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Chester County Artist Vicki Vinton Reinvents Herself (Again)

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The acclaimed abstract painter’s works are awash in form and color.

Photographs by Jim Graham

Vicki Vinton addresses a canvas the way a potter would throw a hunk of clay on the wheel or a sculptor would take a chisel to a block of Carrara marble. She might roll a pinecone in fresh paint or glue a piece of industrial fiber onto its surface. Or she may just attack it with a trowel the way a house painter would approach a wall in need of spackling. Indeed, a Vinton canvas typically endures a workout before finally being mounted.

It’s sometimes funny where life takes you as you cross its statistical midpoint, and Vinton is happy where she’s landed at the moment. On a warm Monday morning in August, the artist and avid equestrian has already been out riding. The clouds from a morning shower have reluctantly left the skies over Oxford, a quaint farming town in southern Chester County. Here Vinton has rented a narrow storefront on South 3rd Street, the main drag through town. Lately, she’s fallen under the spell of an abstract vision full of vigor and color.

A few decades ago, Vinton was supervising landscape installations. She’s also known for her faux painting and plein air work. “When I was maybe 12, I was painting watercolors of daylilies, and Lyn Blish—who was a friend of my mother—liked them and sort of took me under her wing,” Vinton remembers.

Better known to the art world as “Carolyn,” Blish was famous nationwide in the late 1960s for her gauzy landscapes and beachscapes. “She and my mother would get together and paint abstracts in the driveway,” says Vinton.

Vicki Vinton’s artistic ambitions have gotten waylaid from time to time. She’s the impatient sort—and also good at things that are more lucrative. As a student at the Tower Hill School, the Wilmington native consulted with her older brothers about college. “They both said that, if they had it to do over, they would’ve gone to college out west,” she days.

Vinton first chose the University of Denver. “I wanted more training, but I found out that the art instruction was not that good,” she says. “Looking back, Tower Hill really had a much better art department than I realized at the time.”

So she left Colorado and enrolled at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, training ground for generations of American painters in the realism tradition. After college, Vinton headed in another direction, starting a landscaping company. “I’m not a very good delegator,” she laughs. “For many years, I was doing hard physical labor.”

That eventually led to a 25-year career as a faux artist. “Back in the day, every grand house in the region had walls painted by Vicki,” says Vickie Manning, owner of Somerville Manning Gallery, which has hosted Vinton’s most recent exhibitions.

At one time, Vinton had three employees. “We did a lot of work in Delaware houses and vacation homes,” she says. “Although I no longer do faux, I still use many of the tools and techniques in my paintings.”

About 10 years ago, when the economy went south and “decoration slowed down a bit,” Vinton returned to painting. She also married Wilson King, whom she knew through riding and carriaging. A member of the Cheshire Hunt, Vinton still rides to the hounds. “Wilson lived near Frolic Weymouth and did some farming for him,” says Vinton. “He told Frolic he’d do the farming if Frolic would teach him to drive carriages.”

Although King has a degree in agriculture from Penn State University, he later left farming to establish Outback Trading Company, which is headquartered in Oxford. “We moved out here to Oxford, which is the Wild West of art,” says Vinton.

At first, Vinton leaned on her academy training in realism for her new career. “I’d go out into the fields and paint plein air,” she says.

A friend pushed her to produce a body of paintings and mount a show. “But my head was in abstract,” she says. “I realized there were others who might do realism better.”

Although Vinton and Manning were long-time friends, the artist was surprised when she was asked to show a couple of her abstracts at Somerville Manning. “She does mainly realism painters, so I had to ask myself if that was the best place to show,” says Vinton. “But they sold. Then she took a couple more—and they sold.”

“I love her textures, which she transferred over from faux in a more focused way,” says Rebecca Moore, manager at Somerville Manning. “She does a lot of subtraction methods—first layering, then taking away. Artists are breaking away from realism, but in a refined way. Vicki’s work is in collections where the owners also have Wyeths.”

That said, Vinton may already be getting a bit restless. She recently tried her hand at sculpture, creating a solid-red signage-style figure of a woman dubbed “Stand with Presence.” “I came up in the Aquarian Age,” she says. “I meant [the statue] to have us take the time to breathe, to get in a touch with ourselves … stop, breathe, be present.”

Vinton has produced smaller replicas of “Stand,” including one at Somerville Manning. “The first one has been purchased and is going to Sidney, Australia,” she says.

Apparently, Vinton is not about to take her foot off the accelerator—wherever it takes her.

View the digital catalogues for Vicki Vinton’s most recent Somerville Manning exhibitions at somervillemanning.com.