The North County art community lost a highly respected talent as well as a dear friend with the passing of Henry Pitt, who died April 5 at the age of 97. Pitt, a resident of Micco, was one of the first members of the Sebastian River Art Club, holding various positions and chairing many committees.
Many of his works, which lovingly and skillfully depict The West as it was in the days of the cowboy, can be seen in a special gallery display at the Sebastian Art Center, 1245 Main St.
Among the many artists who keenly feel the loss of a good friend and mentor is Mary Rahmig, who recalls, “From the first time I met Henry 12 or more years ago, when I joined the Art Club, I was impressed with his gentleness and kindness despite his impressive stature. He spoke rather softly, but with authority, especially when it came to art techniques.
“Henry,” Rahmig continued, “was also very encouraging to all artists, always complimenting them on their work. I remember several times when Henry came to me and personally complimented me on a particular piece I had painted, and how impressed I was that he observed my work, but also that he took the time to tell me.
“Henry’s knowledge of art was very extensive, and many members would go to him for help whenever they felt stuck. He loved the club and all of its members, rarely missing a chance to be with them.
“One only has to visit the wonderful display of Henry’s work now showing in the Art Club, to realize what a good artist he was, painting in several different mediums, and capturing such varied subject matter. His love of nature, especially scenes in the Western part of our country, shows, without a doubt, where his heart was. He made many of the beautiful frames that enhanced his work to perfection.
“I will personally miss Henry, and know I am only one of thousands who will do the same.”
Artist Claire Tebo shared a special relationship with Henry and his (second) wife, Ruth. “Henry and Ruth became our adopted parents a few years ago and have spent holidays with our family,” she said.
“Wherever Henry went he almost always brought two or three of his newly finished paintings to share with his doctors, the nurses, and especially with his fellow members at the Art Club.
“He very rarely missed a monthly business meeting in all the years as a member. He gave painterly advice when requested to those uncertain, with artistic problems.
“Henry was a soft spoken gentleman who loved to watch new painters blossom. At our annual April picnic, Henry was honored with a large decorated cake, balloons and numerous birthday cards, some of which were special hand painted cards … much to his delight and appreciation.
“He had just turned 97 three days before the picnic which was held on April 1. The following Saturday, before noon, he was taken from us, but his memory will live on through his paintings and his devotion to the arts. Henry is greatly missed by all.”
Born March 30, 1917, Henry James Pitt’s life reads like an adventure novel. He grew up on the family homestead south of Lewistown, MT, on Casino Creek, and attended local schools through high school.
During the summer of 1926, Pitt’s left eye was severely injured by a homemade fishing spear. Then, in 1930, two months after his 13th birthday, his mother died of a cerebral hemorrhage.
At age 19, he enlisted in the Civilian Conservation Corps, where he suffered a back injury while helping lift a log. Pitt would carry this painful handicap with him for the rest of his life.
In 1939, the year of the New York City World’s Fair, the 22-year-old Pitt straddled his Harley and headed for New York. He tried repeatedly to enlist in the armed forces, but the back injury prevented it. His eye injury kept him from being hired for a civilian job, forcing him to miss many a meal until he finally found employment with the Pennsylvania Railroad, in Manhattan’s Penn Station.
During his time with the railroad, Pitt, ironically, received a draft notice from the Army but, once more, the eye injury kept him out. Always seeking new opportunities, he purchased half interest in a taxi cab storage and service garage. As fate would have it, a fire caused by a careless employee destroyed the garage and 37 cabs. Shortly after that disaster, Pitt received yet another draft notice. This time, he was deemed 1B (partially disabled) and at last made it into the Army in 1943, after having tried unsuccessfully 11 times.
After Pitt had served for only nine months, the Army eliminated all classification 1B inductees, due to too many injuries, resulting in an honorable discharge.
Pitt returned home to Montana and began working, once again, as a carpenter and builder. But, in early 1944, his brother, Robert, died unexpectedly, leaving a wife and three young sons, so he came back to Tanglewood farm on Casino Creek, to run the dairy farm for his sister-in-law. He ultimately bought the dairy and remodeled the barn to comply with state requirements for a class A dairy.
In 1946, Pitt was working for the Montana State Water Board when a bull killed his father. He immediately took over operation of the family ranch, which he later purchased from his grandmother. In 1948, he began raising sheep, later focusing on Targhee Sheep, and selling breeding stock to markets in the Philippines, Africa, Canada and Alaska.
On June 16, 1952, Henry married Florence Hall Martin. He sold the sheep and leased the ranch to a neighbor and the couple moved to Alaska. They bought a farm and Pitt worked as a carpenter. He finally sold the Montana ranch in 1974.
Florence suffered from health problems developed in Alaska and had to move to a warmer climate, so the couple headed south, to Florida, ultimately settling in Micco. Florence passed away in 1993.
As a young boy, Pitt loved art and drew pictures as a hobby. But his talent lay dormant for many years until, decades later, he rekindled it in Florida, and began to attend many workshops to improve his artistic talent.
Although a stroke rendered his left arm and hand partially paralyzed, Pitt, never one to “give up or give in,” discovered that by drawing and painting he could strengthen and ultimately recover the use of both arm and hand. One of the first members of the Sebastian River Art Club, he joined in 1986 and proceeded to receive numerous First Place Ribbons for his outstanding work.
He was a lifetime member of the club and always enjoyed guiding and critiquing budding artists. His generosity, all who knew him agree, was unmatched. Today, Henry Pitt paintings and drawings grace many homes all over the country.