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Will Howe Foote
Lyme Art Colony
(June 29, 1874–January 27, 1965)
In Lyme: 1901-1965
Will Howe Foote was one of the earliest artists at Old Lyme and one who adopted the town as home. He first went there the summer of 1901 with his uncle, William H. Howe, a painter of cattle, who had been told about the beauties of the countryside by Henry Ward Ranger. Foote had himself heard of Old Lyme when he had met Clark Voorhees in France. He and his uncle were both from Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Foote’s father was an executive in the furniture industry that made the city famous. Encouraged to be an artist by his father, he began his professional training at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1894. He became friends there with a fellow Michigan student, Frederick Frieseke, who would study with him again at the Art Students League in New York, where Foote worked in 1895-96 under H. Siddons Mowbray and Kenyon Cox.
In 1897 he and Frieseke went to the Academie Julian in Paris, where Foote studied under Jean-Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant. He was at Julian’s until 1900, except for an Italian trip, summers at Laren, Holland, or Etaples, France, and a short period at Whistler’s school in Paris. He exhibited twice at the Old Salon, and when he returned to the United States in 1900, he had a one-man exhibition in his hometown.
Will Howe Foote’s paintings were well received on his return from abroad. He exhibited frequently at the National Academy of Design and became an associate member in 1910. His awards included a bronze medal at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904 and a silver medal at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915.
Once he visited Old Lyme, Foote returned every summer. In 1902 he was hired as assistant to Frank DuMond at the Lyme Summer School of Art, which was sponsered by the Art Students League of New York. Sometime in 1903 he also taught a session in Cos Cob. After 1906, when the League moved its Lyme classes to Woodstock, New York, Foote continued in Old Lyme as a private instructor.
In 1907 he was married to Helen Curtland Freeman, whom he had met a year or two earlier when she had come to the Lyme art colony as a student of Henry Rankin Poore. Fellow artist. Fellow artist William Chadwick was best man at the wedding. The Footes began building a house on Sill Lane in Old Lyme and upon its completion in 1909 spent every spring, summer, and fall there, where Foote devoted full time to painting. The Gregory Smiths, old friends from Grand Rapids, arrived in Old Lyme in 1910 and became neighbors.
Foote’s early works in Connecticut, such as A Summer’s Night (cat. 173, illus. p. 25) reflect the artist’s interest in soft, atmospheric scenes dominated by a single overriding tone. The arrival of Child Hassam and Walter Griffin influenced Foote as did many other Old Lyme artists, and his palette consequently lightened, becoming at times as high key as in Summer (cat. 26, illus. p. 68). Throughout his experimentation with light and color, however, Foote’s interest in form, mass, and simple geometric arrangements continued.
Considering that he lived there so long, Foote painted the Old Lyme countryside relatively little. He was not fond of working with green, a color omnipresent in Connecticut in summer. Furthermore he disliked New England winters so much that he avoided nearly all of them, favoring the Caribbean, Mexico, or the American Southwest.
Though his work had been included in a Macbeth Gallery exhibition in 1914, Foote, who had money of his own, never had nor wanted a dealer. When sales of his pictures fell off badly during the 1920s, Foote declined invitations to exhibit in museums and galleries, feeling it not worth the trouble and expense of crating and shipping. After 1933 he exhibited only at the annual exhibitions of the Lyme Art Association. He continued to experiment with subject matter and technique, but he destroyed all but what he judged to be his best work.
Foote was the last survivor of the original Old Lyme group. He had been active in the town’s civic affairs as well as in its art colony. He was a charter member of the local volunteer fire department. He died in 1965 at ninety years of age and is buried next to his wife in the Duck River Cemetery in Old Lyme. After his death memorial exhibitions of his work were held both in Grand Rapids and in Old Lyme. In 1978 S.K.T. Galleries of New York organized a Foote retrospective that travelled to the Lyme Historical Society the following year.
Foote, Will Howe. Personal Interview. Old Lyme, September, 1954. Transcript, Lyme Historical Society Archives.
Smith, Ann Youngdahl. "Will Howe Foote, American Impressionist." American Art Review, (1980).
Will Howe Foote 1874-1965. Exh. cat., S.K.T. Galleries, New York City, 1978.