Hugh Townley (1923-2008), the sculptor and printmaker, taught and made art from 1952 until his death on February 1, 2008. He worked primarily in wood, but also made monumental outdoor works in concrete. His sculptures -- reliefs and free-standing works -- are intricate constructions of interlocking shapes cut on a band-saw from many woods, both common and exotic. He used a recurring iconography of imaginative, often whimsical, forms, drawn from nature and his wide studies of Native American culture and Eastern spiritualism.
The patterns of the saw, combined with the grain of the wood and natural imperfections, are integral to the design. On many later reliefs he used vibrant color, creating exuberantly original but instantly recognizable sculpture. His latest work was in plywood. He found unseen possibilities in its construction, exploiting the intricacy of design, of which he said: "The layering of the plywood with its black glue lines and rhythmical repeat patterns, plus its physical versatilities, glue-ability and handsome flatness intrigue me."
In 1955, when he was 32, Townley's work was shown in MOMA's Penthouse Gallery, for New Talent. A critic wrote: "Wherever he has lived, Townley has exhibited. He is completely original, taking no slant from any other artist. The viewer is bound to respect his independence, admire his love of material, especially wood, and praise his excellent workmanship.
Hugh Townley was born in Lafayette, Indiana and grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. At 19, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in Europe. On his return in 1945, he enrolled in the Fine Arts program at the University of Wisconsin. One teacher suggested that he study with Ossip Zadkine in Paris, which he did. That experience, and his subsequent year working for the Marshall Plan in The Hague, gave him a valuable breadth of experience in the post-World War II art world. The sculpture he produced during this period earned him his first one-man show. After further studies in Paris and London, he returned to the United States in 1952. Starting at the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee, he embarked on a distinguished teaching career, which included posts at Beloit College, Boston University, and Harvard before he began teaching sculpture and drawing at Brown University in 1961. After his retirement from Brown as Professor Emeritus in 1989, he and his late wife, the artist and writer Mary Ross Townley, moved to a house on the White River in Vermont. The work he produced there maintains its power to surprise and enchant. Townley's vision evolved continually, but his sculpture remained both deeply personal and instantly recognizable. His inventive and individual wit is never far from the surface, and all the works, from the large concrete pieces to the small, intricate Altoid boxes, the many lithographs and drawings, extend the same invitation to exploration and interpretation.
Townley had over fifty one-man exhibitions in major museums and galleries, and was represented in nearly one hundred group shows. In 1972 he received the Rhode Island Governor's Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts. Among other honors, he was a Fellow at the Yaddo Foundation (1964) and at the Tamarind Foundation for Lithography (1969). He was honored by the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1967) and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (1980), and was given a one-man show at the St. Gaudens Historical Site in 2002. His work was also included in the National Academy exhibition in New York City in 2004. In the last three years of his life he had five one-man shows and was in two group shows.
His sculpture is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Fogg Museum of Harvard University, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, the Milwaukee Art Center, the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art in Fort Worth, Texas and the San Francisco Museum of Art, among other institutions, and is in many private collections.
He has done major installations for Brown University, the Faye School in Southborough, Massachusetts, the Oregon International Sculpture Symposium in Eugene, Oregon, the Oakwood Comprehensive Training Center in Somerset, Kentucky, and American Airlines Admirals Club in Luis Mu–oz Airport, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Hugh Townley's estate is represented by BigTown Gallery
October 2008: Beard and Weil Galleries - Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts
January 2009: Robert Hull Fleming Museum
"After 58 years of making sculpture I find that it is a pursuit I cannot avoid. I look at it with curiosity. I am frequently surprised by the way it works.
The fall and winter landscapes of western Wisconsin and Colorado, matters of form, have been of continuing importance to me ever since I first walked them.
The staunch clarity of some typefaces and designs of some books and posters have moved me greatly.
What I read and have read are sources of many ideas I’ve used: science fiction, anthropology, poetry.
Travel: towns and deserts, New York City, Paris, Amsterdam, Rio, Cuzco, Los Angeles, Boston, Mojave, Oregon, Nazca; roadways and air views, all in the company of rare people and always in a state of wonder, lead me to my sculpture.
I have been to Southern India ten times, have delved into its history, cultures, and the Hindu religion in particular. The persistence of the color there is extraordinary.
For the last 30 years most of my work has been relief sculpture. In some cases I used mixed woods – mahogany, walnut, cherry, ash, maple, obiche and ebony. In others the sculpture is made from one kind of wood, monochromatic. More recently I have painted my reliefs in brilliant, glossy colors in which sheen and shadow are a big part of the act. I’m presently working with plywood reliefs. The layering of the plywood with its black glue lines and rhythmical repeat patterns plus its physical versatilities and handsome flatness intrigues me. It has the advantage of being a lighter weight wood, which is increasingly important to me. Almost all my sculpture has been made with band saws using narrow 1/16 th and 1/4 inch blades, which allow immediacy and great facility with the wood. These saws have become the backbone of my approach to the forms I seek, and to the textures and subtle linear boundary-like character of my sculpture.
I found the band saw in my twenties and have been inventing with it ever since.
The following poem by Kalidasa Sakunta, (translated from the Sanscrit by W.S. Merwin) says something more about me and the mode in which I live and work.
Even the man who is happy
or a hair of sound touches him
and his heart overflows with a longing
he does not recognize
then it must be that he is remembering
in a place out of reach
shapes he has loved
in a life before this
the print of them still there in him waiting
I work in as direct a fashion as I can.
I rush into some ideas. Sometimes I rush out again.
As each piece becomes more ordered my studio becomes more disordered. Then, look I’m done!
Committed to each new work as it is, and above all to another, and more besides.
Surely there is no end." - Hugh Townley, Bethel, Vermont June 2006
- Professor of Art Emeritus, Brown University
- Enlisted in the United States Army, 1942. Served until 1945 in the European Theater, (England, France, Belgium and Germany)
- University of Wisconsin 1946-1948 - Major – Fine Arts; Minor – Cultural Anthropology
- Studied with Ossip Zadkine, Paris, 1948-49. Worked in clay, wood, and stone. bronze.
- London County Council School of Arts and Crafts 1949-51. Studied mural painting with Victor Pasmore.
- Degree: Master of Arts, Brown University (ad eundem gradum), 1964
1991: Relief “Lunar Migration,” Luis Muñoz Airport, American Airlines Admirals Club, San Juan, PR
1979: Providence, RI: design and supervision for construction of 14 benches for central mall
1978: The Faye School, Southborough, MA: three concrete pieces
1974: Northwest Sculpture Advocates, Inc., Eugene OR : Eleven concrete pieces
1972: State of Kentucky Comprehensive Training Center, Somerset, KY : Three concrete pieces
1970: Brown University, Providence, RI – Class of ’65: Three concrete pieces
1955: Milwaukee YMCA: Bronze cross
SELECTED ONE & TWO-PERSON EXHIBITIONS (from over 40 exhibitions)
2005: Chaplin Gallery, Norwich University, Northfield, Vermont “Sculpture by Hugh Townley
2004: T.W. Wood Gallery, Vermont College, Montpelier, VT, “Retrospective, Introspective, Prospective” sculpture
2004: Washington Art Association, Washington Depot, CT, with Edward Koren
2002: Saint Gaudens National Historic Site, Picture Gallery, Cornish, New Hampshire; Sculpture Exhibition dedicated to the memory of Mary Ross Townley
1991: Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, Main Gallery , sculpture
1989: Milwaukee Art Center, University of Wisconsin, sculpture
1981: Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA
1980: Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA
1980: State University of New York, Albany
1976: University of Oregon, Eugene
1972: Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia, PA
1972: Bell Gallery, Brown University, Providence, RI
1971: Brockton Art Museum, Brockton, MA, with Robert Newman
1969: DeCordova Dana Museum, Lincoln, MA
1966: Yale University, New Haven, CT
1965, 1964, 1962: Pace Gallery, Boston
1964: Pace Gallery, New York, NY.
1964: University of Connecticut
1951: Gallerie Appollinaire, London, England
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS (from over 60 exhibitions)
2004 - 2005: DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln, Massachusetts, “Abstract Elements: The Dr. Beatrice H. Barrett Collection of Art”, an exhibition of selected works from the 2003 bequest
2004: National Academy of Design, 179th Annual Exhibition, an invitational exhibition, New York, New York
2002: Studio 18 Gallery, New York, N.Y., “Gallerie Huit, American Artists in Paris 1950-52”
1990: Brown University, Bell Gallery, Providence, RI, “Informed Images,” Brown Faculty Show.
1985: Philadelphia Art Alliance, Philadelphia, PA, “Forms in Wood, American Sculpture of the 1950’s”
1983: State University of New York, Albany, “American Sculptors’ Lithographs”
1977: Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA
1970: Munson-Williams-Proctor Museum, Utica, NY, “Contemporary American Print Exhibition, ‘Tamarind: A Renaissance of Lithography’ ”
1967: National Institute of Arts & Letters at American Academy of Arts & Letters, New York, NY
1966 - 1967: “Art in the Embassies,” a two-year travelling exhibition
1955: Museum of Modern Art, New York, N.Y., “New Talent,” with Ben Rimo, Tyler
1950 - 1952: Gallerie Huit, American Artists in Paris
SELECTED PUBLIC COLLECTIONS (from 38 collections)
- Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
- Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
- Art Institute of Chicago
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
- Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art
- DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln, MA
- Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Fort Worth, TX
- Kalamazoo Art Center, MI
- Milwaukee Art Center, WI
- San Francisco Museum of Art War Memorial Civic Center
- Tamarind Lithograph Foundation, Los Angeles, CA
- Brown University, Providence, RI
- Harvard University, Fogg Museum of Art, Cambridge, MA
- Dartmouth College, Main Gallery, Hanover, NH
- Boston University
- Tufts University
- Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, Providence, RI
SELECTED HONORS, AWARDS & FELLOWSHIPS
- National Academy of Design, New York,, New York, selected for inclusion in 179th Annual Exhibition, May 5-June 30, 2004.
- Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA, Grant for Creative Work in Art 1980
- Oregon Sculpture Symposium, Eugene, OR, 1974
- Governor’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts, Providence, RI, 1972
- Tamarind Lithography Foundation, Los Angeles, CA, Fellow; completed 56 lithographs in two months, one on stainless steel; 1969
- National Institute of Arts and Letters, Grant for Creative work in Art, 1967
- Silvermine Art Guild, 1966
- Rhode Island Arts Festival, 1962, 1965
- Yaddo Foundation, Saratoga Springs, New York, Fellow; produced thirty-five multi-colored wax pastel drawings in one month, 1964
- Kalamazoo Art Center, Michigan – selected as one of a group of about twenty artists without experience in the graphic arts; given a week’s exposure to lithography and printing; produced eight short editions, 1964
- Berkshire, Massachusetts Art Association Annual, 1961
- Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors Society, 1952, 1956, 1957
- San Francisco Salon of Art, 1953
- Wisconsin Salon of Art, 1951, 1954
Haiti, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, England, France, Holland and India
SELECTED PROFESSIONAL POSITIONS
- Brown University, Providence, RI, Professor of Art, Sculpture and Drawing, 1961-1989
- Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, Artist-in-Residence, 1991
- School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Member of Visiting Committee 1987
- Museum of Northern Arizona: Seminar on wood as an art material, 1977; Symposium on 20th Century Sculpture, 1978
- Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, Member of Visiting Committee, 1968
- University of California at Santa Barbara, Special Session on Sculpture, 1968
- Harvard University, Basic Design, 1967
- University of California at Berkeley, Special Session on Sculpture,1961
- Boston University, Assistant Professor of Sculpture and Drawing, 1957-61
- Beloit College, Beloit, Wisconsin, Assistant Professor of Sculpture, 1956-7
- Layton School of Art, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Instructor in Sculpture, Drawing, Industrial Design 1952-56.
- George Herriman’s “Krazy Kat” Exhibition, Brown University 1984 (Curator)
- Exhibition – “Some Photographic Uses of Color,” Brown University, 1984 (Curator)
The Marshall Plan, The Hague, The Netherlands, 1949. Guard; did illustrations for their publications and designed furniture for the Director of Information.
- Howard Foundation – Reader, 1986
- Boston Museum School, Visiting Committee, 1969-77
- Carpenter Art Center, Harvard University, President’s Ad Hoc Committee, 1974
- State University of New York, Albany – Member Committee for Evaluations of Tenure, 1976; Tenure Committee, 1985; Visiting Critic/Graduate Division, 1983 & 1988
- University of Washington, Seattle – Member Tenure Committee, 1976-77
- Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT – Member Tenure Committee, 1976-77; 1988
- Rhode Island School of Design, Providence – Member Committee for Evaluation of RISD Sculpture Department, 1977
- University of Houston Art Department, Houston, Texas, Member Tenure Committee, 1983
- The Invisible Volcano, by James Schevill, illustrations by Hugh Townley, Providence, RI, Copper Beech Press, 1985
- Art Synectics, by Nicholas Roukes, Worcester, MA, Davis Publications, 1982
- Masters of Wood Sculpture, by Nicholas Roukes, New York, Watson Guptill, 1980
- Review in Art in America, by Fred Licht , 1980
- Review in Art New England, 1980
- Short Story, in Anthem of the Artist, edited by Wayne Green, 1979
- “New England Sculptors Portfolio,” Tom Connor, Printer, 1978
- Haitian Elegy, by James Schevill, Illustrations by Hugh Townley, Providence, RI, Copper Beech Press 1975
- Creating Small Wood Objects as Functional Sculpture, by Dona Z. Meilach, New York, Crown Publishers, 1971
- Art Now, Cover by Hugh Townley, Anyart, Providence, RI 1976
- Artistry in Wood, by Vincent Hayes, New York, Drake Publishers, 1972
- A History of American Art, by George M. Cohen, New York, Dell Publishing Co., 1971.