Art of the Month Club: Stephen Hannock

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. We enjoy engaging with a variety of people through this feature. 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 Stephen Hannock.  www.StephenHannock.info. www.StephenHannock-HudsonHillsPress.com.

William Morris Hunt (American, 1824-1879), Niagara Falls, 1878, oil on canvas, (61.7) Gift of the estate of J. Malcolm Forbes.

I had been working on a composition of Niagara Falls for years—since 1996—shortly after I had seen my friend Frank Moore’s treatment of the subject.  What was so unique about Moore’s composition, and his work in general, was the hidden story at work.  At first glance we see the Maid of the Mist tourist boat at the basin of the Horse Shoe Falls—with it’s soaking wet load of blue slickered fans, painted with minute detail.  In the immediate left foreground is an onlooker with the ubiquitous video camera.  But only on close examination do we notice in the mist that rises above the falls a spiraling geometric pattern within the cloud. This turns out to be a diagram of the actual chemistry that exists in the fundamental H2O of the Niagara River.

Beginning in the mid 1990s I started collecting images and stories that related to the Falls.  These would become the diary/text that wove through the geological strata of the cliffs in my composition.  We had images and references to Cole’s 1830 painting, Church’s 1857 treatment, and Inness’s iridescent piece from the American Falls of 1884.

Then around the holiday season in Williamstown in 2009, I ran into Katie Price at Tunnel City. She said, “Get your buttsky over to the museum” and see William Morris Hunt’s painting of the Falls (1878).  Not only was the painting and it’s studies totally luminous, but the supportive material and didactic information gave life to a painting that truly feels more alive and in-motion than any of the other pieces from the 19th century with which I was familiar.

I wonder if they would mind if my daughter and I borrowed that painting for a few days?  We live just at the bottom of the hill in Colonial Village…

—Stephen Hannock

Abve image: William Morris Hunt (American, 1824-1879), Niagara Falls, 1878, oil on canvas, (61.7) Gift of the estate of J. Malcolm Forbes.

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