Image Credit: Fern Coppedge (1881–1951), Back Road to Pipersville, n.d., oil on canvas, H.38 x W. 40 inches, James A. Michener Art Museum. Gift of Robert J. Lillie.
About the Artwork
The residents of Bucks County often saw Fern Coppedge traipsing through the snow, draped in her bearskin coat with her sketching materials slung over her shoulder, seeking the perfect scene to paint. One critic quipped, “born a man, she undoubtedly would have manned a trawler and sailed the Arctic Ocean.”
Snow scenes are Coppedge’s most common subject. In this respect she resembled Edward Redfield, who likewise painted many Bucks County snow scenes en plein air. Coppedge’s early work, like Redfield’s, is impressionistic, focusing upon the changing effects of light on a snowy landscape. Coppedge differed from impressionist painters, however, in that she always carefully composed and drew her paintings. The winter landscapes of her middle and late career reveal the influence of post-impressionism, in their flattening and simplification of detail and in their boldly imaginative use of color. The blues of streams and sky, shot through with the pink and orange hues of sunset, the reds of buildings and the browns of bare trees all emblazon Coppedge’s winter landscapes. Even the snow itself is streaked with prismatic colors. These paintings convey Coppedge’s joy in the aesthetic as well as the physical pleasures of winter.
- What do you see in this painting?
- Where might you find a scene like this?
- What season is this? How can you tell?
- What time of day is it in the painting? What makes you think that?
- What colors does the artist use to make the snow?
- How would you describe the artist’s brushstrokes?
- If you could walk into this painting, describe what would you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste.
About the Artist
“People used to think me queer when I was a little girl because I saw deep purples and reds and violets in a field of snow. I used to be hurt over it until I gave up trying to understand people and concentrated on my love and understanding of landscapes. Then it didn’t make any difference.”
These were the words of Fern I. Coppedge, a Bucks County painter who struggled for understanding and acceptance most of her personal and professional life. Like many artists, she sometimes felt misunderstood and “different” from her peers. As a child in Illinois she was dazzled by sunlight reflected on snow. She loved music and nature, and she began taking watercolor classes as a teenager following an inspiring trip to the California coastline to visit her eldest sister in Palo Alto. The shimmering sea and the colorful snowfalls she encountered in nature later became constant themes in painting.
She attended the University of Kansas, where she met her husband, who encouraged her to pursue a career as a professional artist. The decision led Coppedge to train at the Chicago Institute of Art and the Art Students’ League in New York, and to spend summers at the Woodstock art colony. Exposure to the teaching methods of William Merritt Chase, the great American impressionist painter, and four summers studying with John F. Carlson, the en plein air painter, helped Coppedge to develop her own unique painting style. She moved to Philadelphia in 1918 to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where she met Professor Daniel Garber, one of the leaders of the New Hope School of Impressionism. Extra study at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art and Design) introduced Coppedge to other women artists with whom she would later form The Philadelphia Ten.
In 1920, Fern Coppedge bought a home across from Daniel Garber’s farm in Lumberville, approximately 6 miles from New Hope. It is here, in this geographic area, that many of her most famous paintings were completed. Coppedge settled into the New Hope art community and became a local icon. Many residents recall seeing her trudge outdoors with her bearskin coat, paints, and easel during the snowy winter months. She died in New Hope on April 21, 1951, leaving a legacy of hundreds of paintings.
- Museum Activity Sheet: Focus on Back Road to Pipersville by Fern Coppedge
- Look at Coppedge’s other winter landscapes, such as Road to Lumberville on the Google Art Project. Compare it with Back Road to Pipersville. How are they similar? Different?
- Paint a winter landscape.
- Create a poem about the place in this painting.
- Write a postcard greeting to a friend from the location in the painting. What would you tell them about this place? How would you describe it to them? What fun activities would you do here?
- Look at how other colored light can reflect on a white surface. Create an abstract snow painting using white and at least three other colors.
- Coppedge would often paint the same place but with different vantage points. Sometimes she would even paint the same scene and approach the work with a different use of color. Select a landscape to paint but create three different versions of it. How will you change each composition?
- If you were to visit Pipersville today, would the landscape look the same or different? Explain your answer. Do some research to find out more about this town and how it looks today.
Activity Sheet: Back Road to Pipersville by Coppedge (.pdf)