- School History
James Lockwood Wilson ’33 was keenly interested in the technical details of photography. In addition to serving as two-year photo editor of The Loomis Log, Wilson kept a scrapbook of his own photographs with handwritten captions recording aperture settings and light exposure times. One of his images depicts a student seated in Taylor Hall’s common room with the fireplace behind and a painting hung above the mantel. The painted landscape on the wall beckons the viewer even further into the photograph with its pine grove leading out onto a rocky coast, water, and an island beyond. Wilson selected camera settings for focus across the depth of the entire photograph, including the very background of the painting. Cleverly placing this landscape within his viewfinder, Wilson also, probably unknowingly, enacted a long-held ambition of Loomis Institute Founder Osbert Loomis.
Phillip Little exhibited the painting at the 1928 Loomis School Art Club’s one-day annual student-organized exhibition. Titled variously as August or Cloud Shadows, it represents much of Little’s art depicting the coasts of northern Massachusetts and Maine. The Loomis Log described the landscape as “a striking and truly realistic conception of an August afternoon ... characterized by a free technique, brilliant coloring, and fine composition.” Just two years earlier, the Boston Globe observed that this was an era when marine and shore paintings were “the vogue,” and that Little was “one of the artists who ha[d] stimulated public interest in such pictures through his own paintings.” The Globe published numerous glowing reviews of Little’s art during the 1910s and 1920s, suggesting that Little’s successful picture-making was derived in part from deep familiarity with the terrain and ocean so prominent in his paintings. His family’s long history of North Shore “sea rovers” and Little’s own studio overlooking the harbor at Salem, Mass., combined with “study and research” and “the imagination required to visualize such scenes [to] make them of vital interest.”
When Little donated the painting to the school directly after the show, he asked fellow exhibitor, sculptor Evelyn Longman to deliver the gift. He might just as well have approached Longman’s spouse, Loomis Headmaster Nathaniel Batchelder, whose own family had a long history in Salem. In fact, Mr. B’s parents and siblings may have known Little who was highly regarded in Salem for decades of public service in numerous roles, including ward representative and School Board member. On a national level, Little, as reported by the Globe “took an active part in acquainting the United States Government [during World War I] with the need of camouflage in American vessels and was appointed a member of a commission in New York to develop the possibilities.” His previous career in design and his service and rank as a major in the Massachusetts Militia, now part of the National Guard, may have informed this interest.
In 1928, The Loomis Log praised efforts to place art around campus, some “framed and hung to be carefully preserved for posterity.” Less than 50 years earlier and during the last decade of his life, Osbert Loomis labored vigorously to collect books, historic relics, minerals, and paintings for use and study at the future Loomis Institute. In his 1886 letter to the Superintendent of the Navy Department, Osbert noted the success he’d had in acquiring and creating this collection, having been “specifically deputed” to this work by his sibling Founders after the school’s 1874 chartering. Wilson’s playful use of Little’s landscape to create a picture within a picture focuses our view on a single 1930s moment in Taylor Hall. His photograph also invites us to wonder about a deeper field of narratives centered on making, studying, collecting, and appreciating art. Today, Phillip Little’s painting hangs in Loomis Chaffee’s Burton Room alongside landscapes painted by Osbert Loomis.