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
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.
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."
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.
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
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
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."
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
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.