by Brooke Chilvers
I can’t believe a decade has flown by since I first wrote about Eldridge Hardie in the April, 2009, issue of Gray’s. And nearly two decades have passed since the publication of his first book, The Paintings of Eldridge Hardie.
His latest book, painted and published prior to these Covid times, is The Sporting Art of Eldridge Hardie – Paintings of Upland Hunting, Angling, and Waterfowling. “The book consumed much of my energy,” writes Eldridge in a recent e-mail. “It has been a labor of love, but now it’s time to get back to the easel.”
For an artist, this past year of working from home, isn’t anything new. What has been disappointing is not being able to travel. In 2020, Hardie missed Atlantic salmon fishing in New Brunswick, their annual trip to Kansas for quail hunting and, of course, the Florida Keys for flats fishing. Most of all, he says, “I’ve missed being able to drive together with hunting partners on the 320-mile round trip to our goose pits in northeastern Colorado, catching up with each other’s goings on, sharing thoughts, and strategizing for the hunt. Caravanning in separate vehicles is a drag.”
Luckily, not too far from Denver, home since 1966, Hardie appreciates just being able to get out in the country to follow his passion for fishing, hunting, and training Zinnia, their fifth female black Labrador since the early 1970s.
“She’s made the acquaintance first with doves, then ducks and geese, and one intimidating cock pheasant. She was missing quail in Kansas, so I looked for a needle in the local haystack along the South Platte River and lucked into a 20-bird covey of bobwhites that scattered nicely in a big pasture. She nosed out three singles that we shot. (I have no idea where all the rest hid.) She marked and retrieved each to hand, then hunted hard for another three hours without any results. We’ll have to wait until next season to follow up with that part of her education.”
Also just an hour away, “There’s challenging dry fly fishing for some very selective browns and rainbows (most in the 12- to 18-inch range). The midges or mayflies are tiny, matched with #18 to #24 patterns. If there’s a hatch, the action may just last an hour or so, and sometimes it doesn’t even happen.”
All the while, he’s taking note of “the possibilities for future compositions, new patterns, or different ways to paint familiar subjects. I can see a wide-open field of unexplored ways for painting both familiar and new subjects.” For example, not being able to fish the Restigouche for the first time in years, Eldridge instead developed a long-imagined idea about one of the river’s haloed salmon pools, resulting in Looking Glass, where the keenly reflective surface is shattered by the bursting fish. Hardie’s expressive Endless Flats is both a feeling and a memory recalled.
About his 50-year career as a painter, Hardie writes, “I am reminded of how fortunate I’ve been to live lives not ever imagined, combining those of artist and sportsman.”
Brooke Chilvers never thought that she would be doing more “Winterwanderung” in her own backyard in the Virginia Blue Ridge than during winter holidays in Tirol, Austria or Germany’s Schwarzwald.