Like Father, Like Son

Thomas & Jay McNickle

Nelson & Eric Oestreich

January 19-March 12, 2016
Opening Reception: January 22, 6-8 pm

Thomas McNickle

Thomas McNickle

“Like Father, Like Son” is an ancient proverb that has been repeated in English variations since the 1300s. It is also the title of the Hoyt’s newest exhibition exploring the relationship between two iconic Lawrence County artists and their artist sons; Thomas and Jay McNickle in the Main Galleries, and Nelson and Eric Oestreich in the Blair Sculpture Walkway. The exhibit will be on display January 15-March 12, 2016.

Thomas G. McNickle is perhaps best known locally for his rural watercolors. Images of woods, streams, fields and hillsides are so familiar to viewers that they feel like they’ve been there. If you live in Lawrence County, you probably have, as his inspiration is often found in the changing seasons of the local landscape. Yet the current body of work represents another side of McNickle that locals have rarely seen. Abstract work that he has developed quietly throughout his entire career. While still rooted in nature, these paintings do not depict those woods and streams and fields, per se, but rather the colors and gestures of the remembered experience. 

Jay McNickle

Jay McNickle

“Repetition of, and familiarity with, any subject allows the artist to builds a visual vocabulary in his memory,” he said. “These works are pulled from that vocabulary.”

Growing up a McNickle, son Jay was well aware of this side of his father.  While Jay’s work is likewise abstract, the vocabulary of his generation is entirely different. Jay’s inspiration is not organic but industrial, reflecting his work and life experience. His richly textured images catch the spark of welding, the noise of machinery, the smell of overspray and the quiet of corroded steel in series of paintings best displayed in grids. His materials also rebel against the traditional mediums of his father to include automotive paints, grease pen, gasoline, house paint and whatever other industrial products evoke his own remembered experience. 

The similarities are there, but so are the differences, making it a remarkable comparison of the generations and their influence on each other.  

Former Westminster Art Professor, Nelson Oestreich, met McNickle when Tom was just a graduate student. Oestreich was, and still is, well known for his Amish block prints and folk like carvings.  McNickle was seeking advice at the time on how to make a living from his own work. The knowledge exchanged may have begun in the studio, but McNickle recalls the fast friendship was forged along the wooded walking trails surrounding Oestreich’s New Wilmington home. For Oestriech, the land itself was resource for creation, primarily in the form of wood.  

Nelson Oestreich

Nelson Oestreich

Oestreich was a farm boy that continued to channel this early preoccupation with the land into art school. His subject matter, whether carved or painted, was the American experience.

“His images conjure up the odor of a freshly plowed field or wind-dried clothes on a line,” wrote Westminster colleague, James Perkins. “The types of experience one feels in a Thomas Hart Benton or a Grant Wood or an urban, John Sloan.” 

Much of what is in the exhibit reflects that preoccupation with wood as a surface, material or tool of the American experience; wood blocks, wood prints, wood carvings, and scraps of painted wood. 

“My father loved objects and materials,” said son, Eric. “His studio is full of them.”  He shared that his father was constantly building, modifying, or reclaiming objects and materials in the design and redesign of the house long before “creative reuse” became a thing. Is it any wonder then that this re-cycling, upcycling or rearrangement of objects is the subject of Eric’s own work? While his approach to sculpture is much more contemporary than his father, the foundation remains the same.  Wood. Objects. Things like fence posts, railroad ties, and farm implements reclaimed from the land.

Eric Oestreich

Eric Oestreich

“I am moved by objects in a similar manner as my father,” he said, “but I was not always an artist as he was.”

Eric graduated from Westminster College with a degree in English, and he gave it a go at making it as a writer in New York City. It was only in the last decade that he began converting one vocabulary (the written) into another (visual). This resulted in an ongoing dialogue or critique with his father that is still dearly cherished. Today, Eric teaches high school in New Jersey, but frequently makes visits to the old homestead and continues to create.

A free public reception will be held on Friday, January 22, 6-8 pm.  The exhibit will continue at the Hoyt through March 12.  A corresponding exhibition, Like Son, highlighting the independence of Jay McNickle and Eric Oestreich, will be on display in the Hoyt Atrium of Jameson Health System’s North Campus. Admission to the galleries is free.