The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 18, 2008


Phyllis Hughes empties the last of her supplies from her old studio in the Highland Building. (Photo by Mollie McPhee Ho)

Artist Phyllis Hughes packs up her studio and moves on

Well-known Carlisle artist and town resident Phyllis Hughes removed the last of her drawing boards and painting materials from the Highland Building last week and headed on to her new studio in Maynard. Hughes is one of 11 artists who were asked by the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) to vacate the building by the end of 2007, when Emerson Umbrella of Concord, which had been leasing the building, refused to put money into major repairs after its lease had ended and it turned down a one-year renewal offered by the CSC.

While the Highland Study Group researches possible uses for the building, which is on school property, several of the artists went ahead and found studios at the Emerson Umbrella in Concord. Hughes and artists Sally Hall and Helen Boodman have found studios at ArtSpace in Maynard, in the old Fowler School rehabilitated by Jero Nesson, a nationally known rehabilitator of old school buildings. Other artists have built studios in their homes or at locations in Wellesley, Natick, Groton, and Nashua, New Hampshire. Hughes reports that none of the artists have found studios as spacious or as well-lit as those they occupied in the Highland Building.

Hughes remembers sitting on the front steps of the Highland Building in 1995, waiting for the director of Emerson Umbrella to arrive and assign studios. Since Hughes was the first in line, she was given first choice. “What studio would you like?” asked the director. “I’ll take the room on the second floor with the north light,” replied Hughes. It was a room Hughes knew well. It was where her children had attended classes at the Carlisle School and where she remembers delivering birthday celebrations on various occasions. “And those flags that were in the classrooms, they are still hanging there today,” she added.

A studio with the best lighting

Referring to what were to become eight studios, Hughes said the big ones were shared by two artists. And as for the lighting, “it was the best lighting you could possibly have for a studio. There were big, tall windows, and then there was plenty of storage space in the four former cloak rooms,” said Hughes. Among those who would occupy the building over the next 13 years were nine artists from Carlisle. From time to time, the artists helped Carlisle students on a variety of interrelated art programs, reported Hughes − the model North Bridge project, the Heraldry Project, illustrations for stories, painting stage sets, and monotypes. Asked at a recent Highland Building Study Committee meeting if she thought these artists might return if the building were to be used as studios again, Hughes replied that she doubted any would return. Most, she felt, had gone to great effort and expense to outfit new spaces and would be reluctant to move again.

A familiar face around town

Drawing by Phyllis Hughes, 1975.

For long-time Carlisle residents, Phyllis Hughes is a familiar face around town, as a community activist, 4-H leader, Planning Board member, art teacher, illustrator of books, cards, and prints of Carlisle historical sights and events and solo and group exhibitor of her art works. In addition, she has won honors and awards including Carlisle’s Most Honored Citizen Award in 1991. Carlisle readers will remember the Hughes drawings that were part of Ruth Chamberlin Wilkins’s book Carlisle Its History and Heritage (1976), Audrey Stoddard’s Idylwilde Farms Cookbook (2002) and the many illustrations that have appeared in the Carlisle Mosquito over the years. Her work has also appeared in other publications and surrounding town reports including the 1998 Growing Pains. At St. Irene Church in Carlisle, Hughes is a member of a women’s singing group.

Phyllis and Chuck Hughes, along with their five children, moved into their home on Acton Street in 1967, in the midst of a snowstorm, as Hughes well remembers. While her children were growing up, she taught art at Concord Academy from 1970 to 1980, as well as at Concord-Carlisle Adult Education, where she continues to teach to this day. She also teaches at the Lexington Arts and Crafts Society.

An artist’s education

Hughes has been an artist since 1939. When she was a child growing up in Hartford, Connecticut, her mother was told by a nursery school teacher that her daughter had artistic talent and that she should get her art supplies and all the instruction that was possible. During her high school years, Hughes studied with Estelle Conniff at the Wadsworth Athenaeum and with Walter O. Korder, a portraitist and muralist from Germany. Later, she majored in Art and Physical Sciences at Mount Holyoke College and earned her master’s degree in Teaching Art and Physical Sciences from Harvard.

In 2006 Hughes moved to Carlisle Village Court, on Church Street, following the death of her husband. She misses being within walking distance of her studio. “It was so nice to be able to walk to work. These days, it takes me a half-hour to drive to my studio in Maynard, and over there I have only one little window up on the top,” she explained. “I won’t be looking out the window like I did at Highland; however, there is more wall space,” she added, trying to be positive. But I’m going to miss that cloak room.” ∆


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