An Interview with Henrietta Hoopes Heath
Conducted by Darel La Prade
You were in Paris and Spain during the 1920s and ’30s – a famous and productive period for art in general, but especially for American novelists and poets – did you meet any of the American ex-patriots?
I didn’t know any of the famous ones. The only one I used to see a lot of was Ford Madox Ford, who was actually from England. I can’t remember any others at the time that were famous. My husband was a writer. That was my first husband, Charles Wertenbaker.
He was born in Charlottesville (Va.), and he came from an old Charlottesville family. When we first were married, he wrote a book about the University of Virginia. It was called Boojum.” That’s from “The Hunting of the Snark” by Lewis Carroll. The snark was a Boojum, you see, I remember that much. Well, his book was about the boys at the university and his brother. He had him for Boojum. Crash, his brother, was a young poet. He wore a cape all the time and had colored lights in his room. And that just about killed everybody at the university. They thought it was so crazy.
The book, let me see, I haven’t read it for years, but it caused a stir there, because it had a lot of drinking in it. Those were prohibition days.
When we first married that book was published and also he (Charles) went to Episcopal High (in Alexandria, Va.). And he wrote a lot of short stories about that. The first short story he wrote, the Saturday Evening Post took. And that was $500 for that story, and when he sold that story we went to Europe on it.
When did you arrive in Europe?
That was 1929. Then we came back and went over again. We got a Model A Ford and took it back over with us and we toured all over Spain until we bumped into a tree. He went to sleep. That was 1930.
Where did you live in Paris?
We lived in several different places. But one place was up at the end of Montparnasse, which was Rue de la Sante. We lived in an apartment that was Joe Davidson’s. He was a sculptor. My husband was crazy about Hemingway – his writing – and he was anxious all the time, because he thought he would see Hemingway over there. But Hemingway wasn’t there while we were.
But later on in the summer, we drove down to Sant Juan de Luz, to a place call Socoa, which was outside San Juan. And Louis Brumfield was there, and we talked about Hemingway and how much Wert would like to see him.
Then one night we went for a walk and when we got back there was a note for us saying Hemingway was there and wanted us to come for supper. But we never saw him.
Having read Hemingway, you are familiar with Gertrude Stein’s description of the post-war artists as a “Lost Generation.” Do you feel you belonged to that generation?
I didn’t feel lost at all. Hemingway was a little bit older, about eight years older, I think. Anyway, we belonged to that same generation. But it was prohibition that made it terribly different. Everybody drank, and if anyone came to your house and you had a bottle of whiskey or anything to drink, they wouldn’t leave until they finished it. And older people drank. It really was terrible what happened to this country, aside from the gangsters.
Bullfighting is a frequent subject for your paintings. Were they painted in the ’30s when you were in Spain?
We went to lots of bullfights. As a matter of fact, Hemingway kind of prepared me for the bullfights. After our accident in the Ford, we went to a place on the Mediterranean called Sitjes, and I started doing bullfights in the sand. And it was after that I started doing lots of bullfight pictures.
I knew a Spaniard who taught me a lot about bullfights and he used to criticize my things. After I came back to this country, I would send him new sketches, and he would criticize them and send them back.
My Spanish friend.. it was terribly funny. I sent him Hemingway’s book about bullfighting, “Death in the Afternoon.” He spoke English pretty well – he had lived in England – but he wrote and said, “I have read the book “Dead in the Afternoon” by your bandit- (spelled B-A-N-D-I-D) looking friend Hemingway.”
Then my friend gave the most wonderful critique. He said Hemingway knows his stuff about bullfighting all right, but, he said when Hemingway says we in Bilboa raise the fiercest bulls with the worse horns, that just wasn’t so. And also he was furious because Hemingway said something bad about the climate up there in northern Spain. He was furious about that, which I thought was amusing.
When did you move here to Southern Shores?
I moved here in 1968, on the second of May, almost exactly 18 years ago now.
How did you learn about the Outer Banks and what made you want to come here and live?
Well, when I came back from Germany after World War II with my second husband, James Elliott Heath of Norfolk – he was an attorney and a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials – we moved to Virginia Beach just temporarily and stayed there about 25 years. He got interested in politics there. He was outraged by the faction in charge there, so that was what sort of kept us there.
We used to come down here all the time anyway. My husband had some friends, and they said we’ll show you two good lots if you are interested, and we had a drink.
They showed us a lot that was wonderful and then they brought us here and showed us this lot. At that time, the road stopped at the end of my lot, and I fell for it right away. It was beautiful! It was all sand dunes around here – no green at all. It was sunset. It was so beautiful. So after I went back to Virginia Beach, I thought I’d better go back because maybe it was that drink that made me think it was so wonderful. When I came back I still thought it was marvelous.
Have you always viewed yourself as a painter?
I have always been interested in painting, but I never viewed myself as a painter, exactly. I just kept on painting, just because I love to paint. I found out early in life that if you wanted to learn how to paint, you had to give up everything else.
As a painter do you find that the ocean is a source of inspiration or do you draw your inspiration from a source other than the natural world?
I guess I do. But I practically always have water in my pictures, in my still lifes and I don’t do many landscapes. I tried to do some little ones of the ocean but they didn’t work out. The ocean is too much. You can’t paint it.
— Darel La Prade, Outer Banks Current, 1986