The Ever-Disappearing Roy M. Mason

roy mason
Roy Martell Mason (1886–1972)

These were exceptionally gifted and diligent folks.  “Father” Frank Mason (b. 1859), described as “a wonderful fellow and a marvelous wing shot,” started out as a farmer in Gilbert Mills between Syracuse and Lake Ontario in central New York. As a kid, Frank’s mother sent him on the road for two years assisting two itinerant English artists, who left him most of their tools and materials when they shipped home, and continued to send him British art magazines for years.  

Geese in a Wood by Roy M. Mason

Frank’s wife, the daughter of an English physician, pushed the farmer and amateur landscape artist to learn gun engraving via a correspondence course.  This led to 20 years at the Hunter Arms Company in Fulton, New York, moving to Batavia in 1895 to emboss gunstocks for Baker Gun Company.  Frank took his gifted kids, who already preferred art and nature to classrooms, hunting and fishing.  He coached them on how to observe and sketch from nature, and served as their figure-drawing model. Instead of learning by copying other artworks, the siblings dressed up and posed for each other.  He gave them drawing assignments, of the hands in different positions or where the head, neck and shoulders come together.  And at some point, there was reputedly a correspondence course with a New York artist.  

Roy knew how to learn from others.  It’s said his early friendship (1926) with colorful post-impressionist landscape painter Chauncey Ryder (1868–1949), who’d actually studied art at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Académie Julian in Paris, contributed to his skill.  Painting together out of doors in New Hampshire, Mason likely learned from Ryder how to organize the elements of a composition to build a structurally sound painting, and loosen his brushstroke to a flow.  

Off Hatteras by Roy M. Mason

The woodcuts by his friend Norman Kent (1903-1972), artist and editor of American Artist magazine for 25 years, would have demonstrated how to create depth of field with shifting blocks of dark and light.  And the winter landscapes of his friend Hobart Nichols (1869-1962) would have set an example for the nuanced play between white and light to bring the eye to the subject and beyond.  

Ultimately, Mason best described himself: not a pupil of any art school, received some instruction from my father F.E. Mason a steel engraver and die sinker—mostly self-taught—started as illustrator in sporting magazines, later a commercial artist and lithographic designer—later connected with business enterprises—later landscape and figure painting. Have hobby of collecting pictures, own modest collection, also few etchings and bronzes.”

Brooke Chilvers thanks Gray’s art director Wayne Knight for suggesting she write about Roy Martell Mason.