Behind the Scenes

Hometown beckons for sister artists

Works by ceramic artist Suzanne Hill, painter Alison Hill, and jeweler Melanie Hill Preston are on display at South Street Gallery in Hingham. Works by ceramic artist Suzanne Hill, painter Alison Hill, and jeweler Melanie Hill Preston are on display at South Street Gallery in Hingham. (South Street Gallery)
By Robert Knox
Globe Correspondent / November 17, 2011

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An exhibit featuring artwork by three sisters who grew up in Hingham but have never exhibited together before in their hometown is on display at the South Street Gallery.

The sisters chose different paths as artists - Alison Hill is a plein-air painter; Melanie Hill Preston is a jewelry designer; and Suzanne Hill, a ceramic artist - and now live in different states.

But their hometown figures in their work and in their lives, said Suzanne Hill, who lives in Carlisle and has a studio in Concord, even though all three have found inspiration in faraway places.

“I’m definitely a New Englander. [But] I’ve lived all over the world,’’ said the ceramic artist, who attended Rhode Island School of Design and then earned a master’s degree at Alfred College of Ceramics, known in the art world as “the Harvard of ceramics.’’

Her Hingham years were “pretty formative,’’ Hill said, recalling the childhood pleasures of “raking leaves in the fall and roasting potatoes in the burning piles of leaves. Trick-or-treating in the neighborhood behind Liberty Pole Road. . . . Walking down to Marchetti’s Market for Cokes and penny candy. Skating at Cushing Pond in the winters.’’

She also remembers “the unstructured time’’ of a baby boom childhood in residential Hingham amid “packs of kids’’ who “ruled the neighborhood.’’

“I used to take long walks behind my house in the woods, going by old Colonial stone foundations,’’ Hill said last week. She found vines of Concord grapes growing in the wild and made grape jelly as presents.

Drawing the landscape helped her get her start in ceramics. “It started out as illustration - I like drawing - drawing landscapes on vessels, boxes, or rounded forms. Landscape has always been a theme,’’ Hill said. “As I’ve gone on, they’ve gotten more and more abstract.’’

Her recent work responds to the landscape she found on visits to the American Southwest. She’s exhibiting her “Southwest series’’ of saggar-fired vessels (a technique using boxlike containers to protect ware during firing) made with twisted branches for handles, in the South Street Gallery show.

Painter Alison Hill, the second child in a family of six, only 11 months younger than Suzanne, found her artistic vocation later in life when she “fell into painting in my 40s’’ while living in Maine, the artist said last week. Today she lives on Monhegan Island in Maine year-round and paints seascapes and coastal landscapes depicting the island’s quaint structures and its rugged lobstermen. A natural light painter, she bundles up in the winter and goes outdoors to paint in the snow. She’s also a portrait painter, Hill said.

“Painting has become my way of moving through this world, responding to and expressing what I see and feel,’’ Hill said in her artist statement for the show. “It is my interpretation, using color, stroke, and line, to evoke the mood I am receiving. Whether it is a landscape, a person, or a still life, I want to recreate what I am receiving.’’

She has settled happily into an island lifestyle, she said. “In the summer I run a studio gallery, and off-season I spend painting, traveling, doing portraits, and other art-related endeavors.’’

Jewelry designer Melanie Hill Preston, who lives and sells her work in Newport, R.I., has been working with cultured pearls and gemstones since she discovered unique gemstones while living in Freemantle, Australia, more than 20 years ago.

Back in town for their “sisters show,’’ Alison and Suzanne agreed that the Hingham of their childhood has preserved its character.

“It’s amazing,’’ said Alison, who has not been back to Hingham since leaving in 1969. “I expected it to be way different. Things are the same,’’ she said, down to the “little road’’ the family grew up on.

Both sisters said Main Street in the town center looks as it did years ago.

“It’s such a Colonial town,’’ Suzanne said. “You can still drive down Main Street and see the same houses. Especially in the fall - it has this kind of timeless quality.’’

Robert Knox can be reached at

“Coming Home - A Return to Our Roots in Hingham”” Work by Alison Hill, Melanie Hill Preston, Suzanne Hill

South Street Gallery

149 South St., Hingham

Through Dec. 8


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