Born in Rockport, Massachusetts, Stevens received his initial art training from Parker Perkins, a local marine painter who charged him fifty cents an hour. He later spent four years at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts School, where he studied under Edmund Tarbell, among others. Although influenced by Tarbell, Stevens' wide range of brushstrokes and impressionist style prevented him from being classified as a "Tarbellist," as many of Tarbell's followers were labeled.
Stevens joined the Army in 1917 and was sent to Europe where he continued to paint and sketch. Upon his return to the United States, he was pleased to discover that Rockport had become a popular haven for artists. Though he was the only native son among them, such well-known painters as Frank Duveneck, Childe Hassam, Leon Kroll and Jonas Lie also recorded the scenery of Rockport, Cape Ann and Gloucester. In 1921, together with fifty other artists, Stevens founded the Rockport Art Association, primarily to plan exhibitions of the work of outstanding area artists.
Throughout the course of his long career, Stevens taught, first in Rockport, then at Boston University (1925-1926) and Princeton (1927-1929). He later gave lessons and held one-man shows in Charlotte and Asheville, North Carolina, where his work was well-received. Southerners particularly enjoyed his views of famous Southern gardens and cities.
Though the Depression years were difficult for both the artist and his family, the 1930s did bring Stevens some measure of commercial and personal success. He did a number of covers for The American Legion Magazine and won prizes in New Haven, Springfield and Rockport. In 1934, he abandoned Rockport to the growing tourist population and moved to Springfield, and then to Conway, Massachusetts, where he remodeled an old farmhouse and constructed a studio which looked north towards Mount Monadnock. Except for summer trips made in the 1960s to Lubec, Maine, Campobello Island and Grand Manan Island, Stevens lived and painted in Conway for the rest of his life.
Primarily an oil painter, Stevens also used watercolor and acrylics. Although he was proficient in all three, oils allowed him greater versatility; more significantly, Stevens simply liked oils better. A superb craftsman, Stevens painted rapidly and with assurance, but always took time to find the best vantage point. He understood the importance of placing himself where he could create the best composition and "took the liberty of moving objects so that the composition would meet his desires." This is perhaps why Stevens would later conclude that "fine pictures are the result of fine minds (Greenfield, p. 13).
Stevens continued to create views of New England until almost the final day of his life, June 10, 1969. He died in Conway, Massachussetts. NRS
Falk, Peter Hastings. Who Was Who in American Art, 1564-1975, vol. III. New York: Sound View Press, 1999.
W. Lester Stevens, N.A., 1888-1969. Greenfield, Massachusetts: Greenfield College Foundation, 1977.
Biography courtesy of The Charleston Renaissance Gallery, www.antiquesandfineart.com/charleston
William L. Stevens began his artistic education by studying with Parker Perkins in Rockport. He moved on to the Boston Museum of Fine Art School when he left Rockport in 1934, and then went to Europe just after WWI. Although he was taught by Edmund Tarbell and retained much influence from the artist, Stevens worked in a wide range of brush work and impressionistic styles. Stevens was considered eccentric and was compulsive about painting outdoors everyday. Stevens produced about 5,000 paintings throughout his career. In his early work, Stevens used a heavy impasto in oil but later preferred light washes of acrylic on masonite. He frequently held classes at his studio in Conway, MA as well as Washington D.C. and the Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, MA. In the 1930s Stevens ran a summer art school at Grand Manan. Stevens work was aptly categorized as a Boston School traditionalist. By 1964 he had won more awards than any other living artist of his time. He died five years later in 1969.
Biography courtesy of The Caldwell Gallery, www.antiquesandfineart.com/caldwell