Abbrescia's Passion: Plein-Air Paintings of Glacier National Park
Born October 1, 1936 in Yonkers, New York, Joe Abbrescia was an artist from childhood, demonstrating early talent for drawing and painting. He trained formally at the American Academy of Art in Chicago and went on to make art his life’s work - as an Army illustrator on base in Anchorage, a commercial artist for a major design firm in Chicago, and for twenty years at the Village Art School (Skokie, Illinois) which he established in 1965 with brothers Dominick and John. In time, the Art School earned recognition as one of America’s finest centers for art education, attracting beginning and veteran artists alike. Joe was passionate about teaching and sharing his expansive knowledge and artistic insights. He told his students, “I love teaching, because I learn so much from it.” Authors of painting instructional books regularly feature Joe’s works as models for beginners and seasoned professionals; his unique teaching methods have inspired hundreds of artists.
Abbrescia’s mastery ranged from painting and draftsmanship to pioneering experiment and discovery in the sciences of color harmony and innovative design. He was a Renaissance man who maintained, in the modern era, a tradition of virtuosity and versatility best known among his fellow Italian painters of the 15th and 16th centuries. Joe was a quintessential artist - as painter, illustrator, major collector of illustrators, and master conservator. The Abbrescia legacy lives on in the Abbrescia Fine Art and Pottery Studio, owned and managed by Joe’s wife Sue and their son Joey. Each is an artist in his own right - Sue a gifted potter and Joe an expert in art restoration, as was his father...
In 1998, Joe was named Artist in Residence at Glacier National Park. “Abbrescia’s Passion: Plein-Air Paintings of Glacier National Park” includes paintings that are thought of as Joe’s personal tour through Glacier National Park, the Crown of the Continent where he painted with love and passion that exemplified his life and career. Artist Joe Abbrescia, a jewel in the Crown.
Remembering Joe Abbrescia
The following excerpt is from a tribute written by Dave Mihalic, former Superintendent for Glacier National Park and Yosemite National Park and currently a member of the Board of Directors, Hockaday Museum of Art.
“Painting is really hard work,” Joe said. I was with Joe Abbrescia a few days before Christmas. He was getting his strength and appetite back after his first round of chemotherapy. Joe didn’t like talking about the cancer. He wanted to talk about painting. “I believe creativity can be the answer to anything,” he said. “Even dealing with cancer.” So, we talked about creativity. And, without my realizing it, he began to teach. How was my transition to oils coming, he asked. (“Difficult.”) Was I in a gallery in Missoula yet, he wanted to know? (“Not yet.”) What was I working on now and what was my “concept” for it? (“Concept? Concept! That was my problem!”)
“People don’t realize how hard painting is,” he answered. “I work at every brush stroke - but now teaching - teaching is easy!” And, as he always did, he was teaching...
Whenever Joe was a “quick-draw artist” he drew a crowd. Whether indoors at the Russell auction or outdoors at the Land Reliance show, you could find Joe by looking for the crowd of people. Anyone who has ever watched Joe Abbrescia “at work” painting knows he put his all into his paintings - and, he taught. His forehead would be covered in sweat and his “signature walk” up and back was frantic as he cocked his head at first the model, then the easel. He was hustling to get down as much as possible during the time limit. But each time he walked back, he would turn to the people gathered around and take time to teach.
When I die - hopefully long after I finally make the transition to oils - after I get over the wonder of it all, I plan to look for a crowd of people. I expect to be able to push through to the front (no one will be offended: it’s heaven!) and see an easel and an artist, and the shining smile on the expres sive face of Joe Abbrescia. I know he’ll see me, and nod in recognition, but will go on with what he was saying. But I’ll be patient. You see, I’ll have interrupted him. He’ll be teaching.
Reprinted by permission from the Hockaday Museum of Art
Joe Abbrescia holds a special place in the heart of the Wildling Art Museum. In 2002 and 2003, when the Museum was just getting started, he conducted two week-long plein-air painting workshops here in the Valley as a benefit for the Wildling. They were wildly popular, students coming from all over Southern California to paint with Abbrescia in this aesthetic paradise. Everyday, after a short lesson or demonstration in St. Mark’s Parish Hall, his students would caravan out to Cachuma Lake or Figueroa Mountain to paint nature’s changing scene. On Thursday night, we had a reception at the Wildling where the students would display the works they had done thus far.
Try as we have, the Museum has yet to find a painting teacher to rival Abbrescia, though we are still looking. It is, therefore, with great pleasure that we show some of the oil paintings that he produced in Glacier National Park, where he was ”Artist in Residence” in 1998. These have been lent by his widow, Sue, and son Joey, who maintain the Abbrescia Art Studios in Kalispell, Montana.
We are grateful to the Abbrescias for their help with this exhibition, to all Joe’s students past and present who have supported this exhibition, and especially Larry Thorne who has agreed to speak about him at the opening.
- Elizabeth P. Knowles
Checklist: Joseph Leonard Abbrescia (1936-2005)
1. Autumn Reflections I, 8”x12”
2. Avalanche Creek, 11”x14”
3. Bird Woman Falls, 12”x16”
4. Bridge Over McDonald Falls, 11”x14”
5. Going to the Sun Mountain, 20”x24”
6. Haystack Butte, 14”x20”
7. Heavens Peak, 12”x18”
8. Lake Josephine Falls, 11”x14”
9. Lake McDonald, 12”x16”
10. Lower St. Marys Lake, 12”x16”
11. Many Glacier, 12”x16”
12. McDonald Creek II, 9”x14”
13. McDonald Creek Near Avalanche, 12”x16”
14. McDonald Creek Outlet, 12”x16”
15. McDonald Falls, 12”x16”
16. McDonald Pools, 11”x14”
17. Moose Country, 11”x14”
18. Mountain Trail, 10.5”x16”
19. Mount Brown, 12”x16”
20. Mount Fusalod, 16”x20”
21. Mount Oberlin, 24”x20”
22. Mount Sinapah, 16”x20”
23. River Wild, 14”x11”
24. Running Eagle Falls, 16”20”
25. Rushing Waters, 16”x12”
26. Snyder Creek, 16”x12”
27. Snyder Creek, 12”x16”
28. Spring’s Mountain Kingdom, 16”x24”
29. Swiftcurrent Lake, 16”x20”
30. Upper McDonald Creek, 12”x16”
31. Upper McDonald Creek, 16”x12”
32. View from Going to the Sun Road, 11”x14”
33. Winter Solace, 20”x16”
All paintings are oil on canvas or board