Times Past ~ New Works by William Talmadge Hall

The Jessie Edwards Gallery on Block Island is excited to announce its first exhibit of the season, in the gallery and on-line, from June 21st – July 2nd.

The new works by William Talmadge Hall in his exhibition ‘Times Past’ portray the artist’s love of Block Island and history. These works are personal for Hall, a third generation islander, yet encompass a past he hopes for people to remember as he immortalizes the rich and fabulous, and often unknown, history of the people, land and sea into his beautiful watercolors.


Hall’s association with the island goes back generations, his father being born on the island but one of the few Hall’s to leave and settle on the mainland, raising his family there, and he still has many relatives who call Block Island home. Just as we can’t aways separate out where we come from, from who we are, so too is it impossible for Hall to separate the scene from the story. Each of his works has a depth of many layers, both on the paper and in the history. While the paintings show, or tell a story, easily seen as we look at his work, what isn’t as readily visible is that each piece has a story narrative layered underneath what is painted on the paper. One of his passions is depicting life at a time that has passed. His use of subjects such as boats and ships, as well as farming and farmers and everyday people doing ordinary things, makes his pieces works of historical art, each one a story to help viewers experience a way of life that has passed but should still be remembered. There is so much richness in the way of life this New England island had and it is on the verge of being lost as the old timers pass away and the younger generations lose an interest that is tenuous at best. His works are not only beautifully rendered and a delight to view, they are also a lesson in history from the vantage point of life on this island which we love and whom many call home.

This show, which comprises 17  framed watercolors ranging in size from 12×16” – 18×22” is enthralling. Each detailed painting tells a story. They are visual reminders of a time that has past but is still alive in the memories and stories of many people who are part of Block Island and her lore.

In ‘Block Island Tuna Club, Sunset – 1956’ (watercolor, 16×20” framed), we are shown a view which is no longer seen on Block Island. There is so much in this piece which calls to us. Our focus is on the Tuna Club, a beautiful three story building which sits on a low hill, just above the Atlantic Ocean. The golden light shining through its windows makes the building come alive as we get a glimpse of sunset to the west. To the right our eye sees the Ocean View Hotel in its declining years, a decade or so before it burned to the ground. It’s imposing and almost ghostly in the shadow of the western light. It feels like a working scene as we see people and animals in the foreground, wrapping up the day’s chores before the light completely fades. Both the Tuna Club and Ocean View have long and interesting histories which we are, however briefly, reminded of in this work.

One of the pieces of history Block Island is known for is the Double Ender. This seaworthy vessel is a subject in many of Hall’s paintings and we come to see why he feels it is so important to immortalise on paper. In ‘Block Island Double Ender in Rough Water’ we see this wide beam and sturdy boat faring much better navigating the rough sea conditions than the larger fishing schooner, which has had to remain close to shore for safety. In this image, there is a small boy in the double ender. What we don’t see is the story behind the scene, something which informed Hall as he painted this piece: the boy is being transported to the mainland to save him from a life threatening wound. The double ender was the only vessel which could have made this trip and it did so in seas other boats couldn’t handle. The boy was saved and went on to live a long and interesting life back on Block Island.

In ‘Rounding Sandy Point at North Light – 1860s’, we see two double enders transporting passengers to the square rigger in the distance. This area can be treacherous and  many shipwrecks have occurred. A lot of caution is needed to navigate the waters and the double enders make this task safer. We also see the lighthouse in the background, along with the lighkeeper’s house. While the lighthouse is still there, the house and other structures have been lost to time. Also pictured are trawl barrels showing the complexities of working life on this land and in the sea.

The activity we see in ‘Smiling Through Cottage on Cooneymus Road’, shows us what life in the late 19th and early 20th century entailed, at least on this corner of road on this part of the land. The haystack pictured was a common sight on the landscape as farmers harvested the fields for animal feed. Early clearing of the fields resulted in the island being strewn with stonewalls, delineating land and field, and needed tending to maintain the integrity of the structures. The house in the background, Smiling Through, became immortalised by its owner Arthur A Penn when he wrote a song about it which became famous. We also see telegraph poles which remind us that even though Block Island was isolated, it was a critical location for communication and information especially in war times, and therefore had systems in place that rivalled the mainland. We see where the past works alongside the future on this beautiful Block Island road.

The grandeur and majesty of the Ocean View Hotel is evident in Hall’s framed watercolor ‘Ocean View Hotel, 1870s’. It looks like a busy summers’ day on Block Island given all the activity in this piece. The large Victorian hotel sits above what we know as Old Harbor and we get a feel for what a well appointed hotel, which could serve over 500 guests at a time, some of which were members of the US Supreme Court along with General Ulysses S Grant, could offer guests and residents. The dories in the foreground show people enjoying this beautiful day on the water while the crowd at the restaurant, along the foreshore, invites us into the past as we think about how different, and also similar, this scene is today.

Come experience Block Island and feel her rich history through the work of William Talmadge Hall. We look forward to welcoming you in the gallery on the second floor of the iconic Post Office Building in Old Harbor or ‘seeing’ you on line for this unique and historical exhibition.        

The Jessie Edwards Gallery is open Wednesday – Monday (closed Tuesdays), 10am – 5pm and by appointment at other times. If the flags are out, then we are open. Check www.JessieEdwardsGallery.com for updates.