Exemplary Work - Hugh Campbell
Hugh Campbell left a nine-to-five job in the 1930's to pursue an artist's life. He jumped into is new life with nothing but determination and a “feeling” that he could paint. Training himself was his first priority. He began by drawing more than a million free-hand circles and then more than 130,000 action sketches of people on the streets, but it was the fields around his boyhood fishing spots in Mount Holly where he felt the most at home. He regularly commuted from Camden to Mount Holly after realizing that those fields and streets were the subject matter he wanted to paint. He had no money and no place to stay, so he would pitch a tent in a field and stay overnight. At one point, the owner of Hack's Canoe Retreat told him that he didn't have to pitch a tent, he could come as often as he liked and stay as long as he liked in an unheated canoe barn at no charge. He thought Hugh was going to stay a week or two, but he ended up staying seven years.
Each night, winter and summer, he would go to Milldam Park and meditate. Each day, carrying his heavy painting gear, he would look for inspiration in and around the town. After painting he would record all the happenings he witnessed in his voluminous diaries. Every Sunday he would display his paintings along the concrete wall on High Street for the unheard of prices, even at the time, of $20 or $30. He earned, on average, an income of about $3.50 to $5 a week from the sale of his paintings. As he refined his technique he became a regular at the Rittenhouse Square Annual Clothesline Exhibit in Philadelphia.
In the 1940s Hugh bought an old bicycle repair shop building for $150 and moved to Kates Tract located in the woods on the banks of the Rancocas.
In 1962 he published a book called “Knock Vigorously to Be Heard”. The title was taken from the notice on his cabin door. It is filled with hometown humor, depression, memories and spiritual observations, giving readers a revealing glimpse of an unusual man living in a small country town. His paintings and writings are a moving history of Mount Holly at mid-century.
Campbell stayed in the shack on Kates Tract until the mid-1980s when he was overcome by fumes from a faulty kerosene heater. After a stay in the hospital, he became a ward of the state and spent his last years in a nursing home. At that time, he entrusted his remaining paintings to the care of his good friend Malcolm Wells. After Hugh Campbell's death, Wells donated the entire collection to Burlington County.
Early Morning Winter
Spring on Risdon Street