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 Lois Foley  (1936 - 2000)

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Lived/Active: Vermont      Known for: nude figure, abstract painting

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Ad Code: 4
"Acclivium V"
42" x 38" oil on linen 1991

Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The Hidden Art of Lois Foley by Jenny Harris, Journalist

Lois Foley was born in Groton, Vermont and spent many of her painting years on a 360 acre farm in Essex Center, Vermont.  Although she worked in many styles including Realism/Representation, Plein Air, and Portraiture; she gained notoriety as an Abstract artist.  During her 62 years she produced thousands of works.  She showed extensively all over the world but she was “the celebrity” in the Burlington, Vermont area because of her talent, education and ability to teach what it takes to be an artist to wide-eyed young students.

All of the thousands of paintings and drawings, left in her estate, were going to be divided between her five children.  Her eldest daughter, an artist herself, Catherine McCorrmick-Skiba, her husband Brian and Foley’s other four children gave up a substantial cash inheritance to save what was left of Foley’s legacy.  At this time, an art trust was set up to contain and preserve her work and develop a valuable legacy.

During the struggle to keep Foley’s work together and preserved  -- some painting and wood cuts went missing.  At the time of her death she was separated from her husband, Harold Whitcomb.  She was deeply involved in a bitter divorce.  Foley was very ill.  She had several heart attacks, three by-pass heart surgeries and was a heavy drinker.  It was just a matter of time before she succumbed to her illnesses.  

Unbeknownst to the trustee and despite the signed legal documents declaring all Foley’s work belonged to the art trust Elizabeth Leggette, Foley‘s youngest daughter and Whitcomb sold or gave away over half of Foley‘s art and writings.  Leggette knew of a substantial amount of hidden art by Foley.  She took that work and sold it to a local auctioneer for much less than the work was worth.

Lois’s death triggered an automatic law, which meant her divorce settlement and personal belongings, including her art, belonged to her and her estate.  But Whitcomb didn’t see it that way and saw Foley’s estate as his.  He became resentful and was ready to sell, give or throw away all of her work and writings during and after the probate period.

As entitled by the legal agreement, art trust trustee, Mccormack-Skiba collected what was left of Foley’s work and writings.  She carefully documented and stored Foley’s art for more than 10 years.

Mccormack-Skiba set up a website to catalog, preserve and allow access to educators, students and collectors to view, study and collect her work.  Many of Foley’s works can be seen on  “The task of preserving my mother’s work has proved to be stressful, difficult and burdensome – at the same time fulfilling and gratifying. Having a place were my mother’s enormous bodies of work can live on is the main goal of this website,” McCormack-Skiba said. “This website is a memorial to my mother.”

Foley’s many bodies of work defined who she was.  She says in her 1982 Retrospective Analysis: “When the intuitive process is used by the artist, particularly in abstraction, (she) begins with an idea and a form. . . .  in addition to the mechanics of the intuitive process, there exists a subliminal content that rides along with every stroke.  This subjective characteristic reveals along with every stroke. This subjective characteristic reveals an artist’s particular cast of mind.  Often it is only this quality in the work that communicates directly to the viewer.”

Although Foley became a true master artist she struggled as a child.  Not having a stable family she went to live with her grandparents for financial support.  In 1952 she returned to boarding school.  When she entered Boston Museum School of Art she struggles again to support herself and needed to quit school and go to work full time.

After about a year she met and married Tom McCormack.  They moved to New York.  She planned  to go back to study art.  But her plans quickly changed.  She had four children in five years.  Realizing this lifestyle wasn’t working she left her abusive alcoholic husband, packed up the children and moved back to Vermont.

In 1962 Foley became very active in the Women’s Rights Movement.  She also started painting sets for theater.  She did some acting.

During this time she meets and marries a cattle-dealer-farmer Harold Whitcomb and moves to the large farm where she continues painting.  She has plenty of room to store her work and beautiful scenery to use as her subject.

She continued her studies at the University of Vermont, Burlington and the Art Student’s League in New York City.  Most of her education was paid for by grants and scholarships She never seemed to stop studying art.  She would look for grant money and spent tedious hours filling out application for funding.  She did very well and ended up studying with numerous masters.  Some of which were Masters Robert Brackman, R.B. Hale, Earl Mayan, Vaclav Vytlacil, Blaine Cota, MFA, Lucy Swope and Seong Moy.
By 1972 Foley is painting (as she says in her self written bio) “regularly in her studio, hires models using the nude as a point of departure to solve formal problems of picture organization.”

Foley moves to a much larger studio space in 1974 in town were she starts teaching art classes to help defray the enormous cost of her painting career.  This was also the beginning of her exhibitions.

In 1978 Foley realizes all her prior work was just a part of her movement toward abstraction.  She understood her “objective of orchestrating color in terms of aesthetic, physical and psychological intentions.”

She exhibits a ten year retrospective in 1982 and writes an analysis of her work up to this point.  

She continued to be an activist for the rights of woman and artist’s until her death.  She left behind pages and pages of writings describing her thoughts and process. 

For example:
By concentrating on the components of the proverbial square and providing new tenets for composition I developed and associative means of communicating visual substance. Using literary structure – i.e. a premise, exposition leading to climax and conclusion, I inextricably with the process of painting provide emotional, intellectual, artistic freedom and parameters for the  resulting visual essay.

Not only did she produce a share of masterful works in oil she created beautiful block print images from carved wood.  The act of cutting into the wood to produce and image was cathartic for her.  Some of her works are quite large and she just stored them and kept on painting.

The last 10 years of her life Lois Foley had more solo shows than in her entire career.  Many of her works are in collections such as; Janos Pannonius Museum, Pecs, Hungary; City Gallery Museum, Bratislava, Czechoslovakia; Dachau City Museum, Dachau, Germany; Gabriella Bachmann, Zurich, Switzerland; Howard Bank, Burlington, Vermont; Reader’s Digest; IBM; and numerous other public and private collectors.

She never gained financial success from her art but she was admired and studied by many people.

Some Exhibitions:
Rhombus Gallery, Burlington, Vermont (solo)
Furchgott & Sourdiff Gallery, Vermont (solo)
Dublin Writer's Museum, Dublin, Ireland (solo)

Sources include
The Burlington Free Press, Burlington,Vermont
Interview with daughter Catherine McCormack-Skiba
Lois Foleys Collection of newspaper clippings, writings and vita

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