If you haven't stepped inside the street level door at 4 Fair Street, you've certainly walked by it, perhaps peered in the window at the rows of fine art etchings that feature mermaids afloat on wavy seas, spouting whales, angels with trumpets, tall ships, sailors, and smiling suns and moons together in a deep blue sky. In the center of the room rests an easel beside a work table with bottles of painting medium and a paint-crusted watercolor palette. Behind the table sits a double-stacked flat file topped with a paint box, papers, and a headless bust. This is the studio of John F. Lochtefeld, as announced by a weathered quarterboard preserved on the back wall. Here you can meet and converse with a true Nantucket art icon…a devout family man possessed of an infectious laugh and a calm voice of authority.
John is also a practical soul, an avid gardener at the community garden with a need to tend and nurture. He seems to work at his artwork with the same perseverance, letting a painting or an etching plate rest for awhile then returning to it a number of times until it's finished.
“I have certain symbols I use,” says John. “The sun. The mermaid. Old Testament echoes of Jonah and Noah’s Ark. My work often has the quality of folk tales, but they are my tales.
“Though I paint and carve figures, I’m primarily a printmaker. I was exposed to printmaking at the University of Hawaii under Jean Charlot.”
Louis Henri Jean Charlot was an established mural painter who also worked in relief printing and lithography. How John ended up working with Charlot on murals and prints is a tale of its own.
John was born on April 11, 1933 and raised in West Virginia until age nine, when his family moved to New Jersey. As an undergraduate at Notre Dame University, John worked a pair of summers for a savvy painter named Umberto Romano in East Gloucester, Massachusetts, at the heart of America’s famous art colony. In Romano’s gallery he met and soon dated his wife, Judy, who worked in the area at a hotel called The Rockaway on Rocky Neck. He meant to pursue art at the Ringling School in Sarasota, Florida, but was drafted into the Army. After several months of base life, he received a posting to the Hawaiian Islands. Judy still had weeks of her college degree left when John called her and said “would you like to get married and move to Hawaii?” The result was never in doubt. After tying the knot, Judy finished school and settled with John in off-base housing. He served night shifts in a communications capacity inside an island cave, and during daylight hours enrolled in art classes at the University, where he was mentored by Charlot.
Among a number of prints that John regularly works on, a couple are always woodcuts. He prefers what he calls 'plank cut’ woodcuts, which employ the long side grain as opposed to tightly packed end grain—which is technically used in a wood engraving technique. For example among present day Nantucket woodcut artists, David Lazarus often favors the fine detail possibilities of end grain for a print, while Michael Rich carves more on side grain.
John recalls one of his best sources for wood...a TV console. "I spotted it and thought, 'that looks like good wood.' I must have made dozens of prints off the panels from that. You can find good plates for woodcuts anywhere.”
In a tidy set of drawers, John stores his metal plates destined for the printing press that stands in his print room at the back of the Fair Street studio. Several feature three men in a boat, a familiar historical element that mimics the three brothers who owned the three bricks nearby on Main Street. He mixes his folk imagery with historical elements, and adds a healthy dash of humor, evident in his print ‘Hors D’oeuvre’. This etching depicts a ship’s officer being swallowed by a great fish while three men in top hats look on from a dory.
After Hawaii, John taught briefly at the State College at Kutztown, Pennsylvania, then as an associate professor at Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York. He pioneered the printmaking facilities there by setting up studios, acquiring the presses, etc. “I had a colleague at Marymount who was a perfectionist at pulling prints. I learned a great deal from that.”
The Lochtefelds, grown to a clan with five children ranging from 12 down to 3 in age—Jim, Peter, Beth, Cathy, and Tom, discovered the joys of Nantucket in 1969. John remembers his initial impression of Nantucket town on a December day in 1968, with all its shuttered galleries and quaint architecture. After a year spent on the New Jersey shore, he knew he’d found an art colony locale that could successfully supplement his professor’s salary at Marymount. At first they rented along Still Dock, across from the rear doors of AAN and the Kenneth Taylor Galleries at the foot of Straight Wharf. They spent four summers next to a Still Dock cottage occupied by artist Bobby Bushong, who sometimes called for assistance, recounts Judy Lochtefeld, in the wee hours of morning. Seeking room to expand, they purchased 4 Fair Street and moved there in 1973. They opened a summer studio and gallery that included a framing business, which quickly became a venture taken over by their enterprising young sons. When John retired from Marymount in 1990, he and Judy settled on Fair Street permanently.
“Janet Ball McGlinn was one of the first artists I met on Nantucket. She walked into my studio and she said, ‘we’re forming a group called the Nantucket Printmakers. Would you like to come to our meetings?’ Over I went. I met Roy Bailey, Anita Coffin Dammin, Phil Hicken. And of course, there was Elizabeth Saltonstall, who worked with stone lithographs. We were together for five to six years. A nice group.”
As John’s imagery evolves, there are hidden things he adds to his work. He builds strips of texture and often lettering as a pattern across the printed image. He readily admits the influence of Symbolist Paul Klee and Marc Chagall and other artists of modernism’s Parisian years. Some fine examples of these whimsical prints are reproduced in Tell Me About Your Dreams…, a book by his daughter, Beth.
“I guess this also relates to storytelling. I’m embroidering my yarn or tale this way. They’re like runes or old scripts or pictographs.”
Today, you can find John working year round in his studio gallery on Fair Street. John and Judy traveled this past winter to Sicily, a favorite destination, and some of his newest works feature scenes from that picturesque island. And in the summer, they will be visited, as always, by their children and a bevy of adoring grandchildren who consider Nantucket another home.
After fifty years creating art on the island as a member of AAN, John Lochtefeld’s artisan world remains highly individual, personal as a man’s gardening techniques. Yet it also connects into a general mythos we all share. The earliest seafaring days of New England’s past, one of the oldest chapters in our country’s recorded history.
And yes, it’s a world populated with his warmth of storytelling and his unique life story.
- "The Handmade Tale: An Artist's Life for John Lochtefeld," Robert Frazier