|Raymond James Holden (1901-1984?) was a native of Wrentham, Massachusetts, graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1923. Beginning in 1937, he resided most of his life in North Sterling, Connecticut. In an undated, un-attributed press release issued by the Slater Museum, he is credited with illustrating ten books and creating Christmas card designs for the American Artist Group of New York for forty years. He also created watercolor images of classic New England scenes for Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Missouri. Holden is known for illustrating the work of great American authors like Henry David Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack River and Cape Cod, ( The Heritage Press 1941-1968?) and The Poems of John Greenleaf Whittier (The Limited Editions Club 1945) and The Flowering of New England by Brooks, Van Wyck (The Limited Editions Club, 1941). A number of these were pencil drawing illustrations signed, R.J. Holden. He produced local scenes of Southeastern Connecticut including a winter watercolor of Sterling, CT, 1966. His Christmas cards included images of children in churchyards and waterside villages.|
Holden’s work appears occasionally at Connecticut auctions and in rare book sellers stock today. R. J. Holden donated drawings and publishing proofs from the books to the Slater Museum which exhibited them in Converse Art Gallery in early 1985. In it, R. J. Holden’s work was combined with the Slater’s objects representing “The Early American Kitchen”. Writing in The Day of New London on February 2, 1985, Day Art critic Michael Smith described “Holden’s pictures [as having] a neat clarity of technique and a strong air of documentary responsibility … These landscapes, townscapes, and architectural details transport the viewer into the same world as the kitchen show. Portraits of [poets] [Henry Wadsworth] Longfellow, [Ralph Waldo] Emerson, and [Henry David] Thoreau with their assertive noses radiate their particular forms of intellectual vigor – Holden’s is a sharp and sympathetic eye.”
Earlier, the Slater Museum had exhibited his watercolors of New England towns and cities in the fall of 1978. Included were works depicting Christmas, Commonwealth Ave, Boston; Chester, Vermont Railroad Station; Light House, York, Maine; and Charles Round’s Mill, North Sterling, Connecticut. In an un-attributed article The Sunday Courier of the Norwich Bulletin, dated October 1, 1978, the writer asserts that “Holden’s realistic watercolors are marked by a fluid and yet sensitive handling of the media (sic) and high regard for tradition. Each work captures the flavor of New England and a nostalgic look at its past. Of particular interest to local residents are Franklin Square and Main Street, Norwich, circa 1898, when traffic consisted primarily of pedestrians, trolley cars, horse and buggies and in the case of the winter scene of Main Street, horse drawn sleighs.”
It s interesting to note that Holden was working at a time, around the middle of the 20th century, when the Colonial Revival was the rage. A number of New England artists and philosophers, led by Wallace Nutting, were romanticizing the 18th century and through art, photography, reproduction furniture and house design, glorifying the life style of an earlier era, while ignoring its hardships.
Submitted by Vivian Zoe, Director of the Slater Memorial Museum in Norwich, Connecticut.