Separate Studios

Lucy McVicker

Chuck McVicker

Corrections or additions?

This article by Pat Summers was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper

dated Wednesday, December 23, 1998. All rights reserved.

McVickers: Different Strokes

Much to my chagrin, she’s always right. She has very

good taste." A man who says that of his wife can’t be all bad.

Even though, in many, many ways, the differences between esteemed

area painters Charles and Lucy Graves McVicker are at least


daunting, it’s ultimately clear that while they’re not "joined

at the hip" in their work styles or outlooks, that’s to the good:

they’re a happy pair, and it’s much more interesting that way. In

a recent conversation at their home in Skillman, they finished each

other’s sentences, mentioned each other’s art awards, laughed at each

other’s bon mots.

For decades, Chuck McVicker, working as a commercial artist, made

the daily commute to New York; Lucy raised three daughters and


painted a watercolor before committing to an art career. Today she

is widely known for her delicate, semi-abstract landscapes and florals

in watercolor, while he — right now, anyway — produces


figurative works in acrylics or oils: landscapes, still lifes, and,

lately, portraits. They’ve both won their share of prizes — and

probably other artists’ shares too.

The separate and quite individual studios in the home they share on

Montgomery Road provide still another index of their individuality.

In fact, one main attraction of the light-filled house, formerly owned

by another artist, was its potential for two art studios. "We’re

at opposite ends of the house because I have to have total silence

when I work, and he has to have the opera on, or the television, or

a talk show, or jazz records. You know — noise," Lucy


She talks animatedly about bright, winter days when she and another

artist worked "on location" next to the Delaware and Raritan

Canal, both painting snow scenes from the front seat of a small parked

car, and occasionally turning on the engine for warmth. Chuck


"I on the other hand like to work in a hermetically sealed


with all my creature comforts. I do not like the wind, the rain."

Lucy’s spontaneous-looking pictures follow her line, tonal, and/or

color sketches. She observes the natural scene that interests her,

eventually producing her own concept of it, often somewhat abstract

at first. To that, she heightens and adds elements, bringing the


closer to a figurative effect. (She regards as "unresolved"

the pictures she does not convert from abstract to representational.)

Although much of her work is done in gentle shades, she varies this,

incorporating brights at what seem like just the right juncture. In

some of her florals, for instance, she uses blobs of bright color

for her imaginary flowers. (She has said that if they suggest real

flowers, that’s usually coincidental.)

It might be assumed Chuck labors over preparation for his


paintings — the still lifes that have won so many prizes, for

instance. Not so. "I go to what I want to do," he says: no

sketches or preliminary drawings. However, each picture might take

a month to finish. But at this stage of his career, Chuck — who

billed himself as the fastest brush in the East while a commercial

artist, when time was money — now takes his time and makes no


"We go to a workshop in South Carolina each spring, and I’m in

a room full of 30 artists who are pretty fine painters. They do a

painting a day, and they’re doing these abstracts, and I walk in and

I plunk down my little kit and I get out my two-haired brush, and

I sit there all week. They think I’m crazy — nobody else is


that way."

He’s experienced other phases, other styles. He did angry paintings

when he was in his 40s — "very powerful, and obnoxious,"

but "I don’t look at the world that way anymore," he says.

He’s more mellow now, and doing the kind of work he loves, even


as he notes, "We live in a conceptual age. I’m sort of out of

step with everybody, but I’ve just decided that I like to look at

the world, what I perceive, and paint it."

Interestingly, it was a self-publishing business a few years ago that

got Chuck started on the kind of painting he does so happily today.

By the time the McVickers opted out of the business, Chuck was winning

awards with his current style. One door closed; another door —

a surprising, satisfying one — opened.

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Separate Studios

They each paint, but in separate studios. Do they see each other’s

work, and if so, when? What are the protocols for reacting, and do

they act on each other’s opinion? Differently. But by now, that’s

no surprise. Lucy doesn’t want Chuck to see a picture she’s engaged

with till it’s almost finished. Since his paintings take a month,

she sees them throughout the process. As for whether they take each

other’s advice, there’s — well — a difference of opinion.

"We both see a lot of artwork. We both teach and belong to art

groups. Within that context, we have pretty good judgment," Chuck


Furthermore, he continues, "if a painting gets done and it doesn’t

work, I’m not going to try and correct it. I’ll toss it. When it’s

done, it’s done." Conversely, Chuck believes Lucy’s work is never

done. "I’ll take it out of the frame and keep revising it,"

she agrees, kidding her husband for cleaning house every couple years:

"Historians will be sorry when they have your retrospective."

The irony there is that Lucy has very little inventory because her

work sells so quickly.

Which leads to still another difference: pricing. Chuck, who puts

about a month into every painting, prices accordingly. He thinks Lucy

prices her work too low. Smiling, they agree that for one reason or

another, her work is "accessible."

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Lucy McVicker

Lucy Graves McVicker’s art career started later than her husband’s.

It’s a familiar story, but no less a good one. The third of three

children, she was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Her father was

an electrical engineer and she remembers her mother as "very


she painted and had talent in the areas of interior decorating and

antiques, some of which Lucy still treasures. A fine arts major at

Principia College, in Illinois, where she occasionally painted, Lucy

worked at a private girls school in Pittsburgh, where her family lived

by then, married, and had three daughters, who are now grown into

Lauri McVicker, Bonnie Wilson, and Heather Teffenhart. "I can

seem to do only one thing at a time," she says. "I was so

into being a full-time mother, I feel like I spent 15 years watching

Sesame Street and Captain Kangaroo. Every once in awhile, I would

do a picture, always watercolor."

Not till all three girls were of school age did Lucy

re-start her art training. Inspired by a teacher at the Art


of Princeton (now Artworks, the visual arts school of Princeton and

Trenton), she took more and more courses, eventually contacting New

York’s Parsons School of Design, to ask if there was an age limit

for students. "They said, `No, bring in your portfolio,’"

she recalls — "which was silly because I didn’t have a


Even so, she was accepted for her color and design strengths, and

opted to start at Parsons in the spring term because she and Chuck

had planned their first trip to Europe that fall. "It was dark,

mid-winter," she says, when she caught the 7 a.m. train four days

a week, to take classes with 17 and 18-year-olds, then got the train

back in time to greet her daughters after school. Starting halfway

through all her courses, with a four-hour commute each day, Lucy fell

into a pattern: home by 3 p.m., make dinner, help with homework, do

the laundry, do her own homework, get to bed, and do the same things

the next day.

At that, she was threatened with failure in her drawing class, and

had concluded she’d quit school when Chuck found her near tears one

day. "I wasn’t going to tell him. He was a big, top-notch,


star." When she did tell him, he said, "You’re not quitting.

You’re far better than I was when I was in school.’ Whether he was

lying, I don’t know, but I loved him for it." (She earned a


in that course.)

"That summer, when all the (Parsons) kids were at the beach, I

decided to take an everyday, all-day intensive drawing course. I


every day. By fall, I felt equal with the other students, and by the

next June, I was on the dean’s list." That was the beginning.

She began showing her work (first at the Back Door Gallery, then in

the Princeton Shopping Center) and experiencing success. The family’s

1986 move from Princeton to Skillman and Lucy’s own art studio, made

her feel official as a painter — full-time, at that.

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Chuck McVicker

An only child, Chuck was born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. His mother

was an elementary school teacher, and until the Depression, his father

was a singer; after that, aspirations thwarted, he did a variety of

things. Originally, Chuck aimed to get into theater set design, but

because he liked the illustration work an Army buddy did, he switched

to that. Also a Principia College graduate, Chuck attended the Art

Center College of Design in Los Angeles before moving back East and

commuting for years from Princeton to studios in New York. As an


he says he was a "general practitioner," with jobs ranging

from paperback covers to fashion drawings.

Since 1986, Assistant Professor McVickers has been on the faculty

of the College of New Jersey. Lucy continued her art education at

Pratt, Rutgers, and Artworks. She taught painting at the Montgomery

Cultural Center 1860 House and the Arts Council of Princeton, and

she’s still experimenting in her own work. For example, her monotypes

are now done with water-soluble materials, and she has started to

use acrylics in a transparent fashion, as in watercolor. She likes

the freedom from "negative painting," necessary with


to save white paper.

Long-time members of the Princeton Artists Alliance, a group of


area artists, the McVickers recently completed their individual works

in response to Robert Fagles’ honored translation of Homer’s


The group show around this theme opens at Bristol-Myers Squibb in

late February.

Different: from their career paths through their approaches to the

work they do, to their separate phone numbers, the McVickers are


individualistic. In common: their three grown children and five


their mutual admiration and acceptance of differences, their


paintings. They often enter the same competitions, with equanimity.

"There’s never a conflict," Lucy says, "because we have

the same bank account for our art work. So when Chuck wins, I cheer.

When I win, he cheers." (To which Chuck adds, with a big smile,

"And when we both win . . .!")

— Pat Summers

Through February 15, the McVickers’ exhibition at DeLann


Plainsboro, is the easiest way to compare and contrast their work

— or simply to enjoy it, in all its diversity. Lucy’s watercolors

are on view, as are some of her new monotypes. Chuck’s landscapes

and still lifes, in either acrylic or oil, are shown.

DeLann’s Judy Caracio says she has heard "wonderful comments"

about the show since it opened November 21. "Their work is


and vibrant," she says, citing the McVickers’ mix of sizes,


subjects. "I’m honored to have it in the gallery. With Jan


and the other artists, it’s a nice blend, a great holiday show."

DeLann Gallery, Princeton Meadows Shopping Center,


609-799-6706. Oils and acrylics by Charles McVicker, watercolors by

Lucy Graves McVicker, and oils by Jan Purcell. Also recent works by

Sidney Neuwirth and Bob Justin. To February 12. Tuesday to Thursday,

11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to

6 p.m.

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