Henry Thomas Gulick


of Monmouth County, New Jersey, fits a stereotype of the traditional American memory painter. In 1947, after fifty-five years of service on his hundred-acre farm, toilthat gave him no spare time, Gulick retired. Of Dutch lineage, his roots are also deeply American: no members of his family arrived in America after the AmericanRevolutionary War. The Puritan ethic of hard work and busy hands was a strong influence on Gulick, and he could not cope with leisure time. When his son gave himan artist’s paint box, the seventy-five-year-old Gulick took on the challenge and began to paint on odd pieces of cardboard, using his paints frugally and tentatively. “Itis better,” he said, “than rocking and rocking and blowing away.” Within two years the Newark Museum acquired one of his paintings for its permanent collection.The subjects Gulick chose were those he knew and loved best: his own historic farmhouse, the fields and farms around him, and the houses of his friends andneighbors. Gulick instinctively set things in the past, as they had looked to him in his youth. He preferred to paint onsite, but by no means did he feel obliged to recordthings literally; he tailored a scene to suit himself, snipping, cutting, and revamping to his taste.Gulick was devoted to his home, his family, his country, and his God. His minister said that even though he was the most aged of the church elders, he was wise butyoung at heart, always willing “to take a risk.” One of the rare departures from Gulick’s usual bucolic themes is the stark and uninhabited interior of his own church.Health permitting, he painted daily until the time of his death, leaving a legacy of more than 160 paintings. Although Gulick said that he hated to be called a primitive painter “because it makes me feel like a savage,” he would have been pleased that he was acknowledged by respected American art historian William H.Gerdts as “thestate’s leading self-taught primitive painter.” Gulick said that people are like tops, and some are wound up for a longer spin. His “spin” lasted for ninety-two years.One-man exhibitions of Gulick’s work were held at Seton Hall University (1964) and the Montclair Art Museum (1974).
See also

Painting, American Folk; Painting, Memory
Cohen, David Steven.
The Folklore and Folklife of New Jersey.
New Brunswick, N.J., 1983.Rosenak, Chuck, and Jan Rosenak.
Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century American Folk Art and Artists.
New York, 1990.