For 22 years, painter Marieluise Hutchinson has utilized her artistic talent to benefit local non-profits
Marieluise Hutchinson travels old New England roads searching for perfect scenes to paint. She is drawn to landscapes and rural architectural scenes, whether a Cape Cod barn or a rural farmhouse in Maine. She photographs a variety of potential scenes; then, when she returns to her studio—whether in Yarmouthport or Cushing, Maine—she selects an image for inspiration, turns on some classical music, and gets to work.
Hutchinson’s paintings evoke the imagery of a Robert Frost poem: a contemplative walk in the woods, a bucolic retreat, nostalgia. Looking at the artist’s work as a whole, another trend becomes apparent: charity, philanthropy, and warmth. Since 1993, Hutchinson has been doing something extraordinary with her artistic talent. Through sales of Christmas cards made from her paintings, she has helped raise more than $200,000 for local organizations she cares about.
“I am very proud to have been able to do this for my community,” Hutchinson says with a smile. “To see it grow and be accepted for 22 years is an honor. I try to live by the saying: ‘You get what you give, so give good’.”
In a recent interview, Hutchinson, 68, discussed her annual Christmas card project and what it takes to complete it each year. She also talked about her work as an artist, her inspirations, and how “the project” came about.
A native of Hanover, Hutchinson grew up in an 1820s-era farmhouse, similar to the ones she now paints. She enjoyed drawing as a child and credits the art teacher she had in grade school, Mr. Percy Van Dyke, for inspiring her to explore her love of art. Following a move to Cape Cod in the 1970s, Hutchinson began to dabble in artwork once again, painting when her young children, Bethany and Kristen, were asleep. She refined her style and technique and exhibited her first gallery show at the now defunct Cummaquid Fine Arts. Soon thereafter, she began selling some artwork to Marian Heath Greeting Cards in Wareham. Now known as Viabella, the company still prints Hutchinson’s cards today.
While her artistic career developed, Hutchinson also had a job in fundraising and development at Hospice of Cape Cod. In 1993, she thought up the idea of designing a Christmas card that could be sold to raise even more funds for the organization, and her first card project was underway.
In the 22 years since, she has donated funds raised through the sale of her cards to eight organizations: Hospice and Palliative Care of Cape Cod, Child and Family Services/Cape Cod, Housing Assistance Corporation, Cape Abilities and A Baby Center, all based in Hyannis; and The Pine Tree Society of Scarborough, Maine, The Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and the University of Southern California’s Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles.
This year’s card is currently on sale at a variety of gift shops around the Cape, and the proceeds will again benefit A Baby Center, a facility that helps local families who have young children—newborns to 4-year-olds.
Hutchinson views the project as an opportunity to help out local organizations, like A Baby Center, that help people in the community who have a financial need. Some years, she has even made multiple Christmas cards to benefit multiple organizations. For the past eight years, she has chosen A Baby Center as the beneficiary because she feels strongly about the organization’s impact in the local community. In addition to the services A Baby Center provides, the organization also helps locals preserve their bottom line by providing diapers for needy families.
Anyone who has children knows: that is a vital service. “I remember being told a story about a mom at a pediatrician’s office whose baby had such terrible diaper rash, and it was because she was re-using diapers,” Hutchinson says. “Diapers are expensive—and this mom didn’t have enough money to buy them.”
Last year, Hutchinson’s project generated $15,000 for A Baby Center, covering the cost of many, many diapers.
Mary Pat Pierson, A Baby Center’s director, praised Hutchinson’s effort and devotion over the years. “[We are] honored to work with Marieluise,” Pierson says. “Because of her extraordinary generosity, many more local babies are being served. Being involved in this project for eight years makes this even more special.”
John and Barbara Buckley of Cotuit met Hutchinson through their involvement with A Baby Center, and over the years the couple has purchased 17 of the artist’s paintings and many boxes of cards. “I can’t wait to see her new cards every year, and I usually buy 15 of her tiles,” John Buckley says. “I give them to special friends, my children and grandchildren. Her paintings make me feel warm and happy . . . they kind of grab you. Marieluise is a fantastic lady who happens to be a great artist.”
The names Hutchinson gives the cards offer a hint of her style. This year’s card, “Nestled In,” features a night-time scene of a snowy village farm, bedecked with wreaths, trees and a snowman in the yard. “Sometimes you see a scene that you know will make a good card,” she says. “New England has so much beauty, and if I see a scene that has the right composition—the lay of the land, the placement of the buildings—I can imagine opening the door and almost smelling the food cooking on the stove. Then, I can envision it as a card.” Last year’s effort, “Candlelight of Christmas,” features a pink-tinged sunset, and smokey wisps rising from chimneys and warm golden light in the windows beckon the viewer in.
Hutchinson also paints still lifes and occasionally arranges a scene with unique holiday-themed elements. For “Songbird,” she painted an old child’s sled she found in an antique shop. Some of the cards have also been inspired by Hutchinson’s Cape Cod surroundings, including Sandy Neck Beach, the Jenkins Farm in West Barnstable and Chatham’s Stage Harbor Light.
Every artist has his or her own unique style and work routine. Rather than canvas, Hutchinson paints on masonite, a hard fiber board. She listens to music while she paints, with her cat, Gus, curled up in a nearby basket. She often talks on the phone as she works, phone in one hand, brush in the other.
But don’t be fooled by what may appear a casual approach to her craft. Hutchinson’s accomplishments include holding the title of “Juried Copley Artist” at The Copley Society of Boston, and “Master Artist” at the Cape Cod Art Association. Her work hangs in the permanent collections at the Cahoon Museum of American Art in Cotuit and Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis. She also exhibits work in galleries across New England, including The Gallery at Tree’s Place in Orleans, Chatham Fine Art, and The Woodstock Gallery in Woodstock, Vermont. In 2012, she was even commissioned by Automobile Mutual Insurance Company of America—a.k.a AMICA—to paint the company’s annual Thanksgiving card.
Each year, Hutchinson follows the same process and schedule for completing her new card. After deciding on the subject matter, she works on the painting in February. When the paint is dry on the piece, she has a photographer take a picture of it, which she then sends to Viabella. Her print order is substantive—usually 700 to 800 boxes, each containing 15 cards. The cards are then delivered in the summer or early fall; some shops begin selling the cards right away, while others wait until after Halloween.
One business that has supported the project over the years is the Yarmouthport branch of Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod. “We have been selling the cards since the beginning,” says Sue Provencher, the branch’s vice-president and manager, “and we often run out. We sell them in the lobby and people often ask about the Baby Center. As a community bank, we want to give back when we can, and because of Marieluise and her work, the bank hosted a separate drive in 2010 to collect diapers for the Baby Center.”
Hutchinson recalls that in the early years, she did all of the work involved with the fundraiser—on top of completing the painting. “I knocked on doors, asking shops if they would sell my cards—and I delivered them too,” she says. “Now, I have help with that.”
Today, two retired local teachers help with the delivery of the cards. They replenish the shops when the cards run out and complete a lot of the administrative tasks needed to ensure the sale is a success. These helpers, whom Hutchinson describes as her “ambassadors,” are Linda Cornog and Sue Latimer, two West Yarmouth residents who also volunteer at A Baby Center. “All of the shop owners feel the excitement of the whole adventure,” Latimer says of the project. “When they receive the call that the cards are coming, they are very excited. It’s a happy trip for me to deliver the cards.”
For the past 15 years, several groups have also chipped in by paying for the cost of the cards’ printing so all proceeds raised can go directly to the beneficiary. This year, The Hyannis Rotary Club has stepped in to foot this bill. “I am always looking for good people to step forward,” Hutchinson says. “It’s a great project to be involved with.”
Sold in boxes of 15 for $15, Hutchinson’s charity Christmas cards are currently available at The Barn in Dennis, The Potted Geranium in West Harwich, The Gallery at Tree’s Place in Orleans, Titcomb’s Bookshop in East Sandwich, the Happy Fish Bakery in Yarmouthport and other Cape Cod stores. To learn more about the painter, her project, and more locations to buy the cards, visit marieluisehutchinson.com.