Michael B. Doyle
Oil Painter

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Michael B. Doyle

April 19, 1998 | By Catherine Quillman, INQUIRER CORRESPONDENT

MICKLETON, N.J. — At age 31, artist Michael Doyle is committed to painting a single subject - and it's not the Western desert or the rocky coast of Maine.

Doyle's subject doesn't seem that picturesque: It is a South Jersey farm operated by four spry sisters in their 80s.

The sisters - Emma, Elizabeth and Christine Kugler and Sophie Kugler DeZwart - have lived on the farm in East Greenwich Township, Gloucester County, all their lives.

They enjoy Doyle's visits, but don't look for the sisters in any of his paintings, now part of his first one-man show at the Somerville-Manning Gallery in Greenville, Del.

The sisters have a habit of disappearing to unseen chores whenever he sets up his easel, said Doyle, a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

Doyle grew up in the tiny town of Grenloch, in Washington Township. He lives in nearby Mickleton, just over the Commodore Barry Bridge.

Doyle was painting still lifes and interiors three years ago, when he discovered the Kugler Farm, with its slightly tilted mailbox ("W.M. Kugler'') at the end of a lane.

A brother, William "Willie'' Kugler, died last year at age 83. The farm, though, has long been a female domain, run by the four sisters, ages 83 to 87.

They still do all the chores, growing vegetables year-round in greenhouses, planting flowers, and riding the lawn mower around the farm's dense cluster of outbuildings and maze of flower beds. The surrounding fields are rented out to a farmer.

While Doyle spoke about his art on a recent day, the sisters talked - almost in unison - about their younger days, when they worked long hours absorbed in trimming and bunching asparagus under the shelter of an open tin-roof building.

Doyle has painted that asparagus house, along with nearly every other building on the place - its sheds, corncribs, barn, ice house, smokehouse, and old chicken pen.

The chickens, cows, horses and pigs have vanished from the scene, but Doyle's paintings still evoke a feeling of activity. He sees the farm in terms of small studies or still lifes.

The sisters say they don't know what all the fuss is about; they cheerfully attribute it to being an "artist thing.''

With their different angles and perspectives, the paintings in the exhibit make the farm appear larger than it is. Doyle designs and makes the frames himself.

Artists who spend time on farms are nothing new. Andrew Wyeth, for one, comes to mind. And Doyle is unassuming about his choice of subject. He says he likes painting a "lived-in'' place.

There is also his friendship with the sisters, whose stories and family photos have made their way into his paintings.


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