Hillary Osborn and Doug Rugh are partners in art—and in life. Married for over 10 years with two young children, they share a gallery and studio together in the Queen’s Buyway Shops in Falmouth. Not surprisingly, in person and in conversation, they bounce ideas and sentences back and forth seamlessly. But sharing art, work, and life is not without its challenges.
“You have to work at it,” says Osborn. “The fact that we have kids keeps us shuffling around and trading off a lot. It’s a juggling act.” And a successful one on all fronts. Since opening in 2008, the gallery has been strong. At the time, both artists transitioned from separate studios at the Cataumet Art Center. “We had two separate careers before,” says Rugh. “Now, often collectors will buy from the other one. So there’s overlap. Two halves make more than a whole.”
With easels set up in mid-practice, paintings stacked from floor to ceiling and covering almost every available wall space, Osborn and Rugh’s Falmouth gallery is truly a working studio. The couple organize weekly drawing and painting sessions with live models, sometimes in their studio in the winter, more on location in the summer. Osborn teaches a few students privately. “We designed this so the space could be used as a classroom,” says Rugh. “We put on cultural events here, readings, talks, that sort of thing. We want to do more of that.”
Combining the gallery with the studio allows for direct interaction with customers and collectors, something that artists rarely get to do. “It’s great to engage in thoughtful discussions about art with customers,” says Osborn. “When you walk into the studio, you’re going to learn something. You participate with the person who is creating these objects. It’s kind of an unusual experience. We’re hopefully giving our visitors something.”
This dynamic interaction is an added benefit. “Lots of people come in here without any art background,” says Rugh. “They know what they like but they don’t know why. So if you teach them a little bit or show them a little bit about composition, they love it!”
While both Rugh and Osborn are representational in style, you would never mistake one artist’s work for the other. Rugh works very much in the style of classical realism, having been trained at Schuler School of Fine Arts in Baltimore. “It’s one of these ateliers where you do the old master thing—grind your own paint,” describes Rugh. He delights equally in the technical side of painting and in the primacy of painting from life whenever possible. “The landscape changes. It moves while you’re out there. Water shifts, clouds change. It’s fluid,” says Rugh. “It keeps it interesting. Artists have to adapt. We don’t want a frozen world to paint. We want life—slices of life.”
With Richard Diebenkorn and Fairfield Porter as some of her heroes, Osborn takes a slightly more contemporary approach; some of her landscapes become quite abstract in their composition and celebration of form and color. With her background as a sculptor, Osborn made the transition to painting as she realized that, once she left school, a foundry would be hard to come by. “Working with color really got me excited,” she remembers. “Translating objects in my world—I realized that painting could solve my artistic dilemmas.”
With two artists married and under one roof, they inevitably inspire one another. Their connection can bring on the uncanny—to the point where they have even, on occasion, gone out to paint from the same spot on the same day, unbeknownst to each other.
Says Osborn, “One day, we were so in sync, we sat in the same spot. We didn’t even know it had happened. I must have had this feeling; oh, this is where Doug was!” Adds Rugh, “But she always paints the other way. She tends to paint the big, open vista and I take the detailed view. We’re influenced by each other. We come in every morning to see what the other has done. But I don’t want her to paint the way I do.”