Sheldon Museum features artwork by college’s Healy and his successful students
MIDDLEBURY — Jessica Jones Hoagland remembers the day more than 60 years ago when the late Arthur Healy — her neighbor, father to her best friend, and the first Artist in Residence at Middlebury College — walked into her family’s South Street home with a painting under his arm.
It was his watercolor titled “Conference,” a splendid depiction of a weather-beaten boat propped on a sandy shore.
“He asked me to help him hang the painting on the wall,” Hoagland recalled. “He looked at it and said, ‘Oh, that looks very nice,’ and walked out the door.”
Thus, a cherished gift was hastily bestowed in Healy’s distinctively quirky fashion.
Healy was like that, according to those whose lives he touched before passing away in 1978. He’s recalled as a talented and prolific painter, a gregarious individual, and an insightful teacher who inspired a great many of his former students — including Sabra Field and Thomas Johnson — to follow in his artistic footsteps.
Those former Middlebury College students and the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History are now teaming up for a new exhibit that celebrates Healy’s life, his artwork, and the creations of nine of the artists whom he mentored.
The exhibit, appropriately called Arthur Healy & His Students, is on display at the Sheldon through Nov. 9. It includes several of Healy’s stunning watercolors, some abstract, some impressionistic. Many of his works feature scenes from his travels to Ireland, Florida and Haiti.
Healy was an avid hunter and adventurer, and some of his best work captures animals in motion — racehorses at Saratoga, fly fishing on area creeks and rivers, grouse hunting in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, sailing on Lake Champlain, and hunting, trekking and fishing on Ireland’s west coast in Connemara.
But his art wasn’t all about motion. The exhibit includes watercolors that capture rolling landscapes, rustic homesteads, venerable churches and village scenes that can conjure a variety of moods and emotions in the viewer.
Born in 1902 in New York City, Healy’s art education began young. His father, Thomas Healy, owned Healy’s Restaurant at 66th Street and Columbus Avenue in New York City. It was at Healy’s on March 8, 1913, that the artists Arthur B. Davies and Walt Kuhn — organizers of the famous “Armory Show” that introduced modern art to New Yorkers — hosted a “beefsteak dinner” for member-artists and the press, acknowledging their efforts in support of the exhibit.
After attending the New York Military Academy from 1918 to 1920, Healy was accepted as a freshman at Middlebury College, where he stayed for one year before transferring to Princeton.
Not much is known of Healy’s short stint as a student at Middlebury in 1921, except that he, along with other skating enthusiasts, introduced ice hockey to the college.
He transferred to Princeton to enroll in that institution’s architecture program, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1924 and a master’s in 1926. Healy set to work as an architect in New York City and then gravitated back to Vermont during the 1930s. He participated in planning or reconstruction of the Rutland Federal Building in 1933, as well as the rebuilding of the Middlebury High School gym in 1940.
All the while, Healy enjoyed painting watercolors, earning prizes while showing his work in New York and Boston.
Love of art would eventually trump architecture, and Healy accepted the position of Artist in Residence at Middlebury College in October of 1943. A year later, he was promoted to the teaching faculty and head of the Middlebury Department of Fine Arts.
When he wasn’t teaching, Healy could often be seen traipsing into the countryside with paintbrushes, easel and other watercolor supplies. He often recruited students to accompany him.
“He had the Irish determination that life had to be lived and that there was no need to live in a hierarchy of being,” one of his students, the late Jane Pokorney Sommers, wrote in the preface of a book she hoped to co-author about her mentor. Some of her artwork is also included in the Sheldon exhibit.
“He didn’t force people onto his paintings — they took care of themselves,” Sommers added. “At the same time he seemed to have an inner need to invoke the excess of determination in his physical life which led to the eventual deterioration of his health. And yet, even under the most difficult physical needs, he never gave up his belief in the positive necessity of art that gave vigor and direction to what might happen. It was a dedication that, in many respects, he transferred to his students, his friends and, particularly, his artistic output.”
Some students entered Healy’s class thinking it would be an easy A. Others got a great deal more out of it than a grade.
“Each morning, I wake under his watercolor of Otter Creek in March,” Sabra Field writes in a note accompanying her contributions to the Healy exhibit. “I only hope his joie de vivre and his passion for picture making somehow come through my own work and will transfer to that of others.
“I love to use his answer when asked ‘How long did it take you to do that?’” she added. “Arthur K.D. Healy would be asked that question by onlookers when painting out of doors and characteristically achieving perfection in a short period of time. ‘Fifty-seven years,’ he would say, if that were his age. Whatever age he was that would be his answer: impish, accurate, Arthur.”
Middlebury College has loaned 10 of the 30 Healy paintings that make up the exhibit. Others are on loan from county residents such as Hoagland, Peter and Joanne Langrock, and Linda and Frank Punderson. Sophia Healy, Arthur’s daughter and an artist in her own right, has also provided much of her dad’s material for the show.
And there was really never a question about whether the Sheldon Museum would host an exhibit of Healy’s work; it was just a matter of when, noted Bill Brooks, director of the Sheldon. Healy served for more than two decades on the Sheldon museum’s board of trustees — a dozen of those years as its president.
“It was under his leadership that the Sheldon was revitalized,” noted Brooks, who cited construction of the museum’s research center as a prime example of a big accomplishment during Healy’s watch.
Middlebury College officials are excited about the exhibit and note that Healy’s legacy lives on at the institution.
“Healy was an inspiration to generations of Middlebury students interested in the visual arts,” said Richard Saunders, director of the Middlebury College Museum of Art. “As someone who taught the practice of painting, as well as courses in the appreciation of art, he had the ability to address both process and result. He is a much beloved figure.”
Emmie Donadio, the college museum’s associate director and chief curator, said Healy’s former students have never forgotten him.
“Often, alumni who return to campus for reunions and other occasions visit the Museum of Art and ask to see Arthur Healy’s work,” said Donadio. “We also receive inquiries about his work regularly from alumni, many of whom collect his paintings. He was a real legend.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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