This Place in History: James Hope

Vermont History

CASTLETON, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’ we visited Castleton, Vt. with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We’re going to talk about the painter James Hope. He’s pretty famous now in Vermont, but not so much during his lifetime. He lived right behind us. The sign is behind us and you see that nice little white Gothic Revival building, which is now Campus Security. That was his home and studio,” began Perkins.

“He wasn’t from Vermont originally. He was Scotch, born in Scotland. Ultimately his dad took him and they immigrated to Canada. But then his dad died in a cholera epidemic and you had this young kid, 15-years-old. He walked from the Maritimes of Canada to Vermont to apprentice as a wheelwright.​”

“He had some health issues and at one point some injuries that prevented him from practicing his craft. He picked up painting and had a natural aptitude for it. He took a few lessons, but never attended any academies. He was so good he hung his proverbial shingle outside and started painting portraits, though he really liked to do landscapes. That’s how he ended up here at Castleton. He taught art classes here, in addition to doing portrait painting, and ultimately built this house, which was both a studio and his home,” explained Perkins.

“[His style of art] is called the Hudson River School. It’s the mid 19th Century. We know it as Alfred Bierstadt and Asher B. Durand. They did these great images usually of the Adirondacks in that Hudson River area, hence the Hudson River School. But they did paint all over. The idea was to show this American landscape, a rough-and-ready landscape. It was beautiful, but also untouched somewhat by man. You see a lot of that in his later work.”

“He was touched by the American Civil War. He was an older man at the time the war broke out. He ended up enlisting as a captain of a regiment that came out of Castleton and he fought early on in the war until he got so sick, he couldn’t participate anymore. But, he did sketch a lot of his experiences and after the war, he painted these grand sweeping landscapes in this Hudson River Valley School form, but with armies in them and battles. It’s very unique imagery of the American Civil War. He’s probably best known at this point for those images, even though it was a very small part of his work.”

“He received a commission to paint Watkins Glen in New York. So, he moved there with his family and he painted the Glen. He had a gift shop and a studio and he sold paintings to folks.​”

“[To view his artwork] you can go right to the Vermont Historical Society. We have one of his most famous Civil War paintings in the museum in Montpelier. You can see paintings of his at the Shelburne Museum. You can see some paintings right here at Castleton University. And, if you are traveling down to Antietam Battlefield, he painted an amazing mural of the Antietam Battle, which he participated in, and that’s on view in the visitor center at that battlefield,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

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