Growing Up Artistic in Nyack: Edward Hopper House
BY JANIE ROSMAN
While many recognize Nyack native Edward Hopper’s paintings of seemingly expressionless figures in lonely, sad scenes, fewer may be familiar with his early work.
Visualizing young Hopper growing up in Nyack — as depicted in his drawings — brings clarity to how the public understands him, said Edward Hopper House Museum & Study Center Executive Director Kathleen Motes Bennewitz. Since coming on board in October 2021, Bennewitz has taken the museum in a new direction, connecting the surrounding community more closely with Hopper’s life.
That’s the framework of the museum’s current exhibit, on view through March 26, titled Edward Hopper’s Boyhood on the Hudson River & Emerging Artistic Vision, which features art that hasn’t been seen before by the public.
Hopper and older sister Marion grew up in the 1858 Victorian home on North Broadway built by their grandparents, John DeWint Smith and Martha Griffiths Smith. He walked around the village sketching storefronts, streetscapes, shipbuilding yards, and boats on the Hudson River. Their father, Garrett Henry Hopper, operated a dry goods store (site of Grace’s Thrift Shop) a few blocks south, retiring in 1913.
The family read classics, journals and novels, bringing to bear an artistic influence. Some of the drawings are by early ancestors of his mother, Elizabeth Smith Hopper, matron of the house who shaped her family’s culture. His great-grandfather, Joseph W. Griffiths, helped found the First Baptist Church a few blocks north of their home.
Though their home’s Victorian décor was removed during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, a small corner vignette installation with wallpaper and wainscoting with a silk gown pays homage to the domestic ambience of the original house, Bennewitz explained.
Hopper commuted to New York City after high school graduation to study illustration and fine art, and later moved to Paris for two years, after which New York City lured him back.
Trips to Nyack became more frequent after he married Josephine Nivison in 1924, as their car was kept in Nyack. As he had done while growing up in Nyack, Hopper continued sketching and scouting locations, now joined by his wife.
After the deaths in the mid- to late-1960s of Hopper, his mother and sister, the family home fell into disrepair but was saved from demolition. In 1971, it became the Edward Hopper House Art Center. In 2000, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The house was rechartered as a museum in 2017, when it became a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit.
The museum’s Arthayer & Ruth Sanborn Gallery is dedicated to Hopper’s work and focuses on his childhood activities, while two other galleries feature rotating exhibitions of artists inspired by Hopper’s legacy, Bennewitz said.
Kids of all ages are invited to work on projects in the second-floor Art Lab, named “Hop into Art”), where the Nighthawks Teen Leadership Program for teen docents meets bi-monthly.
Children can “see Nyack through Hopper’s eyes” by using a kit titled Would Be Artist Walking Tour & Activities. It includes drawing materials, a backpack and a sketchbook to use as youngsters venture into the Village. There are four themed and self-guided tour maps that begin at the museum. Questions and activities correspond to each route, plus the kids have a keepsake in the scenes they sketched.
A grant from the Rockland County Department of Economic Development and Tourism helps subsidize the museum’s tour maps and marketing materials.
Where to Go
Edward Hopper’s Boyhood on the Hudson River & Emerging Artistic Vision
Through March 26, 2023
Edward Hopper House Museum and Study Center
82 North Broadway, Nyack 10960
Hours (as of January) > Thursday and Friday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 12 noon to 5 p.m.
Walking Tours from Hopper House
- South on Broadway to where Hopper’s father had a dry goods store (now Grace’s Thrift Shop)
- To the Hudson River, this tour presents young Hopper and friends as the Three Commodores who go sailing and enjoy other boat recreation, with insignia flags
- Around Marion Street (the site of his and his sister’s first primary school)
- North to the building Hopper painted that’s next to a deli (in development)
Janie Rosman is a freelance writer and editor based in Westchester whose work appears in local and regional publications.