Twentieth century artist Hobson LaFayette Pittman was born in 1899 in the rural Edgecombe community of Epworth, near Leggett. When he was old enough to start school, he moved with his family to a house on Wilson Street in Tarboro.
The artist showed promise at a very early age and was encouraged to pursue his creative talent by his first art instructor, Molly Rouse. Today, in the gallery that bears his name, are impressive examples of his works done as early as age ten, likely under her instruction.
Both of his parents had died by the time he was 16. After finishing public school, he moved to Philadelphia to live with his sister Juanita and there he attended Pennsylvania State College and also studied summers at Woodstock, N.Y.
He attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1925, studying painting and art. The next year he moved on to Columbia University. In 1928, when he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, he traveled to Europe for the first time, where he visited major art museums and did a series of works. From then on, Pittman traveled between the United States, Europe and the Orient, teaching and studying painting and art. He was a member of the faculty at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art.
Following Pittman’s death, his niece, Alyce Weeks Gordon Patrick, donated most of the works and many of his personal belongings to the town of Tarboro in 1972 ultimately resulting in the creation of the Hobson Pittman Memorial Gallery located on the upper floor of the Blount-Bridgers House. The collection includes more than 400 pieces, some of which are part of a permanent display in the replica studio setting adjacent to the gallery. The studio has many of the artist’s student works including assignments with teachers’ comments. Also featured in the studio are his easel, his palette, his favorite chair, a work table and quite a number of the porcelain vessels he so often used in many of his still lifes. These items are all set out among selected pieces of furniture from his Philadelphia studio. Over the years, additions to the collection have come from others and, as a result, Pittman’s personal history and artistic career are documented through the collection of his works, his belongings and hundreds of letters and other written documents that are housed in the gallery.
In the gallery’s annual Pittman exhibitions, we hope to reveal his diversity of style, his ability to adapt to different mediums representing a lifelong artistic journey containing elements from his Southern childhood, and the sophistication through a world’s eye view that came from his many trips abroad.
Looking at some of his works, the viewer will quickly see the images the young artist took with him when he moved away to study in Philadelphia. Many of the paintings he created revealed a child’s memories of the rambling Victorian homes that surrounded him in Tarboro. The stark wooden homes with 10 and 12-foot ceilings, enormous doors and windows, provided strong elements to mix with his imagined and fantastic ones to create compelling, and somewhat mysterious scenes. He often would exaggerate the massive windows and doorways he remembered from his childhood, that seemed larger than life.
A centennial celebration of Hobson Pittman, held in 1999 culminated with the publication of a book, The Poet’s Palette, written by Meade Bridgers who had served as director of the gallery and museum since 1981, a year before its opening. The book is available for sale in the gift shop at the Blount-Bridgers House.
"Pittman’s artistic hallmark is the romantic nostalgia and rememberings captured on canvas of his Edgecombe childhood," recalls Bridgers.
In addition to Tarboro’s Hobson Pittman collection, his works also hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Gallery in New York, the Phillips Collection in Washington and the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh.
His career was marked with many prestigious awards, including the Scheidt Memorial Prize in 1943 from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Brevoort-Eickenmeyer prize at Columbia University and the North Carolina Award in Fine Arts in 1968. His work is featured at the Pennsylvania Museum of Art where he also taught; and was featured twice in Life Magazine.