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 Doug Higgins  (1939 - )

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Lived/Active: New Mexico/New Jersey      Known for: landscape, marine-coastal

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Ad Code: 4
Doug Higgins
from Auction House Records.
5th Ave at 90th Central Park Drive, N.Y.C.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from the artist, whose web site is

Doug Higgins is a painter of contemporary realism. From his home in Santa Fe, NM, he travels throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe painting landscapes and seascapes on location. He works en plein air either with a portable easel or in his fully equipped studio RV.

Born in 1939 in New Jersey, Higgins early influences came from his artist mother and from his mothers first husband, Samuel Burtis Baker, a Boston School painter. They both initiated him into the "life of an artist." From this early exposure to art appreciation, Higgins went on to study drawing and painting with Frank Reilly at the Frank Reilly School of Art and at the Art Students League in New York.

His painting career was sidestepped by more than a decade of acting on stage, film and television. In 1980, he resumed painting and turned professional. He exhibits his work in prestigious national art exhibitions and in galleries throughout the country. The subject of numerous articles in art publications, he was recently included in a book on marine painters. His memberships include Artists of America (AOA Master), Oil Painters of America ( Master Signature Member), The Rockport Art Association (Artist Member), The Art Students League, the North Shore Art Association (Artist Member) and the International Society of Marine Painters.

He is best known for his "a la prima" paintings with an emphasis on good drawing, the principles of traditional realism and impressionist theory. Long committed to outdoor painting, he also explores working from memory and from studies in his Santa Fe studio, where he also does figural paintings from life.

"Art is something one loves to do as well as possible," he says. " My paintings are shreds, fragments of many of my lifes finest moments."

1939 Eugene Douglas Higgins born September in Montclair, NJ, to Grace Louise Higgins (b 1901) and Eugene Francis Higgins (1905-1943). Father is a department manager at the Lackawanna Railroad. Mother is a portrait painter.

1940-50 Views art with mother at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, NY, and in numerous galleries, including the Grand Central Gallery at the Biltmore Hotel.

1952 Begins visiting mothers first husband, Samuel Burtis Baker (1882-1967) in his Washington, DC, home and studio. Baker, a prominent Boston school painter of a variety of subjects, taught drawing, anatomy and composition at the Rindge school, Cambridge, MA, and later at the Corcoran School of Art, Washington, DC. From Baker, Higgins is introduced to impressionist color judgment and theory. He also learns to value classical music, poetry and the study of the philosophy of aesthetics ( Benedetto Croce, in particular). For information of Baker see American Art Review, Feb.-Mar 1994, pp. 110-115ff.

1953-57 Attends Hillside Grammar School and later Montclair High School, Montclair, NJ. Graduates in 1957. Wins prizes in contests organized by Art in Opera and a shoe company. Has cartoons published in the school newspaper, and is offered a scholarship to Cooper Union Art School, New York.

1959 Attends Montclair State College as an art major. Leaves due to what he believes to be a faulty curriculum centered on various modern art movements.

1960-62 Studies art at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art, NJ.

1961 Creates first plein-air painting in watercolor during an outdoor painting class at the Newark School.

1962 Six months active service in the Army Reserves.

1963-66 Works in the Public Relations and Advertising Department of the Prudential Insurance Company, Newark, NJ, while attending classes at night at the Frank Reilly School of Art, New York, NY (four years). Mr. Reilly (1906-1966) also taught fine art and illustration at the Art Students League, New York, NY, for 14 years and was a syndicated columnist. Higgins was drawing monitor and later painting monitor at the Reilly School. Monitors paid no tuition, kept order, started off new students, posed the models and locked up on nights when Mr. Reilly wasnt there.

1966-69 Attends classes at the Art Students League, NY, and becomes a life member. Initiates practice of painting outdoors, including painting trips in the field with his mother.

1967 Moves to New York and is represented by Stewart Men as a male fashion model and begins acting classes with Wynn Handman of the American Place Theatre.

1967-80 Pursues an acting career as an on-camera television presenter (over 200 commercials including Lucky Strike, Brylcream and Clairol Nice and Easy which won a Cleo). Performs in three plays off-off Broadway and five plays off Broadway at the American Place Theatre, one of which was taped for the Theatre in America series on PBS. Plays the character Roger Stoff in the motion picture "A Different Story" and the romantic lead Bennett Hadley in 102 segments of the soap opera "As the World Turns."

1972 First painting trip to New Mexico, where he visits art school friends Walt Gonske and Alan Polt.

1976 First trip to Europe, to shoot Chevrolet commercials.

1978 Marriage to Cecily Hughes. Travels to Spain on honeymoon. Continues to paint outdoors nearby home in Bernardsville, NJ.

1979 Moves to Darien, CT, and sells first painting.

1980 Moves to Hollywood, CA, and then to Santa Fe, NM. Drives throughout the state to paint and shows his work at Pelham Gallery, Santa Fe.

1981 First of annual painting trips to Gloucester, MA, where his mother and Baker had painted when they were young.

1982 Joins Gallery at Shoal Creek, Austin, TX, and participates in a three-person show in 1994 and in all group shows through present. Solves the inherent problems of painting outdoors by altering his van so that he can paint inside it looking out the window. This reduces setup time, eliminates palette glare, provides a more constant light on the painting and enables him to work on larger, more varied sizes and proportions. It also reduces interruptions as well as allowing him to work in spite of wind, rain, heat and cold.

1983 Participates in annual exhibitions of Society of American Impressionists, Scottsdale, AZ, through 1985. One-man show at Magic Mountain Gallery, Taos, NM.

1984 Purchases larger, custom-built truck. Joins Nedra Matteucci Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM, through 1997. Joins second Santa Fe gallery of same owner, Nedra Matteuccis Fenn Galleries, through 1997. Participates in one-man shows in 1987, 1990, 1993 and 1995. Participates in group shows through 1997.

1985 Shows in annual Nita Stewart Haley Library Show through 1994.

1986 Two-person show with Glenna Goodacre at a private home, Midland, TX. One-man show at private home in Amarillo, TX. Participates in Artists of America annual exhibition through present. Divorces and moves to Ranchos de Taos.

1987 Travels to southern Spain to paint for two weeks. Shows in Borderlands Art auction, El Paso, TX, and in the Scottsdale Rotary Club, AZ, art show. Judges the Miss USA Pageant.

1988 Moves back to Santa Fe. Travels to Venice with Joe Abbrescia and the Plein-air Painters of America group. Begins regular painting trips to California, New England, Mexico and Canada. One-man show at OBriens Art Emporium.

1989 Purchases new pickup truck with a slide-in camper that allows for painting and living inside during extended trips. Travels to Yugoslavia with Ann Fisk of Traveling Paintbrush, Rockport, MA. Shows at annual Miniature! Exhibition at the Albuquerque Museum of Art, NM, through present.

1990 Travels to Venice. Participates in group shows at Pam Driscol Gallery, Aspen, CO, and Altermann & Morris Gallery, Dallas, TX.

1991 Travels to Nevis and St. Kitts, British West Indies with Traveling Paintbrush.

1993 Exhibits in James M. Goodes Self Portraits Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Group show at Blount Corporation, Atlanta, GA (Winton Blount and the Blount Corp. own more than 20 Higgins paintings). Guest artist for two years at Symposium de Peinture de Baie-Comeau, Canada, with Gloucester painter/author Charles Movalli.

1994 Travels to London and Dartmouth, England. Exhibits at national show of Oil Painters of America through present (Master Signature Member). Teaches first of two workshops at Valdes Art Workshops, Santa Fe. Shows in Kidney Fund Exhibition and Sale, Nedra Matteuccis Fenn Gallery, through 1997.

1995 Purchases current full-size RV with studio and living quarters. Travels with New England painter Paul Strisik (1918-1998) to Venice, Rome and Luca, Italy, and then Paris. Packs into the Sierras on horseback with California painters Ted Goerschner and Marilyn Simandle.

1996 Travels to Umbria, Italy, with Rockport art group. Travels with Paul Strisik to Cornwall, England. Conducts painting workshop in Santa Fe studio. Participates in first of annual summer exhibitions at Rockport Art Association (elected as an artist member). Wins Hattie & John Wentworth Memorial Award for Excellence in Oil, RAA. Participates in annual Artists Health Fund Christmas Card Show, Santa Fe, through present. First of two visits with New Mexico painter Gary Niblett to the 300-square-mile T4 Ranch, Tucumcari, NM, to observe cowboys working cattle.

1997 Designated Master Artist at Artists of America, Denver, CO. Opens Doug Higgins Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM. Wins Mariboe-Swift Memorial Award for Excellence in painting in any medium, RAA. Second trip into the Sierras.

1998 Wins Peoples Choice Award, OPA, at P&C Gallery, Washington, DC. Travels to Venice in the spring and Majorca in the fall.

1999 In May, Travels to Provance and the Alps in France, wins the Aldro T. Hibbard Memorial Award at RAA. Joins Jan Ballew's Northern Gallery and the Jackson-Kirkland Gallery both in Santa Fe. Returns to French Alps in September.

2000 Participates in the Artists of America final show in Denver, wins the Chet D'Andrea Memorial Award at RAA, participates in show at the Albuquerque Museum, travels to Sicily, Italy in the fall. Wrangles cattle in California with friend Perry King and is mentioned in People magazine.

2001 Six page article in Art of the West magazine. Travels to Spain in April with Traveling Paintbrush.


My mother and my mothers first husband (Samuel Burtis Baker) were both artists. It was practically a foregone conclusion that I would become one as well. Baker (or Daddy Burt, as I called him) was presented to me by my mother as a man leading the ultimate life, the life of an artist.

Early in my career I was most impressed by the illustrators. While attending the Art Students League in New York, I loved to see the annual shows and exhibitions at the Society of Illustrators, because the best illustrators were highly skilled in basic drawing and painting techniques, skills lost in the modern abstract movements, against which I was rebelling (and still am).

My teacher, Mr. Frank Reilly, was also a muralist, oil painter and illustrator. He was respected not only for the high quality of his work as an artist but for the professional success of his students. He had a highly developed skill for disaggregating the complexities of art and then communicating to his students clearly and specifically. After a few years of copious note-taking during his lectures and an equal amount of studio experience, I had amassed an extensive grasp of the principles of art and the skills necessary to begin a career in painting, either fine art or Illustration.

Mr. Reilly taught me how to draw and paint the figure in a tonal manner. Tonal painting is the building of form by the manipulation of values and attention to edges. In his lectures, he explained all the relevant aspects of traditional realism. Whatever else Ive learned, especially concerning color and outdoor landscape painting, has been by the employment of heuristic methods.

There are two basic levels of art appreciation: feelings and intellect. A symphony appeals to us, not only because of its harmonies and sequences, but also for its structure and development. I believe that, in painting, a strong technical performance or a mastery of basics and above all unity (the absence of confusing digressions and/or the inclusion of the extraneous) are the prerequisites to accessing emotional responsethe windows to feeling.

The basics, which are of the intellect, are transmitted by a skilled teacher to a receptive student. If the student is also talented, his arrangements of the tools then at his disposal have the potential to affect the emotions of the viewer.

Art seems to have an emotionally purgative effect for us--the buildup of socially unacceptable feelings are given vent through art. Properly designed, it can have the power to provide an alternative to reality similar to the dream state (a variation of reality accepted by the mind). Art offers focus, certainty, conclusions and transport escape from an uncertain world frequently filled with conflict without resolution, confusion and doubt. This cathartic effect is one of the reasons why art has had an almost mystic appeal to us through the centuries.

Art is not at the service of anything save communication. What I call the artists love letter to the world. Mr. Reilly taught me the basics of traditional painting, others will have to judge whether or not I have had the talent to imbue my work with emotional content.

But art is too enjoyable to only be taken seriously, although seriousness is certainly one of the many levels of appreciation. Art is passionate, gratifying and rewarding, to the artist in terms of personal development and to the viewer in terms of expanded and illuminated experience. It is accomplished in a highly concentrated, time suspended state. It is this process of art, not the results, that is the destination of the artist. My paintings are shreds, fragments of some of my lifes finest moments. Public acclaim and financial reward must be relegated to the realm of, admittedly, hoped for consequences.

My mission is not to convince but to reveal, to perpetuate the language of painting and perhaps to invest it with poetry. My mission is to interpret that to which I feel emotionally responsive. To celebrate the artists freedom of choosing whatever means he or she believes is most likely to clearly express that response.

What an artist believes, what he chooses to ingest, what he exposes himself to, affects his art. Its a function of sequence, what comes before the painting is what allows the painting to form. The painting is me. I cant separate myself from it. Its the externalization of my beliefs, knowledge and emotional state. As Apollinaire said, "Art is nature seen through a temperament."

Look at Michelangelos Pieta, one doesnt have to be Catholic or even Christian to appreciate and be moved by that work. Its a classic.

In todays art, there seems to be two extremes: the trivial anecdote that I describe as telling a story by making lists of natures furniture; and the shocking pretense, which is much of modern art, a pseudo-intellectual offering endowed with the appearance of meaning by the use of critic babble.

The classic is found somewhere else. Its an art that urges the mind, an art that resides in the imagination, that has a timeless universality about it, that allows us to suspend disbelief, that invites the viewer to participate and that provides a visual reward. An art that exists in the realm of the metaphor so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Fundamental to the creative process is excellent technical performance. Full understanding and execution of the tenets of realism. But it must be understood that painting is not an imitation of facts but a summarizing of essentials. To paraphrase Whistler, nature is always wrong. It offers too much. So when I paint I must remember that what I exclude in my work is just as important as what I include.

Painting is like writing a book report. I dont just repeat the story, I provide a distillation, an understanding of the essentials clearly, positively stated. I squint when I look out at nature. Van Gogh said to look through your eyelashes in order to see the big picture, the big patterns. Complexity is easy. any damn fool can be complex, but to make a clear, simplified statement, that takes real talent.

Spontaneity is essential. I create ways to be spontaneous considering principles but assiduously avoiding rules. Ill paint a picture in my head, then paint it faster than I can think so that it just seems to appear, trusting that I will have enough creative solutions to solve the problems that arise.

We all know those who can talk about art, the trick is to actually do it by establishing a self-imposed internal discipline. And its important to keep the thought processes fresh, to risk failure and perhaps most importantly to attempt the new: to experiment with something suggested in a book, to work with a limited palette or from memory, to stare at the ocean to get the feel of a wave in its various stages or begin a lengthy study of the horseanything that might cause the positive changes necessary for growth. Often experiments fail, but as Henry Ford once said, "failure is an opportunity to begin again with more information."

My best work happens not by bearing down but by letting go. There seems to be stages during a painting, but I cant stop to marvel over something I like because then Im apt to try to protect it and tighten up. On location I paint quickly, its not an automatic but a focused, concentrated process.

The finest reason to be an artist is this creative experience, but it takes time and a great deal of struggle before its enjoyable. The learning years before launching a career, though trying, are essential. And when the time arrives when youve achieved some competence, its beneficial to teach, because when you force yourself to verbalize you have a chance to reexamine and maybe alter what you believe for the better: I dont know what I think until I see what I say.

I dont wear a crash helmet when Im painting. I put my life on the line and go as fast as I can. William Merritt Chase told his students: "Take as long as you need to do a painting, take two hours if you have to."

Tight painting seems to be a stage we all go through, finicky and fussy but perhaps it teaches us what to leave out. I paint loosely and I am saying a great deal with each brushstroke, combining steps, but there is a certain kind of perfection to good loose painting. . . .Dead-shot draftsmanship.

The texture and direction of the brushstroke can be explanatory. When I paint a nearby rock formation, Ill probably use heavier paint applied so as to suggest texture. I use brushwork to suggest that grass grows up, a mountain lies down, the sky tends toward smoothness. Give an accurately indicated suggestion and the eye will provide the rest.

I learned a great deal about painting from my acting training. First of all theres mental preparation so that the transition from backstage to onstage is seamless. Painting a picture in my mind before actually picking up a brush is a similar technique. I employ overarching ideas.a device used to develop a theatrical character. For instance, In Venice, I was attracted to the feeling of the narrow streets with their filtered, indirect light and mysterious forms moving in and out of shadows and sought out motives consistent with this idea. In Gloucester, MA, the crowded harbors and complexity of a variety of intricate forms caught my attention. I sought out complex subjects, explained some elements and suggested the rest. Of course the ideas specific to the particular painting still must be formulated before beginning to paint.
The best definition of acting I know may also be accurately applied to painting. . . Living truthfully in imaginary circumstances.

Much of what I studied as an acting student--philosophy, psychology, sociology, poetry, the works of the great playwrites, the writings of the giants of the fieldhas positively affected my painting and although Im not able to exactly explain the various influences in general terms it would be a love of learning.

I paint a moment. After, say, the first thirty minutes or so, what I have out there is misleading information. The moment is gone and I am painting from memory. What I had to learn as a plein-aire painter was to anticipate what would change most radically with the movement of the sun, clouds, etc. and make those statements early on. Of course, on an overcast day the changes are less noticeable and the painting time is extended.

Discovering fresh, compelling subject matter is an integral part of the creative process but this has to do with emotional response and taste and remains individual and largely a mystery, but it can be said that I must be able to visualize a painting in my minds eye or I move on.

My ancestral connections are in Ireland and England, but the whole of Europe seems to provide attractions for me as do the American coasts, the western mountainous regions and New England. Im always on the lookout for new places to explore.

I protect my art by arranging my life in such a way that I can always paint, keeping Interruptions to a minimum. If Im painting on a bridge in Venice, I will inevitably be intruded upon, but to me Venice is worth it. However, in the studios in my home and in my RV Im in a private, stress-free world and I can launch into more complicated, time-extended projects.

Life choices and arrangements are what allow my painting to happen and must always be considered with care. Luck helps too but luck is what happens when opportunity crosses the path of preparation.

To paint from photographs is to be natures grandchild. The photograph suffers from lens distortion, has only two dimensions, is keyed to the human complexion in color, and will not allow the eye to adjust as it does in nature in order to see into shadows.

When I use photos, I use them for backup information, incidentals or perhaps studio experimentation, but I always return to nature for visual information of the first order.

Illustration is the amplification of the written word and as such is subservient to it. Fine art doesnt tell a story but engages the imagination and is open to interpretation. The illustrator is employed by a client and an art director. The fine artist is self-employed and answers only to his conscience, principles and his integrity to high standards. Nevertheless, illustration and fine art are both dedicated to technical excellence.

The reason that art students are taught to draw and paint the figure is that the figure demands the highest degree of accuracy. A student may draw the limb of a tree in the wrong place but not an arm or it is immediately noticeable. Then too, the human nude is both fascinating and beautiful to us and capable of producing a variety of emotional responses.

For many years I have carried a small sketchbook with me wherever I go for the purpose of training my memory. The idea is to develop the memory so as to be able to place figures into a painting without the benefit of models. In a coffee shop, for instance, Ill quickly look at someone and draw him or her without looking at them again. This is unlike figure drawing where one looks back and forth from the model to the drawing until the drawing is complete. The ability to paint convincing figures into a landscape from memory, I believe, is crucial to the landscape painter.

Composition for me is the balance of the variously employed elements. By that I mean the balance of attractions, balancing that which attracts the eye. The eye is most attracted by contrasts: hue, value, chroma and sharp edges. Some or all of these plus linear means are used to lead the eye to the focus.

The most important stage is the placement of the initial abstract masses. These decisions are made prior to actually beginning to paint. I normally answer the questions: what is the focus and will I have a high or low horizon. The rest of the questions are dictated by the requirements of the particular painting. I begin by roughly indicating the mass placement and then wash in large areas with thinned paint using the brightest paint in the foreground and middle distance to indicate depth. From then on its a matter of considering drawing, color harmonies, light effects, strengthening or reducing attractions, the illusion of depth, principles (unequal measures, variety, rhythm etc.) and anything else Ive picked up along the way that can be of help. If something isnt working, Ill scrape out and restate.

I almost always paint on masonite because it readily stores in my traveling RV. It is also less vulnerable to damage than canvas, and I prefer the irregular surface quality. I rough up the surface with sandpaper to give it a tooth and apply gesso, which isolates and keeps the paint from degrading the masonite. The gesso is lightly tinted with a yellow ochre or orange acrylic, then applied roughly to provide texture that holds the paint. I chose a gesso that absorbs paint due to the introduction of marble dust during its manufacture. This makes available to me the additional technique of dry brush (light dragging of a loaded brush over nearly dry paint) early in the painting process.

My palette at present consists of six colors: cadmium lemon, yellow ochre, cadmium red light, Venetian red (terra rosa or Venetian red), alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, and Utrecht nonyellowing white. Sometimes I add indigo or another pigment of my imagination to keep from making thoughtless choices from habit.

The studio section of my RV is where I normally paint on trips in this country, but if I paint outdoors here or in Europe I use a French or a Gloucester easel. The Gloucester easel has legs that spread wider and thus is sturdier in windy conditions, on rocky terrain or on steep angles such as hillsides.

I paint as rapidly as possible from life (en plein air) in order to communicate a feeling of exuberance and positiveness to the viewer. When I paint in the studio, I paint from outdoor paintings, memory and sometimes even photographic reference. I use photos mainly for incidentals or perhaps to experiment with color theory or to improve my understanding of how to paint inconvenient subjects, such as horses.

My teacher Mr. Reilly used to say; "Paint big to small." I begin with the large masses and thin paint, and as I progress the paint gets thicker and the brushes smaller, "Start with a broom and end with a needle."

Sometimes Ill under-paint with a complementary color that, in the finish, may be glimpsed in the interstices of the brushwork. The idea of a well-done, loose painting is to explain that which is necessary and to suggest the rest, to keep the color as accurate and harmonious as possible and never to lose the drawing.

The elements I consider most important are: initial concept, drawing accuracy, composition or balance of attractions, center of interest (focus), aerial perspective, edges, preciseness of value relationships, expressiveness of brushwork and color harmony and variety.


Life Member, Art Students League, New York, NY

AOA Master, Artists of America, Denver, CO

Master Signature Member, Oil Painters of America, Chicago, IL

Artist Member, Rockport Art Association, Rockport, MA

Artist Member, Northshore Art Association, Gloucester, MA

Member, International Society of Marine Painters, Oneco, FL


* Anthony, Katherine, "Doing What Comes Naturally," Focus Santa Fe, Oct-Dec. 1987, pp. 29-31.
* Artists of America Annual Catalogues, Colorado Historical Museum, Denver, 1987-1998.
* Borderlands Art Auction, Exhibition Catalogue, Sep. 1987.
* Cauble, Dianne, "The Journey that Never Ends," Focus Santa Fe, Mar 1996, pp. 52-55.
* Gibson, Daniel, "Doug Higgins, Artist" (cover), Santa Fean, Jan/Feb. 1989, pp. 24-28.
* Hines, Jack, "Views of Venice," Southwest Art, Oct 1988, pp. 98-101.
* Hines, Jack, "Plein Air Painters in Venice, Italy," Antiques and Fine Art, Oct 1988, pp. 53-56.
* Margaret Jamison Presents, Exhibition Catalogue, 1981.
* McGarry, Susan Hallsten, "A Conversation with Doug Higgins," Southwest Art, Sep. 1984, pp. 46-53.
* McClish, Jerry, A Gallery of Marine Art, Rockport Publishers, Gloucester, MA, 1998.
* Merritt, Mary Alice, "Doug Higgins," Taos Profile, Aug. 1982, pp. 20-21ff.
* Miniatures! Annual Catalogues, Albuquerque Museum Foundation, NM, 1989-1998
* Murphy, Joy Waldron, "Exuberance," Southwest Profile, Nov.-Dec., 1986, pp. 25-28.
* Nelson, Mary Carroll, "Loosen Those Brushstrokes!" (cover), American Artist, Jan 1991, pp. 20-25ff.
* Oil Painters of America National Juried Exhibition Catalogues, 1994-1998.
* Society of American Impressionists Annual Catalogues, Clark Enterprises, Scottsdale, AZ, 1983-1986.
* Ward, Edward Norton, "On Location in the Sierra Nevadas" Southwest Art, Feb. 1998, pp. 63-140ff.
* Christopher Cogley, "The Truth As I See It" Art of the West, March/April 2001, pp. 70-75.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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