All About Bill

Will Hollingsworth 1891-1975

Will Hollingsworth was born in 1891, in Louisville, Kentucky.  He lived in Louisville until he was 21; however, he only completed formal schooling in grammar school.  When he was in his early teens, his father disappeared, and his mother was prevented by school-system rules from returning to her work as a school teacher: accordingly Will was put to work in the accounting office of the L & N Railroad, where he worked until he was 21, when his mother’s eventual divorce from his father permitted her to return to work.

In 1912, he moved to Chicago, and began studying art at the Academy of Fine Arts, supporting himself by waiting on tables and other odd jobs.  He was sufficiently successful at the Academy that after he had finished his course work, he taught in the school for several years.

One interesting project Will took on at this time was to start a marionette theatre: he made the puppets and also designed the theatre itself.  Their first major production was Lord Dunsany’s “A Night at an Inn”—a story of some thieves who steal a big jewel from the forehead of a huge idol.  While they are celebrating their eventual wealth in an inn, the idol walks in and takes the jewel and puts it back in its forehead.

The production got good reviews; however, Will’s connection with this project was relatively brief, because shortly after beginning it, he left Chicago.  He received a commission to manage the decoration for a new theatre being opened in Chicago by the Shuberts, and this provided sufficient funds to fulfill a long-held dream: 1920 he moved to Paris to study art, and to paint.  He lived there for the next five years.  During this period, he managed to sell some paintings, and some of his woodcuts were used as illustrations in American magazines.

As a result of this connection, in 1925, while she was visiting Paris, he met Buckner Kirk, who had been Art Editor for Century, and who had published some of his woodcuts in that magazine.  In 1925, he married Miss Kirk, (who was known to everyone as “Buckie”) and moved back to the United States, beginning a career as a commercial artist,  producing a flow of paintings (mostly water color) for illustration of advertising for Canadian Pacific Railways, Pitcairn Autogiros and for Forstmann Woolens, his most important account, involving fashion paintings of women clothed in Forstmann products.  The Forstmann  commitment continued until the late mid-1930’s, when the eponymous owner of the company died, and his successors moved to literal colored photography.  Because similar trends were in evidence throughout advertising, this basically signaled the end of Will’s career in advertising art.  For the next ten or twelve years  what little painting he did was portraiture—mostly in oils, or occasionally water colors—often of neighbors and/or friends in the area of New City, in Rockland County, where he and Buckie were living.

This period was complicated by a major health problem: in 1946, he was treated for alcoholism, and became a “recovering alcoholic”, with alcohol completely removed from his life for the next 25 years.  He spent much of the early part of this period, while he was still without employment, working with other alcoholics to help them manage their addiction.

In 1947, Will was offered a job as Curator of the Saint-Gaudens Memorial in Cornish, New Hampshire: this was a museum devoted to the studio and works of one of the two major American sculptors of the late nineteenth century, Augustus Saint-Gaudens.  Buckie was appointed Secretary, so it became a joint project for them both.  (The facility is now operated by the US Government under the Federal Park System.) The museum was open only during the summer months: Will and Buckie spent the months from May through September there for the next ten years, and this began a new period of productivity in Will’s life which lasted for about 25 years.

Once he was established at the Memorial, Will began to paint again, at this time concentrating on oils, often of a surrealistic nature. (He continued doing portraits, which were basically conventional and representational.)  After a few  years he felt he had exhausted the possibilities of surrealism, and began to move toward abstraction, often in the form of semi-abstract landscapes, like “Yellow Dusk”.

During this period he had four one-man shows, including one at the Nicholas Roerich Gallery in Manhattan, and sold quite a few of his paintings.  Two of them were bought by Dartmouth’s Hopkins Art Center and are in the permanent collection there.

In 1957, Will and Buckie retired from their work at the Memorial, sold the Rockland County house, and bought a small house on the main street of Windsor, Vermont, right across the river from Cornish.  In the basement of this house, Will set up a studio, and began to teach art classes there.  The classes were popular, and he continued this activity for a number of years into his and Buckie’s retirement.  He continued painting, producing a series of increasingly abstract works, until his death in 1975.