In 1982, painter Amy Chuckrow stumbled upon a cow pasture full of student painters in Williamstown.
Led by Boston artist Robert Ives Gammell, the students were learning the traditional painting methods of American realists that Chuckrow longed to be taught after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design.
Twenty years later, despite that indirect start, Chuckrow’s career as a representational artist, in both Boston and Nantucket, has led her to prominence.
Chuckrow, who trained at Fenway Studios, has won back-to-back competitions in the last year. Her painting, “Seth and Tim,” won the New England Representational Painting Competition, while another, “The Dory,” received the gold medal at the Guild’s Regional Painting competition in 2011. She also is one of the newest inductees into the Guild of Boston Artists, a non-profit association of painters and sculptors that promotes high-quality traditional and representational art.
Induction into the Guild is a not an easy process, nor does it happen often. Guild Director Bill Everett said the Guild has not had a new member in five years, until now.
Members of the Guild – currently 50 active artists – give the Board of Managers recommendations on which artists to seek out. An artist receives an invitation to apply, and may submit up to six paintings for review. Paintings are approved by the general membership during a meeting in April.
Chuckrow, who initially was among 30 finalists, creates most of her art in the summer on the island of Nantucket, where she also teaches landscape workshops on the beach to a handful of students. Once back in Boston for the winter, Chuckrow works on Boston landscapes and develops her summer sketches into larger paintings.
While her award-winning works demonstrate a traditional painter, she was not originally trained that way. In her early 20s, she enrolled in RISD, where she was taught painting using contemporary methods. The foundation of her talent is rooted in figure drawing, a course she was introduced to as a freshman.
“I learned quite a bit from excellent teachers,” Chuckrow said. “I learned a lot about color, design, and figure drawing.” While this platform was essential to her paintings, she was not taught to be a representational artist – to accurately portray the likeness of a figure in her paintings.
So, after graduating, Chuckrow sought to learn traditional methods. The problem, she recalled, was that “no one was really teaching traditional art" at the time.
Her transformation from college graduate to award-winning artist began in that Williamstown cow field, where she discovered a world beyond her formal training. Her encounter with Robert Ives Gammell led her to Fenway Studios, the oldest continuous artists' building in the country.
At the time, Gammell, who was an artist at Fenway Studios and had been president of the Guild from 1950-52, offered lessons in his Williamstown studio,. He sent Chuckrow to his former student, Robert Ingbretson, who became Chuckrow’s instructor at Fenway Studios. At Fenway, she studied under Ingbretson to create representational art.
She then worked on Nantucket for several years with prominent painter Thomas Dunlay, a former president of the Guild. From there, she went out on her own into what she described as “the wonderful artist community” of Nantucket, exploring what she was naturally drawn to: color.
“I’ve always loved landscapes because of the light and color,” Chuckrow said.
In “The Dory,” (pictured above) Chuckrow uses short, soft brush strokes of vivid colors to create realistic images of a boat and children. The children, in bright white shirts, cast shadows on blue water, creating darker hues where the boat and water meet. The shoreline is visible where pale green water ends and sand and foliage begin.
To familiarize herself with landscapes, sometimes Chuckrow sits on the beach with her dog and figures out how to paint a cloud. Because landscapes change, Chuckrow said at some point she has to say to herself, "This is how it is going to be the best -- and that’s what I stick with."
To find a composition, she looks around for a long time, finds a spot where she can get a great painting -- and soon after, amazing things happen, Chuckrow said. She typically spends two to three hours on a painting, and then her eyes and mind start to tire.
“It’s kind of like exercise: you warm up, you get into a rhythm, then you realize that the image has developed to a new level, and that’s how I know I’m done," she said. "On a good morning, that’s the way it goes.”
This article was reported and written under the supervision of journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of collaboration between the Globe and Northeastern University.