Bud Cary


Bud Cary, abstract expressionist, received a BA from Colgate University and a Masters in Education from Boston University. He became a self taught painter in Manlius, New York while teaching Junior High English. His love and study of Paul Klee, Emile Nolde, and George Roualt helped shape his style. His paintings reside in the Rochester and Syracuse Art Museums. In 1964, Cary moved with his wife and three daughters to Cape Cod. Both he and his wife Bunny were born in Winchester, MA, and had summered on the Cape: they were returning home. The family remained there in an 1822 saltbox by the sea.

Cary worked in casein, watercolors, ink, collage, and oil; his preferred mediums on Cape Cod were oils and oil-based crayons. In Falmouth, Cary was very active with the Falmouth Artist’s Guild; he participated in many shows both locally and off the Cape. He won many juried awards, yet remained humble in his acceptance.  Cary said, “Work that is going well seems to create itself. That’s when the work becomes exciting,” and added, “Those are usually the good paintings.” Bud Cary lives on through his expressionistic paintings as only a great artist can.

B. Wolcott Cary: a Student’s Perspective

By Anne Macaulay

Born in 1921, Burton Wolcott “Bud” Cary grew up in the comfortable Boston suburb of Winchester, Massachusetts, the son of a stockbroker. The family spent every summer of Bud’s childhood on Cape Cod, mainly in Falmouth. “I guess I started drawing cartoons as all kids do,” Bud has remarked, but didn’t start to get serious about painting until the early 1950’s. Armed with a Master’s degree in Education from Boston University, Bud moved to Syracuse, New York, to begin teaching English to seventh and eighth graders. He enrolled in a night school art class given by a professor from Syracuse University. With the encouragement of the instructor, who was impressed with his student’s independent study of the more notable artists of the expressionist movement –their lives as well as their techniques and approaches to subject matter, Bud proceeded to sketch his way around the city. “I particularly loved sketching old buildings, grain elevators, railroad yard scenes. These all emerged in the paintings I did later in the sixties, carrying into the seventies,” he explained.

Never forgetting the Cape, though, Bud left New York with his family in 1964 to take a teaching position in Falmouth. The family purchased one of the last remaining ship captain’s houses near the ocean in Falmouth, a c. 1820 three-quarter colonial located at the foot of Shore Street, where the town dock used to stand. Bud set up a studio in the second-floor apartment over the garage, a space with a true north side, and unimpeded three-quarter views of Vineyard Sound. The move to Falmouth brought Bud in touch with the close-knit, yet serious art scene, whose hub was the Falmouth Artist’s Guild. The Guild sponsored countless juried and non-juried exhibitions, offered classes to children and adults. In the summer, it’s popular auctions and “Out Door Clothes Line Exhibit” sale were not to be missed, the latter slowing Main Street traffic as gawkers stopped to view canvases arranged along the fence bordering the old Town Poor House, site of the Guild’s first home.

“Bud’s work is very complex,” his artist friend Edie Bruce, founder-owner of the Woods Hole Gallery, said. “There is always a mood. But it can be very witty, too.”

In Artist Guild circles, Bud was known as a “painter’s painter.” New England art critic Peter Koenig has written about Bud’s “semicubist” forms, those that are perhaps best understood by other artists and students of early 20th century art. “In many of his works, only the educated, i.e., other artists, can really appreciate what is going on in a Cary work. A lot of the appeal of Cary’s work has to do with his ability to make the frankly difficult and tricky look easy,” he notes.

This period started Bud on a fascinating period of experimentation with materials and media. As he concentrated on developing what he referred to as his “linear style,” he took to using oils, the oil based crayons, inks, water colors. He applied color to surfaces prepared with strips of newspaper, and frequently practiced incising techniques using the reverse end of the brush.

Architecture, still life, boats, the natural world, find their way into the artist’s densely illustrated compositions. “I prefer storms to a sunny day.” Bud said. Indeed, as his interest in the linear moved into what he called “space within space relationships,” storms of all types are explored in his interior compositions: inner tensions, artistic ‘Painter moments.’

The overcrowded Cape in summer was one subject that Bud visited over and over in some of his larger works. In “Where’s My Mooring?” for example, boats are stacked willy-nilly, like dishes in the sink. “Intertwined boats” depicts a dizzying chaos of boat forms struggling for clearance in a too-narrow harbor, as a soupy fog encroaches.

Some pieces are clearly autobiographical. “Soldiers”, a foreground composition of angular lines and frosty pinks and steel grays, might have originated during the war years (WWII), when Bud served in the Tenth Mountain Division, the soldiers on skis who were trained in all phases of mountain combat. About the time he is characteristically modest. “What I did mainly was teach recruits, some who had never seen snow, how to ski.” The Division saw action in Italy, helping move the wounded off sheer cliff s. Bud Cary was a modest man, the embodiment of the reticent, quick-witted Yankee we like to think is still part of the New England scene. Uncomfortable discussing the subtle nuances of what many of his colleagues at the Falmouth Artists Guild called his sophisticated style, he preferred to talk specifics. On the subject of color, for example, Bud could sound like a farmer giving advice about garden plants: “You have to be careful with the warm shades, such as burnt umber,” he’d warn. “They tend to take over.”

Highly respected for his abilities, and his modest, unassuming nature, Bud also abhorred pretension of any kind. A favorite tee shirt read: “Above all, it is a matter of loving art, not understanding it. –Fernand Leger”.

Bud was a thrifty Yankee, too. He never threw anything away, and in corners of his studio could be found stacks of unfinished and aborted works. He thought nothing of cutting down a piece if he felt the section of interest could be salvaged.

He was the consummate English teacher, and omnivorous reader. I know; I took his English class in seventh grade, and the experience guided me toward English and writing in college and later life. Bud frequently brought pieces from the New Yorker for us to read, introducing us to writers who were supposedly “too sophisticated” for a bunch of pubertal thirteen year-olds. For many of us, it was our first experience being treated as adults who were capable of stretching beyond the “box” of standard public school curricula.

As a friend of his daughter, Missy, I was privy to frequent trips to visit the studio. Bud’s studio was a heady combination of the literary along with the visual. Notes – quotes from famous artists mostly – hung overhead, or else were taped to doorways, moldings, over a sink, near the bathroom. From Monet: “When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have in front of you, a tree, a field. Merely think, here is a little square of blue, there an oblong of pink, over there a streak of yellow, and paint it as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives you your own impression of the scene.” As a struggling fiction writer, I asked Bud once if his store of ideas ever ran dry, if he ever ‘blocked’. He shrugged. “I just continue to hack away at it until it comes.” But he acknowledged the problem was a common and serious one for young artists, especially.

“Painting is a great energy exhauster. The longer you paint, and the more time – months, years – you put into it, the more hypercritical you can become.” Bud painted nearly every day of his life. Yet at the same time that his output was great, he was never in a hurry to finish any one piece. “I will look at something I haven’t finished, say a year or so later, and suddenly I know what it needs.” But he was also known to complete a work in one sitting. “Work that is going well seems to create itself. That’s when it becomes exciting.” Not surprisingly, he added, “Those are usually the good paintings.” Sadly, Bud died in the summer of 2001, at the age of 79, predeceasing his beloved wife, Bunny, by just two months. His daughters Cici and Melissa (Missy), two sons-in-law, and four grandchildren, survive him.

– Anne Macaulay