AYER — On April 1, Harding Mudge Bush opened a store at 30 Main St. to sell his watercolor paintings and note cards. It is a return to downtown Ayer for Bush, who previously sold his art and ran a picture-framing business for 11 years on Park Street before it closed 22 years ago.
Partial to painting New England landscapes and architecture, Bush, 75, is as active as ever. With the warming weather, Bush plans to head out with easel and canvas.
Bush pointed to a framed picture of a Boston building that he said was one of his favorite projects. The painting happened to involve his wife, Sally.
Several years ago, Sally was working on a project at the New England Historical Genealogical Society on Newbury Street in Boston. Harding tagged along for the four-to five-day project and set up his easel on Commonwealth Avenue. The subject matter of the painting is the First Baptist Church of Boston.
“I’d do research,” said Sally Bush. “He’d paint across the street and we’d meet for lunch.”
Bush also enjoys painting scenes in the North End. He recalled fondly the courtesies extended to him by passersby, especially on Salem Street.
“The coffee and eclairs would arrive,” said Bush. “The meter maid would ask where I was parked and disable the meter.”
Boston scenes play prominently in Bush’s portfolio, including pieces depicting the Statehouse, Boston Garden and the iconic swan boats.
Bush’s work also catalogues Ayer’s streetscape with images from the present and past. One favorite subject matter for Bush is Ayer Town Hall. “I love that building,” said Bush. “I’ve painted it five or six times.”
In one Bush iteration, the Victorian-era red brick building is dwarfed by an enormous elm tree which stood at the corner of Main and Columbia streets. Bush said the tree was there when he painted the picture but was later felled by Dutch Elm disease.
Another former Ayer landmark encapsulated in a colorful Bush painting is the Park Street Diner (now the location of the Sovereign Bank). Behind the restaurant, Bush included the western profile of the P.N. Laggis men’s clothing store, which has remained in business through three generations of Laggis family members since 1916.
Behind the clothier, Bush included the three-story, Mansard-roofed Roux Building. The former Main Street structure was deemed a total loss following a five-alarm fire last June. The lot is now empty.
For Bush, the Park Street Diner “was amazing.”
Open 24-hours-a-day and seven-days-a-week, Bush recalled, “If I couldn’t sleep, I’d go to the store at three in the morning. And the place was packed.” Bush recalled fondly having coffee and doughnuts catered by the diner when pitching his paintings for the former Bachelor Officer Quarters on base to a committee of colonels’ and generals’ wives.
“I like to revisit the diner,” said Bush, who held up a new original copy of the picture. Bush was working on the picture anew while teaching watercolor technique to painting students. Bush offers watercolor technique to adults at his Main Street store.
Born in Ohio, Bush spent his youth in Wakefield and Swampscott. He graduated from Boston College with a degree in engineering management in 1961. Following completion of his ROTC training at Fort Devens, Bush was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve Artillery and assigned to the 357th Artillery.
The unit was attached to the French Air Force, where he served as a team leader. After discharge, Bush began a career in marketing and married in 1965. The Bushes moved several times, including stretches in Tennessee, George, Michigan and Maryland. “He was chasing the pot of gold,” laughed Sally.
The couple has two adult children and four grandchildren in Maine and Virginia Beach. At one point, the couple moved nine times in seven years.
But Ayer has been the couple’s home for the past 42 years. Sally taught in Ayer schools for 18 years before retirement. Harding devoted himself to his artwork.
Harding studied watercolor at Atlantic Union College with Roger Blum and anatomy and life drawing at the DeCordova Museum School with the late King Coffin.
Bush has several corporate collectors of his artwork, including North Middlesex Savings Bank and most major Boston banks.
Bush sells original watercolor paintings, with pricing starting at $80. Bush’s works are also on blank note cards, which he sells for $3 each or four cards for $10. Bush’s work is also available to view online at harding-bush.artistwebsites.com.
Bush’s portfolio includes 1,550 original works. He also offers watercolor courses for his eager students.
“Some are so good, they’re scary,” said Bush. He had praise for the work of student artist Judith Fave of Lunenburg. “It’s realistic. They’re in the same vein as mine. She works very hard and she’s passionate about it.”
The sessions are pay-as-you-go and last 2.5 hours each. Bush said he teachers in a step-by-step process.
“I demonstrate by painting the sky, then they paint the sky and I help them with it,” said Bush. “They’re generally coming in with some skill set.” Classes are Tuesday mornings from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and Thursday evenings from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
“Wanting to do a watercolor is an addiction,” said Bush.
Harding Bush’s store is open at 30 Main St. in Ayer, with springtime hours on Thursdays and Fridays from 1-7 p.m. (and later on Thursday nights while classes are in session), and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.