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"Legacy of the West: Abby Williams Hill and Debra Joy Groesser, Two Women Artists Painting A Century Apart"


"Magic Hour-Grand Canyon" 10x20 oil

“The Legacy of the West: Abby Williams Hill  and Debra Joy Groesser, Two Women Artists Painting A Century Apart”

With a Companion Solo Exhibition of Western Landscape Paintings by Debra Joy Groesser entitled "The Legacy of the West: In the Footsteps of Abby Williams Hill" 

 

Over the last four years, I've had the honor to follow in the footsteps of a woman plein air painter who lived and worked a century ago, painting across the western United States. This remarkable woman, a married mother of four, was commissioned by the railroads four times to travel and paint the west.

 

A solo exhibition of my western landscape paintings, most of which were created over the last four years, will be held at The Hardware Store Gallery, 17601 Vashon Hwy SW, Vashon Island, Washington. The exhibition entitled “The Legacy of the West: In the Footsteps of Abby Williams Hill” will be on display from November 1 to December 3, 2013. 

 

Opening concurrently is a companion exhibition, “The Legacy of the West: Abby Williams Hill and Debra Joy Groesser, Two Women Painting a Century Apart” which includes the previously unseen, family owned, western paintings of Abby Williams Hill, who lived on Vashon from 1895 to 1906, linked with my work, as a western woman artist whose paintings have a unique connection to Abby’s. This exhibition will run through Spring 2014 at the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum, 10105 Bank Road SW, also in Vashon. In addition to the paired paintings, both my 10 year old pochade box and Abby's 100 year old metal paint box are on display together as shown in the photo below.

 

A concurrent opening reception will be held at both galleries from 6 to 8pm on Friday November 1, 2013.

 

Abby Williams Hill (1861-1943) was a pioneer western landscape artist.  She left a remarkable legacy of individual achievement as a western woman artist and her work gives us a unique insight into the life of a woman and an artist at the turn of the last century.  Hill was a progressive liberal, worked for women’s suffrage, worked for a variety of social causes of her time, eschewed fashions involving the ever-present corset, and was an outspoken proponent of women’s rights. 

 

Below: "Cliffs, Emerald Bay, Laguna Beach" 18x24 oil by Abby Williams Hill (1915)

Image Courtesy University of Puget Sound

 

I became aware of Abby Williams Hill’s work when I visited the 2009 Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum’s exhibit “Long in the Memory” which featured Abby’s Vashon works.  The same exhibit brought Abby’s grandnephew David Norberg to Vashon and the idea for this exhibit “The Legacy of the West” was born.  David had access to a number of Abby’s paintings owned by the family that had never been exhibited, and after browsing through a book about Abby at the museum, I found a number of uncanny connections with Abby.  In conversations with Dr. Bruce Haulman of the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum, David and I agreed to curate this unique exhibit that links Abby’s unexhibited paintings with my works that echo the legacy of Abby’s work. I also agreed over the following four year period to travel and paint in many of the same areas where Abby had painted across the west, particularly in several of the national parks, and in Laguna Beach, California, where Abby also lived for several years. 

 

Below: "Shadows of Zion" 14x18 oil (2013)

 

I found the connections between Abby Williams Hill and me, as two western women artists who worked a century apart, both amazing and uncanny.  We are both commercially successful women artists in a field dominated by male artists.  We both married prominent community professionals (Abby’s husband was a physician, my husband is a five term mayor) with social and volunteer commitments in their communities. We both had family situations arise that at times caused our art careers to be put on hold.  Both Abby and I grew up on the Great Plains less than 250 miles apart.  I moved to Nebraska at age 10 and have lived there ever since, Abby was born and raised in Grinnell, Iowa. We both have connections to England, to Quebec, to Laguna Beach California, and to Vashon Island, Washington.  We both have a love of and reverence for nature, adventurous spirits and are drawn to the wilderness.  Many of Abby's works capture this fascination with the west and the spirit of nature she found there, as do mine.  We both were very active in supporting early childhood education, as well as other social issues.  Although both of us are knows as predominantly landscape painters, Abby painted a number of portraits, as I also do. We both have worked in a variety of mediums beyond the oils for which we are both best known.  

 

An additional special event corresponding with this exhibit is a conversation between Abby Williams Hill (enacted by living history performer Karen Haas) and myself on Monday, November 4 at 7:00 PM at the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust Building, 10014 Bank Road SW, Vashon Island.  This conversation will explore the connections between Abby and me, our lives, our experiences as women artists working 100 years apart, and our work as western plein air artists.  

 

I will be posting regularly over the next few days and weeks and talking more about this amazing journey that I've been blessed to be a part of, the paintings and more about Abby. Abby was a very "gutsy" woman and it's an honor to help bring attention to her life and her

work.

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Powered by Nature


I recently returned from a one month road trip to California and back with several stops in between. The four main reasons for the April trip were to paint in Laguna Beach for an upcoming show, attend the 2nd Annual Plein Air Convention in Monterey, California, to paint for and attend the opening of "Powered by Nature: Seven Women", an exhibition featuring myself and six of the best women artists working today, and to paint in Zion National Park for an upcoming exhibition in November. 

 

I took three days to drive out to Laguna Beach, the first of my painting destinations. The weather was perfect for plein air painting. I finished three major pieces there. Two of them are shown below. On the left is "Sail Away" (9x12) and on the right is "On the Rocks" (10x20).

 

     

 

The Plein Air Convention was fantastic...about 700 artists in attendance. It was a great opportunity to learn, meet new and old friends, network, check out and stock up on art supplies and paint together. Below is a shot of just a few of the artists who descended on beautiful Asilomar Beach on the last day of the convention and on the right is the painting I did..."The Rolling Sea" (6x8). 

 

       

 

Following the convention, artists Cindy Baron, Becky Joy, Kim Casebeer, Shanna Kunz Hernandez, Christine Debrosky and I stayed together in Carmel-by-the-Sea for a few days, to paint together and create some new plein air pieces for our exhibition, "Powered by Nature: Seven Women" which opened on April 19th at Mountainsong Galleries in Carmel. The show runs through May 19th. Here's a link to a great article that Fine Art Connoisseur wrote about the show:  http://www.fineartconnoisseur.com/Mountainsong-Galleries-Present-Works--Powered-by-N/16240534  The show also features Lori McNee, who was unable to join us there. 

 

Kim Casebeer and I spent a whole day painting together at Garrapata State Park, south of Carmel. The waves were spectacular and the water the most beautiful indigo blue with an icy turquoise color on the underside of the waves. We were treated to an incredible sunset...the reward for a "hard day's work at the office" (wink, wink!). 

 

     

 

My painting, "The Power and the Glory" (6x8 oil) still on the easel, and the view from my "office" close to the edge of the cliff at Garrapata. This piece is available through Mountainsong Galleries in Carmel. Photo on the right by Gary Huber. 

 

   

 

Here is that spectacular sunset...we took lots of photos! Thanks so much to Gary Huber for this photo of Kim and me. Look at the beautiful light on the ocean...incredible!

 

       

 

(L to R) Cindy Baron, Becky Joy, Christine Debrosky and Shanna Kunz Hernandez on the cliff at Point Lobos taking reference photos and deciding where to paint. You can see the poppies that were blooming along the path on the left...and the poison oak was plentiful too. On the right is the painting I did at China Cove in Point Lobos State Park..."China Cove" 12x12 oil. Also available through Mountainsong Galleries.

 

      

 

Another day at Garrapata State Park...my subject on the left and the finished plein air painting on the right. "At the Cliff's Edge" 9x12 oil available at Mountainsong Galleries.

 

   

 

And here we are on opening night of "Powered by Nature: Seven Women." (L to R: Becky Joy, me, Kim Casebeer, Cindy Baron, Christine Debrosky and Shanna Kunz Hernandez). On the right, some potential collectors looking at my work. This was such a memorable trip for us all...we are definitely going to meet up again in the future to paint and spend time together...and have another exhibition! Thanks very much to Mountainsong Galleries for hosting "Powered by Nature: Seven Women!"

 

   

 

Here are a couple more plein air paintings I did in California...the left is "Last Light, Pacific Grove" (6x8)...a quick 30 minute study in a brutal wind at sunset) and the right is "The Source" (11x14).

 

From California, my husband and I traveled on to Zion National Park in Utah for a couple of days so I could paint for an upcoming exhibition this fall. The spring colors there were amazing...neon yellow-green against the red of the rocks...gorgeous! Here is one of the pieces I did there...not quite finished on the left side but close enough that I can finish it up in the studio. On the right is the view of my subject...you can see how massive the cliffs are compared to my easel!

 

    

 

On the way back home, my husband and I took Scenic Highway 12 through Utah...that is an area we will definitely be returning to...such a variety of landscape and so many places to explore! Can't wait to get back on the road again for the next painting adventure. Plein air painters are so privileged to be able to spend time outdoors in nature, capturing on canvas the beautify and magnificence of the landscape...and sharing it with the world. There is no end to the inspiration that awaits out there... 

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The Promise


The Promise

This piece was painted on the shore of Lake Michigan on July 26, 2012, during the Door County Plein Air Festival. It has a very personal story behind it. My father was in hospice care when I reluctantly left for Door County on the Saturday before. I had been helping to care for him for several months since his lung cancer recurred. My father insisted I go. He gave me orders to "paint the best paintings I've ever done" and if something happened while I was gone, not to feel guilty. I arrived in Door County on Sunday night. I received a call from my sister early the next morning. During the night, he took a turn for the worse. Despite his wishes that I stay there and paint,  I turned around and drove back home. He was not very coherent when I walked into his room. When he saw me, he said with perfect clarity "What are you doing here? You're supposed to be in Wisconsin painting." I promised him I would go back. That was Monday night. On the afternoon of Wednesday, July 25th, my father entered into his eternal rest. As his memorial service wasn't going to be held until ten days later, the next morning I kept my promise to him and drove back to paint in Door County. This is the first painting I did after arriving. I cannot even describe the emotions I experienced while painting this piece...but all the while I felt my father guiding me, kept hearing his words. As I finished, I called for my husband to come and see what he thought. At that exact moment, the most beautiful double rainbow I've ever seen appeared over Lake Michigan...it looked like the same rainbow our pastor saw the afternoon before, shortly after my father passed away. I was certain it was a sign from my father...I kept my promise and he was pleased. It was such an emotional experience. I believe when we pass on from this earth, that this is not the end. In my faith, we believe that is God's promise and I think I witnessed that first hand on this day. Needless to say, this painting, "The Promise", is and will remain in my family's private collection.

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Faith, Strength and Perseverance


"Faith, Strength and Perseverance" 24x24 oil on linen panel

Faith, Strength and Perseverance...these were the words I heard in my head over and over as I was painting this piece. Just a few days before starting this painting, I was with my Dad at the doctor's office when he was told his cancer, which had been in remission for four months, had returned and had spread. After his first round of chemotherapy several months prior, no one in our family expected him to choose to go through chemo treatments again. It had been very hard on him and he didn't want to do it again. However, on our way to the appointment with his oncologist a few days later, where we were to learn what his treatment options would be this time around, Dad told me "If I have options and I don't try, I'm basically volunteering to die...and I'm not ready to do that." Today will be his third treatment out of a series of five. Dad is so strong. He has faith. He is persevering. He's not giving up. He is an inspiration. This painting is dedicated to him.

 

Faith, Strength and Perseverance...as I painted this piece, I thought about how these cliffs have stood through centuries of crashing waves, winds and storms, how they've been shaped by the adverse conditions and the challenges they've endured. They were not destroyed. On this day, they were shining, beautiful and majestic in the sun. So it is with life...we all face challenges and adversity. We are shaped by those challenges. We can let the tough stuff steal our dreams and our joy, destroying us, or we can have faith, choose to be strong and live a life filled with joy. We can give up or choose to persevere, live our lives to the fullest, realize our dreams and reach our full potential. 

 

Faith, Strength and Perseverance...as an artist, these are often difficult things for us to remember in pursuing our art career. It's very hard to put your work out there and subject yourself to judgment and possible rejection. Our work is so personal..it's a part of who we are. We want to be accepted, and we want our work to be accepted. When you experience rejection, whether from a gallery, a show or even from family and friends, or if your work doesn't sell, it's terribly difficult. It's personal. It creates self-doubt...if we let it. It can defeat us...if we let it. The more you paint, sculpt, draw (or whatever your medium is), the better your work will be. Scott Christensen once told me, "Paint the very best paintings you can, and the rest will fall into place."  I've had several roadblocks along my artistic path. I've known since I was old enough to hold a pencil in my hand that this is what I was meant to do with my life. I have worked very, very hard over the last 15 years to learn and improve and do the best work I can. It's working...over the last six years I've been fortunate to be invited to participate in some wonderful plein air events and have been juried into some prestigious exhibitions.

 

Faith, Strength and Perseverance...there is one exhibition which has eluded me for the past thirteen years. This year was the thirteenth time I've submitted work to the Oil Painters of America National Juried Exhibition. The first twelve entries resulted in rejections. I thought about not even trying this year...but decided I just couldn't quit now.  Ironically, or maybe it is poignancy, on my 13th try, this painting, "Faith, Strength and Perseverance" (24x24 oil) was been accepted into the prestigious 2012 Oil Painters of America National Juried Exhibition of Traditional Oils, which opens on June 22, 2012 at Evergreen Fine Art Gallery in Evergreen, Colorado. What a thrill! And what I would have missed had I not kept trying. Have faith. If you love what you do, have faith and be strong. Do the very best work you can do. Keep working hard...you can do it! Persevere...and don't ever, ever give up.

 

 

 

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Holland Portrait Commission

 

It was a profound honor to be chosen recently to create a portrait of Richard and Mary Holland, two of Omaha's (Nebraska) most beloved philanthropists. The Hollands donated the funds to make the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha a reality in 2005. Mary passed away a year after the center opened. Richard turned 90 this year, and as a gift to him, Omaha Performing Arts commissioned me to paint a 4 ft x 6 ft portrait of the Hollands, which now hangs permanently in the Holland Center. Entitled "Opening Night 2005", the portrait was painted from a photo taken of the Hollands as they watched a performance on the opening night of the Holland Center back in 2005. I loved that it was such an intimate moment between them. To me, it spoke not only to the love they had for each other, but their love for the arts and their community as well. The figure behind them seems to be applauding them as well as the performance. I was thrilled to be invited to Richard Holland's 90th birthday celebration where the painting was unveiled in it's new home at the Holland Center. Above is a photo of me with Mr. Holland and the painting shortly after the unveiling. Beneath the painting is an inscription that reads: "All who come here   Listen Reflect Dream Laugh Cry Cheer  This hall belongs to you. Dick and Mary Holland" (photo below). Also below is a photo of the plaque next to the painting, with my name as artist (yay!).  If you'd like to read the article from the Omaha World Herald about the event and see another photo, here's the link:   
http://www.omaha.com/article/20110709/NEWS02/707099961/-1#around-amp-about .  

 

  

 

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American Impressionist Society National Juried Exhibition and Reception


AIS 2010: My painting "Solitude" is on the top right.


I attended the American Impressionist Society's National Juried Exhibition opening reception at Richland Fine Art in Nashville, Tennessee, in October. The show has just ended but you can still see it, along with all the award winners, online at www.americanimpressionistsociety.org. My painting, "Solitude" was included in the show. Many thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make the show and the reception such a wonderful experience. It was so much fun to see so many artist friends again and to meet so many who I've previously only known from their work and online (here are some of us in the picture below). Well deserved congratulations to all the award winners! I will be uploading images from this show and several others on my public Facebook fan page, Debra Groesser Fine Art. You don't need to have a Facebook account to view the photos. I hope you will check them out!

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Splash!


"Splash!" 11x14 oil on linen panel

This is my "quick draw" painting from the Laguna Plein Air Invitational in Laguna Beach, CA, in October 2010. We had two hours to finish our paintings, then frame them and get them to the Laguna Art Museum to be auctioned off. This "Quick Draw" competition was especially challenging because of the light drizzly mist falling during most of the two hour time period. I was happy to find these wonderful warm colored rocks which contrasted so beautifully against the cool steely gray/blue/green water. The waves crashing up every few minutes added so much to the scene.


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As the Fog Drifts In...


"As the Fog Drifts In..." 14x18 Oil on Linen Panel

This painting was created during the Laguna Plein Air Invitational in Laguna Beach, California in October 2010. It was a challenging week weather-wise. I spent quite a long time searching for sunshine, but this moody scene, with the fog drifting in captured my attention and drew me in. Here is the photo of the actual scene...

 

I chose to do quite a bit of editing. I felt that leaving out all the fencing and several of the poles, etc. made for a better composition and improved the feel of piece. There were several comments from local residents that by editing as I did, it gave the painting the feeling of what the canyon looked like several years ago, before so much development occurred there...I liked that! 


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Canyon Light


"Canyon Light" 12x16 Oil on Linen Panel

This piece was painted during the Laguna Plein Air Invitational in October 2010 and was sold during the event. This scene is along Laguna Canyon Road on the way into Laguna Beach, California. I first saw it on my way into Laguna Beach from the airport. The light and atmosphere were so beautiful in the canyon...and the colors were amazing. The hillside and the tops of the trees just glowed! I prayed that the light conditions would be similar at least one day during the event so that I could paint this and thankfully my prayers were answered! Here it the photo of the actual scene...


When you compare this photo to the painting, you can see the differences in color and lighting. This is why I love painting "en plein air" (outdoors, on location). You lose so much of the color in a photograph that is actually there in nature. The shadows are much darker in a photo. In life, they are lighter and full of color.  

 

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A Picture Perfect Day


"A Picture Perfect Day" 12x16 Oil on Linen Panel

This piece was painted (and sold) during the Laguna Plein Air Invitational in Laguna Beach, California, in October 2010. The scene is Heisler Park...on what was one of only two sunny afternoons during the whole week of the event. I loved the rhythm and design created by the palm trees on top of the cliffs, and the beautiful cool turquoise of the water against the warm colors of the cliffs. As the day went on, the water became darker, but I chose to leave it as it was when I started the piece. One of the challenges of working "en plein air" is resisting the temptation to "chase the light" and change the painting as the conditions change. 

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