The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 11, 2010


A Carlisle icon says goodbye to the town she has served for many years

Phyllis Hughes at her drafting table in her Maynard studio. (Photo by Rik Pierce)

For those of us who have lived in Carlisle for a long time, imagining the town without long-time resident and artist Phyllis Hughes is almost impossible. Since 1967, when she, her husband Chuck and their children moved to a home on Acton Street, this talented and creative woman has been involved in many aspects of Carlisle life. However, times are changing. Sometime this summer Hughes will be heading to Corning, New York, to live next door to her daughter Kate’s farm house, where she plans to garden and “paint for my life,” while spending more time with her two grandchildren, aged eight and ten.

If you haven’t met Hughes yet, you are bound to have seen many of her wonderful drawings. They have appeared in the Mosquito, on note-cards, on placemats, on awards given out at Old Home Day to the Honored Citizen and the Conservationist of the Year, and in framed prints of the Carlisle Town Center and the Bicentennial March of the Carlisle Minutemen to Concord on the Estabrook Trail in 1976. Hughes Hughes designed the cover and did the drawings of the houses that are featured in Ruth Wilkins book “Carlisle, Its History and Heritage.” Later in June, she will have some of her paintings on display on the stairway leading to the Hollis Room on the third floor of the Gleason Public Library.

Phyllis Hughes was born in Hartford, Connecticut. “I was an army brat. I went to first grade in Ft. Riley, Kansas, then on to Oklahoma, Colorado Springs and finally returned to Hartford in 1945,” recalled Hughes. When she couldn’t cope with the behavior of children in the public school (mainly the boys, she admitted) her mother sent her to Mt. St. Joseph Academy in Hartford. “It was there we were taught by nuns, wore uniforms and behaved properly – it made a difference in my life,” said Hughes, emphatically. After graduating from Mt. Holyoke College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Art History and Physical Science, Hughes pursued a Master’s Degree in teaching Science and Art from Harvard, which led her on to the Newton School system where she taught math and science.

By the time she moved to Carlisle in 1967, she had retired from teaching “in order to raise my five children. All my children went to the Carlisle Public School – Karl, Karin, Helaine, Adrienne and Kate. They all had that wonderful math teacher, Mrs. LaBroad, who called them all Karl over the years,” laughed Hughes.

Life as an artist begins early

“I started painting at age four, after my nursery school teacher urged my mother to give me all the art supplies and art lessons possible,” recalled Hughes. “I was taking classes and exhibiting by the age of five,” continued Hughes. “I joined the West Hartford Art League and studied with several outstanding teachers throughout my high school years, exhibiting and winning prizes.” In college she continued with studio art and during the summer months studied with famous artists in Rockport, including Stanley Woodward.

A woman of many talents serves her town

You can spot Hughes on Old Home Day this year, riding in the parade, which she has done since 1991 when she won the Honored Citizen Award. “Each year I have agreed to ride in the parade; it’s an honor and an obligation that I want to uphold,” she told me. So what have been her many contributions to this town? I don’t know if there is enough room in this newspaper to list them all.

Hughes has taught for many years at the Adult and Continuing Education Center in Concord, where many have taken her courses in batik, framing, painting, sculpture and pottery. From 1967 until 1974, while her children were young, she was the leader of three 4-H clubs – in Jelly Making, Food Preservation and Art. In 1967, when her children started raising chickens, Hughes took on the role of Middlesex County Poultry Chair, in charge of the Poultry Tent at the annual 4-H Fair in Westford for several years. The Hughes family offered their swimming pool for use by the Recreation Commission during many summer swim programs and Phyllis, as a water safety instructor, taught swimming.

An active member of St. Irene Church

During her years in Carlisle, Hughes has been an active member of St. Irene Catholic Church where she was a Cantor, Lector and Religious Education Teacher. Back in the days of Father Byrne, he used to drop by “to hear the Bible read according to Phyllis.” She has also been active in the women’s club over the years.

In 1989, Hughes ran for the Carlisle Planning Board as a write-in candidate when a Carlisle real estate agent, and a good friend of hers, was running for that office. She remembers standing all day in the Carlisle School parking lot, telling people where to vote (in the school gym, before Town Hall was built) and “watching the sun go from the eastern skies to set in the west.” She won the election, and later served as chairman of the board. For many years, when not running for office, Hughes worked at the polls. “I took over being the “town crank” for the late Phyllis Towle, way back when,” said Hughes. “Working at the polls is the place to be; catching up with all your friends and getting to know the police officer on duty.”

“For many years we hosted summer block parties on our screened-in porch,” Hughes reminisced. “Neighbors came who you never saw otherwise.” But in 2006, after her husband’s death, she left her Acton Street home. “Now I have my wonderful apartment, at Village Court on Church Street, behind the UU Church and the Gleason Public Library, where everything in this town takes place,” said Hughes. She continued to paint in her studio at the Highland Building, just up the hill on School Street, until it was shut down. During the past several years she has been painting at Art Space in Maynard. “It was so nice having a studio nearby in Carlisle for those seven or eight years,” added Hughes, “and during school vacations I provided security for the school from my windows at Highland,” she reminded me.

What will Hughes miss most when she leaves Carlisle, I asked. “I know the history of this town and how the town works. I have many good friends whom I have worked with on projects and committees. I’ll miss tremendously living in this caring and active town, a town where I have known the police officers, the EMTs, the firemen and the DPW guys.”

We will all miss you too, Phyllis.

Click to see Some of Phyllis' artwork

© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito