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 Bruce Etchison  (1918 - 2009)

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Lived/Active: Maryland/Virginia/District Of Columbia      Known for: landscape and wildlife painting, graphics, teaching

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Ad Code: 4
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Autumn Landscape
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
January 9, 2010 Hagerstown, Maryland

Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes “A Life Remembered.” This continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Bruce Etchison, who died Dec. 19 at the age of 91.  His obituary was published in the Dec. 23 edition of The Herald-Mail.

When R. Benjamin Jones first came to Hagerstown in 1966 as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, he heard a buzz in the congregation about the return of a man named Bruce Etchison, both to membership in the church he helped found and as interim curator of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

“I wasn’t disappointed when we met,” Ben said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

To this day, Ben — now a full-time artist — said he can hear Bruce’s voice in his head, quietly suggesting he should find another way to express himself as he works on a piece of art.

“He was such a good teacher ... very attentive, but always in a positive way,” Ben said.

Bruce had that wonderful way with many people in his life, including his sons, Craig and Page, and daughter, Jeanette.

“Dad never criticized us ... never raised his voice,” Craig said. “We were very lucky to have the father we had.”

Craig said he not only learned an appreciation of art from his father, but also a love of hunting, fishing and anything involving nature.

“We last went fishing together when dad was 85,” Craig said.

It was that love of nature that drew Bruce to bring his family to Hagerstown in the late 1940s to become the curator of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

Craig, who was born in 1945 in Baltimore, said his father didn’t want to raise his family in Washington, D.C. Bruce turned down a job in the metropolitan area to come to Hagerstown to be near nature.

“When dad started at the museum, there was a staff of four,” Craig said.

Being curator might have sounded fancy, but it meant a lot of things in those early days.

“It was his first job,” said Bruce’s widow, Jane. “He was very excited to come here.”

One day, an insurance man came to the museum and found Bruce cleaning the museum’s furnace — then apparently part of the curator’s job description, Craig said.

Bruce served as the head of the museum until 1964, but returned briefly as interim curator in 1966 until a new permanent curator could be hired.

The Etchison family stayed in Washington County even after that stint ended as Bruce launched a new career as an art restorer — a love he had since his university days.

His love of Washington County led to his creation of a huge art rendering of Christ depicted entering the valley for Blair’s Valley Church of God in 1976.

That work was commissioned a year after the church was gutted in a fire set by an arsonist during the theft of the church bell. Bruce said in a 1976 interview that he admired the courage of the congregation to rebuild after such a traumatic occurrence.

Bruce and Jane met at American University, where both were students just before the outbreak of World War II. Bruce was in the U.S. Coast Guard when in 1942, he and Jane were married.
“I had to chase him down in New Orleans,” Jane said. “We got married there and I became an apartment wife.”

Later, the couple moved to Baltimore and then to New Haven, Conn., while Bruce completed degrees in art at Yale University.

“He was always into art,” Jane said. “Bruce’s mother said he would always draw on the bulletins in church on Sundays.”

Craig, now a retired teacher, has followed his father in the pursuit of art.

“In the last year and a half, I brought one of my oil paintings to him for critique,” Craig said.
Page chose the world of sales and wasn’t into art at all.

“When I was in school, I took the art classes at the museum,” daughter Jeanette Grimes said from her Virginia home. Though she said she enjoyed them, it didn’t lead to an art career.
Jeanette said one of her strongest memories of her childhood was how her father always handled things so calmly.

“I don’t ever remember him getting mad at me,” she said.

A keen recollection of the museum’s exhibits was another thing Craig remembers about his father.

“Twenty years after he left the museum, he could still remember what art was displayed there,” Craig said.


Biography from Washington County Museum of Fine Arts:
Bruce Etchison graduated with a B.A. from American University, Washington, DC, in 1941, whereupon he entered the U.S. Coast Guard.   He married Jane Esterline in 1942.  From 1946 to 1949, Etchison earned a B.F.A. and an M.F.A. from Yale University.  He studied painting conservation with Andrew Petryn, head conservator for the Yale Gallery.

From 1950-1964, Etchison was Director of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Hagerstown, Maryland.  There he actively built the collection, taught art to thousands of students in the Washington County school system through educational television, taught art at Hagerstown Junior College, and taught in the museum art school. 

From 1964-1966, he was Director of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection in Williamsburg, Virginia.

From 1966 to 1986, Bruce Etchison operated the Bear Pond Conservation Studio where he conserved oil paintings and did his own creative work including watercolor and oil paintings, etchings and lithographs, and bronze sculpture.  Preferred subjects include Pennsylvania and Maine landscapes and wildlife. 

A biographical memoir written by Craig Etchison, the artist's son.

Submitted by Rebecca Massie Lane, Director, Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Hagerstown, MD

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