The walls are alive with plein air paintings at Hingham’s South Street Gallery.By Jennifer H. McInerney | Photography by Jack Foley
When architect Jack Hobbs first entertained the idea of opening an art gallery in Hingham, he consulted several friends in the local business community about the viability of such a venture.
“Not one person thought it was a good idea,” he recalls. “But I decided to do it anyway.”
Since 2002, South Street Gallery has evolved into Hingham’s showplace for fine art, specializing in the plein air style of painting in a variety of mediums, including oils, pastels and watercolors. Loosely translating to “in full air,” the plein air style deliberately distinguishes itself from still life, portraiture and in-studio landscape paintings by the very nature of its execution: scenes captured on location as they occur in real time.
“Plein air paintings have a certain ‘alive’ quality,” Hobbs explains. “They’re more immediate. You can feel the air, smell the smells—you’re seeing exactly what the artist painted in that moment.”
What may have initially seemed like a risky enterprise has proved to be a boon for the South Street Gallery. During the past two decades, the affinity for plein air has taken on a life of its own, gaining momentum among artists and art appreciators alike. With the South Shore’s abundance of natural beauty, the artistic possibilities are virtually endless—especially because each painting interprets a particular place at a specific moment in time that will never be repeated. Even during the wintertime, it’s not uncommon to see artists stationed at their easels out in the field, rendering coastal settings, river vistas, picturesque pastures and vibrant woodlands.
“Plein air paintings have been very successful here,” Hobbs observes. “Residents love this area, so they’re inclined toward paintings of local landscapes.”
Hobbs, himself, has been exploring the plein air palette for two decades, and has traveled locally and nationally to paint on-site. Over and over, he comes back to Hingham’s Olmsted-designed World’s End, with its wealth and breadth of subject matter at every turn: the ebbing and flowing ocean, rolling pastures, majestic trees.
For the past 14 years, Hingham art enthusiasts have flocked to the South Street Gallery to experience the plein air phenomenon—and fill their walls with original artwork.
At any given time, some 100 plein air paintings grace the walls of this comfortably intimate gallery.
To ensure satisfaction, South Street Gallery offers prospective buyers the option to take paintings home overnight for a test-run of sorts.
“It’s important to see how the painting will look in its new home, where the lighting is usually different than in the gallery,” Hobbs remarks.
The inventory is ever-changing, with new work arriving regularly and featured exhibitions occurring frequently.
In addition, gallery manager Kate Sotolova regularly accepts requests to visit clients’ homes to assess displaying possibilities and assist with painting placement.
Artist demonstrations and lectures are also becoming a popular attraction. And, four times a year, the gallery hosts an “Appraisal Day”—along the lines of “Antiques Roadshow”—in which a professional appraiser evaluates and approximates the value of treasured artwork.
To complement the gallery, the business offers custom framing services on the building’s lower floor. From simple wooden frames to gold-leaf to museum-quality mounting, South Street Gallery provides a one-week turnaround on framing. On behalf of customers with older artwork in need of restoration, Sotolova works with conservators to revive faded or damaged paintings.
“We’re very fortunate to have a community of high-caliber artists working on the South Shore,” Sotolova notes.
Since its inception, the South Street Gallery has showcased the plein air artwork of numerous acclaimed artists, many of whom hail from the southeastern Massachusetts region, including: Robert Beaulieu, Sue Charles, T.A. Charron, Frank M. Constantino, Lisa Daria, J. Morgan Davis, Hal DeWaltoff, Dennis Doyle, Robert Duffy, Ann Musto, Margaret McWethy, Ted Gentry, Susan Kilmartin, Jan McElhinny, Ann Murphy, Page Railsback and many more.
While their paintings grace the gallery’s walls for a relatively short period, from debut to sale, the artists are constantly at work to add new pieces to the collection.
Two of the gallery’s longtime featured painters, Dianne Panarelli Miller and Paul Arsenault, established a presence at South Street during the early days of its operation.
Known in local circles as one of the hardest-working artists on the South Shore, Dianne Panarelli Miller teaches adult art classes most mornings, spends the afternoon painting on location, and then returns home to work in her Abington studio until 11 p.m. On a given day, she typically has four paintings in the works at various stages of progress.
“Over the years, I’ve painted every spot in Hingham,” she notes. “There are so many beautiful locations.”
Illustrating the spontaneity and immediacy of one of her favorite styles of painting, Miller describes her approach as an active process: “I try to catch a plein air painting on my way home.”
“I really enjoy painting outdoors—it’s looser and juicier, and more realistic.”
Miller’s artwork has been featured at the South Street Gallery since its early days. She hails the gallery as rivaling its counterparts in New York City, Boston and Nantucket.
“The South Street Gallery is a gem on the South Shore,” she says.
“They have a great selection of artists, mostly local, and a wide variety of styles. There’s something for everyone.”
Though he now divides his time between Nantucket and Naples, Florida, Hingham native Paul Arsenault has his roots firmly planted in his hometown. From an early age, he enjoyed painting outdoors, capturing subjects in their best light. His childhood memories of growing up in Hingham in the 1950s and early ’60s are fond and fresh in his mind: smelt fishing with bamboo poles at the harbor, being a member of the last class to graduate from the Little Red Schoolhouse, and exploring the old downtown area when the train tracks ran above ground.
“I had a storybook-like upbringing at a time when you could be a kid and have the full run of the place, having adventures all day and painting along the way,” he recalls.
Arsenault describes having his work on display at South Street Gallery as “a delight” that keeps him connected to his hometown community. “The gallery is a wonderful reason to come home.”
Like South Street Gallery owner Jack Hobbs, one of Arsenault’s perennial favorite plein air locations is World’s End, particularly in the fall, overlooking the yacht club to the Boston skyline.
“I just play in traffic, keep my eyes open and find the image,” he concludes, with a laugh.