High art, low budget

January 11, 2009|By CHRIS COPLEY

Lewis C. Allen worked as a night-shift press operator for 20 years so he could pursue his passion: collecting art. Forty-three watercolors from Allen's collection are on display this month at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

"I'm a blue collar person," Allen said recently by phone from his home near Boonsboro. "I worked midnights so I could spend my days going up and down the East Coast looking for art." He worked for a printing company in Silver Spring, Md.

Allen said he loved art when he was young, but was no good as an artist. Eventually, he decided to collect.

"I am a 'home-schooled' art collector," he said. "I rarely went to galleries or museums, except to study what good things looked like. I had the time to go to every little sale and auction. I found paintings in unlikely places, even flea markets."


Allen said the show presents American scenes painted by artists working in the United States between 1860 and 1930.

Allen was particularly taken by the ideals of the mid-19th-century, Pre-Raphaelite movement in England. In an era when many painters worked in studios, the Pre-Raphaelites painted outdoors. They also used religious images and metaphors in their work.

In her introductory essay in the catalog accompanying the exhibit, art historian Elizabeth Johns says, American watercolorists in the late 1850s admired the views of English painter John Ruskin. Ruskin believed that art should exactly represent God's creation.

"It was that way with a lot of English watercolorists in the 1840s," she said. "Americans tutored under these artists. By the 1870s and '80s, they had loosened up, but (Lew Allen) collected works by those artists who were more (representational)."

Allen is pleased, with the works on display.

"I've been to hundreds of exhibitions. Believe me, this is a great exhibit," he said.

Caption information is from Johns' essay in the exhibit catalogue, available at the museum.

If you go ...

WHAT: American Watercolors from the Lewis C. Allen collection

WHEN: On display through Sunday, Jan. 25; museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, City Park, Hagerstown


CONTACT: Call 301-739-5727, e-mail or go to


William Trost Richards, who painted "Jamestown, Rhode Island," was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement in England. "Jamestown" epitomizes the representational approach promoted by English art critic John Ruskin in the mid-19th century.

Daniel Defenbacher's "Industrial Landscape" reflects a 20th-century appreciation for industrial complexes as art subjects. Defenbacher's style is looser and more impressionistic than most watercolors in the exhibit.

Frank Hamilton Taylor, who painted "Town View," was an illustrator for Harper's Magazine. He worked in Philadelphia but traveled widely. He recorded changes in the urban landscape during the late 19th century and early 20th century.

"Gloucester Harbor" is by Gordon Grant. Grant was a prolific painter of marine scenes and subjects.

Alfred T. Bricher, like many mid-19th-century American watercolorists, painted carefully realistic New England scenes close to his home in Newburyport, Mass., such as "Landscape with Water."

"Berkshires" by Harold B. Warren is an example of the exact, representational landscapes popular with more conservative American watercolorists of the late 19th century, according to art historian Elizabeth Johns.

In "Grand Canyon," Lucian Whiting Powell wanted to convey not just the colors and eroded rock formations of the canyon but also its atmosphere and impressive size.

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