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WCMA Blog

Art of the Month Club: Barbara Ernst Prey

The Art of the Month Club is a regular feature on the WCMA blog. Each month we invite someone special to write about a work from our collection.  Find your own favorite WCMA artwork by searching our collection database. You never know, we may invite you to be the next Art of the Month Club member. Today, please welcome, artist Barbara Ernst Prey. www.BarbaraPrey.com.

Winslow Homer, (American, 1836-1910), Children on a Fence, 1874, watercolor over pencil on paper. Museum purchase, with funds provided by the Assyrian Relief Exchange._x600

I have spent so much time with so many objects in the Williams College Museum collection that it is hard to choose just one.  The Hopper painting, Morning in a City, was my Art 102 final essay question and the medieval paintings remind me of coursework with Wit Stoddard.  While an art history major I worked as a Museum Monitor and spent many evenings alone with the artwork.  I wrote my honors thesis with Lane Faison—meeting every week at the museum and discussing some of the museum pieces.  He wrote a wonderful book, The Art Museums of New England, so discussions of the collections of New England museums were often the topic. Perhaps the greatest thing I learned from Lane (besides writing the first chapter of his book on Baroque Art and Architecture as my honors thesis) was to look.  He would often ask, “What do you see”? One of my paintings, now in the collection of the Williams College Museum of Art and painted for the Williams College Bicentennial Calendar is a self-portrait of me with Lane discussing the Assyrian Reliefs—what did we see?

Perhaps the artwork that is closest to my heart is the small Winslow Homer painting Children on a Fence, now on exhibit at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in their current Homer exhibit.  I first saw the painting during a class while at Williams. What I like about the painting is its freshness, how Homer painted the children (no small feat in watercolor because of hard edges) and how it just says summer.

I had begun painting watercolors at 15, actually did a winter study at Williams painting watercolors, and I’m still impressed at how simply Homer painted the green background.  I have since gone on to paint watercolors for the past 40 years and I have spent many summers painting close to the spot where he painted in Maine.  His vision has always been an inspiration.

It is not the greatest Homer watercolor, but it was a seminal painting for a young Williams college student. As Corcoran Gallery of Art Curator Sarah Cash wrote in her essay for my Paris exhibit referring to my time at Williams, “She was now able to study firsthand the oils and watercolors of Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper, works that were to exert a lasting influence on her work.”  To bring it full circle I was invited by The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC to lecture about Homer’s watercolors for their major Homer exhibit and I now have a gallery on Spring Street in Williamstown exhibiting my watercolors, including many scenes of Homer’s Maine.  It is amazing what can develop out of one little painting.

One Response to Art of the Month Club: Barbara Ernst Prey

  1. Marc Simpson says:

    What a fine tale you tell, Barbara! And what a strong statement your whole career makes on the power of a firsthand experience of art (and art history) in a productive liberal arts education.