Watercolor artist Conrad Young’s paintings preserve local scenes
Watercolor artist Conrad Young
The Waterloo Covered Bridge in Warner
Fall Foliage (Rock Wall) by Conrad Young
Cry of the Wild by Conrad Young
There are 54 wooden covered bridges still standing in New Hampshire. Watercolor artist Conrad Young has visited most of them and is eight bridges into his goal of painting all of them.
You can see a sampling in Young’s new exhibit, Treasured Memories of Quieter Times. It’s on display in the Conservation Center at the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, 54 Portsmouth St. in Concord, until Aug. 27. A reception is set for today, from 2 to 4 p.m.
The Conservation Center is an ideal setting for his art, which also includes paintings of landscapes and wildlife.
“I chose the Conservation Center because I felt it tied in with my background, what I was trying to achieve with the outdoors, the landscapes,” he said.
The feeling is mutual.
John Savage, spokesman for the society, said that the organization likes to highlight artists whose work is aligned to its mission of land conservation and forest preservation.
Young loves all things old. When vacationing, he and his wife, Penny, frequent antique shops, and the only television show he watches is The Pickers (a reality show about antique hunters).
His paintings help preserve what can so easily be lost. A barn that he painted in 2008 has since been taken down.
“A lot of these scenes go away,” he said. “A covered bridge burns down or whatever, and it’s gone.”
“Railroad Covered Bridge – Contoocook” includes the bridge that still exists, which happens to be the oldest railroad covered bridge in the country, as well as the (formerly) nearby Contoocook Covered Bridge, removed in 1935.
The bridges he paints look like they probably did a hundred years ago.
“That’s what I intended,” he said. “Anything old, the way it used to be, that’s what I enjoy doing. I have a real feeling for that.”
He carefully researches and photographs the bridges before beginning to paint, and likes to share his knowledge. Those paintings in the exhibit are accompanied by cards noting the year the bridge was built and the construction materials used.
Young is also known for his realistic, detailed paintings of landscapes, birch groves, mountains, lakes and wildlife.
“Lilly” is a close-up of a daylily covered in dewdrops that appear ready to drip right off the flower. One can practically feel the wolf’s fur ruffling in the wind and snow in “Gray Wolf.” And “Fall Foliage (Rock Wall)” will resonate with anyone who has experienced the glory of an autumn day.
Young is familiar with his subjects because they are part of his life experience.
“My father was a logger, a blacksmith, raised horses, lived on farms,” he said. “That’s all part of my heritage. I’ve seen the rock walls, hunted on the mountains, been part of these old barns that I paint. It’s part of my background.”
Through his paintings, Young shares his memories of growing up in New Hampshire and Maine. There are stories behind each one.
“Almost Home” illustrates his experience arriving at the Tilton train station on a snowy Christmas Eve in 1955. No taxis were available, so he walked four miles home through 18 inches of snow. The painting includes an old-fashioned horse-drawn carriage, which was not actually there that night.
His newest work, “Logging in Clarks Mills, Maine 1947-1948”, portrays the time that he and his family spent the winter logging in Maine.
“That one’s been on my mind for a long time, and I had to get it down on (watercolor) paper,” he said.
Months of drought had led to devastating forest fires, and the trees needed to be cut that winter before insects ruined the lumber in the spring.
The logging camp was too far into the woods for Young and his siblings to get to a school, but he said that they learned more that winter than they ever could have learned in a classroom.
An account of that winter experience will be revealed at the reception this afternoon.
Learner and teacher
Young studied for three years at the Van Emburge School of Fine Art in New Jersey, specializing in watercolor. He worked as art director for advertising agencies before starting his own agency in Concord in 1970, retiring in 2009.
He didn’t have much time or energy for painting during that time, he said, although he did some on weekends. That didn’t get in the way of his artistic growth, though.
“I was working with illustrators and painters all the time,” he said, “and without realizing it, I was improving my art in my mind. That’s what it’s all about, anyway – what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it.
“I must have worked with over 300 different artists, illustrators out of New York City, some of the very best. That was a learning curve in itself, all those freelance artists, including Peter Ferber up in Wolfboro.”
Young has paid it forward by mentoring an aspiring young artist.
“There was an art student in Penacook. I heard about how great this guy was,” he said. “He was delivering pizza at the time.”
Freelancers’ prices were out of sight, Young said, and he was having trouble getting the work done, so he contacted the student and asked if wanted to be a commercial artist.
“I started meeting him at Burger King once a week and teaching him,” Young said, “from the basics right on up to the mechanics of getting things ready for production.
“Within two to three months, he was doing my artwork. He worked with me for the last 10 years of my career, and we became very good friends.”
Young is mentoring the next generation, too. He gives weekly art lessons to his six grandchildren.
The reception today from 2 to 4 p.m. will feature refreshments, and there are two door prizes: a matted, signed print and a basket from Granite State Candy Shoppe.
The exhibit is open for viewing on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 224-9945 before visiting as the exhibit room, which also serves as a meeting space, may be in use.