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Tales From the Permanent Collection: Isabelle Tuttle

Isabelle Tuttle Painting En Plein Air
Nantucket, 1970's

"Painting is an escape for me. If I can paint, everything disappears except the painting before me, and I come away refreshed, ready to face anything."


 Isabelle Hollister Tuttle was born in Rochester, NY in 1895. She had no shortage of strong women in her life. Her mother marched for women's suffrage, and her aunt Harriet encouraged her love of painting and travel through her experience painting in Nantucket and abroad in China. She was later also encouraged by her art teacher, Ms. Cochran, at her boarding school in Baltimore. 

Towards Madaket

In 1915, she wed Henry Emerson Tuttle, a man who shared her appreciation for the arts. Henry grew up illustrating intricate birds, and is said to have created his first etching with Isabelle's hatpin. Their love of art and travel continued collectively as they travelled west through the Rockies on pack horses together. Henry spent the days fishing and drawing birds while Isabelle pained en plein air. Her daughter Isabelle recalls, "How we enjoyed hearing descriptions of mother learning to cope with her horse, with her canvases and paints on another, and the guides mystified by 'the crazy Easterners'.Post Rockies, Isabelle returned home with 24 finished canvases leading to a sold out solo show in Boston. 

They continued to travel, invigorated by the artistic possibilities. In London, both were accepted into the Slade School to study Life Drawing under famed instructor, Henry Tonks. Henry and Isabelle took advantage of their time in Europe, exploring England, Scotland, and Majorca; never curtailing their plein air productivity. They eventually made their way to Nantucket, purchasing a home in 1926. Their work only continued to expand from there, both becoming valued talents of the community and members of the AAN. 

After the death of her husband in 1946, Isabelle looked to her love of painting for solace and began taking classes again under the instruction of Frank Swift Chase. She was an integral part of AAN, serving on multiple committees and the executive board. She was later inspired by the style of Philip Burnham Hicken, and studied acrylic painting with him from the mid 1960's into the 1970's. 

Her painting studio on Washington Street still stands.

DeWitt, I. (1981) ‘Isabelle Hollister Tuttle- Some Recollections of Her Life’, The Inquirer & Mirror.

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