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Debra Joy Groesser knew she had to depict the three palm trees in “Laguna Cliffs” to balance the composition. She also knew they shouldn’t take over the painting. So here’s what she did.…

“Laguna Cliffs II,” by Debra Joy Groesser, 2010, oil, 14 x 18 in. Studio piece based on plein air studies

“The three palm trees in this piece were necessary to balance the composition — they are also a well known landmark in this particular place,” says Groesser. “In depicting them, it was important to keep them simplified in shape and keep the colors somewhat grayed so as not to overwhelm the entire composition. When I painted the plein air study that this was based on, I paid careful attention to the value of the trees in comparison to the hillside in the background and the cliffs and rocks in the foreground. It’s very easy to get vertical elements too dark … comparison of color and value between the various elements is key.”

“Cliffs, Emerald Bay, Laguna Beach,” by Abby Williams Hill, ca. 1915, oil, 18 x 24 in. Abby Williams Hill Collection, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA

“Where Buffalo Roam,” by Debra Joy Groesser, 2013, oil, 12 x 16 in. Plein air

“Laguna Cliffs” is part of a show titled “The Legacy of the West: Abby Williams Hill and Debra Joy Groesser — Two Women Artists Painting a Century Apart,” which will be on view from November 1 through spring of 2014 at the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum, on Vashon Island, Washington. This unusual show pairs Hill, an iconoclastic painter who died in 1943, with Groesser, whose life has paralleled Hill’s to some extent. Over the last few years, Groesser has studied Hill’s life and art, visiting locations important to the historical artist. When the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum had the chance to exhibit a body of Hill’s work, officials at the museum saw it as an opportunity to pair the two artists.

“Lady Mountain,” by Abby Williams Hill, ca. 1927, oil, 41 x 31 in. Abby Williams Hill Collection, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA

Hill (1861-1943) was an early advocate for women’s rights and a successful artist at a time when men heavily dominated the art scene. Groesser is similarly successful, and unfortunately, the male-dominated art scene hasn’t completely died away or corrected itself. There’s more. “Both married prominent community professionals (Abby’s husband was a physician, Debra’s husband is a five-term mayor) with social and volunteer commitments in their communities that sometimes cause their art careers to be put on hold,” reads the press release for the exhibition. “Both Abby and Debra grew up on the Great Plains less than 250 miles apart. Both have connections to England, to Quebec, to Laguna Beach, California, and to Vashon Island, Washington. Both have a love of nature and are drawn to the wilderness. Many of their works capture this fascination with the west and the spirit of nature they both found there. They both were very active in supporting early childhood education, as well as other progressive social issues. Although both are predominantly landscape painters, they both painted a number of portraits, and both have worked in a variety of media beyond the oils for which they are both best known.”

“Enlightened,” by Debra Joy Groesser, 2013, oil, 10 x 20 in. Plein air

On November 4 at 7 p.m. at the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust Building, Groesser and an actor portraying Hill will present an imagined conversation between the two artists discussing their similarities and differences and the experience of being a female Western artist. For more information, visit the appropriate page on Groesser’s website.


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