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Hicken, Philip Burnham

Philip Burnham Hicken
1910 - 1985

Painter, educator, screenprinter, Phil Hicken labored in the arts with a long history of innovation. Having apprenticed for a pigment maker when young, he could tell you exactly what you’d mixed to get the mud on your palette, and why it did or didn’t work. During the WPA era, Hicken and a few like-minded artists pioneered the modern silkscreen technique, though he always called them serigraphs. During WWII, Army security sought a quick-and-dirty way to generate strategy maps and posters of German officers, and Hicken’s silkscreen lessons taught in the field offered a relatively facile method of dispersing information. Hicken also experimented with the vanguard of Fifties artists that sought faster drying paint media. He would recount how he and friends used automobile lacquers on treated board, and how the fumes and toxicity would affect them.

Hicken first arrived on island in 1955. He sat on the AAN executive committee in 1957, then became board president in 1964. He was a member of the Boston Printmakers, the Cambridge Art Association, the Copley Society, and he was a fellow at the Royal Society of Art. He exhibited at the Pittsfield Art League, the Black Mountain Art Club in North Carolina; ACA Gallery in Wichita, the National Academy in Rome, and the Copley Galleries. He made sketching trips to favored locales like the Southwest, Corea, Maine, or the Algarve region of Portugal. But despite a storied career, teaching may well have been his truest talent.

He was painting instructor at Harvard University Graduate School of Design from 1950 to 1953, then at Boston University from 1956 to 1957. Starting in 1957, Hicken acted as Chairman of the Fine Arts Department at the Art Institute of Boston and held the post for years. He was a founding member of the Nantucket Printmakers during the 1970s. Each summer he moved between Lynn and Nantucket, until in the early 1980s he moved here permanently with his wife Val to his home and studio on Pine Street.

Hicken’s ground floor studio on Pine Street possessed wall-mounted easels and lights that illuminated the works-in-progress of his painting students. He kept a functional studio--linoleum flooring, soft overheads, surfaces grimed with layer upon layer of pigment, and a long work table ran down the center of the space where Phil’s personal brushes and knives filled old coffee tins beside a heavy glass palette. Hicken taught a number of students who became accomplished island painters, including Francis Arkin, Dorothy Goerger, Barbara Frazier, and Brock Davis, who would travel from the Canadian maritimes each summer to work with him. He also mentored Isabelle Tuttle, Millicent Clapp, and a few other Frank Swift Chase students from an earlier era. He taught acrylics in a time when they were a new medium, and he favored painting with a palette knife.

Hicken was a respected presence in the local art scene into the mid-1980s, and a stabilizing force at the Artists Association. He was known for making his students feel part of a larger work force of art creators, of those aspiring to a greater employment. You painted, thus you were a painter. A long article/interview on Hicken is featured in the December 1982 issue of American Artist.