A Life: Anne Crewe, 1930-2018; ‘Anne Opened Her Art and Her Classroom as a Sanctuary’

  • Anne Crewe

  • From left, Anne Crewe of Norwich, Vt., begins her meal with friends Lilla Willey and Connie Snyder, both of Thetford, Vt., at the Thetford Community Center Building on Oct. 28, 2008. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Anne Crewe in her Hartford High School art classroom in the early 1970s.

Valley News Correspondent
Monday, August 13, 2018

Norwich — No life can be summed up in a single word, but Anne Biddle Atlee Crewe’s vanity license plate came close. The plate read, “QUIET.”

An artist, mentor, teacher, rescuer, mother, and nature-lover, Crewe walked softly upon the planet.

“She was always about the peace and the quiet,” said Kim Newman, a friend and former student at Hartford High School who lives in Montana.

Crewe, who died on March 6, 2018, at 87, was a testament to the power of a quiet life of contemplation and giving, and she left an impact on arts in the Upper Valley.

Not only was Crewe a beloved friend to many, but in her 17 years as an art teacher at Hartford High School — where she founded the school’s celebrated art program — Crewe mentored hundreds of students and inspired a new generation of teachers and artists.

Born on May 22, 1930, to Annabelle Atlee and Charles Biddle, she came from an iconic Philadelphia family. The Biddles produced some of the city’s leading figures in business, education, and politics. Additionally, as devout Quakers, the Biddles valued thoughtful and kind living.

“Our ancestors were originators of the abolitionist society,” a daughter, Veda Crewe, said. “There’s a real history of humanity (in the family).”

Crewe was raised according to these ideals. She completed her secondary education at the George School, a private Quaker school in the outskirts of the city.

She had always loved art, according to Veda, but at boarding school, she “had an art teacher (who) was really wonderful and really inspired her ... That was important in her (desire) to be a teacher.”

After high school, she received a bachelor’s of fine arts in art education at the Philadelphia Museum School, now known as the University of the Arts. Soon after, she accepted a teaching position at the Baldwin School, a private, all-girls school in Bryn Mawr, Pa., where she met her husband Hayward Crewe, a teacher and Episcopal priest. Anne gave birth to her first daughter, Anna, in 1956.

In the late 1950s, the family relocated to Brandon, Vt., when Hayward was offered a position as a minister at the local Episcopal church. While living in Brandon, Hayward and Anne had their second daughter, Veda.

Finally, the family settled in Norwich, again following Hayward’s job as he became the minister at St. Barnabas. (He later taught for nearly two decades at Hanover High School). In Anna and Veda’s early days, Crewe didn’t have a paying job but instead focused on raising her daughters.

Central to her life in the Upper Valley was her Quakerism. She attended meetings at the Hanover Quaker meeting house, which operates under the belief that “a time of silence allows for thoughtful and reverent consideration.”

Along these lines, “out of the silence a person may be led by the Spirit.” It was partly Anne’s adoption of these principles that led her to become such a talented artist and compassionate teacher.

Crewe centered much of her art on nature. She observed Vermont’s natural beauty from the window of her home and from her kayak. According to Veda, Crewe was “particularly fond of driftwood and old trees that had a lot of character to them.”

Most would have dismissed the sticks and stumps as ordinary or uninteresting, but Crewe studied them closely and captured their beauty in magnificent acrylic paintings.

“She was one of those people who was born to be an artist,” said Bob Hagen, a former Hartford teaching colleague and longtime friend from Thetford. Through “thoughtful and reverent consideration” and observation, Crewe created beauty. Quiet scenes became detailed work.

She also created spaces for others to flourish. Crewe chose to dedicate her life to nurturing the talent of her students just as her own teachers had once done for her. She didn’t flaunt her own expertise or seek praise. Instead, she quietly went about her mission of bringing art into the lives of others.

“She was certainly a very generous person,” Hagen said. “When someone has the talent that she had and elects to pass it on as an educator… that’s one of the best things you can do.”

When Hartford High School was built in the early 1960s, Crewe saw it as a perfect opportunity to not only begin working again but also to share her love of arts. In 1964, she founded the school’s art program and began teaching art classes.

As a teacher, Crewe listened to the needs of each of her students and provided a space in which they could grow safely as artists and people.

“She nurtured our artistic abilities,” said Kim Newman, who now works in a public health lab as a senior microbiologist. “Anything from pastels and acrylics to silverworks… Whatever emotion needed to be expressed, whatever art form, she would enable that to happen.”

What’s more, Crewe was generous with her time. According to Andersen Thorp, a former student and close friend of the Hartford teacher, “Anne was always willing to make sacrifices for students that took art seriously...She would find ways to support learners of all different styles.”

When Thorp worked on additional art projects outside of class, Crewe met with her independently and offered feedback. Crewe also helped Thorp prepare a portfolio for art school applications. “She went beyond the teaching hours of the day,” Thorp said.

For Crewe, supporting young people wasn’t just a matter of a program or curriculum; it was providing the support and encouragement students needed to thrive. Indeed, her support of students went well beyond artistic abilities.

Newman was in the 4th grade when she first met Crewe, but it was during her sophomore year of high school that the two grew close.

Newman said she was a victim of bullying and verbal abuse and found a safe place and a support system in Crewe’s art room.

Crewe “nurtured (students) emotionally,” Newman said. And when students needed help, she listened. “She was a sounding board...We could tell these really deep secrets to someone who cared.” For those who struggled, “Anne opened her art and her classroom as a sanctuary.”

In fact, it was Crewe who gave Newman the confidence to succeed despite the difficulties she faced in high school.

“Through verbal abuse, you doubt that you are loved,” Newman said. But, Newman said, she received “unconditional love” from Crewe and thereby “had more confidence to go for my goals. I went to graduate school, and that opened a whole new world in my career.”

Shortly before retiring from Hartford in 1981, Crewe moved to the Gray Barns in Norwich property to be with her friend and cousin Eleanor (Ellie) Cadbury. (Anne and Hayward had since been divorced). Cadbury, a former kindergarten teacher in Hanover and fellow Quaker, was older than Crewe and could not maintain the early 19th century home alone.

According to Veda Crewe, her mother “made it possible for Ellie to stay there rather than having to go into an assisted living.”

While living at Gray Barns, Crewe attended the Prayer of the Heart meditation group in Thetford, continued her own artwork, tutored young artists in the community, and taught a few classes at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen.

And when Cadbury wanted to remain engaged in the community, Crewe made it possible. “Ellie would go to read to kids at the library, and Mother was always carting her around,” Veda said.

Crewe’s quiet support of Cadbury not only strengthened the community, but it also gave Cadbury way to connect with others in her final years.

After Cadbury died in 1999, Crewe inherited the farm from her cousin, and continued living there. And though she hadn’t taught for decades, she stayed in touch with former students, and left a legacy of using art as a venue for teaching people about exploration and creative thinking, said Thorp, who pursued a career in art as well and now serves as head of Hartford High School’s art program.

“Mrs. Crewe was someone who ‘quietly’ made our world a better place” and left an impact that “goes beyond the people she had in the classroom,” Thorp said. “The seeds that she planted have rippling effects in the Upper Valley and beyond.”

Johanna Bandler can be reached at jbandler@gmail.com.