Bill Hopkins: “The Artist as a Poet”

Bill Hopkins is a poet in paint. Although his corpus includes such pieces as the official portrait of New York State’s Education Chancellor, his own self-evaluation is, “I’m a landscape painter.”

Bill, a western New York native, has already concluded that upstate has more scenes, and more stories, than he can ever hope to paint. He has lately been seizing the region’s attention with paintings reflecting the area’s rich and colorful history: mule-drawn barges on New York’s canal system, steamboats on the lakes, and Iroquois in the days when all this land was theirs.

“I go out on a limb,” he admits, even after scouring local archives for documentation on scenery, buildings, and equipment. “It’s a devilish affair when you don’t have one blasted thing to go on.”

Two recent works that have sparked considerable enthusiasm are “Moonlight Memories” and “Champagne Nights,” unusual nighttime renderings of Keuka Lake during the late 19th century. By his skillful use of light, Bill transforms the old industrial waterfront of Hammondsport into a warm, welcoming gathering of good friends. “The placement and the friendliness and the warmth and the life of it all, that’s critical.”

For both these paintings, Bill had the advantage of considerable photodocumentation, both on the setting and on the steamships. In addition to that, the Gothic revival 1877 Bath & Hammondsport depot is still a prominent feature on the Hammondsport waterfront.

The depot also graces Bill’s unusual snow scene, American Memories: Home for the Holidays. Snow, sleigh, and the depot’s elegance all soften the setting, transporting viewers to a hushed, semi-magical world. It proves again Bill’s unique ability as an illustrator and storyteller.

The Catharine Valley Trail uses one of Bill’s moonlit canal scenes, “Dance Hall Nights, Historic Millport,” as an identifying symbol for the hiking and biking path south of Montour Falls.

Bill freely claims the 19th-century Hudson River School, emphasizing New York State subjects with delicate atmospherics, as one of his main sources for learning in his field. He has lately disciplined himself to lay on tree leaves with brush strokes, rather than with pouncing.  “Over time,” he warns. “As much as you want to race to the finish line, you can’t in this business.  Layout’s everything.”

William F. Hopkins’ work is available year-round in his studio at The Francis Hall House Bed & Breakfast, 526 West Church Street in Elmira. Bill and his wife Carolyn also operate Finger Lakes Heritage: Keuka Moon — the W.F. Hopkins Signature Gallery in the historic depot on the Hammondsport waterfront. From May through October you may see and purchase Bill’s original works and limited-edition signature prints. Visit the Keuka Moon Gallery at #1 Water Street, Ham­mondsport, New York 14840. Call Bill at (607)734-9780, send an email to keukamoon@aol.com, or visit the website at www.keukamoongallery.com


by Kirk House