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Painter Stevens honored at Conway art exhibit

  • People browse an exhibit featuring paintings by W. Lester Stevens inside the Field Memorial Library, as part of Conway's 250th Anniversary Celebration, Thursday, June 15, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • People browse an exhibit featuring paintings by W. Lester Stevens inside the Field Memorial Library, Thursday. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • People browse an exhibit featuring paintings by W. Lester Stevens inside the Field Memorial Library, as part of Conway's 250th Anniversary Celebration, Thursday, June 15, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Williams College Museum of Art Senior Curator of American Art Kevin Murphy gives a talk at the opening of Conway's 250th W. Lester Stevens art exhibit in the Field Memorial Library Thursday, June 15, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • More than 100 people listen to a talk by Williams College Museum of Art Senior Curator of American Art Kevin Murphy at the opening of Conway's 250th W. Lester Stevens art exhibit in the Field Memorial Library Thursday, June 15, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • A painting by W. Lester Stevens inside the Field Memorial Library, Thursday. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo



Recorder Staff
Friday, June 16, 2017

CONWAY — Hundreds of people wandered through the Field Memorial Library Thursday evening studying paintings by W. Lester Stevens and other contemporary New England artists at Conway’s 250th Anniversary Celebration’s opening art exhibit.

“I don’t know what they expected, but I’m impressed,” said Jim Murphy, an Ashfield resident who had a painting on display.

In total, more than 50 pieces hung throughout the iconic library in the center of town on movable white walls and in front of bookshelves covered with cloth. The exhibit, organized by the Conway Historical Society, drew locals and Stevens fans from out of town alike.

An opening reception talk was given by Kevin Murphy, senior curator of American art at Williams College Museum of Art, to a large audience that overflowed onto the library’s broad steps outside the entrance.

In the months leading up to the event, 15 artists from the “The Lester Group” — many from the Rockport Art Association, which brought the artists together — came to Conway and painted Stevens’ white Cricket Hill farmhouse as tributary work. The finished paintings are up for sale and displayed beside Stevens’ originals.

“We’re really pleased — really pleased. We had 150 people in the first hour,” said organizer and Historical Society member Philip Kantor.

An information sheet calls Stevens, who was born in Rockport, “one of the most recognized New England landscape painters of the 20th century.” During his talk, Murphy noted that Stevens’ most notable work came after he moved to Conway in the 1940s — right up until his death in 1969.

Historical Society Chairman Peter Engelman said Stevens represents locals well because “there are so many people who are like that, who chose to live here.”

In his twilight years, Stevens’ was embedded in the small-town community and often bartered paintings for basic services such as medical visits. A few people at Thursday’s opening remembered Stevens as more than just a famous painter.

“He was somewhat of a recluse when he got into his art,” said David MacDonald of Conway. “He really didn’t like kids — except for my brother, who was about 3 when we’d go up to see him. He’d stop what he was doing and hold him on his lap.”

Other people, like former Deerfield Academy student Ned Reade, who drove down from Vermont, were impacted by the legacy Stevens left behind.

“It’s a great idea to have so many artists pay homage to Lester Stevens. I remember looking up at that painting at Deerfield Academy,” Reade said, standing in front of a piece on loan from the school.

The 15 artists who contributed to the exhibit were Carolyn Walton, Harley Bartlett, Michael Graves, David Hatfield, Stapleton Kearns, Ken Knowles, David Lussier, Peter Miller, Erik Minzner, Jim Murphy, T.M. Nicholas, Caleb Stone, Eric Tobin, Mark Tougias and John Traynor. All of their work is for sale.

The exhibition, put on with help from Greenfield Savings Bank and paid for by Conway’s 250th Anniversary Committee, has scheduled open hours through the weekend from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

You can reach Andy Castillo

at: acastillo@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 263

On Twitter: @AndyCCastillo