Friday, May 20, 2011

Studying with Mr. Gammell . Part I

Mr. Gammell Taught at Fenway Studio in Boston

RH Ives Gammell taught approximately 20-22 students during his years as a teacher. Most of them are still alive. Stephen Gjertson, who studied with Richard Lack, who was a student of Mr. Gammell, made up a list of them which he says is not complete:

Chronological List of the Pupils of R. H. Ives Gammell
. 1930 - 1981
  • George Melnick (32-40)
  • Jack Breslaw
  • Robert Cumming (47-53)†
  • Robert Cormier (49; 53-62)*
  • Richard F. Lack (50; 54-57)†
  • Robert Douglas Hunter (50-55)*
  • Richard Byron (55-57)
  • Samuel Rose (62-72)†
  • Mark Bellerose
  • Richard W. Whitney (66-71)*
  • Robert S. Jackson (1 summer)
  • Paul DeLorenzo (April 67-Dec. 67)‡
  • Chris Kendell (67-68)
  • David Curtis (69-71; 74-75)
  • Charles Cecil (69-71)‡*
  • James Childs (summers 71-73)‡*
  • Stapleton Kearns (73- )
  • Thomas R. Dunlay (73-79)*
  • Gary D. Hoffmann (75-77)‡
  • David Lowrey (75-79)*
  • David Zeigler
  • Jan Posvar (76-78)
  • Allan R. Banks (summer 76)‡*
  • Hilary H. Holmes (76)
  • Paul Ingbretson (75-78)*
  • Robert Moore (77-81)†*
  • Carl Samson (81)‡
‡ Artists who studied with both R. H. Ives Gammell and Richard Lack
* Artists who are currently teaching or who have taught in the past
† Artists who are deceased

(Curtis Hanson, who studied with Mr. Gammell for three years, should also be on this list.)

As you can see, my teacher Carl Samson was his last pupil. He had been accepted to Richard Lack's atelier, but his first meeting with Mr. Gammell changed his plans for the year:

Carl Samson: "Happily, I met and began studying with Allan Banks at age 14. It wasn't long before I heard Gammell's name. I read the Twilight of Painting, which spoke to me mightily. Meanwhile, I had been accepted at Atelier Lack in Minneapolis where I was to go upon graduating high school.

Feeling it to be a last chance to visit a living legend and link with the past, I decided to try calling Gammell to see if he might entertain a visit. So, at age 18 and with my sister's borrowed VW Rabbit, I drove to Boston during spring break to meet the man. He greeted me at the door of his Fenway Studios atelier, whereupon we had a very intense and memorable meeting.

I showed him examples of my work. When I asked for his advice on what to do going forward, he smiled and said he'd like for me to stay the week, then ask the same question. The week was filled with museums, tours and meeting other artists at the Fenway. It was a whirlwind. When we sat down again, he offered me a spot in his atelier for the fall of 1979. I accepted, and spent much time with Gammell in what was to be the final year of his life. It was transformative, and I'll always be grateful for this extraordinary experience.

Another student, Stapleton Kearns, has written more extensively on his experience at Mr. Gammell's school. These excerpts from his blog give insight into Mr. Gammell as a teacher:

Stapleton Kearns in the early 1970s

Stapleton Kearns:
"I am neither an expert on Gammell, nor am I anything like his best known student. Ultimately, I guess, I was one of the number who passed through his hands. I spent a time there, learned what I could, and then moved on and was influenced deeply by the Rockport school of painting. So I am not a typical Gammell trained painter although I guess I could still be called Boston school.

In the mid 70's, I figured out that art school couldn't teach me to do the kind of painting I wanted to do. In fact the teachers there were both dismissive and unaware of the historical art that interested me. I met a student of R.H.Ives Gammell whose work floored me. I had never seen anyone who could do figures as well as he could.

I read Twilight of Painting Gammell's book, then out of print. There was a student of Gammell, Richard Lack, who was running a training atelier in Minneapolis. I took a night course there but they didn't have room for another student and I wanted to get at the original stuff anyway, rather than learn it second hand. I began a correspondence with Ives Gammell and told him I would like to come to Boston and meet him. He agreed.

Through the Atelier Lack, I had met a few students who had met Gammell, and they told me what it would be like. He was an ancient and very demanding relic of the Edwardian age. He was at that point 82 years old and did not tolerate fools well at all. He was an intimidating curmudgeon. I was told that he was really only impressed by one or two qualities in young men. The first was if the knew their art history, particularly their 19th century art history. That took some doing, in those days there were very few books on the subject and much of what there was, resided in the graduate stacks at the University as it was written in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Today I could buy books to learn about these artists on Amazon, back then it was secret knowledge. You had to read Kenyon Cox, and R.A.M. Stevenson, Phillip Hale, Bernard Berenson, Eugene Fromentin, and Georgio Vasari. I studied Harold Speed and Lumsdens Art of Etching. I read about the old masters, there were books on them, particularly those published by Abrams. Those were thick, expensive, volumes with the old "tipped in" plates. That is, the pictures of the art were printed separately from the book on special paper and then glued in by their tops to the pages . I still have my books on Titian and Ingres that I studied then.

I bought a bus pass from Greyhound that gave me the run of the country for a month, I could get on and off as I pleased. I used this to travel across the country seeing as much art as I could in the museums scattered east of Minnesota, I saw a LOT of art. I had grown up with art books and touring art museums as a child with my mother who was a culture fanatic mostly interested in 18th century furniture. I knew my orders of furniture before I knew the facts of life. I stayed in cheap hotels and youth hostels and traveled much of the time in the company of European students who were more commonly the users of the month long bus passes. I ended the trip in Boston , where I was to meet with Mr. Gammell. I stayed at the old Armed Services YMCA in Charlestown' Massachusetts, across a short bridge from Boston.

Gammell was summering at his studio in Williamstown, Massaschusetts, and I took the bus a few hours to get there. I checked into a guest house, and one of the students came into town from the studio and picked me up. They were on their way to the grocery store and Ives was in the front passenger seat. He turned around in the seat and he looked just like a ferocious snapping turtle! Here is a picture of him.

RH Ives Gammell

I remember him grilling me for information about Atelier Lack. I couldn't give him much of that, as I had never been deeply involved with it. At the grocery store we all got out of the car, I think it was one of those huge station wagons from that era, it belonged to Gammell, but he always had a student drive. I don't believe he ever drove. As he got out of the cart, he tied his handkerchief to the radio antenna so he could tell his car from the others when the came out of the grocery. He said they all looked the same to him. I think it may have all been theater, but maybe he couldn't tell , he was born in 1893.

Now 35 years later I am trying to remember the details of what happened , but I only remember scenes in brief flashes like the night landscape illuminated by heat lightning. Gammell showed me the studios and introduced me to his students, Tom Dunlay and David Lowrey.

Gammell was returning in a few days to Boston, and he set up another appointment for me to visit him at the Fenway studios. This was the historic building where so many of Bostons impressionist painters had worked in their heyday. I returned to the Y and a day or two later I met as arranged with Gammell at his studio at 9.00 in the morning. The Fenway studios still exists, and it isn't much changed, but then it was in a time warp. Only couple of blocks towards Back Bay from Bostons famous Fenway Park.

Fenway Studios

I opened the massive wooden doors with their black iron strap hinges and entered the balconied two story lobby area. It smelled of paint and varnish. Oliver Brothers, the restorers were the closest tenant to the lobby and in those days they did hot wax relining , that and the varnish combined into the most fabulous and evocative smell. It smelled like art history... be continued


  1. This is a fascinating, richly drawn reminiscence. Please continue sharing it!

  2. I love these stories, Carolyn...Glad you're enjoying them, too!

  3. Hi Linda, My teacher and curren mentor, Nadia Mahfuz, also studied with Gammell during his last years of teaching and then under Paul Ingbretson. I'm not sure where she places in the chronological list. Fascinating story. I look forward to reading more. Thank You

  4. Superior job here, I did not know you were writing on this subject! Excellent job. Just what needs to be written about!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.