Hopper in Vermont’s great outdoors
Edward Hopper may be best known for his haunting paintings of urban scenes but he liked to get out of the city in summer, and he never stopped working. Until now, the watercolors he produced in the Green Mountain State have been largely overlooked. “Edward Hopper in Vermont” (University Press of New England) is a fascinating inquiry into the taciturn Republican who gazed beyond the covered bridges and white church steeples to find the Vermont that spoke to him.
Hopper and his wife Jo discovered the state’s lovely curves and light on day trips they took in 1927 from the Whitney Studio Club’s summer retreat in New Hampshire. (Yes, it’s the same Whitney family that gave rise to the Whitney Museum of American Art.) For two summers in the 1930s, the couple boarded at Robert and Irene Slater’s Wagon Wheels farm in South Royalton, Vt.
First-time author Bonnie Tocher Clause does a masterful job of carrying readers along on her journey of discovery. In 2005 when she was looking for Vermont art to decorate her new home in South Royalton, she came across an out-of-print poster of Hopper’s “Barn and Silo: Vermont.” She kept looking and found a total of about two dozen Vermont paintings by Hopper. Her book features color reproductions of most of them: mountains, the White River, barns, Route 14, and a sugarhouse. On her hunt to determine the exact location of the scenes Hopper captured, Clause taped photocopies of his paintings to the dashboard and journeyed around the countryside.
“First Branch of the White River, Vermont,” the first of the South Royalton watercolors to be sold, went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1939. It seems fitting. After all, it was in Boston that Hopper had his first solo show outside of New York.
Clause paints a nuanced picture of Hopper: He got agitated when he was having a hard time finding a subject he wanted to paint, he railed against the federal Works Progress Administration, and he and his wife stuck with their frugal ways even after he became successful.
Tehila Lieberman’s debut collection of stories encompasses worlds of grief, wonder, and strength: a widower trying to connect with his distant daughter, an orphan coming to terms with the mother who gave her up, a Holocaust survivor who will not tell her story. “Venus in the Afternoon” (University of Texas) is the 2012 winner of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction. In her acknowledgments, Lieberman, a Cambridge resident, thanks no fewer than six writing groups that she’s been in. Expect a good turnout of members when Lieberman reads from her collection at the Brookline Booksmith Monday at 7 p.m.
■ “The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America’s War in Arabia’’ by Gregory D. Johnsen (Norton)
■ “The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy”by David Nasaw (Penguin)
■ “Against Fairness”by Stephen T. Asma (University of Chicago)
Pick of the week
Emily Crowe of Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley recommends “Accelerated” by Bronwen Hruska (Pegasus): “What starts off as a send-up of overscheduled children, Rambo parents, and elite schools quickly turns into a tale of pharmaceutical conspiracy. When Sean reluctantly starts medicating his son, the consequences are disastrous. Sean must gather his allies close and his enemies closer if he wants to take on his son’s school. This is a fast-paced read covering a topic about which every reader should be concerned.”Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter @JanLGardner.