The Hale Family in American Art will examine the world and the art of Ellen Day Hale, Lilian Westcott Hale, and Philip Leslie Hale. Personal items like sketch books and diaries along with the memoirs of Nancy Hale will provide viewers access to the artists. Nancy Hale was the only child of Philip and Liian Hale, and she spent her summers visiting her Aunt Nelly, in the home at Folly Cove that she later inherited. A well-known author, particularly popular in The New Yorker magazine, Nancy Hale wrote frequently of her upbringing among artists: "Certain intramural mysteries--the private jokes, the secret language of portrait painters--I picked up (in that village of commuting stockbrokers and bankers) the way a little Christian child in pagan Rome might have picked up the trick of how to draw fish in the sand with his toe." Her closest relatives were all artists, and Nancy Hale presents their individual and collective spirits. Her writings complement the wealth of artworks, artifacts, and correspondence in the exhibit.
Nancy Hale remembers her father's scholarly approach to his art: "He liked to spend the early evenings before the fire with my mother and, after she had gone to bed, sitting in his study in a barrel chair with a swinging side arm, drawing under a blue bulb shaded by a clipped sheet of paper. He would be copying the drawings of Ingres, Watteau, and Michelangelo, the way a pianist perpetually practices; making drypoints on a copper plate with a ruby pen; drawing some more just for the pleasure of drawing some more, until two or even three in the morning, although he had to get up at six to have his cold bath and his breakfast before walking a mile to the station to catch the eight-five to town."
Nancy Hale's parents shared a religion of art that governed her mother's world from a young age:
"Her private world was not at any age the same as other girls'. At eighteen it was not the dream of beaux and dances that, for example, her older sister's was. That sister, my aunt Nancy, used to tell a story to demonstrate my mother's scorn of boys. Both sisters used often to be invited to cotillions at Trinity College and to proms at Yale, and at one of the latter my mother, ravishingly beautiful, escaped a group of admirers to cling to her popular sister and hiss, 'Those men want to dance with me! Make them stop! ...She met my father in Boston, where she went to study art. He was seventeen years older than she, a painter with fifteen years of training in the Paris ateliers, and phenomenally learned in art and art history. He was the only man who ever attracted her; for what she had been dreaming of, even when she was a little girl, was art. Art was to her so important that beside it clothes, parties, flirtations, even the idea of marriage, were trivial. When I myself began going to danes, in Boston, my mother used to view my enthusiasm with a sort of incredulity. She shocked me once when I was about eighteen by saying to one of my friends, 'All she seems to want to do is get married and have children. It isn't serious!' "
Nancy Hale's Aunt Nelly never married, preferring instead to care for her parents and other ailing family members while sustaining a Boston Marriage with fellow artist Gabrielle deVaux Clements. She was an unfailing mentor to the younger Lilian and other women painters. Nancy Hale remembers her aunt's tremendous spirit which inspired her to punctuate her every action with cries of delight:
"Aunt Nelly studied painting under Carolus Duran in th the Paris of the seventies By the time I knew her, any money she made from her work came from etchings, and from commissions for enormous church decorations...If a church decoration was under way, Miss Clements and the other old maids might all work at it--painting great oranges, like burning orbs, high on the Tree of Life, or many-colored flowers in the Palestinian grass--while Aunt Nelly worked on the circle of radiance around the Child. Another year it might be etchings they worked on. Their plates had generally been drawn upon earlier, in Charleston, Baltimore, Girgenti, the Holy Land,
wherever they'd wintered; if drypoints, with a ruby or diamond on bare copper that didn't need etching; if a true etching, on applied soft or hard grounds...
"Aunt Nelly's happiness ...was like the happiness in Paradise before the paternal ordinance was breached and Satan's shadow loomed. With all her jauntings about the world, Aunt Nelly's essence--her original, young girl's ardor--remained intact...she dashed to meet an old maid's fate with cries of consent."
Years later Nancy Hale remembered her childhood in the studio with Aunt Nelly and her friends:
"Once or twice, to my astonishment, I burst into tears. What astonished me was not so much that I should be crying as what, I realized, I was crying about. It was not because my mother or Aunt Nelly was dead, or out of sadness for all those other artists, Aunt Nelly's friends, who also used the place long ago; but because,in the silence of the studio, I remembered what a wonderful time they had all had."