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Stephen Nash: John Constable Painter (and Savior) of Landscapes in the English County of Suffolk


Stephen Nash, Scientific Illustrator, will be the speaker at the Reboli Center for Art and History’s Third Friday event, March 16 from 6 – 8 PM.  Mr. Nash born and raised in East Anglia in the UK, which is famous for being “Constable Country”, will speak about how John Constable’s powerful artistic influence has helped retain much of the character of the countryside he painted to this day.  Mr. Nash suggests that the artistic influences of William Sidney Mount and Joe Reboli have the same potential to celebrate and help maintain the character of our region.

John Constable (1776-1837),  an English Romantic painter whose works are now among the most popular and valuable in British art, is principally known for his landscape paintings of the area surrounding his home in Dedham Vale.  Constable once wrote to a friend in 1821 that he should paint his own places best and that painting is but another word for feeling. Constable dearly loved the area, and his paintings reflected that. So powerful has been the influence of his art on the way that the local people perceive the place they inhabit, that “Constable Country” today retains much of the character it had during the artist’s lifetime.

Mr. Nash notes some obvious parallels.  He writes, “not only were the place names I encountered here when I first arrived in 1982 identical or nearly so (Suffolk itself, Islip, Brentwood, Southampton, Hempstead (as opposed to the original Hampstead), Southold (as opposed to Southwold) Framingham (as opposed to the English Framlingham), et cetera, but there is also considerable potential for the art of Long Island, so well represented by the work of Joe Reboli and William Sidney Mount, to celebrate and help maintain the character of this region in much the same way as Constable’s work has done for his.” 

Born in Clacton-on-Sea, a small town in the eastern county of Essex in the United Kingdom, Stephen David Nash comes from a long line of Welsh coal miners, farmers and London Dock workers, and was among the first in his family to go on to further education. His decision to attend his local art college, Colchester School of Art, for basic foundation studies, resulted in him gaining experience in a variety of different artistic fields, including ceramics, painting, graphic design, drawing, printing, and even fashion design.  

While there, a chance conversation with a guest lecturer, John Norris Wood, prompted him to apply for a place at Middlesex University in London, where he studied Scientific & Technical Illustration & Information & Editorial Design. Stephen’s initial plan was to specialize in Medical Illustration, hoping to learn how to draw in the manner of the Old Masters, whose knowledge of anatomy was very thorough. However, he found that not only was modern Medical Illustration less about anatomical rendering than he had thought, but there exists a branch of Scientific Illustration concerned with drawing animals and plants, in which he had a lifelong interest.

His drawing classes included trips to London Zoo where he first saw Marmosets and Tamarins, squirrel-sized South American monkeys, which fascinated him and inspired him to find out all he could about them. 

Throughout his education at Middlesex University, and later at the Royal College of Art, where he studied Natural History Illustration with John Norris Wood, Stephen consulted many scientists involved in research on these animals, producing drawings and accumulating information. One researcher introduced him to American scientist Russell Mittermeier, who was also interested in primates as well as reptiles and amphibians.  These interests actually coincided exactly with Stephen’s own, though for different reasons. Mittermeier had been born in the Bronx, and his mother had taken him on frequent trips to the Bronx Zoo, and to Tarzan movies. His later childhood on Long Island had included encounters with turtles and snakes and frogs.  

Stephen Nash with Isabel Constable

Stephen Nash with Isabel Constable

Another, quite interesting connection that both Mr. Nash and his wife have with John Constable is through Isabel Constable, the painter’s direct descendant.  Isabel is a very dear friend of the Nashs, as she was the first wife of Stephen’s employer, Russell Mittermeier!