They are artists and painters of the plein air variety, and of course friends and nearly neighbors. Hermine Hull and Leslie Baker both live in West Tisbury. They paint together often, sometimes several times a week. Never at a loss for words, Hermine is chatty and outgoing, while Leslie is quiet and introspective. But, like the walking path that runs behind the West Tisbury fire station between their two houses, they are connected.
Interviews By Julia Rappaport
Leslie: I have never wanted to do anything — and have really never done anything — but be an artist and a teacher.
Hermine was part of an artists’ group. We are in an artist group together. It’s a group of women who get together about once a month. We’re all fine artists and we look at each other’s work and we talk about anything, support each other.
You are in a profession you love that is inherently lonely and you spend an enormous amount of time — gladly, I might add — by yourself. But there comes a time when sharing and being with like-minded people — we don’t have cafÃ©s here where we can go and have a glass of red wine at the end of a painting day and talk, so being able to get together with people on a regular basis that you like, being together in a profession where you spend a lot of time alone and getting feedback — frankly, it just comforts. These women have become like my sisters. They’re like my family.
First of all, I really respected [Hermine’s] art and I respected how talented she was, how eloquent she was about talking about art. She’s an amazingly smart person. A very, very smart person. And an amazingly generous person to a lot of people. She knows everybody in town. She is just a very welcoming, easy person to be with.
We are out together as much as all the other stuff in our lives will allow, let’s put it that way. If it was up to us, we’d be out every day. But you know, she runs a gallery; I work for Nancy Shaw Cramer part-time plus I show my art there; we both have families and a lot of animals between the two of us. I have three dogs and a cat and she has two dogs. We’re both trustees of the West Tisbury library and community service is hugely important to both of us. So life gets in the way sometimes. But we go out as much as we can.
We go out in the morning, not too early, because neither of us likes to be bleary-eyed. We get our coffee and we pick a site. Usually one of us has seen something, a place we would want to go. Neither of us argues about that. Somebody’ll say, Oh I just saw some pumpkins in a field! And one of us would say, I don’t know how to paint pumpkins. Yeah, but it looks so great! Let’s go try it. And in fact I think I was the one who suggested it and I went in there and she liked the pumpkins and I went off doing something else. We don’t necessarily paint in the same spot and we never talk during the time we’re painting. It’s not a gab fest. We seriously put in about two hours of work, and once in awhile she’ll come over and look at what I’m doing, or I’ll come over and say something to her.
The nice thing about coming out together is that we always forget stuff. So she’ll come over and say, Oh, do you have any cad orange? Or a couple times I’ve forgotten my brushes. There’s a lot to remember when you go out. And that’s the nice thing about having somebody else there. We talk about, before we paint, we talk about what’s in front of us. We share views of our ideas about what’s in front of us. We point out things we see like, Oh, look at that orange spot there and how it curls over! And, you know, Are you seeing that? But we don’t always paint the same thing. Sometimes we do.
We begin our paintings so differently. I go out and I’m real fast. I go out and I see what I want and, you know, I’ve got to get the whole thing blocked in. I’m really big on composition and I get my lines in and everything, and I look over at her and — she’s got this stance where she holds her elbow and I think it’s because she has issues with her wrist — and she has done absolutely nothing but look!
She’s so peaceful and contemplative and sometimes I think she even reads the paper before she paints because she thinks about things. And then she mixes up this color that is, I don’t know, I never saw anything like it before. And I turn around and she’s done this totally Oriental brushwork grid of absolutely unbelievable-looking brush strokes all over this bare wood. And from that structure, she builds her painting. And I’m just fascinated watching her.
She’s really masterful. She’s a masterful painter. And joyous. She’s not conflicted when she works. If it doesn’t work out she says, Oh I’ll make it better. Or, Well, it was a nice day anyway. She’s very positive about it.
I think Hermine and I, our work starts looking vaguely alike even though we work very differently. Every once in awhile I look at something she’s done or I’ve done and I think, Oh, I could have done that.
Nothing dramatic has ever really happened. I wish we could say that we’ve met somebody famous or that some horse ran into our art. It’s actually kind of boring for people I would think, but, for us, it’s just unbelievably exciting.
And then, at some point in the two hours, one of us says, Don’t we have the best life? We are very grateful for being able to do this, for the beauty of the Vineyard, for the generosity of the people who say come on my property and paint.
Hermine: Well, I’ve been an artist all my life.
My parents had a pharmacy in Richfield, Connecticut. We had the Western Union station, so there was always paper and there were always pencils and crayons, and they could just put me anywhere with a stack of paper and something to draw with and forget about me for the rest of the day. And behind the counter we had these high cases with glass fronts and that divided the front of the store from the prescription department. And my dad called it my gallery and he’d hang all my drawings up.
Meeting Leslie. I’d have to guess that I met Leslie when I joined this art group.
I’m trying to remember how we’ve become so close. Did she remember? See, it’s funny. I don’t remember how my husband and I got married. I guess big huge things like that, they just kind of happen.
I guess we have everything in common, you know, our aesthetics. I mean, if you take all the things that make people be friends and you add our work, and how we work together, and how we feel about our work, and how we proceed with it, and you add that onto, you know, what makes girlfriends, you can see how wonderful it really is. Or you can imagine.
Well, I guess [we spend] more time [together] than we spend with anybody else except our husbands. We usually paint, I don’t know, anything between two and four times a week, which is good ... I think for both of us, our natural tendency is to go up to our studios in our pajamas with a cup of coffee. So one or the other of us will call up and say, You wanna go out? And, you know, you need 15 minutes to get your clothes on and pack up your stuff. This time of year when it’s fabulous, or in the spring, we keep stuff in the car and have basically a go-out kit. And one of the great things about Leslie is she’s gotten me to carry less.
Well, okay. We go out. We park the car. We walk around a little bit ... and we have our cameras and we have our sketchbooks and we each pick out our spots. And sometimes we’ll pick out and paint the same thing and other times we’ll be across the meadow, or across the beach, or wherever. But we’re basically very workman-like. We pick up our stuff. We set up our easels. We go to work. We don’t talk. And sometime later, one or the other of us walks over and says, Can I take a look? Or, How ya doin’? And we’re both ready to pack up at the same time. So we just kind of do it.
And so then of course we both like to fool around, too. So we’ll go out to lunch, or we’ll go out to breakfast, and we have to look at the newspaper and talk about this day and then we’ll go hit Vineyard Gardens or Heather Gardens ... and then we’ll head home and stop 50 times to take photographs and plot out where we’re going to go next because something catches one of our eyes: Look at that spot! And the car screeches to a halt. And we check behind us. And back up a little bit. So I guess we’re just on the same work wavelength.
Every day is an adventure. One or the other of us, every time we go out, I’ll bet she mentioned this, too, we always say, We have the best life in the world. We just do. I mean there we are, no matter what the weather. I mean, we’ve been out in cold weather. We’ve been out in wind. We’ve been out in heat — you know, where your paint melts? And other times where it’s so stiff it won’t move.
Between us we have a lot of artist friends. She’s just the sparkle for me. Somehow we just connect. I don’t want to denigrate everybody else by saying she’s my best friend or my sister of my heart, but there’s just sparkle about her that I love. And you know, in a way it’s a little bit like being back in art school, because not only do we work together, but we’re the kind of friends where we can call each other up and say, Wait ’til you see the painting that I did! Or, I need you to come up to my studio. I’m stuck, come and look at this.
She’s just a real laser critic.
We’ll stand in the same spot and I tend to focus on oddball little things and she does, even on a board this big, she’ll get a whole vista in and everything will be perfectly proportioned and mine is always too big. And I’ll end up with, like, a clump of shrubbery and she’ll end up with, like, Lambert’s Cove Beach. We, like that, we’re so different.
Although at that plein air show [at Dragonfly Gallery] a couple of people commented that our work is starting to look alike, I don’t think it is at all.
How would my life be without her? Well, it would be sad. Yeah, she’s the sparkle. And even our other friends, they all say there’s something special about us together. I feel so lucky. I mean we’re friends on all the girlie levels too. You know, we go off-Island and buy clothes and go to Trader Joe’s and stuff and have a nice day.
And we’re encouraging of each other — our work and our careers. I feel really lucky, you know? I have wonderful friends and wonderful art friends and best of all is Leslie.