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"[Joseph Pickett's] work forms an arc between the painting of the nineteenth century and modern times."
Joseph Pickett was a New Hope shopkeeper who earned posthumous fame as one of America's great naive artists. A wild and restless young man, Pickett followed the carnival and opened a shooting gallery at Neshaminy Falls. During those years, he used his talent as an artist to paint for the carnival for his shooting gallery. He eventually married and settled down, opening a general store where he painted in the back room when business was slow. Typically, he painted New Hope village scenes and historic events, emblazoned in bright colors and vivid detail. Untrained in perspective, Pickett suggested distance by arranging objects on tiers. Although neighbors recalled that Pickett painted a great deal, only five of his canvases have been recovered. He first gained serious attention as an artist when the New Hope Modernists organized a show in his memory in 1930. They celebrated Pickett as a nonacademic painter, and, as such, a symbol for their own rebellion against the conservatism of the art community at Phillips' Mill.
Portrait of Joseph Pickett by Lloyd Ney, 1961. Photograph by Jack Rosen. James A. Michener Art Museum archives.
Education and Training
Teachers and Influences
He was an apprentice to his father to repair the canal locks. He had no formal training in art.
Connection to Bucks County
Born in New Hope, Joseph Pickett lived and worked there all his life, initially as a carpenter and later as a shopkeeper.
Colleagues and Affiliations
The artists moving to New Hope in the early twentieth century, mainly impressionists, were interested in Pickett, but they did not take his work seriously. Several years after his death, Pickett received more attention from the New Hope Modernists, who later joined the artistic community. In 1926, Lloyd Bill Ney purchased Pickett's Coryell's Ferry and Council Tree for $15, trading them to dealer R. Moore Price for $50 worth of frames. Price in turn sold the paintings to the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Newark Museum for $1,200 a piece. The Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired the painting Manchester Valley, which prominently features the old New Hope School, where it had formerly hung. Two other paintings have been attributed to Pickett, although their authenticity is uncertain.
Manchester Valley, Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York
Washington Under the Council Tree, Newark Museum, New Jersey
Lehigh Canal, Sunset, St. Etienne Gallery, New York, New York
Coryell's Ferry, Whitney Museum of American Art , New York, New York
Some of the periodicals in which his paintings have appeared include: Bucks County Traveler, Arts Digest, Art Forum, Magazine Art, American Artist, Art News, Newsweek, Antiques, Graphics, and Art in America
For Joseph Pickett, the painting of a canvas was not unlike the creation of a backdrop for his shooting gallery or a landscape on the sign of his general store. Pickett took pleasure in his art and amiably shared it with the community. Neighbor Elizabeth Janney recalled how he often brought her to the back room of his general store, his studio, and asked for her opinion on his paintings. "Do you think the flag needs another coat of paint, Mrs. Janney?" he would ask. Even though she always answered no, he would add another layer. Homespun also in his choice of materials, Pickett mixed his own paint and made his own brushes, using cat's hair.
Pickett's style was naive. His paintings are amazingly detailed and vibrant. Untrained in perspective, he suggested distance by arranging objects in tiers. Also unaware of conventions for representing size and scale, he suggested the importance of objects by their relative size. For example, because the school house in Manchester Valley is the most important structure, Pickett makes it the largest, although it is distant, and smaller than the factories in the foreground. Through his highly original and exuberant style, Pickett, in this and all his canvases, portrayed Bucks County as an almost magical world.
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