Victoria Hutson Huntley
On Christmas Even, 1937, Victoria Ebbels Hutson Huntley heard that her entry in one of the Treasury Department's national competitions had won her a commission to paint a mural for the Springville, New York, Post Office. For nineteen years she had wanted to paint a mural and this chance came at a time when as never before she felt technically adequate to the task. To have won a commission in an open competition in which many of her peers were entered dispelled any hesitancy that remained. Now she could confidently set to work to bring true the prophetic remark of George Luks with whom she studied at the Art Students' League back in 1919. One day in an easel class he had told her that she was "potentially a mural painter."
When she went to Springville to inspect the Post Office and to
learn something about the town’s past, Victoria Huntley unearthed one
bit of history that struck her as so "right" that she dismissed all
else. In the years when the little village was first settled, and for some time
afterwards, it was called simply The Green. A famous fiddler in those parts,
Leroy by name, built his cabin by the common and so the chronicles have it,
fiddled day and .night. Reports of his music-making spread abroad. Soon the
village came to be known as Fiddler's Green and this name it bore up to sixty
years ago. According to tradition, when neighboring fiddlers came to visit Leroy
the townsfolk gathered and danced to their playing.
In Fiddler’s Green Victoria Huntley has devised a composition of formal beauty which holds its place well on the plane of the wall to become an integral part of the architectural setting. But equally important to her is the happy human subject matter. No theme could have pleased her as much. She found it beautiful and natural, and the idea of figures moving in rhythm won her instantly. It touched deep feelings she had always had, and tied up with drawings made in Texas years before.
She has always been responsive to music. More recently she discovered the ancient roots that the country dance forms put down into our common past. Her mural conveys her feeling that this subject has as much to do with the future as With 1808 and 1938. The square dances that still thrive in America are a vital part of that venerable tradition and so, she is convinced, are the dancers. Old fiddlers and callers she knows in Connecticut looked at an engraving, "The Country Dance," after a painting by Rubens, and said it resembles a dance they know as "Snake in the Grass."
In this mural, as in all her recent work, Mrs. Huntley is chiefly concerned, in spite of her recognition of the brooding unrest and the tragedy inherent in social problems of our day, with making a universal statement of the permanent good of living: happiness and vigor and humor. She wants, most all in her murals, to emphasize not the temporary forms of social and economic adjustment but a clear statement of the positive, abiding life.
She has tried to include people of all ages from babies to grandfathers. She has brought in the blond, blue-eyed youth (like a Lindbergh or a football star) so dear to the hearts of hero-worshipping Americans, has painted the young blonde, the brunette and the red-haired girl, the brown, dark young man. Each contributes his color. The family unit appears in the group of watching townsfolk. The fiddlers to the left represent those vigorous older men of hardy good spirit, who were more common in 1808 than today, and whom now Mrs. Huntley finds only in country towns like West Cornwall where she lives.
In Cornwall she discovered that Luke Richmond who carries the mail from the station every day had been a fiddler and caller. He posed for her. That winter and spring, too, she went to square dances, watching mostly, sketching just a little. At last she chose the grand march, right and left, as the formation to use in Fiddler’s Green. In the first place it occurs in many square dances. More to the point, it is built on an ellipse and lends itself to well woven design.
The Springville mural was completed in September. She let it cool
for a while until it was possible to make any slight dispassionate changes that
seemed necessary to a fresh eye. These accomplished, the panel will be installed
this month. But this is not her last mural. After a competition conducted last
spring Victoria Huntley was selected to paint a decoration for the Post Office
in Greenwich, Connecticut. She is busy again at the kind of painting she likes
Having scorned tradition as a young student she now comes to it, with the conviction that the great design forms of the past are there to be studied by artists of today, and possibly restated in relationship to contemporary subject matter. She is directly concerned with the structure of composition and of draftsmanship, not in the photographic sense; with that living structure, objectively recognizable and real, which is always governed by the more important emphasis of the total design. Further, she has an ideal of well rounded knowledge, not only in scope of material but in means of expression. She is now eager to know more about architecture as a directing condition in mural painting. And she feels the need of mastering the various technical methods suitable for different settings. She thinks every mural painter should know fresco. For the same reason she wants to be able to design in the linear, arabesque style, as well as in deep space painting.
Her respect for complete, craftsmanlike equipment probably rises out of her devotion to the work of a variety of artists of the past. She has learned from Egyptian and Asian art, classic sculpture and painting, from Rubens, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Mantegna, Signorelli, Botticelli, Titian, El Greco and many more.
Turning her attention to our own day, Victoria Huntley realizes, as who does not, how disordered is our modern world. She sees the poverty, the political strife, the tragedy, but she believes that the most significant material for the artist liesnot in negative social criticism, but in a positive conception of good living that gives courage to us to carry on and to stimulate positive emotions. The greatest problem now facing American artists is their need for real subject matter. She points out that the layman responds to subject matter, that he did in the past and will in the future. The modern movement frowned upon subject matter as illustration but it seems to her that the artist much search for subject matter that has meaning for the American people, must fill his art with rich living content and provide it with a design form suitable to that content.
So many of our good artists have gone political or driven off in covered wagons to discover the American Scene. Although political and social satire may be of deep importance, few possess the insight and power to raise it to a high level in the visual arts. As to the other current trend – wherever we are is America! Why run off to Arkansas? She believes that to follow either of these directions is so forced and self-conscious as to be destructive to the very results desired.
To her, politics has always been outside art; life itself transcends all cruel periods of despotism and injustice. She cannot think that the artist is at his best as moralist or reformer. But if he must propagandize, she wonders if it would not be more pointed and potent for him to paint good living and health and vigorous enjoyment. Then if people do not have it they will want it – and may do something about getting it.
Victoria Huntley is intensely interested in the development of a popular art in the United States, an art of the highest order in design and technical statement. She believes that murals and the graphic arts are the most immediate and direct expressions that can be part of American communities. Once American artists offer the public something they can understand and enjoy as subject matter their problems as artists will be over. She is convinced that the public will support such art, possibly not financially but in appreciation. She remembers all the people, spread over the country, doing things as a matter of course that provide wonderful material for the painter – swimming, dancing, riding, walking, running, jumping, playing games, sailing, climbing, pitching hay, bringing in the cows and many more “endless and wonderful things.” American material, universal material, waiting for the artist to see and use it.
She completely lacks sympathy for the ideal of the romantic
individualist, pining in his poverty, alone in his attic studio, expressing
his little soul and damning the public because it doesn’t understand,
much less buy, his precious art. Mrs. Huntley feels that an artist is a vigorous
workman, functioning most fully when he has a public to serve and a job to do
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