To artist Marieluise Hutchinson, Maine’s rural landscape holds all the classic elements of a New England Christmas: expanses of snow embracing a red barn, an evergreen wreath hung on a door, candlelight pouring from windows, children sculpting a snowman.
This year, more than 825,000 people all over the world will receive a quintessential image of the New England holidays through reproductions of Hutchinson’s donated work on Christmas cards.
The American Red Cross, in partnership with the Marian Heath Greeting Card Co. of Wareham, Mass., asked Hutchinson in the fall to donate an image for 10,000 cards to be sent to American veterans and members of the U.S. military serving at home and abroad. A reproduction of Hutchinson’s 2013 Christmas painting, “The Way of Wintertime,” will be among the millions of cards the Red Cross distributes this year, with images provided by civilian donors including artists, children and a range of organizations across the nation.
But that’s not all. One of the country’s large insurance companies, Amica Mutual Insurance Co. of Lincoln, R.I., has already sent out 800,000 cards bearing Hutchinson’s “Harvest Home” Thanksgiving image.
And for the sixth consecutive year, A Baby Center, a nonprofit organization in Hyannis, Mass., has raised money for diapers, formula and other essentials for mothers and their infants, by selling 750 boxes of holiday cards created from Hutchinson’s artwork.
Hutchinson, who lives for part of the year in Cushing and the remainder on Cape Cod, has been donating her paintings to New England organizations for years. She produces a new original holiday painting each year during October.
She said she started this personal tradition by giving one of her images to Hospice of Cape Cod in Yarmouth, Mass., “sometime in the 1990s.” Since then, she has contributed original art every year to a fundraising efforts for nonprofits – including providing reproductions for three years to the Pine Tree Society in Bath.
Her images have bolstered financial support for cancer treatment centers, including the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston; infant and children’s care groups such as Child and Family Services of Cape Cod in Hyannis and affordable housing programs there.
“Every single painting I do is a real place,” said the self-taught Hutchinson, who took up painting in her 20s after going through a divorce and finding herself in need of a livelihood to support her children, now grown.
Hutchinson always had a penchant for drawing. Her transition to oil painting and the development of her personal style – what she calls “traditional, realistic rural New England” – came about through trial and error, she admits. But always she has focused on images that speak to her of enduring New England values.
For inspiration, Hutchinson often spends hours driving alone on back roads in New England, looking for just the right landscape or detail to capture the essence of its farms, cottages and fishing communities, the rolling hills and valleys, dense forests and isolated shores.
One of her newer paintings, “The Perfect Tree,” was sparked by the lines of a home and the landscape near Owls Head, south of Rockland.
The particulars she chooses to portray appear over and over in her representational artwork, sometimes portraying specific places and sometimes in composites.
“The appeal of Marieluise’s work is that it harkens back to a simpler time, or what we like to think of as a simpler time,” said Susan Starr, who, with her husband, John, co-owns Bayview Gallery in Brunswick. “There’s a warmth to them.”
“There’s an almost Hopperesque quality to her work,” said Richard Waterhouse, director of the Cahoon Museum of American Art in Cotuit, Mass., which recently featured some of Hutchinson’s art in its “Small Works” exhibition. “Except it’s not as dark as Hopper’s.”
Hutchinson’s spare, simple oils capture the timeless New England countryside of childhood memory, images to which many people respond. One of her paintings, for example – a winter scene from interior Maine – is being displayed in Athens for the next three years as part of the U.S. State Departments “Art in Embassies” cultural exchange program in the visual arts.
“People have a wistful yearning for what was,” she said. “I like to paint things of the past. I have almost a homesickness for the irrecoverable past.”
Born in Massachusetts and raised in Hanover, Mass., in a sprawling Federal-style house with five fireplaces on 11 acres of land, Hutchinson returns, creatively, to that “wonderful, peaceful time to grow up – the late 1940s and ’50s.,” she said.
That internalized time and place – of innocence a simplicity, rural open space and little human embellishment – comes through in Hutchinson’s winter scenes that so often include barns and farmhouses, smoke rising from chimneys, and a background of evergreen forests on the horizon.
Hutchinson cherishes the atmosphere of New England, the hardy Yankee character, the seemingly infinite detail in commonplace things and the rich variation of the region’s distinct seasons.
“It’s not sentimental,” Hutchinson said. “It’s nostalgia for a simpler time. I never apologize for being nostalgic.”
Hutchinson’s body of work has remained popular in Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts for more than a quarter of a century. Her work, exhibited in seven New England galleries, has been featured in Cape Cod Life, Cape Cod View, Country Living, The Review and Maine Boats, and Homes & Harbors magazines. It is exhibited in the permanent collections of the Cahoon Museum and the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis, Mass.
In her painting “The Perfect Tree,” a figure – made universal by a heavy coat, boots, mittens and a muffler – in the foreground is pulling a freshly cut Christmas tree toward a barn and farmhouse. It is an moment one might witness driving home in any of a hundred places in Maine at this time of year, a slice of life framed by a glance and impressed almost imperceptibly on the memory.
But in Hutchinson’s painting, the more closely the observer looks, the richer the narrative becomes: One imagines pies baking in the warm kitchen indoors, the flicker of firelight from the hearth, the cheer of a family celebrating together.
“Marieluise’s images make it very easy to compose a story,” said Starr.
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