Yarmouthport artist Marieluise Hutchinson brings a simpler time and straight forward values to life in her inimitable scenes of New England life.
Everyone has done it at some point in their life, either as a child or in the midst of being a responsible adult who still feels the child-like wonder of a make-believe world—picked up a snow globe, given it a quick back and forth shake, and steadied the trinket to peer inside to the wondrous scene where cascades of snowflakes settle and blanket the fairytale within. That is the feeling and the experience encountered with every painting created by Marieluise Hutchinson, who does not rely on her imagination to make-up a bucolic scene, but says her landscapes are real, not imagined. This self-taught artist, whose natural talent, strident dedication to her craft, and unique ability to imagine even the tiniest of details in her pastoral scenes, has earned her the distinction of Master at the prestigious Copley Society of Art as well as prominence in the permanent collections of several museums throughout New England. In the manner most associated with other icons of historic New England art such as George Henry Durrie, Norman Rockwell, and Eric Sloane, who the artist says was her idol, as his skies and barns won her over as far back as high school; Hutchinson has created a path of introduction between the viewer and the frozen moment of her subjects’ lives.
Hutchinson’s understanding of New England life is not a fairy tale; instead it is a kaleidoscopic reflection of the various chapters in the septuagenarian’s life. Born into a family whose military and community service was as natural and commonplace, as their commitment to an honest day’s work, her childhood in the early 1950s was in a “bucolic 1820s homestead” in Hanover, Massachusetts. “I come from what we used to call, ‘hearty stock,’” the artist says with her signature wry smile. In 2006, the single mother and grandmother accomplished a life-long dream that must have appeared dreamlike to the local residents of Cushing, Maine, as she successfully orchestrated an authentic barn raising which now serves as her home-away-from-home and artistic retreat during the warmer months of the year. “Don’t get me wrong, Yarmouthport is my home, I love it here, but Maine, there is just something about the landscape, the space and the simple life people are able to carve out. It feels like another time,” she shares.
Her love and respect for the sacrifice made by members of the armed forces is acknowledged by small acts, like an American flag featured in most of her landscape paintings, and in magnanimous ways like her commitment for 100% of the proceeds of an annual Christmas card to benefit a local charitable partner. Acknowledging a Martin Luther King quote Hutchinson holds dear, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way,” the Christmas card project started small in 1993—as she offered and ultimately sold a quantity far less than the more than 1,000 boxes printed now—and has done great things for very worthy causes. In the case of this year’s card, featured on our cover, the Cape and Islands Veterans Outreach Center in Hyannis has been her chosen beneficiary for three years running. “I was raised to respect and honor the members of the military,” she offers. “The sacrifice regular people make for people they don’t even know has always awed me. It is a commitment that begins with bravery, and I am appreciative of that. If I can do anything at all to help make a difference for those that have given of themselves, then sign me up!”
Hutchinson’s nature of generosity and unabashed appreciation is a breath of fresh air, which also describes almost any encounter with the powerhouse of creativity and ideals. She is diminutive in stature—she stands squarely in the five-foot, zero inches range—yet as strong as any example of that old New England stock from which she hails. She knows her mind, she knows her heart, and perhaps most importantly she knows her subjects.
The scenes Hutchinson chooses to depict are treatises on the American way of life—assuredly less contemporary and more historic—and represent a simpler way of life. Without saccharine sentimentality, her paintings present hard-working families who don’t appear beleaguered, but instead enthusiastic as they embrace the inherent beauty of the natural world that influences their every moment. The luxury of having Hutchinson serve as a tour guide through her scenes is a memorable occasion. She points to subtle, tiny details through the antique wavy glass panes of the rustic barn to reveal a barn cat perched on an old grain barrel. Or the candle lights that sit upon the home’s windowsills, or the fresh footprints and rail marks from the young son’s sled that lead over the hill to the neighbor’s home where a legendary sledding hill attracts all the children from this part of the valley. And in every home, somewhere, either on the house or on the barn, the roof is crowned with Hutchinson’s personal hallmark: a rooster weathervane. “Yes, the rooster is my trademark,” Hutchinson affirms with her hazel eyes twinkling. “I have it painted on my car doors as well, so you can spot me a mile away.”
The quality of Hutchinson’s work is irrefutable as evidenced by her inclusion in august museums and galleries across the region, yet it is the humanity that grounds her work. The draw from the paintings to the soul of the viewer feels like an exchange between beings. And that unbridled, pure connection is what makes her commitment to the philanthropic world so powerful, yet humble. In many of her scenes the myriad of snowflakes permeate the landscape, just as though they were spores of her efforts, good thoughts and commendable deeds spreading and seeding to make things good and right in the world.
She is an unlikely hero: a deceptively strong woman in her seventh decade, armed with a paintbrush and a canvas; yet her superpower of creating a world where life is hard, but rewarding; honest, but true; cold, yet warm; is as powerful as almost any other method of communication and surprisingly effective. In short, she is good folk.
Julie Craven Wagner is the editor of Cape Cod LIFE.