Nantucket in the winter, you might say the Inn was still part of my Nantucket work. Commissions of famous buildings are an entirely different art form than what I consider to be my normal line of work. There is a connection, though, to my ancestor James Hoben, who was the architect of the White House, and my parent’s involvement in government. That background must have surfaced in me as a mode of expresIt was a financial crisis that finally set me on sion because I enjoyed doing this type of work. this direction, like so many of the other things It’s a fact that you have to be artistically motivated that have happened in my life. Sir Arthur Conan in order to create a painting of any type. I started Doyle, was a medical doctor by profession but he slowly and, perhaps, reluctantly when I first began the created the character Sherlock Holmes in 1886, so Smithsonian Castle. But once I got into it, the juices he could put food on the table. I guess that’s why began to flow and I now understand the importance I finally took my first commission; to put food on of these commissions of historical government buildthe table and to meet the expenses I was incurring ings to my overall artistic career. But it’s like a separate at that time. part of my life; then what isn’t?
The Smithsonian Castle
Smithsonian Today Photo
It all began in the winter of 1980, when I was staying in Washington with my brother, Mike, and my wife was living separately in Florida. The father of my business manager at that time was the head of the museum shops at the Smithsonian and after a while he started prodding me, “You know, Jim, you have to do a painting of the Castle on the Mall. We could sell prints of it in the Museum Shops here at the Smithsonian.” Well, I finally went down to see the Castle, and it just made me tired to look at it. This would be a major project and I figured it would take from two to three months for a painting of that magnitude. Little did I know it would take twice that time. The Castle was the original Smithsonian building, completed in 1855 with funds bequeathed to the United States by James Smithson, a son of European royalty who inherited a great deal of money but was not recognized by his country. The Smithsonian is today composed of sixteen museums and galleries and the National Zoo. Nine Smithsonian museums are located on the National Mall between the Wash-
ington Monument and the Capitol. But the Castle was the original building, an old brick structure with steeples, and it’s where they now have the administration offices After looking at it I just didn’t think I wanted to paint it. It was just too much to bite off and would take much too much time. I was a beach painter. I painted beaches and lighthouses, and beach houses are definitely not large historical buildings. It just looked to me like it was too much work and of course there was no water anwhere around Smithsonian Map Image by Casey G. it. S o m e t i m e l a t e r, however, I found myself in a real desperate need of money. So I began to think about the Smithsonian again a little more positively. After all, there were seagulls on the mall and the paths were made of sandy gravel. Then Sharon’s dad brought it up again, “Come on Jim. Why don’t you do this?” “Would the Smithsonian pay me to do the painting?” “No,” he said, “But we have different people involved in supporting the museum who could com-
mission you to paint it and then they would donate the painting to the museum and take a tax deduction for it. The Smithsonian would have the painting, the people would have the recognition and tax write-off, and you would be paid and have the honor for having done this.” To me, at that time, it sounded like a possible way out of my immediate financial dilemma. That’s how Dave Tainer, who was a past President of Pitney-Bowes, commissioned me to paint the Smithsonian, and Dave in turn agreed to give the painting to the Smithsonian. The project turned out to be even bigger than I ever imagined. There were a lot of things happening to me at the time and I just didn’t quite comprehend the magnitude of what I was undertaking. In some ways I liked that. When you are overwhelmed, you just take it one day at a time and don’t let it become too big a deal in your life. I just said, “Well, if I do this it will put money on the table and then I’ll be able to get back to painting the things I like to paint.” I tried not to think about all the other disrupting influences affecting my life at that time. I just worked at it. From the angle I chose to paint the Smithsonian Castle you couldn’t really see it because of the trees that had grown up in front. The only thing you could see were the steeples going across the top of the
castle, which were called the “Capitol Tops.” Being a resourceful and experienced artist, I simply removed the trees. No, I didn’t use a chain saw; I just left the trees out of the painting. That was an example of “artistic license,” and you know, it makes sense, because otherwise you couldn’t see the building. When the painting was finished it kind of looked like it had been painted in the 1800s before the trees had grown up. Realistic? Take a snapshot? This is what fine arts is all about; making things look more real than real-life itself. I do this is my beach paintings all the time. It ended up taking six months to do the painting of the Castle, but today the Smithsonian sells prints of my painting in their Museum Shop and looking back I’m pleased that I took on a project that started me in a different direction. When I was done with the Smithsonian, the President of the Capitol Historical Society saw the painting and I got a call from him. He said, “You know Jim, you should do a painting the Capitol.” I had heard that same refrain once before, and well, after working six months on the Smithsonian I was not ready to tackle another project that big, so I thanked him and told him that I’d get back to him.
Smithsonian Castle Cromartie Commission
The U.S. Capitol
It wasn’t until about three years later, when I again was in need of money, that I remembered the Capitol Historical Society offer and thought, “Oh, maybe now is the time I should do the Capitol.” Three years is a long time and dulled my memory of the downside of commissions; the dedication it requires, and the fact that I couldn’t be doing any of my Nantucket work until I finished. In a way it’s a balancing act. Dedicating months to one subject but earning a guaranteed fee.
missioned me to do the painting and it wound up taking me another six months. The problem with these commissions, you see, was that I was not able to do any other work while I was doing them. They just took so much concentration and time. But I was paid for the commission and I got a percentage of all the prints that they sold, so it was a fair business arrangement. The Smithsonian used their income from the prints to help run the museum, and the Capitol Historical Society I gave the President used the proceeds to of the Society a call and preserve and restore the Map of U.S. Capitol Image by Casey G. asked him if the HisCapitol. torical Society would still When we got started be interested in having and it was just like workme do a painting of the ing on the Smithsonian Capitol. except … well, I’m sure “Of course,” he said, you’ve heard about Con“ We certainly would gress and about congresbe.” sional committees. In this case they had a “U.S. CapiI told him that I thought I was ready to paint it now, tol Portrait Committee,” which included the Sergeant I was a highly motivated person right then. (I didn’t at Arms, the Architect of the Capitol, the President of mention the fact that I needed the money). the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, Richard Gephardt “Would the Historical Society be the sponsor?” from the House, and Sam Nunn from the Senate. “No,” he replied, “We’d do it the same way you First I took over 700 photographs of the Capitol did for the Smithsonian.” from up close and from the distance, to show all the Ron Harper from Charlotte, North Carolina, com- details, things like what the cornerstones looked like.
Next I did some preliminary drawings and showed them to the committee. They gave their approval and I started the painting. The angle of view I chose is one you normally never see, but viewed from that direction the lefthand corner was vacant, leaving a very uninteresting space. I decided to put a tree there with the tree’s limb coming into that blank space so it would frame the Capitol between the trees. This is a good example of what I mean when I say that my paintings are more realistic than photographs. An artist often adds things to a painting and provides a different perspective that enhances the artistic interest of the scene. After about four months of work on the painting I had a meeting with the Committee and brought the painting to show to them. They thought the painting was beautiful, but they wanted to know where that tree came from. I told them that I thought it focused the Capitol better. I explained also how I had decided to paint the view from the House side because there are a lot more House members than Senate members. That meant a lot more staff on the house side too, so the House would be inclined to buy more prints of my painting than they would over on the Senate side. Well that made good business sense to them but the problem was that tree limb. They didn’t like it, because it wasn’t really there. It wasn’t true to life and there had been problems in the past with paintings of the Capitol that weren’t true to life. It seems that the first painting commissioned of the
Capitol was of George Washington laying the corner stone. My fourth great grandfather, James Hoban, was in that picture. He was the architect of the White House and he was also head of construction for the U.S. Capitol. He is in that first painting of the corner stone laying that they have hanging there. There is George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and my fourth great grand-daddy. In the picture, George Washington is laying the cornerstone for the Capitol and it’s on a brick foundation. In the 1960s when they were redoing one of the sides of the Capitol digging down by the foundation and they never could find any bricks. But they knew there had to be bricks because it was in this painting. So they started going back through the artist’s notes and discovered that he wrote, “I thought the red bricks were a nice touch in the painting.” So it seems he had just arbitrarily put in bricks and they all just assumed that the Capitol was built on a brick foundation. It was just another case of artistic license. “Well,” I said, “I can understand how that can be a serious thing, thinking what the Capitol foundation is made of, but you know this tree might be there a hundred years from now, or it might not, depending on how things get changed around.” They finally let me keep my tree but only after much discussion and consternation. But it did look good. It really makes the Capitol jump out and grab you. An artistic rendition of a building, or any scene, is much more than a snapshot. If the artist is talented then
Opposite page: U.S. Capitol Building Cromartie Commission
something more than the bare facts of the scene makes it into a valued painting. It’s all about that elusive “It” factor that I’ve mentioned before. I guess it is a good question, though, if all you want is a true representation of a building, “Why dontcha just take a snapshot?” It’s good that there are still many people in this world who recognize the human values in fine art and who will commission painters to create artistic portrayals of real world objects to be treasured and valued by future generations. There was one other example of artistic license in the Capitol painting. I made up my own lighting for the painting because I felt that was the best direction for the building. I used the light coming from the right to the left while I think it actually comes from the left to the right. Some of my paintings are almost three-dimensional and that has to do with the lighting. Just getting the best light direction makes a difference even if the light isn’t coming from the real direction. Most of my lighting directions I just think up. The Sergeant-at-Arms was the only one who noticed it and he gave me a hard time about it. He pointed out that the sun didn’t come from the direction that I had in the painting. I was really surprised that he picked that up. Most people don’t even notice what direction the light is coming from. I agreed that the light didn’t actually come from that direction, but that was the best direction for the painting. So finally he agreed, and that’s the way it remained. I finished the painting two months later and had
another meeting with the committee. I was proud to have done that painting, but I was so tired of it. It had been my whole life for six months, six days a week, five or six hours a day working on this thing. Each window took me four hours to paint and there was something like two hundred windows visible from the direction I took. Before I took it down to Washington I was telling my friends, “This is it. I want this painting to be over, for them to accept it. I want to get on with my life! This painting is in total control of my life!” So I came in and met with the committee. Just in case, I brought a small case of paint and brushes. If there was some small thing, I was going to fix it right then. I wanted to be done with that painting! Well we get in there and we had this little mini unveiling. We went over all the photographs, and studied where everything was. “You’ve got it, you’ve got everything in there, and we can’t find a thing wrong.” They’re all oohing and ahing, everybody thinks it’s great. Then Sam Nunn says, “Well Jim, I don’t know much about art — but.” Now that was the last thing I wanted to hear. I just knew from experience that meant trouble, but I calmly asked what was bothering him. He says, “Isn’t there a flag flying over the U.S. Capitol; an American flag?” I looked at the photographs and at my painting and of course right front and center there was supposed to be an American flag and in all this stuff it had just been missed. It was one of those things so obvious that I hadn’t seen it. On the side that I was painting, there
is a flagpole that sits right in the middle in front of the dome. Continuously all day there are men, who run an American flag up the pole. It stays up there for thirty seconds, then they bring the flag down and they run another flag up. They sell the flags through the gift shop, for the Historical Society, as flags that flew over the U.S. Capitol. Congressmen and Senators also present these flags in special ceremonies. This is going on all day long and from my photographs and preliminary sketches it must have been at a period that the flag wasn’t flying. That’s the excuse that I use for myself, but honestly I think I just flat missed the flag. I said, “Senator, you are absolutely right. There is a flag there, and I missed it.” So I go over and take the painting off the easel and put it right down on the desk. I asked if someone could get me some water in a cup, I pulled out my paints, pulled out my plates, put my paints right there and started drawing the flag right at the spot were it was supposed to be. This just about scared everybody to death. “Wait a minute, can you just do this?” “Trust me,” I said, “I know this painting. I’ve been living with it for six months.” So I sat down, drew the flag outline, painted the flag in and it looked pretty darned good too. When I finished it I said, “There. Is there anything else you guys think needs to be added?” “No, no, no.” They all shouted, “We think that’s it. It’s finished. Perfect. Stop!”
When we had the official unveiling of it about six months later, we had about 500 people show up for the presentation. It was in a huge, huge conference room in the Senate Building. They unveiled the painting and that’s the first time that I had the opportunity to meet Strom Thurmond. Some of the Justices from the Supreme Court were there. Sandra Day O’Conner was the one I remember because she had a delightful sense of humor, something I did not expect from a Supreme Court Justice. Berger and, I think, White were there, and a lot of Senators, Congressmen, and staff. So there was this big crowd, we’d had the unveiling and there was all this food and a big reception going on and all of a sudden a hush fell over the room. Like the parting of the seas the crowd opened up and in came Senator Strom Thurmond hobbling up to the painting. There was a muttering through the crowd, “Senator Thurmond’s here, Senator Thurmond’s here.” You would have thought the King had arrived and I guess he was the King, and he had just showed up. He was the oldest Senator, and at that time he probably was in his late eighties. He made his way through the crowd, came right up to me, shook my hand and said, “That sure is a beautiful painting. We’re really glad you painted it.” He then reached in his jacket pocket and said, “Here take this.” He handed me a lighter with U.S. Capitol printed on it. “Take this as a memento of my appreciation.”
He used to carry them around in his pocket to hand them out to people he met. A hush just fell over the room when he spoke. I realized that I had just met a living legend. I had never seen such respectful behavior in my whole life. I thought that everybody there was going to genuflect and kiss his ring before he left the room. He just had a sparkle in his eye and a spring in his step; I think it was that young wife of his. Years later, after the picture of the U.S. Capitol had been on display for some time, someone pointed out to me that I had forgotten to put the shadows on the front two small trees. You get all these things pointed out to you from time to time, and I’d never seen that. I got the shadows right on the trees coming around the circle; I guess there are two of them. But behind them are two small trees with no shadows. I never noticed that until one day somebody standing in my gallery looking at that asked, “Where are the shadows?” But I never told anybody about it because I’m not going back to redo them. On the front of the Capitol there is a small round window, and I had more trouble with the perspective of that window. It always looked to me like it was slightly
floating or kind of turned out toward you when it was supposed to be going back. I think I did that window four or five times and finally decided that it was as good as I could do. It was satisfactory, but still had that floating look to it. Years later I was watching a television news program and they were doing interviews from the Senate Chamber. Behind the podium there was a big blow up of the Capitol, a close up of the dome coming straight down about halfway into the building. I watched the press conference and was looking at that blown up picture of the Capitol behind the senator who was talking. “Look at that.” I thought, “They had the same problem with that window that I did. That window looks like its floating there. That guy had the same problem that I had with that window.” Then as I continued to look at it I realized that what they had done was to take a section of my painting and had blown it up to use as a background. It took me quite a while to realize that it was my painting that I was looking at. But you know, I feel like I know the Capitol pretty intimately now.
My Tar Heel State
having a lot of political contacts in the state government she just kept plugging away at her plan. She had a talk with Senator Terry Sanford and Jim Martin who was then the Governor of North Carolina and had them promise that they would do everything in their power to make it possible for me to stay the winter in North Carolina.” Then, while on a visit with my family in North Carolina, I got a call from Governor Jim Martin. He said it was great that I was visiting and that they would I guess then I didn’t love to see me move back get tar on my heels beto the state for the winter cause I left North Carolina and he would do anything and settled in the Yankee he could to help, just let north. But my Mom did him know. everything she could to I was really surprised, keep me in the south. At but of course I knew that least she wanted me to my Mom had pre-planned spend my winters in North this whole thing; she had Carolina, to come down set me up. I was there there to be closer to her, for about a week and a my sister and brother-in-law, and the rest of the family. I few days later I got a call from Senator Terry Sanford had told her that the demographics just didn’t work, there who said the same thing, “It would be great if you could were just not enough buyers of art in North Carolina to come back to North Carolina and I’ll do anything I can make it worth my while. Every year she would try to get to help make it possible. That really impressed me and me to come back for the winter and I would say, “Mom, I began to realize I was powerless to resist the wishes I can’t, there just isn’t enough money there that I could of a polished political operative, especially a Democratic survive the winter.” one. That’s when she applied the finishing touch But she just wouldn’t take no for an answer and still One day, after my Mom had softened me up with
By now you all know that I’m a native of North Carolina. That makes me a “Tar Heel.” One explanation for the term traces the source to the Civil War when retreating soldiers left a column of North Carolinians to battle the enemy alone. Later the North Carolinians met the fleeing troops and told them they’d put tar on their heels to make them stick. Gen. Robert E. Lee on hearing the story, reportedly exclaimed, “God bless the Tar Heel boys.”
Opposite page: Cape Hatteris Light Cromartie Acrylic Map of the Tarhill State Image by Casey G.
a lot of good home cooking and family get togethers, she pointed out to me, “Jim, you know that there was no painting of the North Carolina State Capitol. Maybe you could ask the Governor if he could help you do something like that.” “Mom,” I fought back, “I just finished all that stuff in Washington. I don’t want to do another building. I do beach houses, I paint beach scenes.” “Well,” she said, “It’s just an idea.” But when my mother got something in her head, pretty soon there is no fighting it. Soon I got a call from Governor Martin. You know he was a Republican, the same party as my brother, but you couldn’t tell it to look at him. He said, “You know we have the state bird here and a state flower, the bird is the Cardinal, and the state flower is the Dogwood, but we don’t have a state painting.” He said, “You know, if you could do a painting of the State Capitol, I think I could arrange it that it would become the state painting and it could hang in all the classrooms.” That’s how I was commissioned to do the “State Painting.” I did the state capitol building in Raleigh and that went on to be a print that was hung in every school in North Carolina. It’s very logical; you have a State Bird and a State Flower; well this was the State Painting. To tell you the truth, I never thought that I would do a State Painting. But there was another financial crisis and I came to realize that I needed to paint the capitol. As I look back, financial crisis precipitated most of the big commissions that I did in my life; I needed money.
So about six months after that I called back and said that I thought I could do the painting, in fact I would be honored to do it. The next winter I went down to North Carolina because my mother said, “Well you can’t paint it from up there.” So she had prevailed in getting me to spend one winter painting the State Capital. When I finished it, they had the unveiling ceremony and, today, copies hang in all the schools. But that’s not the end of the Tar Heel Story. Once I was there to do the state painting I learned that Terry Sanford liked to play golf at Pinehurst. So just by coincidence as I finished up the State Capitol commission I got a call from Pinehurst saying that Senator Sanford thought it would be a great idea if I did a painting of Pinehurst. Well, I had never played golf, but I went down to Pinehurst and met them. It’s a beautiful spot in the Sand Hills of North Carolina, and there’s a little New England town right in the middle of the state. So I thought it would be fun. I walked the course and looked around. I decided on a scene looking across the 17th green and up the 18th fairway where you could just see the top of the clubhouse. Again I did not understand what I was getting into. You see I thought that golf was just a game, not a religion. I didn’t realize that Pinehurst was like the Vatican of golf and people make pilgrimages there just like to Rome. I was really unprepared for what I was getting into. I mean these people made the government people look like amateurs. This was serious business. I thought
North Carolina State House Lithograph
I would go down, have fun, do a painting, go to the club, learn to play a little golf; but this was not a junket. When I finally finished the painting, I took it down to show it to the Board of Directors. You know I love to paint fields of grass and flowers. My very favorite is beach grass and things like that. I’m probably the world’s best painter of grass. So on the 18th fairway I put this beautiful
field of grass going up the 18th fairway. What else could I do? So they were all sitting there and I unveiled the painting and I was waiting for all the oos and ahs, and they just sat there and nobody said anything. Wait a minute I thought, “What’s the problem here?” If anybody can paint grass, I can paint grass, this is what I do. So finally I asked, “Is there a problem?” The President of Pinehurst, hemmed and hawed, and finally said, “Well Jim, that’s certainly a pretty painting but uh — we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year mowing our fairways. And you’ve got a field of grass out there.” Whoops! I said, “You know, you’re right. It was something I didn’t catch, let me go back and redo this.” I spent about two more weeks painting out the whole 18th fairway and putting in nice mowed grass. I did leave the grass in the rough. If you just look at the rough, it’s the best painted rough you’ll ever see. But right up the middle of the fairway I had to black it out and repaint it with this little tiny short grass that didn’t have any artistic appeal. So I lengthened the shadows from trees, coming from the right to the left across the fairway, to make it artistically a little more interesting. I took it back to them and there
was a huge sigh of relief because it had been a big problem. They were all relieved that we had worked out “The Fairway Problem,” as they were referring to it at Pinehurst. “We have a fairway problem with the painting. He didn’t put a fairway in.” One of the things I learned in working with all the different groups is you have to be easy to work with. Be glad that you’re there and when you have these problems, don’t bitch about it. So then they wanted to have an unveiling and they made prints. One of those prints now hangs in the Golf Hall of Fame. I guess the original is at Pinehurst. They sell the prints through the Pro Shop there. The photograph of the painting, which was used to make the prints, went on the front cover of the Putter Boy magazine that goes out to 30,000 members to sell the prints. To give the sale a kickoff they picked a big weekend event they were having and they had me come in and do a luncheon at Pinehurst. This was like the legislator’s weekend or something at Pinehurst; it was a big convention. I spoke at lunch and I was given this huge build-up, introduced as this big important famous, artist, yada, yada and we sold no paintings. Nothing sold! So that night it was planned that I would speak again to the whole convention, all 300 people. They wanted to do the whole routine again and I said, “Wait. Just hold on. Just let me do it my way.” I love Garrison Keiller, of Prairie Home Companion; I listen to him all the time. I just think he is a genius, the way he can tell a story. I love the way he remembers his childhood and particularly the heart
Pinehurst No. 2 Lithograph
and the warmth that comes through in his stuff. I knew that Keiller wouldn’t talk about himself; about how big and important and famous he was. No he’d talk about the place, about the heart of Pinehurst. So that night at the big dinner instead of talking about who I was, I talked about Pinehurst, about tradition. I spoke about how I stood on the 17th green and watched people
In my painting in the front there is a sand trap, I had wanted to put a golf ball in the sand trap under a rake and call the painting “Trouble in Pinehurst”. But that didn’t seem to fly too well. I didn’t realize that in that case you could move the rake.
So I was like a Baptist looking in on a Catholic coming up the 17 fairway and you could tell just by ceremony, with the high priests there. It took me a looking at them who was winning and who was los- long time to realize the truth. “Life is a game, Golf is ing; it was already decided. That night the reaction serious.” was entirely different. th
The White House
because I thought it was a beautiful building and the simplicity of the White House was more to my style of art than either the Capitol or the Smithsonian. After I told people at the White House Historical Society who my ancestor was, the project took on a whole different meaning and level of importance. It was arranged that I would spend some time on the White House grounds Originally what is now and take photographs the White House was goof the building and the ing to be called the Presigrounds around it. They dent’s Palace and there assigned what I thought was a contest held to was a secret service man design the President’s to walk with me as I went Palace. Hoben, was an araround and photographed Map of White House, Washington, DC chitect in Columbia, South the White House. Later Image by Casey G Carolina, and he entered I’ve been told that he was his architectural design just a White House guard, in the contest and won but you can imagine I was first place. The person pretty excited to be walkthat came in second was ing around the grounds Thomas Jefferson, who and thinking about how had entered the floor plan for what became Monticello my ancestor had designed it. He was also head of as his design of the President’s Palace. From the time construction for the U.S. Capitol. I was first growing up I used to hear about this. It was So there I was walking around the grounds with the our family’s great claim to fame. armed guard who had one of those little microphones When I got a call from the White House Historical pinned on his lapel. I thought I was being pretty cool Society asking whether I would be interested in doing walking around the grounds taking photographs with a the White House, I was really excited about it. Artisti- very serious escort and as a joke I said to him, “Oh my cally the White House was a lot more interesting to me goodness, I forgot to put film in this camera.” I thought After I finished the paintings of the Smithsonian and the U.S. Capitol people over at the White House Historical Society thought that they should have a painting too. At the time they asked me, they did not know that my fourth-great-grandfather, James Hoben, had been the architect, which I thought was great planning on his part for me.
it was kind of funny and started to laugh but the guard didn’t even break stride or crack a smile, he just goes, “We need film,” into his lapel microphone. I was afraid to tell him that I was just “kidding around” and it became embarrassing because I had to stand there and wait for them to go and get the film and bring it down. Instead I just said, “Thank you very much.” Then had to turn around and take the roll of film out when he wasn’t looking so when the film showed up the camera would be empty. The White House portrait only took four months. Actually I enjoyed painting the White House; it was really a pleasure. Reagan was in the White House then and I got a tour of the inside and I got the chance to Opposite page: shake hands with the president. He was impressive The White House Cromartie Commission and he certainly looked presidential. He had an air, a real sense of humility about him when you met him. He was also much taller than I expected, about six two or six three. Somehow I just didn’t think he was going to be that tall. Throughout the whole White House project there was only one guy making decisions about my painting. For everything that happens in congress you have to go through a committee but at the White House there was just one person in charge. It was easier than the other two commissions and I didn’t add any tree limbs to the painting. I had been down that road before and had learned my lesson. With the Smithsonian I took out the trees in front of it because you couldn’t see it. And then I put that limb in
on the Capitol painting, so when I got to the White House I thought to myself, “You know I’m going to simply paint this the way it is”. That did make things much easier because they didn’t have to ask what’s this, what’s that. The only things that they did want were tulips and a cherry tree over on the right side. Looking at it from the angle that I was doing it, there was a cherry tree on the Portico side, and they wanted that in bloom. They also wanted the tulips in bloom. I’m not sure whether the tulips and the cherry blossoms bloom at exactly the same time but they wanted flowers and it was certainly easy enough for an artist to do. The White House painting has been finished for a few years now but there still hasn’t been an unveiling ceremony for it like there was for the Capitol. Ron Brown was handling that unveiling and then he was killed in the plane crash in Bosnia, so I’m not sure that it ever will happen. My Capitol painting hangs behind the Speaker’s desk, in his office, on the House of Representatives side. I don’t know where the White House painting is hung. They haven’t asked me back since. But to organize an unveiling is a huge, huge effort. The unveiling of the Capitol painting took four months of organization. Hundreds of people were involved. It was a massive undertaking When Robert Strauss was our Ambassador to the USSR just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, my paintings of the Capitol and the White House went over to Moscow with him and they used them as backdrops for news conferences.
I got a call from Ambassador Strauss’s office in the State Department, just after he had been appointed to the post. He had seen a print of the Capitol and the White House and he had wanted to know if he could take the original paintings over to Moscow with him. I tried to explain to the woman who called from the State Department, that I didn’t own the paintings. It was like she didn’t want to hear that, she just wanted to get the paintings. The actual paintings went out on tour, being shown at schools and libraries and places like that to promote patriotism and the country. She said, “Well, can you handle it for me?” So I said, “Sure.” I called the U.S. Capitol Historical Society and asked where the paintings were. They told me they were down in Charlotte, North Carolina. So I asked them if they would mind if they were loaned to Ambassador Strauss to take over to Moscow. “No, that would be great,” they replied. So I called the woman at the State Department back and told her that the paintings were down in North Carolina and that it was going to take a few weeks to get them back. “Oh no,” she said, “Mr. Strauss is leaving for Moscow on Thursday and he’s got to have them by then.” This was like Monday. I explained that actually I didn’t have any way of getting them to her. “Well,” she said, “If we have your permission, can we go get them?”
Of course I said, “You’ve got my permission.” They flew a jet down to Charlotte, picked up the paintings, flew them back to Washington, gave them to Strauss, and he actually carried them on the plane with him. I got a letter from the President thanking me for lending the paintings. So I just stopped saying that the paintings didn’t belong to me anymore. Every time they would have a news conference from Moscow, and there were a great many at that time, my mother would get a group of her friends together, have coffee and watch the news conference so that they could see the paintings. The first time these aired I got a call from my mother saying, “Jimmy, we just watched a news conference from Moscow.’ I said, “Great, did you see the paintings?” She said, “I did, but they stood in front of them the whole time.” “Well, Mom,” I said, “I think they’re called backdrops.” “I don’t see why they couldn’t stand between them.” She said. “I’m writing to the Ambassador.” “Well,” I said, “as a mother I think you have the right to do that.” So she wrote to him kind of tongue in cheek, “Couldn’t you stand between my son’s paintings?” Ambassador Strauss wrote her back a nice letter, “Mrs. Cromartie, I think you’ve missed the point.”
We’re going to take a real time warp here and fast forward almost 20 years from the time of most of the stories I’ve been telling you up to now. To finish the story of my second career as a painter of historical government buildings means jumping all the way ahead to the present, in 2007, when I finally had the opportunity to complete the circuit by painting the Supreme Court Building in Washington DC. The story just fits in here to be part of this book and story needs to be finished off.” Now don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten all the things that happened to me over the past 20 years since I established the technique of HardEdge Realism; and a lot did happen during that period. My life kind of went crazy for a time before I finally settled back into a full-time residence on Nantucket Island. It was a period when my lifestyle really convulsed and became somewhat bizarre, but I need to put those stories on hold, record that time period on tape and maybe come back to those years in another volume, at a later time. So, if you’ll accept the time warp and realize that
this next phase of my life occurred after many years had passed, then we can proceed and I can complete the cycle of government building commissions. I completed the White House painting almost 20 years ago now. I was approached to do a painting of the Supreme Court. I told them, you know, I really don’t need money right now. We’re just going to have to simply wait until another financial crisis hits my life and then I’ll do the Supreme Court. But part of my reluctance is the thought that, “Oh my God! I’m going to be dealing with lawyers.” After my experiences with the other three commissions I could just imagine what a contract would look like for the painting of the Supreme Court. But I did decide that I was going to do the Supreme Court when I turned 65. You know sometime way off in the future. Then suddenly the future arrived. I was approached by an old friend of mine by the name of Delia Skye, (Dee) who today has Delia Skye Enterprises, a PR and Marketing firm in St. Petersburg, Florida. Delia and I go back to college days when we
Map of Supreme Court Image by Casey G.
were both cheerleaders at East Carolina University. Can you picture me as a cheerleader? Well actually I was awesome and so was Dee! But back in real time, Dee wanted to work with me on something and I offered, “Well I haven’t done the Supreme Court yet and it’s something I’ve been putting off and it’s something that could use a lot of PR.” I thought about it and after watching my good friend and gallery partner Kerry Hallem, get older and not younger like me, I thought “Maybe I should start sooner rather than later?” Dee came to see me in June 2005. The following December I was having breakfast with Dr. Rick Mofsen; he’s a big history buff just as I am, and we both love architecture. So we were sitting there discussing history and architecture and I shared with him that I loved the Supreme Court Building and that I always wanted to paint it but had not yet been able to find the right person to commission it, one whose heart would really be in it. And he said “Oh, I’d love to commission it.” There it was; serendipity again, or maybe it was Sybil, the white witch, still wielding her powers somewhere above my head. What started out as a casual conversation ended up being the beginning of the painting. Rick commissioned me to do it in December. After all the details were worked out, it would take me five months to the day to complete the Supreme Court painting. We planned to go through the Historical Society to donate a portion of the proceeds of the prints to it.
So I went down to Washington and did all the things that painters of historical building artists do; preliminary sketches and other stuff. Studies; which means go down there and look at the building, photograph it, get a feel for it, and begin to assimilate it. You have to build a personal relationship with the building in order to bring out the finer points and to capture the general feeling associated with the structure and its history. I’ve already mentioned several times in this book about how realistic painting is not like taking a snapshot. There is an emotional feeling that develops between a true artist and his subject even if the subject is a building. I had only just begun to develop that feeling when we had to leave Washington to go down to see my family in North Carolina. I was going through all the same steps and learning processes that I had developed in doing the Capitol and the White House commissions but I still didn’t have the feeling that I had grasped the true essence of the building. I had photographed it and studied the architectural plans and other documentation about the structure, but I was still uneasy about the exact nature of the building and what it meant to our country. I’ve mentioned several times before in this book about clairvoyants, white witches and “knowings,” and I don’t want to imply that there is a mystical element involved in everything. But I do think there
Supreme Court Building, Washington DC Cromartie Commission
is a connection between cause and effect and what happened on the way back from North Carolina certainly had its effect on me. We stopped at a motel one night on the way back to Nantucket from North Carolina. I had taken some great shots of the Supreme Court and that night someone broke into my car at the hotel and stole the camera with all the film in it. Think about this. I was engaged in creating a painting depicting the magnificence of a building that houses the highest judiciary in the United States and a thief from the lowest level of criminal activity broke into my car and stole the pictures of the Supreme Court of the United States. Even today I debate with myself over the significance of this event. It could be nothing or there may have been a reason for it. At least the timing was a factor in what happened next. I had not yet reached Washington on my way back to Nantucket, so it was easy for me to go back to Washington and re-photograph the Supreme Court building. So the next day I bought another camera and went back and re-photographed the entire building. This time it was in a whole different light. I ended up taking a distance shot with lots of greenery and trees and I chose a close-up shot following the notes I read that the architect made stating that he’d made the entrance there like a stage with the big pillars that are about 90 feet tall. You get no sense of that size when you see the building on television or when you see photographs. No sense of how huge those pillars are.
After the theft of the camera and film I had gained an entirely new respect for the architecture of that building. When you come walking up to it you certainly get a very humble feeling, and the architect said in his notes that he wanted to make the attorneys stay humble and to realize that the Supreme Court was there before them and that it would be there when they were gone. I was talking to one of my collectors, a woman attorney who has presented more cases to the Supreme Court than any other woman. I think it’s something like 175. She says she’s still humbled when she walks up to the entrance. The presence of the Supreme Court building keeps you in that state. I did not realize that you had to be a special person to bring a case to the Supreme Court. Your lawyer doesn’t just get to go in and present the case. They present it to other lawyers who are prepared, I don’t know exactly what the word is, to present your case to the Supreme Court because they know the procedures and the protocol and things like that. Learning about all the different rituals says to me, this is the last safeguard, the balance of power. Many times it has been the only thing that sits between us and a dictatorship, Actually I found that working with the attorneys was much easier than I thought it would be. I did have some concerns about how complicated it could become, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Once the painting was completed, the prints needed to be made. What they can do with computers now
that they couldn’t do twenty years ago is phenomenal. I ended up flying out to St. Louis and spent four days with the printer in front of a computer tweaking the image. Things that I would think about trying that would take a week you can now do in 5 minutes. So that was a whole new learning curve for me. I’m quite happy with the image we’ve come up with. Our plan was to have a brochure printed up for the Supreme Court Historical Society that will go out to all the attorneys in the country. That was our next big step. Delia Skye Enterprises handled the PR and marketing and they set up showings around the country with different Law Firms in Houston and Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington. The game plan is that giclees of the painting will be sold at the gift shop at the Supreme Court. This is a little different from the other national buildings because there is a definable target market for the prints, which is all attorneys. For the White House there was a very small group of people associated with the building. When I did the Capitol there was
a built-in clientele, all the different aides and congressional offices. There were thousands of people involved in the Capitol but over at the White House there were only 2 or 3 hundred people. It was a whole different experience of dealing with the Capitol as opposed to the White House. So far the Supreme Court has been the easiest one to deal with; just bigger. At least they know how to dot their i’s and cross their t’s. Attorneys seem to love the image, particularly the ones who have presented cases at the Supreme Court. I’ve been surprised by the impact on my life of doing the Supreme Court. I guess it just a combination of a whole lot of different things and the Supreme Court seems to be like the crown jewel. It was a self-established goal that I had finally reached. It’s like my career has almost reached critical mass with things starting to move all on their own without that pushing of the rock up the hill everyday. It seems like the rock is going down the other side picking up momentum. I’ve been pleasantly surprised, I guess you could say, at the impact this has had.
Epilogue With the Supreme Court commission and the publishing of this book I’ve reached a point in my life where I can look back and take stock. I learned how to be a salesman as well as an artist. I developed an improved form of art realism that challenges not only abstract art but also photography as a channel of artistic expression. This book tells about the struggle and success toward my goals of artistic expression. There is more of the story yet to tell, some of which is not as light-hearted as this volume. During the post-Rocky period of my life I entered a different world that didn’t always include reality. If there is time and enough interest we will add to the story told in this book and tell you how, like Alice, I went “Through the Looking Glass” into a world I didn’t know existed. The Lantern Watercolor
Porch with a View (detail) Acrylic
Day Tripper Watercolor
Nantucket Portrait: "Fun and Games with the Super Rich" The Birth of Hard-edge realism" Coming July 15th, 2008