By Michelle Trauring
They were passionate, colorful, whimsical and warm. They had their ups and downs. They fed off each other’s imaginations in life, love and art, working side by side in their studio in East Hampton.
None of this is taken from first-hand experience with Claus and Helen Hoie — but instead from the greeting cards he made for his wife to celebrate their wedding anniversary in November, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and her birthday in March.
He created them every year, religiously, for 45 years, until the day she died.
“They had an endearing and charming life together,” said Julie Greene, who curated the exhibit “Hoie’s Cards of Love,” now on view for the first time at the Bridgehampton Museum. “They were both artists, and they didn’t have children, so I think their artwork was their creation. It’s obviously a love affair the two of them had with their work, and each other.”
Hailing from a Norwegian seafaring family, Hoie immigrated to the United States at age 12, and served in World War II as a special battalion that assisted in the liberation of Norway.
When he returned to New York, he met Helen Hunt Becker. She was an illustrator and collage artist designing clothes, he a watercolorist working in advertising. They married on November 17, 1956, and moved out to East Hampton shortly after.
“They were both very much about giving back to the artist community out here. He wanted his work to promote other artists — other young artists. I think they lived in a time out here when all the artists were together, and it’s a little bit like that now,” Greene said. “The thing about these cards is that they’re serious, but they have a wonderful quality to them that any age group can relate to. They’re incredible.”
Known for his watercolors of East End life — from whaling captains to agricultural scenes — the greeting cards show another side to Hoie. It is more personal, Greene said, and never seen before.
“I was completely taken with him, and his cards,” she said. “The anniversary cards were about their marriage and their relationship together. His Christmas cards, there’s a theme of stars in the sky and animals you would see during the wintertime. It was a very important holiday to them. Valentine’s Day was the holiday for romance, and her birthday in early March, you can see the cards are very much about coming out of the winter, and into the spring and light. And they were the ones with the most humor.”
But some years simply didn’t measure up to others, Greene noted. They were cards that were “just okay,” she said.
“It could be beautiful calligraphy and a single rose, and other years they’re much more fantastical and funny, and a lot more went into them,” she said. “You can get the ups and downs, and how their life together was tracking.”
In 2000, Helen Hoie died at age 89. Her husband would continue to paint on the East End until his death seven years later, four months shy of his 96th birthday.
“They were such great archivists, they held onto all of them — even most of the hand-made envelopes with wax seals,” Greene said. “It’s so important, going forward, that we keep things. If they had only kept a few, there wouldn’t be an exhibit. I could change the whole thing out and not duplicate a single card. We’re really lucky that they kept it. It documents their life.”
“Hoie’s Cards of Love” is now on view through February 16 at The Bridgehampton Museum, located at 2368 Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton. For more information, please call (631) 537-1088 or visit bhmuseum.org.