Places Remembered

Henry Isaacs honors the memory of Lisa through his paintings and his generosity in sharing his art

Artists, travelers, and partners, painter Henry Isaacs and graphic artist Lisa DeFrancis saw the world as a series of intriguing images and locations.

Focus article photo

Henry Isaacs’ painting of Bragg Hill in Vermont, where he and his late wife, Lisa DeFrancis, raised their family.

Their art was a means to express their wonder at the compelling beauty they found everywhere.

They met in art school, where "any break from classes and our jobs was a chance to hop in our old Saab and find a new landscape. It might have been Massachusetts or Vermont or British Columbia," Henry remembers. After graduation they moved to London, where the proximity of the rest of Europe proved a constant temptation. Not just sketch-pads but trunk loads of etching copper and Lisa's large format camera went with them everywhere they traveled. A wayside stop to picnic in a meadow in Tuscany would inevitably turn into a day or more of creativity and make the place forever remembered.

Memory is important to Henry. Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 and died in 1999 at the age of 46.

Since much of her treatment was at Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Henry has often honored her memory by giving artwork to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC)—you may have noticed one of his prints hanging in the Cancer Center waiting area. This year, as the official Prouty Pinnacle Artist, Henry has donated three 30" by 40" oils, including scenes from Maine, Vermont, and California, to be awarded to the top three fundraisers for the 2010 Prouty, the annual Century Bike Ride and Challenge Walk that benefits Norris Cotton Cancer Center. In addition, a limited edition of giclée prints will be available as Pinnacle prizes for people who raise $10,000 and more.

"Places Meant a Lot"
Photo: Henry Isaacs at work outdoors

Henry often paints in the “plein air” tradition, outside and on location—even in the sometimes frigid New England winter.

Henry has always painted landscapes, but in the years since Lisa's death he has worked to capture the locations that were important to Lisa and her family. From Little Cranberry Island, Maine—which all three of their children call their "real home" and where Henry now resides most of the time—he painted a summer view of sailboats with the mountains of Mt. Desert Island behind the peaceful scene (see cover). In another image, Henry captured the profusion of wildflowers found at Point Reyes, California, a spot where, Henry says, "some of our finest busman's holidays were taken." There is a Vermont painting, too: the hillside off Bragg Hill Road where Henry and Lisa raised their children.

"I started all of these paintings at several sites, lugging canvas, paints, and brushes—first by car, and then inevitably by foot, to just the right vantage point to spend the day recording the memory of the place, just like Lisa and I had done nearly 40 years ago," he recalls. "Perhaps it was that we first met in art school, but things visual were always important in our family. Places meant a lot, and we had lots of them."

A Last Picnic

Henry says Norris Cotton Cancer Center "became a kind of home for my family for more than seven years as my late wife battled with the disease. It seemed that the clinic was a safe haven for all of us."

Lisa and Henry's last picnic together was just before Christmas 1998, at DHMC. Henry recalls "running to the Co-op and buying food and wine from as many of our travels as possible—cheese from France, sausage from the Tyrol, mussels from Maine, Chianti from Lisa's ancestral home. The list was long! Our friends, Drs. Fran Brokaw and Andy Torkelson, joined us in a toast to these nurturing geographies." Lisa died not long after.

"Ten years later, what clearly remains constant and apparent is that everyone at the Cancer Center rolls up their sleeves to combat the horrific assaults that this disease can inflict," Henry reflects. "Nurses and doctors were always there for us, cheering my whole family on, and comforting us as conditions worsened. I still count many staffers there as friends."

July 30, 2010