Monday, December 20, 2010

The Christmas Gift.....

It was Sunday and I was watching TV. One of the featured stories was an interview and as I listened,I knew this story would be the one I'd retell for this Christmas week's blog

The interviewee was a 91-year old woman named Helen who was recalling when, as a 14-year old during the Depression, she and her family barely had enough to eat. This story was far too common during the Great Depression which started in the U.S.A., spread throughout the world, and lasted about a 10 years.

In the Depression, there were no economic safety nets - no food stamps, no unemployment insurance and no Social Security. Hard working employees and farmers saw their income, if they could keep their job, reduced to a pittance. Many people went hungry, lost their homes, and gave their children over to orphanages so that at least their children could have food and shelter.

Helen's own family regularly ran out of food, cut cardboard for the holes in their shoes and did without warm clothing in their town of Canton, Ohio. One day close to Christmas, Helen read an ad in the neighbor's borrowed hometown newspaper.

Someone named "B. Virdot" was offering to help needy families
in time for Christmas. This benefactor asked only that letters be written explaining their plight. Helen was the youngest person to do so. Her letter was chosen!

When Helen received the largess of $5.00, she bought clothes for her siblings, Christmas dinner for her family and new shoes for herself. What a Christmas!

It would be 77 years later when Helen found out who her benefactor was and then only because the identity of "B. Virdot" was discovered by Ted Gup, the donor's grandson.

Gup was going through his deceased grandfather's old suitcase when he came upon letters written to "B. Virdot." There were also 150 cashed checks. Then, Gup found the yellowed newspaper ad and realized that it was his grandfather, Sam Stone, who used the amalgam of his own daughters' names to create "B. Viradot." (Barbara, Virgina and Dorothy)

Sam Stone, an orthodox Jewish immigrant who had come to this country, learned English and worked his way up from menial and harsh physical jobs to owning his own chain of shops, had given 150 Christian families a Christmas gift.

May your holiday blessings be shared with a sense of compassion and gratitude.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Unrecognized Artists...

Last week's blog was about the modern day influences of the Hudson River School - a pastoral art movement of the mid-19th century.

The movement included names such as Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt. What you don't hear about - even in Wikipedia - are the names of the women artists in the movement. The question is: why not?

The answer is reminiscent of the same circumstances that surrounded the women Impressionists artists. (Archives: Morisot - Jan. 2010).Women were excluded from the academies and did not have access to wealthy patrons. Some were actually forbidden to make art and came to art later in their lives. Some were the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of their highly recognized male artists and were not able to compete. (Portrait of Eliza Greatorex above.)

Now, recognition of these gifted artists is beginning to happen. There have been recent museum exhibits and an article in the Smithsonian magazine on these talented women.

These were women who hiked in long skirts and corsets through the mountains and cliffs to paint, etch, photograph and embroider images of the landscapes. Many of these women traveled throughout the east and went even south all the way to Florida for the opportunity to paint the countryside and waterways in the Hudson River School style.

Here are some of the women whose names are finally being recognized:

Laura Woodward (1834-1926)

Harriet Cany Peale (1800-1869)

Elizabeth Gilbert Jerome (1824-1910)

Susie Barstow (1857-1934)

Julia Hart Beers (1835-1913)

Eliza Greatorex (1819-1897)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Stephen Hannock: A Throwback to Another Time... or Not

Sometimes on the PBS' Antique Roadshow there will be a pastoral scene of water and a valley. The appraiser will say, "This is from the Hudson River School." However, it wasn't an actual school. It was a group of mid-19th century landscape painters of great talent who were inspired by the area around the Hudson River. (On the left is a work by Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), arguably the most famous artist of this style and subject.)

In time, this style of work was considered too realistic and romantic. Then along came Stephen Hannock. (1951-)

Stephen Hannock is often described as a throwback to that Hudson River School. You might agree based on the image below. Hannock paints pastoral scenes with the luminescence and large dimensions of those 19th century painters. Yet, his techniques are modern and, upon closer viewing, there is something else.

With regards to the technique, Hannock doesn't like the way light plays on the paint ridges and so he sands them down - with an electric sander - between paint layers in order to achieve the luminosity. The "something else" is text. Hannock embeds text of his thoughts and recollections in the vista. On the left is an entire painting and on the right is a close up with barely discernible text.

Do his techniques and text make him uniquely modern or is he really a throwback to the Hudson River School because his subject and ultimate works are so highly reminiscent of those painters?

If you go to his website by clicking here Hannock's site shows areas of a painting where he has placed text. If you click on those areas you can see more distinct examples of his writing.