By Joseph P. Griffith
If Edward Hopper were a presidential candidate, he would probably win in a landslide. Seemingly everyone’s favorite artist, he has never waned in popularity, and his work is constantly being rediscovered even five decades after his death in 1967, at the age of 84. That is due in part to frequent retrospectives at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the caretaker of most of his works and legacy.
He occupies a secure, if somewhat offbeat, place in popular culture. Some of his images are so familiar – the painting “Nighthawks” has been endlessly duplicated in art and films – that they represent something singularly American. Yet his well-known depictions of solitude and loneliness seem to haunt our culture as much as depict it.
Hopper painted New York, Cape Cod, Paris, New Mexico and many other places. A precious few are right in our own backyard, in Nyack, where he was born and lived as a boy, and there are several other places of significance in his life that can be seen in the area.
The first and foremost stop is the Edward Hopper House Art Center, his boyhood home, at 82 North Broadway in Nyack. Several blocks along the road have been designated as Edward Hopper Way. The house, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, is far from a comprehensive repository of his work; it is, in fact, rather spare in the actual work or artifacts of his life. It is now a not-for-profit art center used more as a gallery to showcase 20th-century through contemporary art, but those with an interest in Hopper can use it as a starting point to discover more about his life.
The Queen Anne-style house was built in 1858 by Hopper’s maternal grandfather and was his primary residence until 1910. After his death it fell into disrepair, but was saved from demolition and restored by members of the local community and the Edward Hopper Landmark Preservation Foundation. Extensive renovation was done in the 1970s, and there is ongoing work to maintain it, said Carole Perry, the artistic director and curator.
One gallery in the house displays a little of his early work, memorabilia and related exhibits. Concerts, lectures and special events take place throughout the year. There is also a gift shop.
The current exhibition, running through Nov. 13, is “Hopper’s Hudson: 100 Years of Painting in the Hudson Valley.” It documents the work of renowned artists who lived and worked along the river during his lifetime, and reveals the change in artistic sensibilities and the evolving riverscape during those years.
The garden behind the house is displaying sculpture by Santi Hitorangi and James Tyler through Oct. 23. Hitorangi’s carved stone sculptures come out of his Rapa Nui clan heritage on his native Easter Island. Tyler’s Brickhead Assemblage sculptures are unique colossal heads with pre-Columbian, South American, Native American, Asian, African and Western influences.
“We like to mix local artists and more world-renowned ones,” said Perry. “These two are local artists, both residing in Rockland County.”
Jazz concerts are held in the garden in the summer. On the First Friday of each month, opening receptions are held for a featured artist. On Oct. 7 the artist will be Linda Pearlman Karlsburg. There will also be an Art Talk by Michelle Donnelly, Curatorial Fellow at the Whitney Museum.
Second Sunday Family Programs allow families to engage in workshops led by artists. The next one on Oct. 9 will have them create tissue paper paintings inspired by 100 years of Hudson River paintings.
Opportunities for artists include annual members’ exhibitions and an Annual Juried Small Works Show, now in its 23rd year. The latter draws about 150 entrants. This year’s theme is “Small Matters of Great Importance: PAPER+ART,” with all works using paper as a primary medium or support. It will be on display from Nov. 19 to Jan. 8, 2017. Opportunities also exist for interns and docents.
The center created a simple walking tour and publishes an online map of local points of interest related to the artist. The stops along the way include:
- The First Baptist Church at Broadway and Fifth Avenue, founded by his grandfather.
- “Pretty Penny,” at 235 North Broadway, the 1850s Italianate Victorian home of the actress Helen Hayes and her husband, the writer Charles MacArthur. Hopper painted a picture of the house in 1939. Now a private residence, it is difficult to see behind walls and fences.
- An unoccupied store at Broadway and School Street, called the “Seven A.M. building” after Hopper’s painting of it. The Nyack Library at 59 South Broadway has a small exhibit about the building.
- Hopper and his wife, Josephine, who died in 1968, are buried in Nyack’s Oak Hill Cemetery.
- Farther north, on Route 9W in Haverstraw, a three-story Victorian house with a mansard roof sits alongside a railroad track. It is generally acknowledged that this house was the model for his 1925 painting “House by the Railroad.” The painting later became Alfred Hitchcock’s inspiration for the Norman Bates house in “Psycho.”
The Hopper House website (http://www.edwardhopperhouse.org/) contains links to articles about the house and Hopper, including teacher/student educational resources and one that links his work to that of Hitchcock. A Scholarship for Artistic Curiosity is offered each year.
The organization’s $189,000 annual budget comes from individuals, the New York State Council on the Arts, Rockland County, foundations, corporations, memberships and admissions.
One unique fund-raising event will be the opportunity to spend the night in Hopper’s second-floor bedroom. Dr. Jennifer Patton, the executive director, said the room, currently sparsely furnished, will be reimagined as it might have been in Hopper’s time by the Manhattan interior designer Ernest de le Torre. An auction for the right to inhabit it for a night will be conducted by Ellis Sotheby’s International Realty, located next door.
Patton said she did not know yet what the opening bid would be, or how much the auction might bring. “It would be great to have several thousands,” she said. The money will go toward the house’s educational partnership.