Painting a Shaker summer day

A yellow-painted clapboard building catches the afternoon light. In the wood shed beside it, a pile of logs as broad as tree trunks slants under an overhanging roof, and glass is broken in the windows. Tall grass blows down the center of the dirt driveway.

This is Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, on a summer day around 1950, with cloud slanting in the blue sky. The last few of the Hancock Shakers still lived in the village then. And outside their beautiful, worn and overgrown buildings, a young woman set up her easel in the grass.

Carol Kinzel was an artist from Long Island who grew up spending summer days at her grandmother’s house on Queechy Lake in Canaan, N.Y. When she came up for a weekend that summer, she was deeply connected to the New York city art world. She was full-time curator of New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller’s art collection — which by 1976 was larger than the holdings of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

But that day, feeling sun on her shoulders and paint on the canvas, she was  painting a scene she had known all her life.

“The family often passed the village on summer afternoons,” said her brother, Fritz. They would drive down Route 41 to Pittsfield, to the drive-in movie theater, and see the Round Stone Barn on the way. “It got into her eye,” he said. “That painting is indented, etched into our psyche.”

On Friday, Aug. 5, her family collected from points across the country, as far as Dallas and San Diego, to see her paintings on display at Hancock Shaker Village in “Views of the Village,” on display through Oct. 30.

The show began almost a year ago, in the fall of 2015. Carol’s daughter, Rosalie “Rose” Uht, and her cousin, Marty Ittner, a graphic designer who grew up in Pittsfield, came together at a memorial for their uncle (Jack Talbot, a sales agent at the Berkshire Life Agency in Pittsfield). Marty had grown up seeing two of Carol’s paintings at her uncle’s house — his son, Jake Talbot, owns them now. Rose had one on her wall at home.

“Jake pointed out the paintings are a triptych,” Rose said: the ice house with the tannery behind it, the laundry and machine shop behind the old woodshed, and the Round Stone Barn.

She and Marty approached curator Lesley Herzberg at Hancock Shaker Village to help them bring all three together and to celebrate Carol and her work.

“She was always painting and drawing,” said her younger sister, Dorsha Randmae.

From childhood Carol studied with an Italian art teacher and would sketch by the lake, painting landscapes and portraits of the family.

“I can’t remember her not painting,” Rose agreed.

Carol studied at Wheaton College and the University of Delaware and earned a master’s in art history at Columbia University.

“Her success as a painter stands on its own,” said her son, Augustus “Gus” Uht. “Her artistic sense was phenomenal.”

For Nelson Rockefeller she consulted on wide-ranging projects involving his collection, from tapestries based on Picasso’s “Guernica” to Matisse stained glass for a church in Tarrytown, N.Y. And when Nelson’s son, Michael Rockefeller, disappeared on a research trip to study the art of the Asmat people of New Guinea, Carol deciphered his water-damaged notes and made freehand sketches of his drawings.

And about the same time she painted the scenes at the Shaker village, she engaged freelance fine art photographer Charles “Chuck” Uht on a project for Rockefeller.

Uht was an Ohio boy who took his first flying lesson in a bi-plane at 13, and when near-sightedness grounded him he became crew for a bomber in World War II and an aeronautic model maker for the precursor to NASA. When he and Carol met, he was working as a photographer in New York City for the Brooklyn Museum, Georgia O’Keefe, Louise Nevelson and many more.

The way Carol’s brother Fritz heard the story, Carol chose Chuck as a photographer for his unusual name. They met at Grand Central Station before the photo shoot. And within two weeks, she called her step-mother — the conversation, as Rose remembered it, went like this:

“Chuck asked me to marry him!”

“What else is new?”

I said yes!

They were married in June 1951, within a year of the day she painted the Round Stone Barn. She exhibited her paintings in a show with the Pittsfield Arts League in September 1951. And she brought her husband back to the Shaker Village with her.

Herzberg, looking through the archives, found an album of photographs of the village by Charles Uht, taken in 1951, in the early spring.

“So the year they met, she must have said ‘come to this great place with me,’” she said.

Within a few years, Carol and Chuck and their children were living on the upper East Side in Manhattan, with his darkroom in the basement and a room on the third floor where she painted and he made radio-controlled model airplanes. They had small gardens in cement planters in the yard, Gus said, and a row of brownstones across the way with a shop that sold only honey.

Carol always painted and sculpted on her own, he said. As he and his sister grew older, she studied at the Art Institute of New York. Her work ranged from almost photographic to abstract.

And she always loved to paint outdoors. She never painted from photographs, Rose said, and Gus remembered taking her to set up her palette in the fields in Vermont.

In 1973, Carol Kinzel was diagnosed with cancer. She continued to work and to create until her last days — within the last years of her life she applied for a job at the Whitney and made one of the top three candidates, Fritz said.

She died in August 1978, 38 years ago.

But that summer day in 1950 is still alive.

 

Photo at the top: Oil painting of the woodshed and laundry buildings at Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, by Carol Kinzel, courtesy of John and Sondra Talbot, San Diego, Calif.

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