by Rebecca Grey

In 1975, for the Preliminary Issue of Gray’s Sporting Journal, I interviewed Chet Reneson for the first of what was to become a regular feature of the magazine: Biography. I hadn’t decided on a style or format for the article but after our lunch with Chet and Penny Reneson, and the studio tour and the long---and often very funny---conversation, it became clear to me how to convey the story of this up-and-coming and extremely talented artist: Let him talk about himself and his work; let him describe his art and world in his own words. Basically, the entire article was a series of direct quotes from Chet, matched with his sketches and watercolors---and it would serve as the template for my future biographies in Gray's.

In the 25 years since that first article on Reneson, Chet’s success and stature as a watercolorist has sky-rocketed and many publications have featured his work and very often his words. Also in those 25 years, Ed and I have become long-time friends of Chet and Penny, a cherished friendship for us. But still when I think about describing Chet and relaying his biographical information, I think it is his words that draw his image best---and, of course his, paintings too. It appears other publishers have felt as I do.

Rebecca Gray, February, 2000

Here are several excerpts from the last decade of articles that tell about Chet, his words and his images:

"Chet Reneson grew up `way out in the woods’ near Colchester, Conn., with gun dogs and game birds on a small farm where he made his own boats and decoys and fashioned his own fly rods. He began painting scenes of deer and waterfowl at age nine, and later attended the University of Hartford Art School….."

(Antiques and the Arts Weekly – May, 1999)

"The foundation for Reneson's unmistakable style was laid early. `Henrik Mayer, my teacher in art school, preached three values: light, dark and strong,’ Chet recalls. `He also preached simplification to the point of brutality. If he were living today he'd still be telling me that my work isn't simple enough. Every time I do a painting I feel like the old codger is looking over my shoulder. He was such a driver and so demanding that if I wasn't really truly producing the best work I could, I'd want to hide under the drawing board as soon as he came to look at what I was doing!' "

"[Chet and Penny Reneson] met in 1958, while attending art classes at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. They were married two years later even though he still had one semester to complete in his fourth and final year.

`We decided to go for it because we had seven dollars between us;' Chet laughs. `But those beginning years were tough. Penny dropped out of art school to pursue something more practical... she saw how I was struggling so it didn't make much sense to her to be an artist. Instead, she became a nurse and believe me, her paychecks kept us afloat for a long time. She started getting more involved in my career about 1975, and it just escalated from there. Now she runs everything!' "

(Sporting Classic – Sept./Oct. 1994)

"When Chet was only 28, eking a living as an animal illustrator in New York he visited the prestigious Manhattan gallery, Sporting Gallery & Bookshelf. ‘I went there with a portfolio of my stuff, hoping they'd handle it. I looked around at all the other art for quite a while before approaching old man Jeffrey. Full of apology, I said, I don't know if you're ever going to be able to sell any of my stuff; it doesn't look like anyone else's in here.’

He said, ‘Don't worry about what other people do. Do what you do. Now get out of here. Go home and paint.’ "

"Now in his early 60s, Chet Reneson believes he is in his artistic prime. ‘I really feel I'm doing the best work I've ever done. Creating strong shapes and using contrasting colors seems to come easier than in the past. I'm also using a lot more bright colors and with a lot more success. That's not to say that I'm not working hard; I always work hard on every painting. It's just that I don't have to struggle as much to achieve what I want. At this stage, I'm painting for myself... from my heart and soul. I have a chance to do something significant in sporting art, and I don't have time for anything but that.’"

"For the past 30 years, Reneson has visited Georgetown, Great Exuma - usually in June when it is not winter, when it is windy and the tourists are few, with his wife, Penny. He characterizes these trips as adventures full of watercolor experimentation when he can throw contrasting colors around."

"Following art school, Reneson worked commercially for a number of years before selling his first painting in 1966. Among his heroes are Homer, Cezanne, Wyeth, Hopper and van Gogh. An inveterate sportsman, Chet lives with his wife to whom he has been married for 39 years in Old Lyme, Conn., in a restored 200-year-old colonial home."

"[Chet] has the rare distinction of being named Artist of the Year by Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited and the Atlantic Salmon Federation."

(Antiques and the Arts Weekly – May, 1999)

"Hunter fly-fisherman and artist since boyhood, he lives what he paints, and paints what he lives. When pursuing Atlantic salmon, says watercolorist Chet Reneson of Lyme, Conn., 'I like those rough Canadian rivers, like the George and the Whale. The fish are rough, tough and ready, and when I paint the rivers I make 'em just as powerful and rugged, and mean and nasty as I can.’ Reneson could almost have been describing himself. At 59, he's as fit as a butcher's dog, and every bit as rough, tough and ready as he was when magazine writer Tom Davis told readers of Wildlife Art News, 'He has a lean, athletic physique that most 54-year-old men would kill for; his muscles are hard and close to the skin.’ While not invariably as mean and nasty as a rampaging river in Ungava, Reneson's talk can be blunt to the point of pugnacity. While discussing art, his motto might well be the campaign slogan that Jimmy Breslin and Norman Mailer immortalized when they ran for municipal office in New York more than 20 years ago: ‘No More Bullshit!’"

"His watercolors of wildfowl-hunting and salmon-angling are so deft and dramatic he sells them as fast he paints them. They show brooding skies, perky retrievers, raised shotguns, curling backcasts, white explosions of water; the blazing foliage and dank marshes of autumn, and winds and snow squalls you can almost feel hitting your cheeks. Gazing at some of Reneson’s best work makes you shiver; and want to huddle beside a riverside campfire."

(Atlantic Salmon JournalSummer, 1993)

"Actually participating in, or at the very least witnessing the events he paints probably accounts for the magnetic attraction between viewer and painting. When standing in front of a Reneson watercolor, you have no doubt that the artist has been there. Reneson's art forces the viewer to use his imagination. He omits superfluous details, making his viewer mentally fill in the voids."

(Antiques and the Arts Weekly – May, 1999)


"Over the past thirty-eight years Chet and his wife, Penny, have gunned in Scotland, Mexico and much of North America, though duck hunting on the quiet saltwater marshes near his home remains his favorite. In…compelling and evocative images, the renowned artist relives some of his most cherished moments afield, sharing his love for wild places that touch our hearts with their special beauty."

Great Island

‘Great Island is a narrow, 500-acre salt marsh near our town of Lyme, Connecticut. I did my first serious duck hunting there and I've returned to the marsh throughout my life. Great Island is a public hunting area now, but come December, icy winds and snow swoop down from the Arctic, chasing away all the candy-asses who will never discover the wonderful, late-season hunting on the marsh.

Here, I'm in the wrong spot, watching some ducks drop into a pocket that's still ice-free It's a long way to drag a boat, but it'll be worth the effort because it's the only open water around. Of course, this was during my younger years' when I had much more backbone and muscle than brains.

My search for different subject matter has drawn me to many beautiful places here and abroad. But even at age 64, I love to go down to the marsh at Great Island with my good friend, Charlie Brainerd, and just sit there with a thermos of hot soup, smoke a cigar, and take in its quiet beauty.’ "

Goose Shooting -Eastern Shore, Maryland

‘This setting is based on memories from goose hunting near Easton, Maryland, where years ago we knew a lot of farmers and always had a good place to hunt.

I've enjoyed some of my best hunting on snowy days, and I can still see the tightly grouped birds drifting down through pelting flakes.

As a young artist, before I learned how to capture light, I used to add snow because it was the only way I knew to brighten the scene. Swirling snow conveys a certain mood, and if you can create the right mood, everything else seems to fall in place.’"

(Sporting Classics – December, 1998)