Photo of John Hodgins in February 2005 with an en plein air painting of his, courtesy of his daughter Joyce Dwyer.
Beloved local artist, Batavia businessman and former county legislator John Jay Hodgins died this morning. He was 87.
Born in Basom on Dec. 12, 1931 to Ora and Velma Hodgins, he grew up to become a printer, sign painter and entrepreneur who founded Batavia Press, Hodgins Printing, Hodgins Engraving, papersigns.com, and John’s Studio.
Hodgins also served his community -- eight years on the Batavia City Council and eight years on the Genesee County Legislature. He was a former member of the Oakfield Lions Club, a director at the Richmond Memorial Library, and a director of the Genesee County Baseball Club.
A longtime member of Batavia Society of Artists, he had been its treasurer and president, and had many shows of his work locally. He taught local students to paint and draw, and held art workshops in Maine and Florida. He authored and published four books, hiked most of the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail, ran four marathons, and was a big fan of the Batavia Muckdogs baseball team.
He is survived by his wife of 67 years Mary T. (Paul) Hodgins, six children, 13 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
As a young man, Hodgins supported his family by delivering milk and baked goods, then he went to work in the printing business, starting as a compositor.
He worked at the Orleans Republican-American, Medina Daily Journal and the Buffalo Evening News before launching his own small printing operation from his barn in Basom in 1957. An initial investment of $500 bought a hand-operated letterpress, a few cabinets of lead type and a manual paper cutter.
The nascent business was moved to Batavia in 1961 and husband and wife worked side by side to grow it. Batavia Press, located at 30 Seaver Place, thrived and in 1971 an offer was made to buy it and the Hodgins accepted the offer. They subsequently started Hodgins Printing and sold only by mail order to out-of-town customers.
But within a year, the new owners of the Batavia Press failed and Hodgins Printing returned to serving the business community in Genesee County. In 1983, son Robert Hodgins started Hodgins Engraving, a printing die-making service for printers nationwide.
To meet the need for a local commercial printer serving Western New York, Batavia Press was reestablished. The family's second and third generation now manages the operations of: Hodgins Printing Co. and John's Studio -- in the Harvester Center -- and Batavia Press and Hodgins Engraving on West Main Street. There is also an online company, papersigns.com
John Hodgins retired in 1985.
Beyond his success as an ambitious businessman, John was a lifelong lover of all things art. He produced a prodigious amount of distinctive, unique and colorful creations.
His interest in drawing was first piqued in elementary school when his fifth-grade teacher asked him to draw a knight on a horse.
When John moved to Batavia, he became acquainted with the masterful Roy Mason, a nature-loving watercolorist known for his sporting and wildlife landscapes. Years later, he spent three summers in Maine under the tutelage of famed watercolorist Edgar A. Whitney, best known for his coastline art.
In the mid-1980s, John and fellow Batavia artist Don Grieger started painting en plein air, French for outdoors painting. The practice was not widely popular as it is today. In a kind of spoof of a Canadian group of plein air painters in the early 20th century called "The Group of Seven," the duo called themselves "The Group of Two."
Inevitably, more artists came along and thus "The All Weather Gang" was born. They still get together some Saturday mornings for breakfast at a local diner before heading out to paint scenic vistas, usually in Genesee, Wyoming or Livingston counties, irrespective of the clime. Among their favorites places to paint are creeks: the Tonawanda, the Little Tonawanda, and Oatka.
"You get the feel of the place more when you're outdoors," Grieger said, "rather than painting from a photograph."
Just as he was mentored by quality artists, Hodgins was a mentor to young people.
Among those who learned a thing or two from him is Mark Fanara, who took drawing and painting lessons from Hodgins as a second-grader. Fanara won awards for his art in high school and while studying at SUNY Brockport, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. He has been a tattooist since 2005 and opened High Voltage Tattoo in Batavia in 2006.
Another mentee is Batavia native Bill Mancuso, assistant professor of Art and chair of the Department of Art and Design at Ohio Northern University. He curated an exhibit last fall about the All Weather Gang at ONU's Elzay Gallery and wrote a book for the exhibit about the All Weather Gang and its members past and present.
Mancuso is working on a biography/retrospective about John Hodgins.
"I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today without John Hodgins and Don Grieger," Mancuso said. "John was generous. He lived a big, full life. ... John painted ordinary things and made them extraordinary -- Gardner's Barn, the Pok-A-Dot. He saw beauty in everyday things, the way they really are; not like scary museum Art with a capital A."
His appreciation for the unpretentiousness of small-town life was writ large.
Asked about his inspirations for artwork, Hodgins once said he tried to be original and do something different, regardless of the medium he chose. He could be inspired by something as mundane as sneakers, as common as milkweed, and as mythical as flying pigs. He put his special imprimatur on them all.
For John Hodgins full obituary, click here.
(Below is a file photo of John Hodgins' "News Stand" which The Batavian acquired in December of 2009.)