Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Vernon Leroy Bobbitt

Vernon Leroy Bobbitt was born on July 27, 1911 in Pella, Iowa to Lee Roy Bobbitt, a Baptist minister, and Alta Goodell Bobbitt, a teacher.  Vernon, moved every few years with his parents, as his father answered the call to ministry in Huron, South Dakota, York and Broken Bow, Nebraska, as well as Glenwood, Iowa Falls, Newton, and Perry, Iowa, where Vernon graduated from high school in 1929.

Bobbitt's mother, Alta, may have inspired his early art interests.  According to Bobbitt's memoirs, as a child he participated in his mother's various craft groups in Glenwood, Iowa, creating sealing wax jewelry, fringed handbags made from rubber inner tubes, and basketry.  He also made small stage sets with cardboard matchboxes, inspired by attending plays in Omaha, Nebraska.  Bobbitt's mother also arranged flowers for church altar displays and his father created gardens in their many parsonage homes.  Gardening and flower arranging were hobbies Bobbitt enjoyed throughout his life in Michigan.  Bobbitt also studied piano and voice in his youth and sang for weddings and funerals at his father's churches.

Vernon L. Bobbitt, circa 1960
Bobbitt attended Denison University in Granville, Ohio from 1929 to 1931 where he took his first art course.  From 1931 to 1932 he studied architecture at Iowa State University in Ames.  Because of the Great Depression, Bobbitt in 1933 suspended his university studies and managed the Malvern Tea Room in Malvern, Iowa.  His first exhibited paintings were at the Joslyn Memorial Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska in 1933 and 1934.  Bobbitt entered the Cumming School of Art in Des Moines, Iowa for one year in 1935 and exhibited at the Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, Missouri.  He left Cumming School in the spring of 1936 and moved to Newton, Iowa, with his parents.  That year Bobbitt exhibited at the Memorial Union, Iowa State College in a one-man show, and at the Iowa State Fair, Des Moines.

In the fall of 1937, Bobbitt was invited to teach art and work in public relations at Central College in Pella, Iowa.  Bobbitt also worked in the Student Industries program at the College training students in the manufacturing and sale of goods.  He also served as Director of Admissions, was on the Social Life Committee, and started Saturday morning art classes for high school students.  He also exhibited at the Chicago Art Institute and at the Carson Pirie Scott Store in Chicago that year.

In 1939 Mary Reed from New York City arrived in Pella as College Librarian to catalog the book collection.  The minister at Mary's Dutch Reformed West End Collegiate Church in Manhattan had suggested she serve as librarian at the Dutch Reformed-based Central College.  Bobbitt met Mary at the College Library while on assignment to take her photograph for the campus newspaper.  "Bob" and Mary eventually married on February 11, 1942 in New York City at Mary's church.

During the summer of 1940, Bobbitt spent six weeks on a fellowship with the Tiffany Foundation at Laurelton Hall--Louis Comfort Tiffany's grand estate--in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, New York.  Mary visited her family's summer home in Blue Point, Long Island.  In the fall of 1940, Bobbitt took a leave from Central College and entered the State University of Iowa (now known as the University of Iowa, and not to be confused with Iowa State University in Ames) in Iowa City where he completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in painting and art history in 1941.  He started a Master's program in painting that summer and especially enjoyed art history from Dr. Lester Longman, Head of the Art Department.  Early in Bobbitt's career he produced oils, prints, and watercolors of Iowa landscapes and towns, including the Amana colonies.

Bobbitt returned to Pella to teach art again at Central College in 1942 but was drafted into the U.S. Air Force on September 25.  After basic training and returning to Iowa on leave upon the death of his mother and a few months later the death of his father, he was sent to Gander, Newfoundland in July, 1943 where he served for 26 months.  Bobbitt used his talents at the base directing an art studio to provide R & R for soldiers during World War II.  He also edited the base's daily newsletter, The Prop.  Bobbitt continued to exhibit his paintings during the war--at the St. Louis Art Museum in 1942 and at Memorial University, St. John's, Newfoundland in the 1943.  He also exhibited his war paintings at Central College in 1944.

During the war, Bobbitt's wife, Mary, returned to New York and worked as a librarian at the New York Historical Society.  The Bobbitt's first daughter, Susan Du Puy Bobbitt (Pietsch) (Haas), was conceived on a furlough in June of 1944, and was born on March 15, 1945.  Bobbitt saw Susan for the first time when she was five months old on August 15 while on leave in Blue Point, Long Island.  He was discharged as a Staff Sergeant from the Air Force on October 24, 1945 and soon joined his family in New York.  The Bobbitt family lived with Mary's parents in Manhattan for a few months that fall while Bobbitt exhibited at Contemporary Arts and the Weyhe Gallery in New York City, and at the Joslyn Memorial Museum in Omaha.

Bobbitt returned to Pella, Iowa, with Mary and Susan in January, 1946 where he resumed teaching art at Central College and exhibited at Little Gallery, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  In the summer, Bobbitt completed a Master's Degree in painting under James Lechay at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Bobbitt with his assemblages, 1974
Albion College in Albion, Michigan, hired Bobbitt to head a new art department in the fall of 1946.  The art department was located on the second floor of the campus library.

Hope College in Holland, Michigan, near the shores of Lake Michigan, hired Bobbitt to teach summer school in 1947.  He completed a series of watercolors of sand dunes and lakeshore scenes there.

Bobbitt was Secretary-Treasurer of the Midwestern College Art Association and Chairman of the Michigan Art Museums Council in 1948.  That summer he took art classes at Columbia University in New York City while Mary and Susan visited family in Blue Point, Long Island.

Bobbitt traveled in Europe during the summer of 1949 visiting major art centers and enhancing his art history knowledge.  He served as vice-president of the Michigan Art Education Association that year and wrote an article, "An Artist's Evident Philosophy" published in Motive magazine in January, 1949.

Also in 1949 Bobbitt began buying original prints (in London and New York) to build a teaching collection for Albion College's Art Department.  The collection eventually grew to 1,825 (in 1980) woodcuts, etchings, aquatints, lithographs, and serigraphs dating from the mid-1400s to the present and has been called one of the finest print collections owned by a small liberal arts college in the U.S.  Following Bobbitt's retirement, other faculty continued to add to the collection.

Bobbitt took art classes in painting and art history in summer school at Columbia University in New York City in 1950.  He also served as President of the Michigan Art Education Association that year.  On August 2, 1951, the Bobbitt's second daughter, Cara Lane Bobbitt (Hochhalter), was born in Albion.

In the summers of 1952 and 1953 Bobbitt taught art at the Province of Ontario Summer Workshop for art teachers in Toronto.  In the summer of 1957 Bobbitt began teaching art at Albion College's summer school in Bay View, Michigan, a Chautauqua-inspired, United Methodist-based summer resort association.  He continued to teach there during the summers through 1981.  In Bay View, Bobbitt also founded the Bay View Historical Society, started the Bay View Historical Museum in 1964, spearheaded the Association's designation as a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and was Chairman of its Centennial Committee in 1975.

Bobbitt, his wife, Mary, and their two young daughters spent four months in the fall of 1957 on sabbatical traveling in Europe visiting art museums, galleries, cathedrals, and ruins in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Spain.

In 1961, the Bobbitt family moved into a new house, designed by "Bob" and Mary, on the banks of the Kalamazoo River at 606 Linden Lane in Albion. Features in the house included rustic barn board wall coverings, reclaimed brick, a collaged wall of rice papers, and a stained glass window made with glass shards from the Albion First United Methodist Church (built in 1889 and demolished in 1960).  Collecting objects of beauty had been one of Bobbitt's life-long hobbies.  Wooden spoons from around the world covered one wall in the kitchen.  Collections of ceramic crocks, colored glass lightning rod arrestor balls, wooden treenware, textiles, rocks, and art filled the house.

In 1965 a new Visual Arts Center, designed by Bobbitt with one of his former students, an architect at Perkins & Will, opened on the Albion College campus.  The building included studio classrooms for painting, printmaking, sculpture, and ceramics, four exhibition galleries, a large auditorium for art history lectures, and storage for the College's art collection.

In the fall of 1967, Bobbitt, his wife, and daughter, Cara, traveled on sabbatical to Portugal, mainland Greece, Crete, Istanbul, and England.

As an art educator, Bobbitt experimented with different mediums in addition to the watercolors, oils, and prints from his early career.  He enjoyed collage, mixed media works, and assemblages made with old wooden foundry molds, clockwork parts, and other found objects.  After his 1957 sabbatical, he created abstract mosaic and glass works using ceramic tesserae from Italy and thick chunks of stained glass from Chartres.

Bobbitt continued to exhibit his work at annual faculty exhibits at Albion College as well as at many other galleries throughout his career.  Following is Bobbitt's exhibit record in alphabetical order.  Exhibit years were not available for all listings at this writing.

Exhibitions:

  • Ankrum Gallery, Los Angeles, California, December 1970
  • Arwin Galleries, Detroit, Michigan
  • Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Central College, Pella, Iowa, 1940, 1944, 1982
  • Chicago Art Institute, 1937
  • Civic Art Center, Battle Creek, Michigan, 1965
  • Contemporary Arts, New York, New York, 1945
  • Ella Sharp Museum, Jackson, Michigan, 1981
  • Ft. Lauderdale Fine Art Gallery, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, 1965
  • Galérie de Boicourt, Harbor Springs, Michigan, 1978
  • The Gallery, Petoskey, Michigan
  • Grand Rapids Art Gallery, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Great Hall, Iowa State College, 1937
  • Irwin Library, Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Joslyn Memorial, Omaha, Nebraska, 1934, 1936, 1941, 1946
  • Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, Missouri, 1935
  • The Lantern, Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Little Gallery, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 1946
  • Lowe Art Gallery, University of Miami, Miami, Florida, 1964
  • Memorial Union, Iowa State College, 1936
  • Memorial University, St. John's Newfoundland, Canada, 1943, 1944
  • Museum of Art, Bridgeport, Connecticut
  • Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio, 1974
  • St. Louis Art Museum, 1942
  • Visual Arts Center, Annual Faculty Exhibits, Albion College, Albion, Michigan, 1946-76
  • Weyhe Gallery, New York, New York, 1945, 1946, 1956
  • Younkers Gallery, Des Moines, Iowa, 1938


In addition to Bobbitt's work as a professor of painting and art history, curator of exhibits, and Chair of the Art Department at Albion College, he contributed to the greater Albion community, especially through the Albion Historical Society that he founded in 1958.  The Society raised funds to purchase and restore the A. P. Gardner house built in 1875 at 509 South Superior Street, next door to the Albion Public Library.  Bobbitt supervised the restoration of the long-neglected, Victorian brick house in 1966.  It became The Gardner House Museum, was furnished by donations of local citizens, and opened to the public in May of 1968.  On June 11, 1968, the Battle Creek Enquirer and News awarded Bobbitt with its George Award for his efforts in spearheading a "successful campaign to establish an Albion Community Museum."  In 1969, the Michigan Historical Commission gave an Award of Merit to the Gardner House Museum. In 1971, the Museum was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On December 30, 1972, Bobbitt, at age 61, lost his beloved wife, Mary, who passed away after a long illness in Albion at age 58.

Vernon Bobbitt retired at age 65 as Chair of the Art Department at Albion College concluding a productive 30-year career as an art educator.  In May 1977, his name was added to the Visual Art Center building that he had planned and designed.  A bronze plaque hangs in the lobby of the building with an inscription that reads as follows:

VERNON L. BOBBITT VISUAL ARTS CENTER

Professor Vernon L. Bobbitt retired in 1976 as Chairman of the Visual Arts Department after thirty years as a member of the Albion College faculty. He is revered by former students as a teacher, counselor and friend and will always be remembered for his delightful sense of humor.

His most tangible contribution to Albion was his leadership in the acquisition of an extensive art collection that includes one of the best print collections of any small college in the country. He also played an important role in making this Visual Arts Center a reality. Bobbitt loved his students and they loved "Mr. B," as they called him.  One student remarked that although he hadn't wanted to take art, he was forever grateful to have gained an ability to see the world through "Bobbitt eyes."

After his retirement Bobbitt continued to curate occasional exhibits at "Bobbitt," as the Center is often called, and had retrospective exhibits at the Galérie de Boicourt in Harbor Springs, Michigan in 1978, at the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, Michigan in 1981, and at Central College in Pella, Iowa in 1982.

Bobbitt continued to travel after retirement to Colombia, South America, China, England, and to various cities in the U.S.  He spent his last year in a nursing home in Seattle, Washington, to be near his two daughters.  They were able to take him to art museums and for scenic drives to satisfy his ever-present appreciation in finding beauty and interest in people, art, architecture, and nature.

Vernon Bobbitt died on October 15, 1992 at age 81 in Seattle.  Memorial services were held for him in Seattle at the Sand Point Community United Methodist Church and at the First United Methodist Church in Albion, Michigan where Bobbitt and his wife, Mary are buried at the Riverside Cemetery.

September 21, 2009

Written by Susan, daughter of VLB (email: sdbph@aol.com), in consultation with Cara, daughter of VLB (email: hochhalter.cara@gmail.com).



Monday, May 20, 2013

A narrow sampler, a broad range

None of the images below is a missing painting or assemblage. All are works by Vernon Bobbitt that are in private hands and know provenance. [See post below: How you can help.] A full list and images of the twenty-seven paintings will be posted shortly. In the meantime, a glimpse of the artist's work [click on an image to enlarge it]:















How you can help

This blog was created to help recover some two dozen missing paintings of the late American artist Vernon Leroy Bobbitt [1911-1992]. Most of Bobbitt's work is in the hands of private owners or in museums across the country. However, shortly before his death, several of Bobbitt's paintings were entrusted by his family to a New York City gallery in order to be sold. That gallery, Ross Constantine stored the paintings with another, affiliated gallery, Optique Gallery in New Jersey. Both galleries disappeared shortly thereafter, the artist died, and the consigned paintings also vanished. Today his daughters continue their search for the missing artworks. Perhaps you can help? If you have any information about any of the paintings listed above, please contact Bobbitt's daughter, Sue, via email: sdbph@aol.com. Thank you.

This painting, Soldier Writing Home, was painted during the Second World War, when Bobbitt was a corporal in the US Army. The painting was shown in New York City in 1943 as part of the Army's Special Service Department's art exhibition. The picture (not one of the missing works) was recently offered for sale by a gallery in Texas.




















Below is a missing painting, sold at auction in Pennsylvania, and recently discovered online. How the painting got from the New Jersey gallery, where it was stored for the New York gallery owner, to a Pennsylvania auction is unknown:

Vernon Bobbitt, oil on canvas, abstract, 1947, 32" x 35"