Artist A. Brockie Stevenson, 89

By T. Rees Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 11, 2009

A.Brockie Stevenson was a man of precision. The pickle jars on his kitchen shelves were spaced neatly. He had labels that indexed every drawer in his art studio. The lilies in his garden were exactly six inches apart.

Mr. Stevenson, who died at age 89 of heart disease Sept. 1 at his home in Glen Echo, was an accomplished artist who created scenes that illustrated the control and acute sense of proportion he demonstrated in his home and yard. He specialized in a style known as American Realism, and his work is included in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Corcoran Gallery.

He painted with the guidance of a T square, compass and ruler. If, while creating one of his signature American flags, a strand from his brush strayed even a fraction of an inch off its narrow path, he'd start over and paint it again.

"He was tireless and a perfectionist," said his wife, the former Jane MacKenzie. "He'd stop, analyze. Move a line one-sixteenth of an inch. Then stop, analyze. Move it another one-sixteenth of an inch. When he was finished, his paintings could not look any other way."

He is best known for painting nostalgic images of Americana. He painted New England lighthouses, weather vanes, steam locomotives, country stores, fishing boats and fire stations. But he always added a twist: his colors were flat, his geometry exact and his edges hard.

"He was a fairly conservative painter," said Sarah Newman, curator of contemporary art at the Corcoran. "He painted aspects of American life but simplified them."

Mr. Stevenson's most famous painting, "Fourth of July" (1971), which is part of the American Art Museum collection, depicts a white clapboard house against an emerald background. The scene appears frozen in time. The window shades are permanently and symmetrically drawn. An American flag hangs unnaturally still off the porch, which is perfectly parallel to the house. Its scale and dimensions are mathematically proportionate to the accuracy of a builder's blueprint, but with an artist's splash of style and color.

His work often evoked the patriotism of Jasper Johns' flag paintings and the linear composition of Charles Sheeler as well as the melancholy mood of Edward Hopper.

"There's not an ounce of bitterness in his pictures," Washington Post art critic Benjamin Forgey wrote in 1984. "His aged houses, in fact, are like Hopper houses pausing on the way to heaven, icons transformed by the light."

Alfred Brockie Stevenson Jr. was born Sept. 24, 1919, in Willow Grove, Pa., and developed his artistic talents in elementary school. He painted intricate balsa wood models of World War I planes that he hung around his room in battle sequences. He served in the Army during World War II as a war artist correspondent in England. He attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia on a scholarship.

In 1953, he received another scholarship, and with an urge to explore left for Peru carrying "a paper bag and a change of underwear, living hand to mouth." He chose Lima because the scholarship money would last longer than it would in Europe and because he noticed that the light seemed particularly brilliant, which influenced his painting. He spent seven years there studying and teaching at an arts school before returning to the States in the early 1960s.

After settling in the Washington area, Mr. Stevenson joined the faculty of the Corcoran College of Art and Design in 1965. There, he met his future wife Jane, a student in one of his painting classes. He retired in 1998 as a professor. He spent many summers vacationing in Maine, where he was inspired by the oceanfront homes he recreated in his paintings.

Forgey wrote in 1984 that Mr. Stevenson's creations were idyllic by nature, as if they "existed in another dimension, cleansed, purified and infinitely protected by the ravages of time."

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