Editor's note: The following article was reprinted in Resource Library on May 29, 2013 with permission of the author. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the author directly at the Bryan Memorial Gallery, Jeffersonville, VT at either this phone number or Web address:
Travels with Alden
By Mickey Myers
(above: Alden and Mary Bryan aboard Millicet. Photo courtesy of Bryan Memorial Gallery)
As the young couple docked their schooner, Adventure, at Gloucester Harbor, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1938, who would have imagined they were launching an adventure in the arts that would last a lifetime? Alden Bryan was an energetic Harvard graduate, recently married to Mary Taylor Lewis, a dedicated artist. They were making their way up the East Coast from Philadelphia, sailing with less of an agenda than the pleasure of a summer sail north bound.
If Alden Bryan had any ambition in the arts, it had been kept at bay while at Harvard. Fueled by a fascination with building things as a little boy, and the allure of his new wife's single-mindedness, he discovered in Cape Ann a world that was new to him, a beehive of artistic activity. As described at the time by a friend of the Bryans, "The tempo on Cape Ann is gracious and leisurely, but everyone is busy at work or at play." Alden became involved immediately in an artistic momentum that was to last the rest of his life.
Born in 1913 and raised in Carthage, Missouri, Alden Bryan became familiar with New England as a child from camping trips to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. At Harvard, he studied economics and was on the tennis team, and upon graduation, he worked as a tennis pro at the Eastern Yacht Club in Marblehead, Massachusetts. There he met Mary, whom he married in 1936.
Almost immediately upon arriving in Gloucester, Alden and Mary became frequent participants in the painting workshops offered by the plein air painting masters in the area, including Emile Gruppe, Aldro Hibbard and Charles Curtis Allen. It was Allen who suggested Bryan join him on a two week painting trip in Jeffersonville, Vermont, in 1939, and from that workshop onward, Vermont was the Bryans' home.
Alden and Mary settled with their young son on a dairy farm in Jeffersonville, where he introduced pasteurized milk to local communities in the county, ultimately maintaining the dairy into the 1970's. At the same time, he commenced to paint the local farms in plein air, in all seasons particularly winter, recording what he saw of the landscape in this predominately rural community. His paintings of the surrounding farms over a fifty year span between the 1940s and the 1990s serve as a visual history of the area. Painters had been coming to this particular corner of Vermont -- Lamoille County -- for decades, for the sake of its sweeping vistas and convivial accommodations at the Smugglers Notch Inn. Learning the idiosyncrasies of painting in below zero temperatures, he noted, "Standing out there in the cold, you've got to make the first strike count."
Alden Bryan's aesthetic and agricultural efforts went hand in hand with his historic preservation of local buildings and enterprises, such as the Windridge Farms Inn, Windridge Farms Dairy Kitchen and two restaurants on Main Street in Jeffersonville. He built a tennis facility with clay courts indoors, and 22 additional clay courts outside, and a summer tennis camp for youth. He also designed the base lodge for Smugglers Notch Ski Resort.
Bryan worked all the time, often noting that "My education never began until I got to Jeffersonville." Even as his success was drawing people from afar and providing incomes for the local people, shortly after World War II, Alden and Mary returned to spend summers in Gloucester, Massachusetts, opening a gallery on Rocky Neck.
Rocky Neck in Gloucester was described at the time as "a narrow little street, lined with colorful shops, studios and galleries." At the end of the street was a boatyard for repairs, and a seafood restaurant was built out over the bay. It was here on Rocky Neck that the Bryans established Bryan Gallery to show their own work, in what once as an old copper paint factory.
Completing over 200 (existing) paintings of the Cape Ann area, Bryan became known for painting his environment, wherever he was. Family trips to California and the Southwest in the 40's resulted in classic paintings by Bryan of rural California, Arizona and New Mexico, while trips up the New England coast resulted in collections of small paintings, vital evidence of the coastal simplicity of Maine and Nova Scotia.
By the late 1940's Bryan was invited by Aldro Hibbard, who had been his instructor, to teach as an "outdoor instructor of landscape painting" at The Hibbard School of Painting on Bearskin Neck in Rockport, Massachusetts. Hibbard would give two criticism classes per week, and Bryan would give two outdoor classes per week in oil painting.
Private though the Bryans were in their personal dealings, they knew the value of standing with their fellow artists. Alden was a member of the North Shore Arts Association, the Rockport Art Association, the Silvermine Guild, the Academic Artists Association, the Salmagundi Club, the Allied Artists of America, the Guild of Boston Artists, and the Copley Society. For his most prized membership, the American Watercolor Society, he painted enough watercolors to achieve membership, and determined that oil painting was his medium of choice.
In 1956, a six week trip to Cornwall, England resulted in paintings of haunting dimensions, including stone edifices painted in falling light, and lone sailors in small boats, revealing that for Bryan, his life in painting provided the reflective side of his extraordinary activities.
Bryan traveled at the same vigorous pace that characterized all his undertakings, often going abroad when his other interests encroached on his painting at home: to Alaska and British Columbia in 1957 where he captured the frigidity of the terrain in small paintings with long views; to Brittany in 1965 where the legendary spring warmth of France is woven into the immediacy of street and canal scenes; to New Zealand and Australia in 1968 where his canvases swell with the compassion of a visiting farmer; to Cote d'Azure in 1972 where the long vistas are relaxed and serene. His annual painting trips in March to Quebec City fueled his conviction that Quebec City had not been adequately painted by other artists from the United States, especially when the spring break up of ice took place.
In 1978, the death of his wife, partner, and fellow painter, Mary Bryan, left Alden without his confidant. Though their expertise as painters -- his in oil outdoors and hers in watercolor indoors -- kept them apart in daylight hours, they came together at the end of the day to discuss their work freely and openly. Mary's preference for working indoors gave Alden the opportunity to build studios for her over the years, and their mutual support, private as they were, was evident to their circle of friends and fellow painters.
If anything, after Mary's death, Alden picked up his pace. Travel continued to Haiti in 1978, where the colorful chaos of the local marketplace delighted him as he wrote on the back of a canvas, "A great day of painting! Chickens and pigs running out from under the easel"; Casablanca, Senegal and Gambia in 1979; Sri Lanka in 1980.
Back in Jeffersonville, he had been amazed and delighted that a locally curated memorial exhibition of Thomas Curtin's paintings had produced such a tremendous response from the community and beyond. The success of that exhibit planted the seed for building a permanent exhibition space in this northern Vermont town.
Bryan proposed that a gallery be built in Mary's memory, a building for the community. He organized, designed, and financed a center for the arts that would make Jeffersonville, Vermont, much more than a well-preserved New England town. Opening in 1984, this non-profit gallery became Alden Bryan's project for the rest of his life, hosting exhibits and concerts, receptions and dinner parties, visiting artists and workshops. As a show place for plein air painters and Vermont landscape artists, Bryan Memorial Gallery became a cultural destination in Alden's lifetime, and continues as such today.
In his lifetime, Alden Bryan chose not to sell most of his paintings, giving instructions to his gallery director, Jane George Shaw, to wait at least ten years before mounting an exhibition. A few years after the ten year mark, Bryan Memorial Gallery has chosen to observe Alden Bryan's 100th birthday with a memorial exhibition, Travels with Alden, featuring 100 works from his travels, most of which have not been exhibited previously. The passage of time serves to crystallize not only the accomplishments of the artist and the man, but also his vitality and vision, with the wisdom of retrospection.
The one hundred works selected for this exhibition represent the breadth of Brayn's travel, and the depth of his response to the wide and adventuresome variety of destinations he chose for himself. Together, his works are intended to give design to his belief in the role of the artist: "In the same way that poetry dramatizes our thoughts and feeling and in which the theater and novel dramatize our lives, I believe it should be the purpose of the painter to dramatize the visual world around us. In none of these fields is mere representation of the facts the purpose of the artist, even though to some it would seem so. Actually it is only the essence of what he observes to which the artist gives design."
Alden Bryan loved the land and the sea, docks and harbors, building and preserving. Now under the skylight of his wife's memorial building, Travels with Alden, through the work of this own hand, gives shape and form to the adventure that was Alden Bryan's life.
(above: Alden painting, 1940's on Rocky Neck Marine Railways, Rocky Neck, Gloucester, Massachusetts. Photo courtesy of Bryan Memorial Gallery)
About the author
Mickey Myers has been Executive Director of Bryan Memorial Gallery in Jeffersonville, Vermont since 2006. An exhibiting artist in pastel and printmaking, Myers is originally from Los Angeles, where she studied with Corita Kent. Under Myers' direction, Bryan Memorial Gallery presents a biennial Vermont art historical series called Masters of Vermont (2007: The Women; 2009: The Men: 2011: The Watercolorists.) She is assisted in this endeavor by the gallery's Assistant Director Jim Gallugi. For Travels with Alden, Alden T. Bryan, son of Mary and Alden Bryan, and Fiona Cooper Fenwick, the gallery's Exhibitions Chair, collaborated on curating the exhibit. Myers lives in Johnson, Vermont, in an historic home originally built for the Vermont artist Georgia Balch (1888 -1981).
(above: Mickey Myers, Executive Director, Bryan Memorial Gallery. Photo courtesy of Bryan Memorial Gallery)
About the exhibition
Travels with Alden celebrates the 100th birthday of Alden Bryan, (1913 - 2001) founder of Bryan Memorial Gallery, with an exhibition of paintings from his travels to 26 countries -- over a span of 60 years (early 1940's until his death in 2001) -- at the Bryan Memorial Gallery, Jeffersonville, Vermont from May 3 through September 2, 2013.
Alden Bryan's love of the landscape was vivid and instantaneous. Working en plein air (in natural light) he traveled with canvas boards, paints and brushes, all over the world, and his approach to discovering a new land was to paint it with immediacy and enthusiasm.
His travels took him throughout Europe, North America, the Far East, and Down Under, and even at home in Vermont, he never stopped traveling and painting. Scenes he painted of the local Main Streets and town squares are now historic records of an era that remains alive on canvas.
In addition to Alden Bryan's paintings, his importance to Jeffersonville, Vermont includes his preservation of local Main Street buildings including the 158 Main Bakery and Restaurant and the former Windridge Inn.
For this exhibition, Bryan Memorial Gallery is presenting 100 paintings by Alden Bryan, most of which have never been exhibited previously, and many of which are being released for the first time.
The exhibit was curated by the gallery's executive director Mickey Myers, with assistance from Alden T. Bryan, Fiona Cooper Fenwick and Jim Gallugi.
Graphic design courtesy of Bryan Memorial Gallery)
Images of artworks
To view images of paintings in the exhibition please see:
Resource Library editor's note:
The above essay was reprinted in Resource Library on May 29, 2013 with permission of the author, which was granted to TFAO on May 28, 2013. A different version of the article was published in the May-June 2013 issue of American Art Review.
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For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
Upon viewing Alden Bryan's, VT Covered Bridge is Mansfield and Safford Bridge in Set one, see Aldro T. Hibbard's, Covered Bridge in Vermont plus photos of Vermont covered bridges at Picturing Old New England: Image and Memory at NMAA (4/11/99)
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