‘Summer Memories’

Louise Peabody ’63 talks about her new exhibit at the Alumnae House Gallery and her life as an artist

by Cheryl Dellecese


The subjects in the paintings of Louise Peabody ’63 have an almost ethereal look, which happens to be part of the artist’s plan. “In creating a likeness of my subjects,” she writes, “I transcend physical presence capturing the who versus the what in the person before me.” In her new exhibit at the Alumnae House Gallery, titled “Summer Memories,” Peabody uses her skill at creating transcendence to evoke lazy afternoons by the ocean; you can almost feel the piercing sun, smell the salt air and hear the faint din of radios and beach chatter. “It is my hope that people visiting ‘Summer Memories’ will come away with a sense of peace, a respite from the winter darkness and chill, and indulge in recollections of warmer times,” she says. Peabody’s paintings and drawings are prominently featured in both private and public collections across the country. Here she talks about her work, her career as an artist and how Smith influenced both.

beach games
Beach Games (portion) by Louise Peabody


Explain your technique.

I mostly work in oil on canvas or board, although I enjoy drawing and sketching in various media: watercolor, Conté, pencil and charcoal. The most recent paintings are created with layers of paint thinned with turpentine and medium to create a sense of movement and transience, a sense of past and present passing over itself.


How has your art evolved?

I have experimented with many techniques and paint media. I have gone through stages of painting with acrylic, oil and wax, oil with a combination of oil crayon, etc. Each period of experimentation produces a somewhat different look, but the subject matter has continuity. What connects the different periods of my development as an artist is my interest in the stories of people, relationships of people with each other, with their environment, with their children, parents, pets and, at times, with themselves in a moment of self-reflection.


What are some of your proudest accomplishments as an artist?

My proudest achievement is being an artist working every day doing what I love to do. Whatever comes in the sense of recognition or financial reward is wonderful, but the best for me is the everyday work in my studio, the struggle and the joy of it, the crazy ups and downs. I will be doing it until the end of my days—I have no doubt of that.  



Polka Dots by Louise Peabody

How has the art world changed since you began working?

The art world in New York in the 1970s was an exciting time. People were doing outrageous things and there was an explosion of new ideas, but there was little tolerance for traditional techniques. Since that time the art world has become incredibly diverse and is no longer focused in one geographical area. Art fairs are held all over the world, exposing the public to important art being produced today. Of course, there is much more interest in computer-generated art and digital manipulation among the next generation of artists. But there is also a growing interest in classical realism. Renaissance techniques are being mastered by a whole school of artists and academic drawing and painting are widely practiced and appreciated.  


How did Smith influence you as an artist?

I always wanted to be an artist but didn’t know how to go about making a career of it. In my first two years at Smith I took some courses in art, but then pursued many other directions, finally settling on American studies. Fortunately, in my junior year, Smith experimented with a new program that allowed a full month to pursue whatever one wanted. I spent the entire time doing studio art, joining a class in town so I could draw and paint from the model. I changed my major from American studies to studio art. I was finally in my element! 



Cheryl Dellecese is associate director, print and new media, in the Office of College Relations