Eighty-one years ago, in 1939, artists Alden and Mary Bryan first came to Jeffersonville. The visit was suggested by their friend, acclaimed landscape artist and teacher Emile Gruppé, who was also living in and painting in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Jeffersonville was already a mecca for plein-air landscape painters including Charles Curtis Allen, whose approach to light, shadows and moods of nature was forging new ground.
It was a fortuitous visit. Not only did the Bryans find abundant subjects to paint and a community of artists, Jeffersonville became their home.
The Bryan Memorial Gallery in downtown Jeffersonville continues their artistic legacy. For more than three decades, the gallery has focused on presenting New England landscape painting. Open 10 months each year, with three spacious galleries, the Bryan presents new exhibitions every two months. The two final shows of 2020 opened there earlier this month.
The annual “Gems and Giants,” presented in the Bryan’s West Gallery and Middle Room, features more than 200 paintings by 81 artists. This popular show brings together “Gems,” paintings 8-by-10 inches or smaller, and “Giants,” large pieces with 36-inch dimensions.
“Legacy 2020,” in the East Gallery features paintings by 16 invited artists.
One section of the East Gallery is dedicated to works by Mary Bryan and Alden Bryan. Mary Bryan’s watercolors are mostly of Vermont, nearby spots in fact — “Country Road” with Mount Mansfield looming, a familiar home and autumn bedecked tree; in “White House and Maple,” an iconic sugarhouse.
Alden Bryan’s oil paintings include the sunbathed “Maynard Farm,” “Cambridge Village Houses” as evening sets in, and “Lamoille River” with sunset color reflected in its water. Gloucester, the couple’s other longtime home, is represented in Mary Bryan’s “Sinking Dinghy” and Alden Bryan’s “Bickford’s Boat House.”
Both Bryans had vast breadth in their artistic careers. Both were also drawn to plein-air painting — painting outdoors at the site of the subject. Mary Bryan, especially noted for her versatility, painted in a variety of media and styles, and was also an accomplished sculptor. Her many awards included two from the American Watercolor Society.
Alden Bryan, who gravitated to oil painting, painted landscapes in more than 25 countries. Three places held special prominence in his work — the Vermont landscape, Quebec City and the seascape around Gloucester.
Harvard-educated, Alden was entrepreneurial and diverse in business endeavors. The couple owned their Gloucester studio and gallery and Rudder restaurant for decades as they continued to return to the coast for summers. Living on their dairy farm in Jeffersonville, he established a restaurant and inn, designed the Smugglers’ Notch base lodge, and built Vermont’s first indoor tennis center.
After his wife died in 1978, Alden Bryan founded the gallery in her memory, bringing his talent for design to it. Overhead skylights with filters on the glass provide superb but not damaging lighting throughout the space. Movable walls on tracks allow different configurations to adapt to different exhibitions.
After Alden Bryan’s death in 2001, the gallery was renamed to honor both of them.
“Our motto is ‘Building on one legacy, creating another,’” said Tom Waters, gallery manager.
“That translates to tradition of showing accomplished artists, some with international reputations, and also emerging artists, who are just starting out.”
“Gems and Giants” and “Legacy 2020” give viewers a rich experience of landscape painting, with a strong focus on Vermont and Lamoille County. A few local landmarks and vistas appear in different paintings, giving viewers opportunities to see how different artists bring mood and feeling to the same subject, how their brushwork, palette, takes the viewer into the scene and moment.
All of Vermont’s seasons are in the exhibitions. In this comfortable indoor space one can time-travel from depths of winter, through those moments when the first hints of spring break through to the glories of summer’s verdure and autumn’s grandeur. Vistas of farms and mountains, intimate glimpses along streams, villages, cows, sheep, flowers are all there. From Hudson River School-inspired approaches to impressionistic works to abstracted landscapes, the diversity of approaches is compelling.
“The heritage and legacy of gallery is plein-air landscape painting, but we do shows on other genres — still life shows, interior shows,” Waters said.
Exhibitions coming in 2021 include a Main Street show, and “Iconic Vermont” where the gallery selects locations and invites artists to come paint them. The Bryan Memorial Gallery has a membership model, with membership open to artists for $40 per year, giving all members opportunities to submit work to be considered for juried shows and opportunities to show in nonjuried exhibitions.