April 29, 2024

10 Pieces of Unexpected Art from Historic Artists' Homes and Studios

Auguste Rodin, sculpture; Jackson Pollock, abstract paintings; Yayoi Kusama, light-filled rooms like stepping into infinity. Some of the world’s most renowned artists are best recognized by the medium they excelled in. However, that doesn’t mean the artist only worked in that medium or that they didn’t experiment in other creative ways.

At the 61 homes and studios that are a part of the Historic Artists' Homes and Studios (HAHS) program, visitors can immerse themselves in the environment where groundbreaking artists created their more recognizable works, but also pieces that are filled with surprises.

Scroll through ten unexpected pieces of art by both artists that are beloved and well known, and some new-to you creators that you might just come to love.

“Steam barge model” by Edward Hopper (Nyack, New York)

A view of a wooden model boat against a white background.

photo by: Paul Mutino Photography

View of the Edward Hopper, Steam Barge model, made from wood and brass c.1894-1900.

Well before he painted the iconic Nighthawks, Edward Hopper haunted shipyards and river shores rather than diners in his hometown of Nyack, New York. Situated on the Hudson River, the area’s maritime industry inspired a lifelong interest in boats and waterways. As a youth, Hopper so enjoyed making model steam barges and sailboats, particularly carving all their minute details by hand, that he considered becoming a naval architect.

“Mourner’s Bench” by Grant Wood (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

View of an intricately carved bench on a white background.

photo by: Cedar Rapids Museum of Art

"Mourner’s Bench" by Grant Wood made from oak c. 1921-1922.

Grant Wood, Iowa’s most famous artist and leader in the Regionalist artistic movement, tried his hand at several mediums before focusing on painting. While he’s best known for his iconic portrait American Gothic, Wood possessed other talents—including one that aligns ironically with his name.

Originally exploring metalworking, Wood began his professional artistic career as a middle school art teacher. While teaching, he used his woodworking skills to construct his work Mourner’s Bench. These types of benches were often seen in churches where sinners and mourners would wait to seek their salvation. However, because Wood’s bench was intended for troublemaking students to sit upon while waiting for whatever punishment the principal might dole out, his mourner’s bench is intended to be humorous.

“Italian Cantos” by Aminah Robinson (Columbus, Ohio)

Born to artist parents who encouraged her to explore a variety of mediums and insisted she read, listen to music, and make art every day, Aminah Robinson knew by age 9 that she would spend her life documenting Black history primarily through her paintings. Over time, her paintings manifested as both 2D and those to which she affixed fabric, buttons, and many other materials.

Robinson was a polymath and it’s easy to imagine Robinson listening to music while painting, so it’s no surprise that music came out in her visual art as well. Beyond her paintings, woodcuts, sculptures, and mixed media cloth panels, she also made sheet music that are as beautiful to look at as they are to play.

View of sheet music by Aminah Robinson. The notes are multicolored and designed making the sheet music also an piece of art.

photo by: Columbus Museum of Art

Aminah Robinson's Italian Canto Illustration.

“U tichu noci - In the quiet of the night” by Albin Polasek (Winter Park, Florida)

A view of two pages side by side on a black background a handwritten page next two a typed version of a poem.

photo by: Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens

View of the handwritten and printed versions of "In the Quiet of the Night" by Albin Polasek.

Visit the home where Albin Polasek retired in Winter Park, Florida, on the shores of Lake Osceola, and it’s easy to see why the artist fell in love with the place. With a robust sculpture garden displaying some of his best work in his most famous medium, The Albin Polasek Museum is a must-see in the area.

What many may not realize, though, is there was more to Polasek’s artistic practice than sculpting in wood, stone, and clay. He also painted, played music, and wrote poetry in his mother tongue, the Czech language.

“Pencil” by Jackson Pollock (East Hampton, New York)

View of some etchings and drawing on a pencil by Jackson Pollock.

photo by: Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center

View of a pencil by Jackson Pollock.

It’s hard to imagine the famous artist making anything before the drip-and-pour paintings made with frenzied, full-body movement over the canvas, but Jackson Pollock was a man of many talents.

Many of Jackson Pollock's tools and materials are preserved in his former studio, which is part of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center historic site. Among them is a yellow pencil on which Pollock used a graphite pencil to create drawings of pictographic figures. The style of the images is like drawings Pollock made on paper around 1939-40, but this is the only known instance of his embellishing another drawing implement, which also bears traces of the aluminum radiator paint found in many of his poured paintings.

"October” by Henry Mercer (Doylestown, Pennsylvania)

The American Arts and Crafts Movement sprang up in response to the Industrial Revolution and fear that lovingly crafted artisanal goods would be replaced by mass-produced, machine-made goods. Henry Mercer addressed his anxieties by channeling his craftsmanship into founding the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works—now a museum—which cemented his name as a leading American tile and mosaic artist.

Still, Mercer was talented in several other mediums, including drawing and poetry, which he combined in his October pastel, which is now part of the Fonthill Castle collection. Inspired by the seasonality of rural life, the pastel illustrates the labor required in fall, such as harvesting grain, grinding corn, and baking bread.

View of a pastel drawing by Henry Mercer with a poem about the seasons written below it.

photo by: Mercer Museum & Fonthill Castle

Pastel drawing by Henry Mercer with accompanying poem.

Untitled Monoprint by Paul Soldner (Aspen, Colorado)

While many artists try a variety of mediums before they find the one they become known for, other artists pick up skills in new artistic mediums late in life. The fine art ceramicist Paul Soldner proved that it’s never too late to add to your artistic repertoire.

Known for his large, abstract standalone and wall-hanging sculptures, Soldner pioneered the California School style of ceramics, which encouraged the use of raw materials from the Western world and Japan’s pottery techniques, and in his elder years worked with a printing assistant at Anderson Ranch Art Center. Soldner’s fascination with advertising and Vegas imagery is seen in this monoprint he created during this time.

A black and white printing of Las Vegas and advertising by Paul Soldner.

photo by: Soldner Center for the Arts and Innovation

Black and White print by Paul Soldner.

A dark stone ceramic statue standing with its back against a wood panel and on wood decking. The statue is an interpretation of Winnie the Pooh.

photo by: Wharton Esherick Museum

A statue of Wharton Esherick's interpretation of Winnie the Pooh.

Winnie the Pooh by Wharton Esherick (Malvern, Pennsylvania)

Soldner wasn’t the only HAHS artist fascinated by ceramics. Wharton Esherick is most famous for his sculptural, utilitarian furniture designs that elevated everyday objects like desks, music stands, and step stools to high art through his superior craftsmanship, though he remained open to other mediums.

While exploring ceramics, Esherick put his own spin on Winnie the Pooh and the statue now greets guests on the deck of his studio. This Winnie is one of 22 animal garden sculptures Esherick made while working with ceramicist Peter McAdam.

Untitled Assemblage by John Little (East Hampton, New York)

Before the Arts Center at Duck Creek became what it is today, it was a homestead and farm built in the 1700s. The abstract expressionist painter John Little added to that historical significance when he bought the property in 1948 and made it his home and studio.

Although best known for his abstract expressionist paintings, Little often made assemblage art. One such piece was created from found items acquired on the shores of a Montauk beach.

“Red Garden” by Jack Lenor Larsen (East Hampton, New York)

While Jack Lenor Larsen was most famous for his weavings and textile designs, he was also a great lover of the outdoors and sought to create the gardens of his dreams at his home, LongHouse. His career in textile arts allowed him to travel around the world, and along the way, he gained aesthetic inspiration that he brought back to LongHouse.

View of an assemblage of objects.

photo by: Arts Center at Duck Creek

View of an assemblage by John Little.

View of a garden filled with vibrant read and pink flowers with interspersing logs marking off sections.

photo by: LongHouse Reserve

A garden called the Red Garden designed by Jack Lenor Larsen at LongHouse.

Inspired by the Japanese torii gates and Shinto shrines, Larsen created the Red Garden to embody the Eastern design elements that intrigued him while using materials local to New York. The Red Garden features a Study in Heightened Perspective, an artful composition of cedar posts, positioned parallel along a path, painted in the iconic red of Japanese gardens. The posts are of diminishing heights and widths to creative a captivating illusion. More red is incorporated in Larsen’s choice of red-leafed trees, Lord Baltimore hibiscus, Japanese coral-bark maple, and purple-leaf flowering plums, as well as a burning bush plant.

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Mandy Shunnarah (they/them) is a writer who loves old things. When they're not writing their next book, they can often be found wandering around historic places like theatres, cemeteries, and author homes (usually with permission). Learn more at mandyshunnarah.com.

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