May 25, 2022

Voices from the Past: Henrietta Hoopes Heath

History Worth Holding Onto

Tis the season for spring cleaning! And while the annual tradition usually has us looking forward, this year, the practice has us peering into the past. As we cleaned through the clutter, we happened across an interesting article from the April 16, 1986 edition of the Outer Banks Current. The piece profiled an incredibly interesting resident of our very own Southern Shores, Henrietta Hoopes Heath. Below are some excerpts from the newspaper about the prolific painter.

Personality Profile: Henrietta Hoopes Heath

By Mary Horner Sykes

The feeling one attains entering Henrietta Hoopes Heath’s home is one of exciting and curious mystique. The impression it conveys is one that speaks for itself. Henrietta has lived a life of illustrious adventure, delight, and recognition. As she uncovered her past from her scrapbook and spectacular tales, I could interpret a feeling of great pleasure and fulfillment.

Henrietta Heath was born in Wilmington, Delaware, the daughter of Henry and Henrietta Hoopes. She was educated at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut, and Holton Arms in Washington. Mrs. Heath studied at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington and in Paris with Andre L’Hole and Louis Marcoussis.

In 1934, in Pamplona, Spain, the Torero Vincente Barrera and the Mayor of Pamplona were so impressed with the accurate portrayal and splendid depiction of the action of her bullfight pieces, that they encouraged an exhibit which opened what was to be her first one-man show in The Ateneo. In 1940-41, when her pictures were shown at the Knoedler Galleries in New York together with her hunts, horseraces, still lifes, and portraits, she was praised in the Galleries’ Catalogue in an introduction written by Ernest Hemingway.

Becoming increasingly recognized and sought after, Mrs. Heath’s other one-man shows were displayed at nationally respected and distinguished galleries and museums. Among these were The Stendahl Gallery in Los Angeles, The Four Fountains in South Hampton, The Knoedler Galleries in New York, The Dudley Peter Allen Memorial Museum at Oberlin, The Robert C. Vose Gallery in Boston, The Creative Arts Gallery at the University of Virginia, The Villita Gallery in San Antonio, The Whyte Gallery in Washington, Neiman Marcus Decorative Galleries in Dallas, The Museum of Sante Fe, The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and The Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences (now called The Chrysler Museum).

Henrietta Hoopes Heath
Before her show at the Norfolk Museum of Arts in 1968. Photo by William McIntosh.

In the mid-1930’s while exhibiting at The Galerie Georges Petit, Mrs. Heath received the Medaille et Croix D’or from The Ville De Paris during the exposition. Also in Paris her work was exhibited in The Salon D’Automne, Les Independents, Galerie Carmine, and The Galerie Blumenthal.

To this day, her art is encompassed in the splendid collections of The Phillips Collection, The Knoedler Galleries, The Chrysler Museum, Town and Country Magazine, The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, The Virginia Museum of Richmond, The Delaware Art Center, and fortunately for us, The Dare County Library in Manteo.

Mrs. Heath’s private owners are extensive. She has lived throughout the United States, including Hollywood, where she has painted many influential people. Among some of her private owners are Mr. and Mrs. Ogden Nash of Baltimore, Mr. Stanley Marcus of Texas. The Honorable George A. Gordon of Savanaugh, Georgia, who was then Minister of the Netherlands, Mrs. Marshall Field Ill of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. George C. Freeman of Richmond, and Mrs. Alfred Victor DuPont, Jr. of Delaware. Another collector of her paintings is Mimi Adams of Kitty Hawk.

One of Henrietta’s dearest friends, and greatly admired by my family as a delightful, charming, and honorable man and pal, was the late Huntington Cairns. Mr. Cairns was an author of numerous books and was a contributor to leading academic journals abroad and here in the states. He was tremendously informed in Shakespeare and together with Edith Hamilton, completed a one-volume edition of Plato. He also edited the Limits Of Art, a collection of poetry and prose from Homer until the 1970’s. Mr. Cairns also wrote the book, This Other Eden, a look into the natural history of the Outer Banks. His residence was on Ocean Blvd. in Southern Shores. Henrietta’s portrait of Huntington Cairns is now hanging in the offices of The National Gallery of Art in Washington where he was Secretary-Treasurer and General Council for 25 years.

Having Henrietta as a friend has been a super treat. She has been a major contributor to the world of art and touches everyone’s heart she meets. Henrietta is a treasure…She’s HH.H.!

Mrs. Heath resides in Southern Shores.

Mary Horner Sykes, Outer Banks Current, 1986

Portrait of Henrietta Heath, Outer Banks Current, 1986

Henrietta Heath: A life spent as a painter

Southern Shores resident Henrietta Hoopes Heath has spent a lifetime before a canvas, with a paintbrush in hand.

Now 82, Mrs. Heath traveled extensively during her youth, living in Paris, Spain and Germany, between the two World Wars.

Traveling abroad at this time, she took part in the great migration of American artists and writers who sought both intellectual and cultural stimulation beyond the shores of the United States. And while a member of the so-called “Lost Generation.” Mrs. Heath emphatically denies that she ever viewed herself as lost.

Married twice and the mother of one daughter, Mrs. Heath always held to her vocation as a painter, whether here on the Outer Banks – where she has lived since 1968 – or in Virginia, California or abroad.

She is well-known for her skill as a portrait painter but has never limited her artistic vision to only painting portraits.

This interview was conducted in Mrs. Heath’s studio in Southern Shores on April 11, 1986 by Outer Banks Current editor Darel La Prade.

An Interview with Henrietta Hoopes Heath

Conducted by Darel La Prade

You were in Paris and Spain during the 1920s and ’30s – a famous and productive period for art in general, but especially for American novelists and poets – did you meet any of the American ex-patriots?

I didn’t know any of the famous ones. The only one I used to see a lot of was Ford Madox Ford, who was actually from England. I can’t remember any others at the time that were famous. My husband was a writer. That was my first husband, Charles Wertenbaker.

He was born in Charlottesville (Va.), and he came from an old Charlottesville family. When we first were married, he wrote a book about the University of Virginia. It was called Boojum.” That’s from “The Hunting of the Snark” by Lewis Carroll. The snark was a Boojum, you see, I remember that much. Well, his book was about the boys at the university and his brother. He had him for Boojum. Crash, his brother, was a young poet. He wore a cape all the time and had colored lights in his room. And that just about killed everybody at the university. They thought it was so crazy.

The book, let me see, I haven’t read it for years, but it caused a stir there, because it had a lot of drinking in it. Those were prohibition days.

When we first married that book was published and also he (Charles) went to Episcopal High (in Alexandria, Va.). And he wrote a lot of short stories about that. The first short story he wrote, the Saturday Evening Post took. And that was $500 for that story, and when he sold that story we went to Europe on it.

When did you arrive in Europe?

That was 1929. Then we came back and went over again. We got a Model A Ford and took it back over with us and we toured all over Spain until we bumped into a tree. He went to sleep. That was 1930.

Where did you live in Paris?

We lived in several different places. But one place was up at the end of Montparnasse, which was Rue de la Sante. We lived in an apartment that was Joe Davidson’s. He was a sculptor. My husband was crazy about Hemingway – his writing – and he was anxious all the time, because he thought he would see Hemingway over there. But Hemingway wasn’t there while we were.

But later on in the summer, we drove down to Sant Juan de Luz, to a place call Socoa, which was outside San Juan. And Louis Brumfield was there, and we talked about Hemingway and how much Wert would like to see him.

Then one night we went for a walk and when we got back there was a note for us saying Hemingway was there and wanted us to come for supper. But we never saw him.

Having read Hemingway, you are familiar with Gertrude Stein’s description of the post-war artists as a “Lost Generation.” Do you feel you belonged to that generation?

I didn’t feel lost at all. Hemingway was a little bit older, about eight years older, I think. Anyway, we belonged to that same generation. But it was prohibition that made it terribly different. Everybody drank, and if anyone came to your house and you had a bottle of whiskey or anything to drink, they wouldn’t leave until they finished it. And older people drank. It really was terrible what happened to this country, aside from the gangsters.

Bullfighting is a frequent subject for your paintings. Were they painted in the ’30s when you were in Spain?

We went to lots of bullfights. As a matter of fact, Hemingway kind of prepared me for the bullfights. After our accident in the Ford, we went to a place on the Mediterranean called Sitjes, and I started doing bullfights in the sand. And it was after that I started doing lots of bullfight pictures.

I knew a Spaniard who taught me a lot about bullfights and he used to criticize my things. After I came back to this country, I would send him new sketches, and he would criticize them and send them back.

My Spanish friend.. it was terribly funny. I sent him Hemingway’s book about bullfighting, “Death in the Afternoon.” He spoke English pretty well – he had lived in England – but he wrote and said, “I have read the book “Dead in the Afternoon” by your bandit- (spelled B-A-N-D-I-D) looking friend Hemingway.”

Then my friend gave the most wonderful critique. He said Hemingway knows his stuff about bullfighting all right, but, he said when Hemingway says we in Bilboa raise the fiercest bulls with the worse horns, that just wasn’t so. And also he was furious because Hemingway said something bad about the climate up there in northern Spain. He was furious about that, which I thought was amusing.

When did you move here to Southern Shores?

I moved here in 1968, on the second of May, almost exactly 18 years ago now.

How did you learn about the Outer Banks and what made you want to come here and live?

Well, when I came back from Germany after World War II with my second husband, James Elliott Heath of Norfolk – he was an attorney and a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials – we moved to Virginia Beach just temporarily and stayed there about 25 years. He got interested in politics there. He was outraged by the faction in charge there, so that was what sort of kept us there.

We used to come down here all the time anyway. My husband had some friends, and they said we’ll show you two good lots if you are interested, and we had a drink.

They showed us a lot that was wonderful and then they brought us here and showed us this lot. At that time, the road stopped at the end of my lot, and I fell for it right away. It was beautiful! It was all sand dunes around here – no green at all. It was sunset. It was so beautiful. So after I went back to Virginia Beach, I thought I’d better go back because maybe it was that drink that made me think it was so wonderful. When I came back I still thought it was marvelous.

Have you always viewed yourself as a painter? 

I have always been interested in painting, but I never viewed myself as a painter, exactly. I just kept on painting, just because I love to paint. I found out early in life that if you wanted to learn how to paint, you had to give up everything else.

As a painter do you find that the ocean is a source of inspiration or do you draw your inspiration from a source other than the natural world?

I guess I do. But I practically always have water in my pictures, in my still lifes and I don’t do many landscapes. I tried to do some little ones of the ocean but they didn’t work out. The ocean is too much. You can’t paint it.

Darel La Prade, Outer Banks Current, 1986

Remembering Henrietta Hoopes Heath

Upon finding this article, we were once again reminded of the rich history the Outer Banks offers us today. Although Henrietta is no longer with us, her legacy lives on through her art and the stories left behind.

Upon her passing, her good friend Maggie Brydges remembered a special anecdote about Henrietta. When they were enjoying lunch at a restaurant in Duck, N.C. one day, the painter noted that she had “lived her life with no regrets.” When Maggie countered that she didn’t think she knew anyone else with the sentiment, Henrietta responded, “Well, I do regret that I didn’t order a bourbon Old-Fashioned the last time that waitress went through here.”

We cherish personalities such as Henrietta Hoopes Heath who once called the Outer Banks home. She joins our pantheon of Icons of the Outer Banks.

Laurel Burgam

Laurel Burgam

May 25, 2022

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