Henry C. White: A Grandson’s Appreciation

by Nelson H. White

Henry C. White inherited a gift for teaching (he claimed from his grandfather Eliezar Sweetland White, an Andover, Connecticut, schoolmaster) and, upon returning to Hartford from his studies in New York, taught drawing and painting at Hartford High School for nearly a decade. In teaching me drawing and painting, he would say that the design and the composition were always the first things to seek. He said, “I think the greatest artists were the Japanese, like Hokusai. Observe his sense of design.” In essence, he began my drawing instruction at age thirteen and those basics I use today in my own practice as an artist. Among his friends were fellow Lyme Art Colony painters Allen B. Talcott, Harry Hoffman, and Edward F. Rook. Others included Edward A. Bell, Irving R. Wiles, and Thomas Dewing, with whom he established lasting relationships. It interested me greatly to be with him or my father while visiting the latter two in Peconic, on New York’s Long Island, when I was very young. He had a life long love affair with boats and the sea. In his pre-teenage years growing up in Hartford, he acquired a knowledge of sailboats from reading and drawing before he ever set foot on a sailboat. Finally at age eleven, he summered in Clinton, Connecticut. The owner of the hotel was a retired whaling captain. Captain Smith and Henry recognized each other as kindred spirits and the Captain invited him to cruise with him to Fishers Island, Block Island, and around Long Island Sound. Smith was impressed at the young boy’s understanding of rigging, halyards, sheets and blocks, and their use, all learned from books. Later, my grandfather saved a considerable amount of money from his allowance over a period of years and spent it all on a sailboat, much to his father’s misgivings. Like his mentor Dwight W. Tryon, many of my grandfather’s artist friends shared his love of the sea. He writes of going for a day’s sail with Long Island painter Benjamin R. Fitz and discussing art and nature for the entire outing. My grandfather owned and sailed a number of boats by the famous boat designer Nathaniel Herreshoff. His appreciation for Herreshoff’s genius led to a close friendship with him and his children. His favorite Herreshoff was a 33-foot yawl, Aida (named for my mother Aida Rovetti White), which he owned for many years. He taught me how to row a boat at four and to sail at five years old. When my brothers Henry, George, and I were in our early teens, he purchased a Herreshoff “12 1/2” to hone our sailing skills. He loved the Strauss waltzes of his youth and would always ask my brother and me to play them on the violin with our father’s piano accompaniment. Throughout the house were pieces of Chinese and Japanese pottery emblematic of my grandfather’s refined taste. These ceramics shared space with paintings by the artists he treasured from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His absolute commitment to art informed his sense of the values in his life. Additionally, his acute sense of proportion is evidenced in the fact that he was a gifted natural naval and domestic architect — a man who designed boats and houses for himself and others. He said, “I wish I had accomplished in my oil paintings what I did in my pastels.” His colleagues did not agree. They felt that his oil paintings were of equally high quality.