Remembering Veontha White

Local History

Remembering Veontha White

Back in March I was contacted by Ken and Karen Dion of Connecticut. Karen had questions about paintings she found in Ken’s sister’s house in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Ken’s sister, Joanne Adams, had passed away last June and the Dions were cleaning out Joanne’s house.

Karen told me they found some Veontha White paintings and Irina Ohl paintings in Joanne’s home. Both Veontha and Irina were Chester artists.  It seems Joanne had visited Chester several times and purchased these paintings directly from the artists.

Ron Patch
Veontha White, Sugarhouse in Autumn. Photo provided.

The Dions were happy to donate these paintings to the Chester Historical Society when I explained we didn’t own any Veontha or Irina paintings. Steve Lavoie and I met the Dions May 6 at the historical society. They were pleased to have these paintings where they could be appreciated.

The subject of this article is Veontha Ward Cook White. Much of the information for this story was provided by Melody Cassista, Veontha’s daughter.

Veontha Pauline Ward was born in North Poultney, Vermont in 1917. Veontha’s roots run deep in Vermont. The Wards were original settlers in Poultney about 1775.

Veontha was educated at the Troy Conference Academy in Poultney, which later became Green Mountain College, where she had a couple semesters in art classes. It was here that she studied piano with Helen Hosford Bixby Kilborn. Her higher education was at Castleton Normal School, which is now Castleton University.

She began teaching all eight grades in a one-room schoolhouse in Poultney. From there she taught in public schools in Cavendish and Proctorsville, Vt.

Veontha was a pianist, associate church organist and gave piano lessons for over 30 years. She played the trombone in the Chester Brass Quintet, the Grafton Coronet Band and played in several Weston Playhouse productions.

With her first husband, Winston Cook, she started an oil business on High Street in Chester and raised three children, Melody, Milan and Ken Cook. I grew up on High Street and knew the family well. Melody married Jon Cassista, also of High Street. I knew the Cassista family equally as well.

Veontha comes from a long line of artists including her grandmother and aunt. She began painting in 1968 in a group of outdoor lessons at the Chester Art Guild, at that time located at the old grist mill in the Depot. She shared her artistic passion with local school children giving demonstrations in oil and her palette techniques.

Veontha exhibited in both juried shows and solo shows around New England. Her love for Vermont is seen in all of her works. She painted outdoor scenes of brooks, meadows, mountains and farm buildings. These were the scenes that she could best relate to as a Vermonter. She also painted a few winter scenes. In the Dion donation is one of her winter scenes.

She was chairman of the Chester Art Guild and a member of Southern Vermont Art Center in Manchester, Saxtons River Art Guild, West River Artists, Inc. of Weston, Chaffee Art Center in Rutland, and Springfield Art and Historical Center. Veontha was also a member of Mizpah Chapter No. 40 of the Eastern Star in Chester.

Veontha received many awards in local shows and galleries and in 1974 took First Place in the Fine Arts Division of “Vermont Mother of the Year.”

As I mentioned before, I knew Veontha and her family well. At least twice a day I would ride my bike or walk past her house. I remember on summer days hearing the piano as I passed by. Those of us who knew her are fortunate. Those that did not know her can gain insight through her paintings.

Veontha’s Guiding Light:  Written in her own words, “Each of us is a child of God, infused with a bit of the Divine.  If that special spark happens to be in the artistic realm, we are admonished to develop and share that gift – thereby enriching the lives of those around us, and indeed, all mankind.”

The photo with this article is one of the paintings donated to the historical society by the Dions. It is one of the nicest Veontha paintings I have seen.

The next meeting of the Chester Historical Society is Thursday, May 25, at 7 p.m. at the Academy Building. The monthly slideshow will include both Veontha White and the Irina Ohl paintings recently donated by the Dions.

There is a rumor about that I am not a Chester native but from New Jersey. Ayuh.

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