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The Legacy of the West: Abby Williams Hill and Debra Joy Groesser

Two Women Artists Painting a Century Apart

The Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum is pleased to present the nationally recognized exhibit "The Legacy of the West" which includes the previously unseen, family owned, western paintings of Abby Williams Hill, who lived on Vashon from 1895 to 1906, linked with the work of Debra Joy Groesser, a western woman artist whose paintings have a unique connection to Abby’s work.
"The Legacy of the West" opens First Friday, November 1, 2013 and will be open through Spring 2014 at the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum. Opening concurrently is a solo exhibit of Debra Joy Groesser’s western landscapes paintings at The Hardware Store Gallery which will be on display from November 1 to December 2, 2013. A concurrent opening reception will be held at both galleries from 6 to 8 PM First Friday November 1, 2013.
Abby Williams Hill (1861-1943) was a pioneer western landscape artist. She left a remarkable legacy of individual achievement as a western woman artist and her work gives us a unique insight into the life of a woman and an artist at the turn of the last century. Hill was a progressive liberal, worked for women’s suffrage, worked for a variety of social causes of her time, eschewed fashions involving the ever-present corset, and was an outspoken proponent of women’s rights.
Debra Joy Groesser is a signature member and 2013 President of the American Impressionist Society, a signature member of American Plains Artists, a signature member and board member of Plein Air Artists Colorado and an associate member of Oil Painters of America.
Debra became aware of Abby Williams Hill’s work when she visited the 2009 Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum’s exhibit "Long in the Memory" which featured Abby’s Vashon works. The same exhibit brought David Norberg, who is the great-great-nephew of Abby’s daughters Ina and Eulalie, to Vashon and the idea for this exhibit "The Legacy of the West" was born. David had access to a number of Abby’s paintings owned by the family that had never been exhibited, and Debra found a number of uncanny connections with Abby. In conversations with Dr. Bruce Haulman of the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum, David and Debra agreed to curate this unique exhibit that links Abby’s un-exhibited paintings with Debra’s works that echo the legacy of Abby’s work.
The connections between Abby Williams Hill and Debra Joy Groesser, two western women artists who worked a century apart are amazing and uncanny. They are both commercially successful women artists in a field dominated by male artists. Both married prominent community professionals (Abby’s husband was a physician, Debra’s husband is a five term mayor) with social and volunteer commitments in their communities that sometimes cause their art careers to be put on hold. Both Abby and Debra grew up on the Great Plains less than 250 miles apart. Both have connections to England, to Quebec, to Laguna Beach California, and to Vashon Island, Washington. Both have a love of nature and are drawn to the wilderness. Many of their works capture this fascination with the west and the spirit of nature they both found there. They both were very active in supporting early childhood education, as well as other progressive social issues. Although both are predominantly landscape painters, they both painted a number of portraits, and both have worked in a variety of mediums beyond the oils for which they are both best known. As a result of these connections, Debra for the past four years has followed in the footsteps of Abby, and visited and painted many of the same places Abby painted.
When we became aware of these connections between Abby and Debra, and we became aware of David Norberg’s access to the un-exhibited family paintings of Abby Williams Hill, it just seemed natural to assemble this extraordinary pair of exhibits to bring all these elements together. You are invited to attend the Opening Reception on First Friday November 1, from 6 to 8 PM, of "the Legacy of the West" at the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Museum, and of Debra Joy Groesser’s solo exhibit "Western Landscapes Paintings" at The Hardware Store Gallery.
An additional special event corresponding with this exhibit is a conversation between Abby Williams Hill (enacted by living history performer Karen Haas) and Debra Joy Groesser on Monday November 4 at 7:00 PM at the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust Building, 10014 Bank Road SW, Vashon Island. This conversation will explore the connections between Abby and Debra, their experiences as women artists working 100 years apart, and their work as western plein air artists.