Artist Grace Huntley Pugh of Mamaroneck, N.Y. and Rockport, M.A. died peacefully in her home on Halibut Point in Rockport on August 29, 2010 surrounded by her family. At the time of her death, the painter, who will always be remembered as a tireless member of the Mamaroneck community, was on one of her many frequent trips to Cape Ann with her family. She was 97 years old.
Born on September 25, 1912 in Schenectady, N.Y., Pugh was the daughter of Grace Lake and Grant Huntley. She was raised in Rockville Centre on Long Island and attended both Wellesley and Barnard colleges. She graduated from Barnard in 1934 with a Bachelor of Arts in Art History and Architecture and continued her studies as a graduate student in New York City at the National Academy of Design Art School, the Art Students League and the Parsons School of Design.
Pugh's commitment to community involvement gave rise to the Mamaroneck Artists Guild (MAG), which had its beginnings in 1953 in Pugh's backyard studio named Windhorse. There, Pugh and six other artists, discouraged by the lack of available models in the area, hired models from the Arts Students League in New York to pose. By 1955, with the number of patrons and members of the small artists group having grown and armed with the receipts from an annual Beaux Arts Ball, the seven members of MAG rented space in a building on Prospect Avenue, just a few steps off of Mamaroneck Avenue. The space became known as the Art Barn, where the artists would exhibit and sell their artwork. Pugh served as the guild's founding president for two years. Today, the Guild enjoys membership of several hundred members from across the country.
In addition to her work with MAG, Pugh's service to her community was incomparable. It included art instruction, membership in garden clubs and historical societies, participation in conservation projects, an artist residency, the presidency of the Mamaroneck Public Library (its home page features a painting by Pugh), a position as chairman of art at the Emelin Theater and involvement in countless other community organizations. As a result of her strong community involvement, she was recognized with several Grace Huntley Pugh days and multiple proclamations in her honor, including one from President George H.W. Bush in 1992.
Pugh was married to Cresson Pugh. Together the couple had one child, Gigi Pugh Sundstrom, who they raised in Mamaroneck and who continues to reside in the community along with her husband, Jimmie L. Sundstrom, and their 14-year-old twins, Grace and Grant.
"My mother loved painting en plein air" said Sundstrom. "She was always outdoors with her watercolors. She loved drawing boats, birds, dragons and fantasy."
Sundstrom recalls that her mother would often dress her up to walk the dog. Once her dog walking job was complete, Sundstrom became model and Pugh created a painting of her wearing her dog walking attire.
Pugh herself also spent time as a model. While a graduate student she signed with the Powers Agency, a prominent New York City modeling agency. She modeled for her teacher and mentor, Leon Kroll, and is the dramatic blond figure, head hung in despair, in the center of his mural The Defeat of Justice which hangs in the main office of the Attorney General in Washington, D.C.
In an obituary, Pugh has been quoted as having said, "My paintings are about people and places I love; my family, children, dancers, musicians, architecture, my favorite spots in Europe, my favorite spots in and around Mamaroneck and Cape Ann, where I live." Her multiple paintings of Gigi and the harbors of both Mamaroneck and Cape Ann authenticate her words.
Pugh's oil and watercolor paintings have been exhibited in national, regional and solo shows. They are in numerous public and private collections. A Member of the American Watercolor Society, she is listed in Who's Who in American Art