Howard Rackliffe was born in New Britain, Connecticut in 1917. He attended public schools there but left in his junior year in high school in order to “devote full time to his self-development as a painter.” From 1933 to 1940 he resided in New Britain and followed interests in painting, poetry, piano, and “improvisational musical composition and modern dance performance.” He worked for the WPA Federal Arts Project in March and April 1941. He was self-taught as a painter, and this may have influenced the response of the WPA to his seventeen watercolors of landscapes and still life. Thirteen of these were “Returned to the artist.” Certainly this negative evaluation did not foretell the successful, particular abstractionist style that he later developed. After the WPA, Rackliffe went to York City and did not return to New Britain until 1951. In 1948 he was employed by the Airwick Corporation working in the laboratory to neutralize odors. In 1949 he received a Florida Chemical Research painting grant and spent a year in Sarasota. He returned to New Britain in 1951 and painted full time. In 1952 he was in a car accident and received a sufficient enough financial settlement to allow him to open the Studio Arts Gallery in New Britain, but it closed within a year. In 1955 Rackliffe lived once more in New York City, this time reviewing art, music, and theater forThe Village Voice. He returned to New Britain in 1959 and began taking annual trips to the coast of Maine, which became one of his favorite subjects for painting. After having survived two open heart operations, Rackliffe died of heart failure in 1987. He led the life of a loner, a supreme individualist, who developed his own style. Before he died he had the pleasure of seeing his art exhibited in numerous shows, and he received awards from the Connecticut Watercolor Society and the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts. In 1950 Vivien Raynor wrote a review for the New York Times of a show entitled “Arcadia Revisited” at the New Britain Museum of American Art. Reflecting on his solitary path through life, she wrote that his paintings were “outgoing art from a man who seems to have been anything but . . .” Like Irving Katzenstein, Rackliffe’s works remain popular in the Greater Hartford area. Just recently, from January 28-Febraury 28, 2009, LaMotta Fine Art of Hartford ran a show entitled, Vital Ground, featuring the work of Jonathan Scoville and Howard Rackliffe.
Sources: WPA Artist’s Work Card; AskART; Howard Rackliffe 1917-1987; Paintings and Poems (Elmwood, Connecticut 1990). There are many articles in the Hartford Courant and New York Times announcing Rackliffe’s exhibitions. The following are selected from the New YorkTimes citations on the basis of their evaluations of his art and biographical data: Vivien Raynor, “Art; Regional Artists’ Work at Atheneum,” March 22, 1981; Vivien Rayonor, Art; Romantic Views Recall the Berkshires,” September 30, 1990; William Zimmer, “Where Maine Shines Alone,” August 9, 1992; William Zimmer, Perennial Favorite in a Compact Show,” August 25, 1996; Eleanor Charles, “The Guide,” January 5, 2003; Connecticut Art Scene, “Friday opening at La Motta Fine Art: Vital Ground,” January 29, 2009 athttp://ctartscene.blogspoit.com/2009/01/friday-opening-at-la-motta-fine-art.html. “Howard Rackliffe (1917-1987),” Paesaggio Fine Art athttp://paesaggiofineart.com/rackliffe.sap.
Works of Art Listed in CT Archives’ database from Howard Rackliffe:
|Still Life- Gold Vase:||watercolor|
|Still Life- Chair:||watercolor|
|Still Life- Lilacs:||watercolor|
|The Sand Box:||watercolor|
|Red Silk Sail:||watercolor|
|Still Life- Sumac:||watercolor|