|Charles H. Woodbury, American (1864-1940), while commonly recognized as a painter, discovered a passion for etching early in life that burgeoned into a lifelong mastery and devotion to the medium. 'Charles Woodbury: Lines of the Sea' at Childs Gallery seeks to illuminate Woodbury’s work as a draftsman and share his singular artistic vision. Woodbury’s etchings are modern in their use of line and emotionally evocative in their motion and depth. It is in these etchings that one is able to see Woodbury’s reverence for the power of nature and his masterful devotion to the line as an artistic gesture.|
Despite his commercial success as a painter, Woodbury’s etchings were predominately a personal passion and until recently have lacked thorough study. A prolific draftsman, Woodbury created in excess of five hundred documented etchings during his career, with many private or experimental plates existing only as a handful of proofs. Even when larger edition sizes were published, the editions were rarely fully completed. A detailed online catalogue raisonné of nearly five hundred and fifty etchings by Charles H. Woodbury is currently available at www.raisonne.org thanks to the comprehensive work of Warren Seamans.
Central to 'Charles Woodbury: Lines of the Sea' is Woodbury’s uniquely modern vision as a draftsman. By the twentieth century, Woodbury abandoned his earlier use of plate tone in etching to work purely with line. Woodbury began to create etchings of New England in black and white with only line as a suggestive force with which to create space. The artist John Taylor Arms said of Woodbury in 1934 that “he can etch the wind by the rightness of the lines by which he portrays the bending trees; the volume of water by the weight of his line, and the swirl of the tide or the river’s eddying current by its direction and sense of movement.” Woodbury employed the line as a suggestive gesture, with which he could reveal “the thought of force or motion.” The viewer is invited to feel the spray ricocheting off rocks in Sunshine and Shadow, c. 1932, or stand in awe of the windswept cliffs in Maine Coast, c. 1922. Woodbury’s lines describe forces of nature without fully defining them.
At his Ogunquit, Maine summer art class, aptly named “The Art of Seeing,” Woodbury instructed his students to “paint in verbs, not in nouns.” This philosophy guides his etchings not only in capturing movement, but also in continually blurring the boundary between man and his surroundings. As a result, Woodbury’s forms display a thoughtful and emotional quality that transcends the lines of which they are composed.
Throughout his life, Woodbury’s potent vision influenced his contemporaries and students alike and now situates him among the most significant draftsmen of the early twentieth century. Please view the exhibition in the gallery through May 9, 2009.
Howlett, D. Roger. The Lynn Beach Painters: Art Along the North Shore 1880-1920 (Lynn: Lynn Historical
Loria, Joan and Warren A. Seamans. Earth, Sea and Sky: Charles H. Woodbury Artist and Teacher 1864-
1940 (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1988).
Seamans, Warren. Charles Woodbury at Raisonné.org (Boston: Childs Gallery, 2007) Electronic Resource.