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Canvasing Harpers Ferry

October 15, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Landscapes by the late Garnet Jex on view at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts depict scenes from Harpers Ferry, W.Va., as though the Civil War had just come and gone.

But the 22 paintings included in the exhibit were completed in the 1930s through 1950s, said the museum's assistant curator, Jennifer E. Smith.

"What he was doing was not the trend in art at the time," Smith said.

Jex's work will be on view at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts through Jan. 17.

The exhibit, which contains both oil and watercolors, draws from the private collections of local residents Lee and Patricia Stine, the Sharpsburg Historical Society, the town of Harpers Ferry and Anne Newcomer Dungan, the trustee of the Garnet Jex collection.

In November, the museum will host a lecture about the process of restoring Jex's paintings and his contribution to the art world, Smith said.


Jex was painting realistic landscapes at a time when abstract expressionism was gaining traction. Smith said the scenes in Jex's paintings have a trapped-in-time appeal, capturing some views of the countryside that may not exist any more.

Jex (1895-1979) belonged to the Landscape Club of Washington D.C., renamed the Washington Society of Landscape Painters because "too many people thought the Landscape Club was for gardeners," said Barbara Nuss, the group's current president.

According to the group's archivist, Lani Browning, Jex was an award-winning plein air painter. He was born in Kent, Ohio, and studied at the Cocoran School of Art and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, eventually receiving degrees from George Washington University.

Jex was chief of graphics for the U.S. Public Health Service and staff artist for Nature magazine and belonged to several art clubs in the Washington D.C., region. He joined the Landscape Club in 1926, Browning said.

Nuss said that his work is still an inspiration to contemporary painters.

"We can relate to what he was doing," Nuss said.

The Washington Society of Landscape Painter still nurtures a rustic, trapped-in-time aesthetic by hosting monthly "paint outs" in places Jex might have visited -- Burkittsville, Md., Waterford, Va., and Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

"We're not out painting the suburbs," Nuss said.

If you go ...

WHAT: Art exhibit "Garnet Jex: Views of Harpers Ferry"

WHEN: Exhibit on view through Jan. 17

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

COST: Free admission; donations requested

MORE: Call 301-739-5727 or go to

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