DORSET — If you've ever driven Route 7 in the Northshire, the bumpy spine of the Green Mountains is unmistakable.
Likewise is the work of Arthur Jones, a painter born and raised in Dorset who chronicled the seasons here for more than 70 years; he died April 7, at the age of 92, after a period of declining health.
What Jones leaves behind, beyond the echoes of his bone-dry wit, is a deep collection of his favorite oil paintings and sketches, as well as the works of other artists who meant something to him.
These pieces can be purchased by fans everywhere, part of a special retrospective of his work — the largest and last of its kind — at 3 Pears Gallery on the Dorset Green through Aug. 31. The net proceeds will go to Vermont nonprofit organizations of Jones' choosing.
The artworks were the items that adorned Jones' studio, where he painted until near his final days.
For gallery owner Greg DeLuca and his wife, Judith, it's an honor to be showing the personal collection of his longtime gallery artist and friend. DeLuca says these are 40 of Jones' most cherished pieces.
Friend Bill Aupperlee first met Jones 40 years ago, after moving here to work for the Dorset Theater Festival, where Jones was a regular attendee. Aupperlee was a set designer, and once he found out that Jones was a painter, they became fast friends.
A Vermonter dating back generations, "He loved the area and wanted to put it all down on canvas before it disappeared," says Aupperlee. "Most of the dairy farms and barns he painted are gone now."
Mini-landscapes: detailed scenes of Vermont
Perhaps best known for his mini-landscapes, Jones employed a style that jumps between primitive and classical, which developed and changed over the years, says Aupperlee.
"There's a naivete. But it's not really a primitive style. It's not realism, not like the Wyeths," says Aupperlee, speaking of New England's first family of realist artists, N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth.
"There is a heart in his work, a real connection of artist to the work and the land," adds DeLuca.
Jones was a self-trained painter, say DeLuca and Aupperlee, but he did have some early instruction from Ada Davis, daughter of painter John Lilly, and later saw mentors in painters Luigi Lucioni and Ogden Pleissner.
Most of Jones' paintings were Southwestern Vermont landscapes. Toward the end of his career, he painted a collection of American flags, about 12 different pieces over 20 years.
Jones' works have been sold in Palm Beach, Fla., and New York galleries, finding their way onto the walls of many prestigious collectors, such as Laurance Rockefeller.
'Trick of the eye'
He also painted a Trompe-l'oeil series — a "trick of the eye" — paintings, depicting cabinets and shelves with forced perspective.
"He would paint things on those cabinets that you thought were real but weren't," says Aupperlee.
Jones grew up painting and drawing. For his early employment in the 1950s, he worked as a gardener, earning 35 cents an hour while painting on the side.
The way Aupperlee tells it, Jones had a tiny painting show on the Dorset Town Green and sold a painting for $5.
Jones said, "'To heck with gardening if I can sell a painting for $5.'"
He grew up on a property on Nichols Hill Road in Dorset, where his father was a tenant farmer for May Goodman.
When his father died in about 1954, Jones offered to buy the 6-acre farm and farmhouse, to take care of his mother, brother and sister. That house — where Jones converted a barn into his studio and home in the 1980s — will be on the market soon, says Aupperlee.
Never before seen
DeLuca says the entire contents of the collection are available for sale during the exhibit, starting from June 26 through Aug. 31. There is a wide spectrum of price points from under $1,000 to $15,000.
"People haven't seen many of the pieces before," Aupperlee says.
"Things that were tucked away," adds DeLuca.
This includes two rare early watercolors (not his main media) and two sketchbooks unveiling the artist's process, and "mementos of Arthur, that he kept for himself."
Jones' traditional media was oil on Masonite and later oil on canvas.
DeLuca describes great skill in Jones' painting, which can be as large as 4 feet across or sometimes 4 inches by 6 inches, barely bigger than a postcard.
"He put his personality into the skill, and with that, he really captured the essence of his beloved Vermont throughout his career," says DeLuca, who sold a Jones painting recently for $20,000-plus.
"It holds its value," he adds, noting that Arthur's collector's base is robust and dedicated. "The timeliness, the emotional connection with it," that's what Jones captured in his work, says DeLuca.
DeLuca says his friendship with Jones began before he started 3 Pears in 2013, and he was delighted to represent Arthur once the gallery opened.
Like Aupperlee, DeLuca is a fan of Jones the man, as well as the painter, saying he kept his authenticity and aesthetic identity throughout his whole life and career.
A true Vermont inspiration
Jones, a Vermonter through and through, was the epitome of country charm and resourcefulness. He was a master with technique with ever-slight hints of a wide-eyed farmer's son appreciating nature's gifts of his beloved home state.
This, DeLuca adds, is most likely what makes his work so relatable and approachable.
Additionally, DeLuca notes that Jones' charismatic way with people, coupled with his renowned talent, made his little tucked-away studio become a destination for national and international collectors alike. Jones was not one to be taken lightly, Aupperlee and DeLuca say.
"Arthur could size you up in two minutes, and then he'd choose the personality he thought would suit you best," says Aupperlee.
A local TV magnate and his wife once stopped in, balked at a price and asked, "This is negotiable, isn't it?" and Jones said, "Yes, the price could go up."
The last big show
The virtual and in-person sale at 3 Pears Gallery "is the very last time a collection of this magnitude of Arthur's work will be in one setting for sale," says DeLuca.
The sale also includes works by other artists Jones admired and kept in his home and studio, such as Jane Armstrong, Luigi Lucioni, John Lilly, Nicholas Comito and others.
DeLuca says the show documents Jones' representations of past and present Vermont in all its glory, from detailed classic barn scenes, the instantly recognizable Southern Vermont light on the Green Mountains, to his Maine series from his vacations, and "a most extraordinary early still life with one of his coveted bird's nests."
Visit 3 Pears Gallery on the Dorset Green during normal business hours, open every day except Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The gallery is located at 41 Church St., across from the Green where Arthur sold his first painting over 70 years ago for that remarkable $5.
You can also visit 3pearsgallery.com, where online shopping is available, or the gallery's Facebook page at facebook.com/3PearsGallery, or Instagram @3pearsgallery. Call 802-770-8820 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.