Capital article written by Meredith Newman, May 1, 2016
Lee Boynton could find the beauty of any landscape — an oyster boat, a shallow river, an empty grass field.
One day in 2009, the art teacher class assigned his students to paint landscape before them, a red tugboat in a duck pond. But it wasn't just any pond or boat to Boynton. It was another example of nature's beauty, he explained.
And like his students, Boynton plopped down his easel and began painting. For student Melissa Gryder, who had never taken her easel outside before, Boynton's class transformed her from a still-life artist into a landscape painter.
"You wouldn't see every teacher painting alongside you," said Gryder, an artist in Annapolis. "He celebrated the majesty of nature and had a passion for God. You couldn't help being inspired by his delight and love for it."
Boynton, 62, died of colon cancer April 24. He was known for his Impressionist theories of color and light in both oil and watercolor. He frequently drew Chesapeake watermen, the Maine coastline and Maryland farms and fields.
He was one of the first artists-in-residence at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts and began teaching there in 1983 until a couple months before his death. Students of Boynton say his last legacy will be a one-of-a-kind teacher who taught and mentored emerging arts in the Annapolis arts community.
"If you find any great painter you're going to find a lineage that goes back in time," said John Ebersberger, an artist in Annapolis who taught at Maryland Hall with Boynton. "There's a saying that you're standing on the shoulder of giants. A lot of his students have become exhibiting artists."
Ebersberger knew Boynton since the early 1980s where they took classes under influential American painter Henry Hensche. Under his teachings, Boynton used light, bright colors with his Impressionist pieces, which at the time, wasn't done before.
Lee brought Henry Hensche's (technique) to the watercolor medium," he said. "That was an unique contribution. Lee tried to continue in that classical realism merged in Impressionism."
Boynton's art won numerous awards at Paint Annapolis, Paint Easton and the Wayne Plein Air Festival, according to his website. In 2009, he won the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County's Annie Award, one of the most prestigious local arts honors. He co-wrote "Painting the Impressionist Watercolor," which detailed his technique.
Like much of his work, Boynton's murals created a deep sense of place, said Joann Vaughan, executive director of the Maryland Federation of Art. She added that Boynton used wide ranges of color in way that was different from other painters.
"People respond to Lee's work because the color gives you a sense of what it felt like to be there," she said.
For Nina Ellsworth, a former student and Annapolis artist, Boynton saw color in a way that was revelatory.
"He used would tell us which colors to use and say 'You'll get it later.' We would paint something together, and use this yellow ochre," Ellsworth said. "We would think that so weird. But when it was on the canvas it all made sense.
"He really wanted to teach his point of view," she said. "He wanted that to live on in a way."
Ellsworth added that it was clear he had a natural gift. During one class, the students were painting on a bridge near Clay Street. Boynton demonstrated how to show light reflecting on the river, and he loaded a light blue paint on his pallet knife. In one smooth brush, it "magically" became the river in front of them.
"I cried when he did that," she said.
For Gryder, a former student, taking Boynton's classes influenced the direction of her art. Before, Gryder mostly did still life art. But Boynton helped her answer the "riddles" of landscape.
"He never judged people for the level they were on, whether professional or if you were enjoying your time painting," she said. "He gave you respect."
Gryder teaches painting at Anne Arundel Community College. The night she learned of her former teacher's death, she showed her students how to paint landscapes, similar to the ones Boynton taught her.
She described it as a "full circle" moment, especially since she was using a hand made pallet created by Boynton to teach how to draw red boats and duck ponds. In the Annapolis arts community, he was known for making "perfectly balanced" pallets.
Almost every artist she knows uses one.
"Every time you paint, there you are holding your Lee Boynton pallet."