James Hutchinson Inducted into the Florida Artist Hall of Fame
by Florida Fine Art Blog
This past week on Wednesday night (March 23rd, 2011), James F. Hutchinson was inducted into the Florida Artist Hall of Fame. Established by the Florida Legislature in 1986, the Florida Artist Hall of Fame recognizes persons, living or deceased, who have made significant contributions either as performing or practicing artists in their disciplines. These individuals contribute to Florida’s national or international reputation as a state with sustained commitment to the development of cultural excellence. The award is the highest and most prestigious cultural honor bestowed by the State of Florida. The Florida Artist Hall of Fame currently consists of over 30 inductees, including musician and performer Ray Charles, actor and director Burt Reynolds, writers Zora Neale Hurston, Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway, filmmaker Victor Nunez, and visual artists Duane Hanson, Robert Rauschenburg and James Rosenquist.
Secretary of State Kurt Browning, James F. Hutchinson, Governor Rick Scott
picture taken by Johnathan Mattise
The award ceremony took place at the Florida History Museum in Tallahassee, Florida and was included as part of Florida Heritage Month. The Division of Cultural Affairs for the State of Florida sponsored the event. I was in Tallahassee for the quarterly board meeting with the Florida Council on Arts and Culture. The event was well attended and was honored by the presence of both the Secretary of State for Florida, Kurt Browning, and Florida’s Governor, Rick Scott. Jim Hutchinson and his wife Joan came over from Hawaii, where they now live, and Jim’s son Kevin and his wife Mary came up from Stuart, Florida. It was a very proud moment for the Hutchinsons and Jim gave a beautiful and humorous acceptance speech. "I've always been a Floridian, I always shall be a Floridian," Jim said. "And tonight, I'm especially proud to be a Floridian."
Paintings of Jim's at the award ceremony in Tallahassee
Jim followed up the big event in Tallahassee with a museum show of 32 new paintings at the Elliot Museum in Stuart. The show opened this past Saturday (March 26th, 2011) and Christine and I drove up to take part in the festivities. The Elliot Museum is a 50-year-old institute on Hutchinson Island that is about to break ground on an entirely new modern museum space. The new museum, set to start construction next month, will be more than twice the size of the current space and is so modern in its design that some in this sleepy beach town are having trouble with the big change. I believe it is a much-needed improvement to the cultural life of Stuart.
Joan, Jim Hutchinson and me at the Elliot Museum Stuart, FL
A fun fact we discovered by attending the show Saturday was that Jim rode his bike to the opening of the Elliot Museum 50 years ago. It was fitting that 50 years later, as the museum is embarking on a new museum space, the last show held in the original space was work by Stuart’s own, Jim Hutchinson.
The show at the Elliot Museum was packed and paintings were selling well. Jim looked like he was having a grand time. His usual humor and enthusiasm filled the room. Many of his old friends came out to congratulate him, and Jim commented that his friends are what he misses most. Jim and Joan love their home in Hawaii but miss all the support and friendship from their hometown of Stuart. I was amazed at all the new work Jim completed. He is still painting at such a high level. And the prices are incredible. Sensitive to the current art market, Jim has lowered his prices so that they are in reach for the average collector. If you love Jim’s work, are building a Florida collection or looking to add another of Jim’s paintings to your collection, you’d be a fool not to take advantage of these prices. I think some of Jim’s best work is in this current show.
Jim Hutchinson came to Florida with his father after World War II. He was 13 and his family was poor. They lived up the North Fork of the St. Lucie River with four other families. His father was sort of a jack-of-all-trades. Jim Hutchinson’s passion for art began as a teenager, probably inspired by the celebrated Florida Landscape artist Beanie Backus. Jim spent a lot of time hanging around Beanie’s gallery and studio. “He took a shine to my sister Patty,” Jim said, “but she wasn’t noticing him, so he told her he would give me free art lessons. He knew that she would have to bring me up. I think he just gave me a paintbrush, paint and some canvas and said go at it, while he concentrated on Patty.” Backus and Patty married in 1950.
Florida Hall of Fame Award
In 1950 Jim graduated from Martin County High School and attended Palm Beach Community College. Then he went to Florida State University for a year before he joined the Navy and was stationed in San Francisco. After the Navy, Jim attended the New York School of Illustration.
Jim first met his wife Joan Austin of Fort Lauderdale, at Florida State University. They met up once again while he was stationed in San Francisco, and then when Jim was at school in New York he learned that Joan was in Washington, where her father was serving at the Pentagon. “It was as if fate would not let us alone,” said Joan. “We gave up and got engaged,” Jim said. In 1956, they were married in St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Stuart.
After returning to Stuart, Jim began to search for a subject to paint, something uniquely Florida that needed documenting. Jim had grown up fascinated by the Florida Indian tribes and was aware that their more primitive way of life on the reservations was disappearing. Air-conditioning, modern food storage and home construction was changing the reservation forever. So in 1960, the Hutchinson’s packed up their belongings in a trailer, picked up support from people whose portraits Jim had done and headed for the Brighton Reservation west of Okeechobee City. It would take almost a year of living on the reservation for the couple to win the confidence of the Seminoles. The Hutchinsons supported themselves on a small grant from Owen K. Murphy. There, grubbing for a living, scraping bugs out of his oils, they spent most of the next four years. For the Hutchinsons, living off the land, studying the Indians and their place in history became a lifelong passion. In 1965, the state selected 35 of Hutchinson’s Indian paintings for the Florida exhibit at the New York World’s Fair. Many honors, and new identification as a serious artist, grew from that. During the 1970s he was commissioned by the University of Miami to do 50 paintings that included a depiction of the Dade County Massacre, an 1836 battle of the Seminole War. It took him six years to complete.
Me, Jim Hutchinson and Aida Fry at The Elliot
Jim Hutchinson’s body of work, exhibited and lauded widely in World’s Fair and national tours, museums and universities, has made him a Florida icon, a talent treasure. Although he has painted in the West, Hawaii, Europe and Africa, his Florida art has been his trademark. Jim Hutchinson’s later paintings and sculpture have been collected internationally, and he continues to receive commissions to depict the natural wonders of this state and of the State of Hawaii, where he and Joan live. The Hutchinsons raised two children, son Kelly works with a computer firm in Austin, Texas, and Kevin Hutchinson a successful artist in his own right.
At The Elliot Museum in Stuart
If you ever go to the Norwegian National Museum of Art in Oslo, you will find a large painting of the Florida Everglades. It is the work of Martin County’s own James Hutchinson and a gift to the museum from King Olaf V.
Other Hutchinson paintings have hung in Florida’s Capital; the Governor’s Mansion, the U.S. District Court Building in Miami, Florida House in Washington D.C., the James Hutchinson Foundation in the Lowe Gallery at the University of Miami, The Florida Historical Museum in Miami, The Society of Four Arts in Palm Beach, Featured artwork on several Al Burt’s books on Florida and shown in many other places. Jim has brought fame and world attention to the Seminole Tribe, the Everglades, Martin County and Florida.
I have been lucky enough to know the Hutchinsons for over 15 years. When I opened my first gallery I was only able to sell paintings of Jim’s that I could find on the secondary market. Jim had always been one of my favorite Florida artists and one that I dreamed of one day representing. As with any new gallery, Jim was apprehensive about sending his paintings my way. Without an established reputation I knew it was going to be hard to convince Jim that I could properly represent his work. My break came when I discovered that Jim’s son Kevin Hutchison was also a painter. I can’t remember if Kevin first contacted me or I him but I do remember that we hit it off right away. Kevin’s tropical landscapes struck me in my comfort zone and I knew his work would sell well in South Florida. Then after just the second show, a complete triumph, I think we sold over half of the paintings on opening night; I got a call from Hawaii. It was Jim; he had heard about our success and wanted to send me five of his newest paintings. From then I was honored to represent both Jim and Kevin’s work.
“James Hutchinson is an artist whose work evokes the native soul of Florida”, said Secretary of State Kurt S. Browning. “His long years of bringing Florida’s natural and historical landscapes to his easel, has forever placed these images in a context where our descendants will be able to appreciate the many wonders of our state.”
The information contained in this post was found in a variety of publications, books, art guides and newspaper articles, as well as discussions with artists, collectors and others who know Jim. Any errors or omissions are unintended.
Below are links to Jim and Kevin’s website and a few museum websites that have Jim’s work in their permanent collection.