Last Friday afternoon, Holly Erickson ‘00 joined Dr. Peter H. Quimby ‘85, P’14, and the Governor’s community for the unveiling of her portrait of the late Katherine Krall Guy P’05. Erickson returned to campus yesterday to share with students about her career as a portrait artist and, in particular, her experience taking on the commission of painting Guy’s portrait and the significance of this being the first portrait of a female faculty member commissioned by the Academy.
By all accounts, Erickson is an accomplished, successful, and sought-after artist. She has been painting for 36 years, has completed 63 commissioned portraits, and her resume includes working at Christie’s Auction House and the Foundation for Contemporary Art in New York City. Upon her return to Massachusetts, Erickson managed the Copley Society of Art in Boston and holds an MFA from Boston University. But she confided that her love for art took her by surprise when she took an introduction to studio art class in her junior year at Govs. “I thought I was going to be a vet!” mused Erickson. She asked students in the audience how many considered themselves creative and urged them to “never stop exploring your interests because you never know how you will change.”
Erickson shared selections from her portfolio thesis from Skidmore College and talked about her process for her early portrait paintings of older people—getting to know her subject is critical. “It’s important to get comfortable with getting into uncomfortable spaces with people—asking questions,” she said. “I found that older people have great insights and stories, but you have to take the time to listen and get to know them.” As a student, Erickson trained to be a peer advisor with Guy. Still, since she did not have classes with her, Erickson relied on others to share more about Guy, including a portrait photo shot by Govs photography teacher David Oxton P’03,’08. Erickson used Oxton’s photo of Guy as her inspiration and reference for the portrait, and other faculty and friends shared personality and character traits about Guy that further refined the final work. “You have to piece it all togher,” said Erickson. “I visited her old classroom and asked my mom to sit as my model to help me with the arms and hands.”
Even in low light, Erickson’s portrait of Guy appears backlit and luminous, and her likeness is uncanny. Those who knew Guy marvel at how her personality and spirit come through in the painting: “You can see the warmth and playfulness in her eyes,” said a faculty member.
Erickson credits a catalog of experiences that inform her painting technique and style today, including her time studying Renaissance art in Florence, Italy. “I learned to paint in many thin layers. I’ll spend almost a month preparing a canvas, building layers one at a time to get the right luminosity,” said Erickson. “From start to finish, it takes 60 to 100 hours, including research, to complete a portrait like this.”
Erickson talked about the practical side of her life as a working artist, especially as a woman and now a mother. While pursuing her master's degree in fine art at Boston University, she discovered that becoming a teacher was not for her. So Erickson returned to the studio and became very disciplined with her time. “I learned what it is to push myself,” she said. “I worked 14-hour days, seven days per week. I also allowed myself to become more experimental in my work.” Erickson showed slides of some of her earlier work, offering her own critique: “I learned from every mistake—discomfort can teach you to cope with difficult experiences later on in life.” She also noted that though 90 percent of her art teachers were female, most portrait commissions still go to men. “Celebrating 50 Years of Women at Govs is a big deal—I’m honored to be a part of this celebration and to be included in this memorial for Kathy. She was a kind, generous figure at the Academy,” said Erickson.
After Erickson’s presentation, several students approached Guy’s portrait for closer examination, perhaps wishing they had known this warm, intelligent, compassionate teacher with a legendary sense of humor. Govs Art Department Chair Paul Wann P’94 reflected on how committed Guy was to Govs and issues of equity and inclusion. “Kathy spoke up when we were not paying attention and not living up to our values as a school community,” said Wann.
The portrait’s permanent home is in the Cobb Room in Phillips—an apt place for Guy’s spirit, love for Govs, and reassuring smile to inspire future generations of students and teachers.
About the Artist
Holly Erickson has recently transitioned her career focus to sustainable event design and is currently the Executive Director at the Patton Homestead in Hamilton, Massachusetts, where she is spearheading a seasonal cultural engagement program, among other initiatives.
About Katherine Krall Guy
Faculty emerita Katherine Krall Guy was one of the first women hired as a full-time faculty member at Governor Dummer Academy. She was a devoted teacher, inspiring students to love the French and Spanish languages and cultures, and creating a warm, inclusive classroom where students thrived. Kathy truly loved and embraced her role as Language Department Chair. She was an ally to students of color and advocated for equity and inclusion in all aspects of life at Govs. Guy brought the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Peer Trainer program to Govs, served as the International Student Advisor, and mentored faculty around DEI topics. As the Diversity Steering Committee co-chair, she inspired the Govs community to be more open-minded and open-hearted. Guy cherished her daily work with colleagues and dedicated herself to helping them grow professionally. Her love for Governor’s students and dedication to the Academy had no bounds. She touched hundreds of lives during her 40 years in Byfield as a mentor, friend, teacher, and confidant to countless students and colleagues.