Molly, Susan, Tim, and Greta Van Campen
Molly, Susan, Tim, and Greta Van Campen
The Wyeths may be the most prominent Maine artist family, but there are many more who have generated creative breeding grounds for several generations of artists. Parents Susan and Tim Van Campen and daughters Greta and Molly are highly successful artists in their respective areas. Susan is best known for her superb watercolors of flowers, which are represented by Hirschl & Adler Modern, and Dowling Walsh Gallery represents her in Maine. Susan will have a solo show at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts later this year. Tim predominantly creates large paintings and rug designs of complex, abstract compositions. He has won numerous awards and his work has been featured in many publications. He is represented locally by the Caldbeck Gallery. The couple lives in Thomaston. Molly, 32, lives in San Francisco and has been working for companies that pursue design from a human-centered perspective. She is also currently studying to be an interior designer. Greta, 28, is in the process of visiting all 50 states and drawing and painting what strikes her fancy. A selection of paintings from "Painting America" was shown at Dowling Walsh Gallery in 2011.

Britta Konau: Are you the first two generations of artists in your family?

Tim Van Campen: I had no other artists in my family and they were ambivalent about my studying art but became proud of my artistic achievements. I like to think my ancestry might be traced back to Jacob Van Campen, a Dutch architect, but I don't have any definitive evidence of this.

Greta Van Campen: My mom's uncle was George Ault, a precisionist painter who worked in the early 1900s to 1940s. I never spent much time considering his work, but grew up in close proximity to a couple of his paintings. In the last year, I've been working in a hard-edge style and am finding that I'm drawn to the same scenes he captured then - quiet street corners, houses, buildings, telephone lines, and nightscapes, with the focus being on color, shape and line.

I have walked up to paintings in museums to inspect them more closely, because they merely caught my eye, and been pleasantly surprised to find George Ault's name next to them. It's nice to think that I have probably been more influenced by his work than I realized.

Susan Van Campen: My mother and aunt dabbled in art. Their half-brother was George Ault, who went to the Slade School in London and later lived and painted in New York and Woodstock. I grew up with his paintings hanging in our house.

His and my mother's father was Charles Henry Ault, an ink manufacturer, avid art collector, and friend of many well-known artists, including William Merritt Chase. He painted a little too. Everyone in my family was encouraged to embrace art. On my father's side, there was an architect, an engraver and a couple of great-aunts who had a hat shop in Newark. They made these big, elaborate ladies' hats popular in the early 1900s.

BK: How did it feel growing up with artistic parents? Did you perceive them as being different from those of your friends?

Greta: I loved growing up with parents who were artists. Since they worked from home, they were always available (probably not the best situation for them, but for us it was great!). School projects were always a hit because we had an endless supply of paints, pencils, paper, and our dad's computer and big printer for making posters. They gave a lot of their time to helping out with our school activities. Luckily, we grew up in a big house, so there was enough space for each of them to have a studio and for us to run around. When I was really young and Molly was already in school, I would spend my days going back and forth between my parents' studios. My dad's was in the barn on one end of the house. He'd let me sit on a stool and I liked to watch him as he stretched tape across the canvas and used the airbrush on his large paintings. There was always a radio on, and sometimes he'd let me help with the title of a piece. My mom's studio was at the other end of the house, down one flight of stairs and up another two, on the third floor near the spooky attic. I'd sit on the floor with her and she would set me up with her smaller tray of watercolors and Arches paper, and I'd paint beside her while she continued to work.

Molly Van Campen: Growing up with artist parents also lends itself to an eccentric upbringing. I can remember having to make our own Halloween costumes so they were original, and timidly opening my lunch box to see what unconventional food items my mom had packed each day.

We were definitely encouraged to think creatively and observe the world with a visual lens. My parents took us on a lot of road trips and Greta and I would entertain ourselves in the back seat of the car with games that involved drawing the people in other cars and other observations. We also took a liking to video cameras and movie making; we would spend countless weekends blocking off sections of the house for film production - thankfully we have hours upon hours of footage to entertain us now as adults!