William Lester Stevens (1888-1969)

William Lester Stevens (1888-1969)

William Lester Stevens was born and raised in Rockport, Massachusetts, where he began studying painting as a youth with the artist Parker Perkins.  By the age of eighteen, he had exhibited his first piece at the National Academy of Design and entered the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School under Edmund Tarbell. He launched an active painting career and continued exhibiting his work, but was interrupted by a tour of duty during the First World War. After fulfilling his service, Stevens withdrew from the art world, only emerging in 1921 when the Boston Art Club invited him to exhibit paintings. It was also around this time that he worked to found the Rockport Art Association, which continues to thrive today.

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During the 1920s and 1930s, Stevens became well known for his New England landscapes rendered in all seasons, focusing on the quarries, docks and houses of his native Rockport. A review of his 1921 Boston Art Club show celebrated his manner of painting: “Mr. Stevens is evidently a swift and skillful craftsman; there is a great deal of zest in his work…In many of the [canvases] the painter gives evidence of a strong sense of color, light and atmosphere.”[1] Eager to share his techniques and personal philosophies on art, Stevens taught at Boston University from 1925 to 1927 and at Princeton University from 1927 until 1929, before taking his young family for an extended stay in Europe. After several productive months abroad, Stevens’ trip was cut short due to the stock market crash, and he returned to Rockport to teach summer classes. Always a realist, he participated in the Federal Art Project during the Great Depression and produced murals for post offices in Rockport and Dedham, Massachusetts, as well as for a number of schools in the city of Boston.  In 1944, he left Rockport to settle in the rural town of Conway, Massachusetts, and continued to teach and paint there, insisting that he work outdoors each day.  Stevens belonged to an endless list of associations and fine art clubs and exhibited at an equally impressive number of venues including the National Academy, which made him a full member in 1943, the Pennsylvania Academy, the Corcoran Gallery, the Guild of Boston Artists and with Vose Galleries in 1940.

References: See Who Was Who in American Art (1999); “W. Lester Stevens, Age 80 Noted Artist; Rites Today,” Boston Herald, June 13, 1969; Curtis, Judith A., W. Lester Stevens, N.A. (1888-1969) (Rockport Art Association, 2003). 

[1] “Paintings by Mr. Stevens-First Autumn Exhibition at Galleries of Boston Art Club a One-Man Show by Able Rockport Artist,” William Howe Downes, Boston Evening Transcript, October 20, 1921 (as quoted in Curtis, Judith A., W. Lester Stevens, N.A. (1888-1969) (Rockport Art Association, 2003).  

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