Sunday, April 26, 2015

Remembering Robert "Bob" Blue

The "Bob Blue Retrospective" opens this month at the North Shore Arts Association's Gordon Grant Gallery from May 7 through May 30. We hope you'll visit the exhibition and experience the breadth of Bob's talents and his love of Cape Ann through this collection of his art. His good humor, generosity and companionship are sorely missed by those who knew and loved him.

Robert G. "Bob" Blue


Bob Blue was born in Newton, MA on March 13, 1924. He received his formal training from the Vesper George School of Art in Boston and for 42 years he pursued a very successful commercial art career in industry.
During World War II, Bob worked at MIT's Draper Lab in Cambridge, an integral part of the team charged with pioneering and advancing the development of radar. For 28 years Bob worked as a lead illustrator in the publications department of Jackson & Moreland Engineers in Boston. He completed the very first illustrations of the groundbreaking Nautilus submarine in 1968. Later, Bob joined GTE's government communications systems and created scientific illustrations for the space program, for GTE's magazine advertisements and for technical journals such as the U.S. Army's Signal and the U.S. Navy's Sea Power magazines. In 1970, his illustration of the General Electric GE12 Turboshaft Jet Engine was on display at the 7th Annual Technical Art Exhibit at the Museum of Science, Boston. During his ten years illustrating for GTE's trade exhibitions, his full-color illustrations traveled around the world.
During these years, he had always found the time to paint landscape and seascapes, working in strong and vibrant colors that captured the essence of the scene. Nan Blue says of her husband, "He was always painting, even during the years when he was working full time as an illustrator. He would be working on a painting or a drawing from the moment he woke up, sometimes even while he was still in his pajamas! He had a sketch book with him wherever he went; when we would go to the market, Bob would pull out his sketch book, have it in his lap, working on a quick sketch while I did the shopping. He was thinking about art and painting all the time." She recalls, early in their marriage walking with Bob in Rockport one very snowy, wintry day, when "Bob stopped to knock on the door of Stanley Woodward's studio. Bob had never met Mr. Woodward, but greatly admired his work. Stanley graciously invited us inside, where Bob spent the afternoon with Mr. Woodward, just talking about painting."
Emile Gruppe set Bob up with the easel and paints best suited to plein air work, following a chance meeting between the two men at Cape Hedge Beach around 1954. That encounter began a long and memorable friendship between the two men; Bob and Emile painted together for over thirty years, until Gruppe's death in 1978. They shared a similar interest in subject matter as well, primarily seascape, the activity of harbors and docks, and when traveling to rural parts of Maine and Vermont, the villages and vast mountain vistas.
Bob was a well respected member of the Cape Ann arts community and enjoyed memorable friendships with the artists whom he mentored as well as those who worked alongside him as friends and painting partners. Ron Straka says of Bob, "I met Bob Blue through Pat Civale. Bob Blue was just the nicest guy you'd ever hope to meet. He was a very gentle person and a good friend." "An excellent painting partner", together he and Ron "shared a lot of laughter, but not a lot of idle chatter", both men being completely absorbed in the process of painting en plein air. "Bob was always willing to help if I needed help and openly shared any knowledge that he had." Ron credits Bob Blue for introducing him to Gruppe's palette and because "Bob was such a close friend of Emile Gruppe, and had painted with him for so long, Bob knew all of the best painting locations on Cape Ann and up in Jeffersonville, which saved us all a lot of time driving around!" Bob traveled with his painting partners to Vermont, often in the company of Ron Straka and Harold Kloongian, and would spend days on end painting the landscape and villages around Jeffersonville, VT.
Paul Ciaramitaro says of his friend, "I often think about Bob - I miss him. I feel fortunate to have known him. He was very kind to me. Bob was an excellent artist and a soft spoken man. More importantly, Bob was a generous, sharing, and giving man. He was a person that I could look up to and try to emulate. I wish he was still here."
In 2008, Bob died at age 84 in Rockport, Massachusetts and is survived by his wife, Nancy "Nan" Blue, who still lives at their home on Eden Road where she enjoys gardening and is active in the gardening club in Rockport.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

From the studio of: Ron Straka

On a bright early spring day, a few days after the opening of his "Straka 80" exhibition at the Rockport Art Association, Ron Straka was found in his Rockport harbor view studio, already hard at work at his easel. His is a very genial personality, soft-spoken and kind, whose intelligence and wit shines from his bright blue eyes. Ron celebrates his 80th birthday this year, and he still works as he always has, in bursts, when an idea takes hold and must come to fruition.
He speaks fondly of his mentors, among them Paul Strisik, Zygmund Jankowski, Bob Blue and Pat Civale, with whom he's enjoyed not only memorable friendships, but also the excitement of shared ideas and influences.
Straka was introduced to two of his life-long artistic pursuits by his uncle, whose interests in photography and painting piqued Ron's interest at a pre-teen age. Ever inventive, Ron made his own enlarger from tin cans and a discarded photographic lens while still in middle school. At the middle school the art teacher recognized his talent and made it possible for him to attend weekend high school art sessions at the Reading (PA) Public Museum. He remembers he "couldn't wait" for Saturdays to arrive to go to the Museum to sketch birds and animals in the natural sciences department. These weekly art sessions also exposed him to the work of the Pennsylvania School of Artists, roaming freely through the collection of plein air works by Edward Redfield, Daniel Garber, Fern Coppedge and Walter Baum absorbing their brushwork and bold color, and then drawing copies of these great works. 
Upon graduation from The John Hopkins University Ron went on to a highly successful career as a government physicist at the Air Force Research Laboratory with travels throughout Europe, South America and South Pacific areas. During these years, he was still active in painting and photography.
He studied with the celebrated photographers Ansel Adams in Yosemite and Paul Caponigro in Boston. Ron's photographs have been exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, the DeCordova Museums and in national exhibitions and collections.
Ultimately, his love of painting won out among his many interests and he later moved to Rockport. He found a home among the community of artists centered in Cape Ann who were drawn to this "spiritual center that fosters creative energy and nurtures the creative spirit".
Zygmund Jankowski, a bold and inventive colorist, was to Straka an "artistic guru". A man of few words, like a Zen master, Jankowski encouraged his students to follow their passion - to "do it", when the student proposed what they thought should be done to their paintings. Jankowski encouraged Straka to seek out Paul Strisik, N.A. (whom Ron knew from the 60's) and thereafter Strisik became a true friend and generous mentor to Ron. Strisk said that "A painting should not be an inventory of objects" and, importantly, that he "Couldn't teach me how to paint, but could only open the door so that you would find out what painting was really about". Tom Nicholas, N.A., who strongly advocates an artist must move on (from his early teachers) and "be him/herself in their art", has graciously also been most helpful to Ron.
Ron Straka, is a very fine and sought after teacher. His easy references and quotes reveal what essentials he has learned from many years of studying the Masters, and from taking workshops by well-regarded Cape Ann artists.
For twenty-one years Ron lived in Aldro Hibbard's Rockport Legendsea studio where he had a wonderful opportunity to closely study Hibbard's work. He takes to heart Hibbard's "out of the ether" statement Ron experienced in this studio that "if you can't see the brush mark from across the room don't put it in!" Straka has since observed that in many great artist's paintings an applied stroke of paint has real subject meaning. He feels the essential element of painting is that "the emotional richness, the poetry, the musicality of the artist's passion must reside in the painting to stir the viewer emotionally. Design is a key ingredient. Skillful use of the 'elements of design': color, values, composition, brushwork, harmonies of movement, shapes and shapes within shapes, are essential to communicate these emotional intentions". Straka wants his students to expand their historical knowledge of the world of art to increase their "visual language" lexicon for use in their artistic growth.
He advises to "Enrich your 'overall' life, find joy in what you do artistically, expand your skills to better express your passion and then seek to make an aesthetic and emotional connection with others through your work".

Be sure to see Ron Straka's exhibition '80' which can be seen at the Rockport Art Association through April 9, 2015. Please join with us here at the North Shore Arts Association in wishing Ron a happy 80th birthday and many happy returns of the day!