A while back I began corresponding with a wonderful woman and watercolorist, Naomi Brotherton of Carrollton, Texas. Naomi has a long history as a fine painter, instructor, Whitney student and colleague. She has also been a major contributer on the organizational front of advancing the medium and to fellow watercolorists in general. It is always a delight to hear from her. Naomi’s energy and enthusiasm for watercolor and making art still shines through, even across cyberspace! Naomi’s friend Anne Bedford has generously forwarded me a collection of vintage Whitney Workshop ads from the pages of 1956-1969 Artist’s Magazine. Her contribution to the site is greatly appreciated as well. It is with pleasure that I allow Naomi to share her story with you for the Whitney archives. In addition, I am able to illustrate her story with her beautiful watercolors. Clearly, Ed’s design influences are apparent in her skillfully executed work. I suppose he is somewhere saying
Thank God for scholarship!
Hi, Wes, Here at last is my story… my association with Ed Whitney and the resulting organization, Southwestern Watercolor Society, now 45 years old and very Alive and Well. They recently had a “This is your Life” program about my part in all this…. a nice reward. I am glad this will go in the records as to how Ed happened to come this way.
How Edgar A. Whitney started teaching in Dallas and the South
While living in New York City in the early 1950s, I discovered an ad in the American Artist Magazine. It offered a two week watercolor workshop in New England traveling in the teacher’s station wagon. It sounded very interesting, but I knew nothing about this person, nor about his work. About that time his first book was published and the paintings were exciting. I wanted to learn more about watercolor from this teacher, Edgar A. Whitney.
Having written for information about the workshop, I was on Ed’s mailing list, and received a post card inviting me to join his class for Memorial Day week end out on Long Island. Cars were needed to transport some of the other students.
I had a car, so planned to go. The thought was that If I found myself in the wrong company, I could come home. Well, of course I had a ball, and was eager to learn more about painting from this dynamic teacher. I immediately signed up for one of the summer workshops in 1953. The trip was with 8 students and Ed in the station wagon. Luggage and plastic water jugs rode on top and watercolor bags were strapped on the open tailgate. Rain brought out tarps, to protect the exposed baggage. I recall that as we made our way up to New Hampshire the first day, Ed announced in his booming voice, “There will be no “lolly pop” trees painted on this trip.” Shocked, this little Texan was in awe of the man.
The two lane asphalt roads were higher in the center than on the edge, so Ed drove down the middle of the road, so as not to wear the tires unevenly. That was scary at times. Each day consisted of painting at two different locations with “tailgate lunch” between, and a group critique ending the day. Ed took pride in painting a demo in one hour or less to get students started at each location. One day, he painted an entire painting of a light house using only his 2 inch brush in the actual time of 5 minutes. Going from location and in the work clothes of the day, the class was welcomed at the best seafood restaurants in the area. Idlease Motel in Kennabunk Port, Maine was the longest stop, but the area provided a wide variety of subject matter including woodlands, light house, surf and rocks, lobstermen’s shacks, ocean vistas, boats, etc.
A one week trip was planned for the week after Labor Day, and I decided to take advantage of that one also. Before the next summer my husband and I had moved back to Dallas, TX, but that year I flew up to New York to make another trip with Ed’s workshop. By then other cars were joining the caravan, as his class was becoming popular. Lem and I settled into life in Dallas and began raising a family.
About 9 years later I learned from one of my workshop roommates that Ed and his wife, Opie, were planning a trip to California to visit some of the west coast watercolorists and for Ed to paint as they traveled. I invited him to return through Dallas to participate in an Art Fiesta put on by the Artists and Craftsmen Association (ACA) of Dallas. He timed the trip so as to do so. He took a booth in the show and later did a demonstration for their regular program. Plans were immediately forming for them to return to Dallas the next March for him to teach a workshop.
I worked up a class for him, found suitable locations to paint out, or in case of inclement weather, a place to paint indoors. Maps had to be made and mimeographed. The cars would meet at a location near downtown Dallas, and caravan to location. Ramon Froman, a Dallas portrait painter, would follow the procession of up to 25 cars, and try to keep anyone from getting lost. The class was held on Saturday and Sunday, and two week days… for 3 weeks each year. At the end of each workshop, Ed and Opie hosted a party for the group at their motel room. That was cozy and fun.
After they had made the trip from New York to Dallas and back the first year that they came to hold a workshop, Ed and Opie decided getting out of the north in March was a good thing. Word got around and he was invited to teach in Florida, so he combined it with the Dallas trip. Then the New Orleans area wanted him, and Houston, Ft. Worth, San Angelo and Pittsburg, TX were other workshops that evolved out of the Dallas trip. One year Jo Taylor and I followed him to his Joplin, MO workshop.
About 1962 I asked Ed if he thought I knew enough about watercolor to teach it. He said, “Teaching a subject you will learn more about it than just practicing it.” I did so, phasing out my commercial art, and found myself constantly quoting the man in my own classes. In 1963 the Dallas Whitney class plus students of Bud Biggs and Reese Kennedy organized the North Texas Watercolor Society, which was soon renamed Southwestern Watercolor Society. With Reese Kennedy as the first president of SWS , the organization got well established, and they started sponsoring Ed Whitney’s annual trip to Dallas relieving me of the responsibility. Ed was very proud that he had “Spanked the baby” to get SWS started.
Whitney introduced the use of the demonstration mirror. He carried one in his station wagon along with a portable rig to suspend it over head. He claimed that 100 people could see the demo using that rather small mirror, which was proved so, by the attendance at his demos. Having found that it worked, SWS soon had one of their own.
Ed continued to make these winter/spring journeys well into his 90s. Cataract surgery and hip replacements through the years didn’t slow him down. In 1984, the last year that he taught in Dallas, he hired a driver for the trip. He realized that his reflexes were not as good as they should have been, but the dynamic teaching process was still there.
Edgar A. Whitney died in 1987 at the age of 96.
Submitted by Naomi Brotherton July, 2008
Thanks so much Naomi for your important historical contribution to the site! I have several other posts coming soon with contributions from Barbara Nechis and Frank Webb. I also welcome Ward Hooper to the site, a Whitney student and fine watercolorist (who maybe can be talked into a submission?). Please be sure to Subscribe to future posts and as a site Follower at the new links on the left column. As the site grows this will enable you to get automated notices of new posts (and I will not have to manually send out notices). Stay tuned!