The following is the third and final installment of a series on Salem's maritime art tradition.
Walking into John Hutchinson's studio in the Willows is much like walking into a shabby chic atelier — brushes, paints and canvases inhabit space alongside finished paintings, nautical artifacts and ephemera of no specific genre.
It is a working studio where he gives breath and life to this creative universe, producing some of the best works of maritime art in Salem and New England.
Hutchinson's work is both penetrating and robust, yet can be delicate and buoyant, depending on the subject matter, mood, climate and brushstroke. His nautical watercolors and oils are sometimes breezy, yet incisively accurate. The portraits of his children are tenderly vivid. Even his series of haystack paintings are reminiscent of those of Monet or Arthur Wesley Dow.
On his own, he is an artist with far-reaching sensibilities, tastes and projects, like his carvings, beautifully-painted ceramic wall tiles, his poetry and more. Hutchinson is also well-known for his collaboration with Salem artist, . These two have become a creative force to be reckoned with, regionally and nationally.
"I first met Racket while waiting to see a Boston art gallery owner when I saw a strange-looking vehicle parked nearby, 'Black Pete,' as Racket calls it, so I went over and spoke to him. A few years later, I saw him at a barbecue here in Salem. I put two-and-two together. I realized it was the same guy in the vintage automobile at the gallery."
A genuine friendship and a remarkable collaboration had begun and has lasted to this day. Even their wives got involved in their husbands' good-humored activities, including their proclivity for vintage cars and Hutchinson's "beach wagons" or "woodies." Their collaborations began as a gag, a parody of a Winslow Homer exhibit at the MFA.
"Let's do an imitation contest — Racket and I thought — and for two weeks we produced some really good 'Winslow Homer forgeries,' Hutchinson said. "Then, we decided to have a mock exhibit and Racket's grandmother, my sister and some friends were contest judges," Hutchinson laughed. "That's how our themed shows started. Over the years, they kept getting bigger, and the guest list kept growing."
Their first themed show was in 1977, which led to other humorously-titled ones like "Coaster Psychosis," "Squareriggermortis" and "Wayward Wharf Rats."
As a homage to their long friendship, Hutchinson said, "On one invitation, 'Wayward Wharf Rats,' there's a picture of four rats rowing a lifeboat with one of them saying, 'Can this be friendship?' And the other says, 'Well, after 11 years, I guess so!'"
And, after 37 years, we guess so too.