Southern Vermont College Receives Stephen Hannock Paintings from Irene Hunter Estate

March 15, 2011

Southern Vermont College has received works of art as a gift from the estate of Mrs. Irene Hunter, a longtime supporter of arts and education throughout southern Vermont and western Massachusetts. The collection comprises selected pieces by Stephen Hannock, a renowned American painter whose landscapes have earned him a reputation as today’s “true American luminist.”

Luminism is an art style characterized by effects of light in landscapes, using various brushstrokes and deliberate perspective. Hannock’s paintings are collected by celebrities such as Sting, Candace Bergen and Tom Brokaw and is exhibited at museums and fine art galleries around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art and Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., Laing Art Gallery in England, Butler Institute of American Art in Ohio, and Berkshire Museum in Massachusetts.

The works, donated by the estate with the artist’s enthusiastic support, features eight pieces of Hannock’s early works. These paintings are key to informing the artist’s later work. The College will unveil and exhibit the eight paintings with a formal opening in Fall 2011 at the Bennington Center for the Arts, where SVC also holds classes. Educational programming integrating the art across the SVC academic curriculum will begin simultaneously.

One painting in this collection is a rare fluorescent pink piece that will be displayed at designated times under special lighting. While apprenticing under Leonard Baskin, an acclaimed artist and Smith College Professor, Hannock began experimenting with phosphorescent paints, creating large scale, imaginary landscapes that would glow when placed under black ultraviolet light. Another signature technique that Hannock developed early in his career, which gives his paintings their unique luminosity, was the process of building up layers of paint on the canvas, sandpaper-polishing it, applying new layers of paint and polishing it again – sometimes over and over.

According to family, Irene Hunter was involved in Hannock’s career as he progressed from Baskin’s apprentice to become one of the foremost American luminist painters of the 20th Century.

“Our mother was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Stephen Hannock’s desire to pursue his passion as an artist,” said Susan Hunter, Irene Hunter’s daughter and an active member of the SVC board. “Not long ago, Steve was a young man who dared to dream, who persevered and succeeded. If at least one student identifies with an artist taking the risk to follow a dream, then this gift has truly honored our mother’s legacy.” 

Part of Irene Hunter’s legacy includes a long list of philanthropic gifts to educational institutions throughout the region. Before she died in 2008, Hunter provided a generous gift to SVC that allowed the College to build its most recent addition, a major academic and residential space on campus known as Hunter Hall.

 “Just as our students live and learn every day in Hunter Hall, this collection gives us educational opportunities,” said SVC President Karen Gross. “We will use the collection across the disciplines to help students appreciate the power of creativity, develop descriptive and observational skills, and enhance their writing and speaking capacities,” said Gross.

Gross said that an environmental professor may create a course component where students reflect on the presented vistas in the collection and the challenges to preserving nature. A healthcare or criminal justice professor could encourage students to describe what they see, thus sharpening their capacity for making accurate and fulsome observations. A poetry professor may reflect on and share poems that address the visual subjects in the collection, while creative writing students could write poetry inspired by this artwork. Furthermore, SVC students will be trained to be docents so they can provide tours of the Hannock Collection and, “understand that art requires ‘seeing’ in a deeper sense,” according to Gross.

SVC plans to host an annual lecture, panel discussion or similar event related to the Hannock Collection, including opportunities for the SVC community and larger Bennington County community to engage with the works. Some of these events will feature the artist himself as well as guest curators.

For more information on the Hannock Collection, contact the College’s Office of Communications at 802-447-6389/6388 or communications@svc.edu.