Douglass Crockwell is known today as a commercial artist whose images of daily American life appeared regularly on the covers of popular magazines like the Saturday Evening Post and in advertisements for national brands of beers and dog foods.
In Glens Falls, he had what is known as intra-mural fame, as the city’s best known artist.
“He referred to himself as the ‘poor man’s Norman Rockwell,’” said Patricia Hoopes, who sometimes served as a model for Crockwell’s illustrations, as did her husband and two children.
“What Doug painted is not the kind of art that would ordinarily be displayed at The Hyde,” says Sam Hoopes, whose great-aunt, Charlotte Hyde, founded the Glens Falls museum to conserve and display her collection of European and American art.
But last year, Hoopes became aware of a painting that he thought The Hyde should own.
Painted in 1934, Paper Workers, Finch Pruyn & Co. shows workers smoothing and stamping an enormous roll of newsprint, the plant’s principal product at the time.
The workers appear to be carved of wood, Crockwell once said, because he wanted to liken the men to the source of the wood pulp from which they made newsprint.
Mike Carr, the executive director of the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, saw the painting in a New York gallery and called it to Hoopes’s attention.
“I thought it seemed out of character for Doug, since we knew him best as a commercial artist,” said Hoopes.
After discussing the painting with The Hyde’s director, David Stetford, and the museum’s chief curator, Erin Coe, Sam and Patricia Hoopes decided to buy the painting and donate it to The Hyde.
“Given Doug Crockwell’s connection to The Hyde – he was a trustee from 1952 through 1968 and served as acting director from 1964 and 1968 – and The Hyde’s connection to Finch Pruyn, I thought the painting was something The Hyde should have,” said Hoopes.
“Sam Hoopes saw the opportunity to share with the Museum a piece of Glens Falls history. The image of “Paper Workers, Finch Pruyn & Co”. connects us with the industrial roots that allowed The Hyde Collection to begin,” said David Stetford, noting that Charlotte Hyde’s father, and Sam Hoopes’ great-grandfather, Samuel Pruyn, co-founded Finch Pruyn in 1865.
According to Erin Coe, Crockwell painted two nearly identical versions of the image. The first version belongs to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. and was created by Crockwell in 1934 for the Works Progress Administration. The version donated by the Hoopeses to The Hyde, was made by the artist for Finch Pruyn & Co. later that same year.
“Although Crockwell is more widely known as a commercial illustrator, this painting is a remarkable example of his endeavor as a fine artist — long before he became the famous illustrator of the 1940s and 50s,” said Coe.
Other overlooked aspects of Crockwell’s career, such as the surrealist films he made and the avant-garde jewelry he designed, have yet to be fully explored, said Coe.
He was also a patron of more pathbreaking artists, including the sculptor David Smith.
His wife, Margaret Bramen Crockwell, once said, “My husband was one of the first to buy Smith’s sculptures. Someone told me years later that the sale of ‘Structure of Arches’ kept David from starving.”
The Hyde owns two other works by Crockwell, Coe said. The first, acquired in 1971, is a painted illustration for the Saturday Evening Post and was donated to The Hyde by Crockwell’s family. The second is an unfinished portrait of Louis Fiske Hyde, which was donated to the Museum by the family in 1979.
According to Coe, “Paper Workers, Finch Pruyn & Co.” was presented by The Hyde’s Collections Committee to the Board of Trustees for approval at their meeting on September 21, 2009. The work will be sent to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center for conservation treatment, and when the painting returns it will be placed on public view.
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Image courtesy of the Hyde Collection