Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Stieglitz: The Godfather of Photography

Writing two weeks ago about Mabel Dodge Luhan (Archives:January, 2011) and last week about Pamela Colman Smith made me think more about the role of Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) in that early Modern era.

Based on receiving many a quizzical look when I mention Stieglitz, I'd have to say that unless you are a historian of art and photography, his fame seems to be diminishing. It's hard to know why since he was so good at his profession. Furthermore, it was Stieglitz who was largely responsible for the promotion of photography as an art form.

You see, photography was to the late 19th and early 20th centuries what digital art is to the 21st century. The question was and is: Is it an art form or manipulation of something that was invented by someone else? Stiegltiz answered the question by placing photography alongside paintings in his New York galleries.

Stieglitz elevated photography to a accepted medium of fine art. He was also a tireless promoter who influenced photographers, sculptors and painters - including his own wife, Georgia O' Keeffe.

Insofar as his own talent in concerned, here are a sampling of photos taken by him. (Please click on image to enlarge.) It seems that these alone would be cause to remember him. (The hands are those of his wife, Georgia O' Keeffe.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pamela Colman Smith: You've Probably Seen Her Art

Perhaps you've heard of Alfred Stieglitz.(1864-1946) He was a famous late 19th-early 20th century photographer. He owned a renowned New York gallery to exhibit his and other artists' work. He was also the mentor and husband of Georgia O'Keeffe.

While Stieglitz was personally interested in photography, he recognized brilliance in other media. He cared little about gender and encouraged talented men and women. As a matter of fact, there's a traveling exhibit titled, "Women of the Stieglitz Circle"

The exhibit features works by Georgia O' Keeffe as well as 5 other women painters and photographers. Among the featured painters is Pamela "Pixie" Colman Smith. (1878-1951)

Ms. Smith's artistic style was very popular. In 1907, Stieglitz featured her work at his gallery and nearly every piece sold. So, how did such an artist slip into obscurity? Perhaps she didn't. Perhaps many of us have seen her work - even handled it - and didn't know it was created by Pamela Colman Smith.

First, a little background. She was born and raised in England. By 1909, she was back in her native land and used a small inheritance to buy a cottage in Cornwall. She never married. She continued to take illustration commissions and to send art to Stieglitz for sale at his gallery.

She wrote Stieglitz a letter in November, 1909. In part, this is what she wrote:

I've just finished a big job for very little cash! A set of designs for a deck of Tarot cards. 80 designs.

The illustrations that Smith created are still in use on those cards today. The deck is the "Rider-Waite" Tarot deck. Also called the "Waite-Smith" or "Waite-Colman Smith" deck.

Now you know.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Wizardry in Taos

If you peek behind the curtain of historically famous art and art movements, you'll discover a wizard. In most cases the wizard doesn't have any tangible art talent. What wizards do have is the ability to recognize and nurture the talents of others. Think Wizard of Oz. Think de Medicis. Think M.Durand-Ruel. (See Archives - Oct.,2010) Think Mabel Dodge Luhan. (1879-1962)

Born into a wealthy New York family, Luhan (nee Ganson) became prominent for her salons in New York and Europe. Wherever she was, she gathered together the artists, writers, politicians, eccentrics and radicals of all types. Her list of guests were the names that appeared on the pages of art and society during the early 1900s. However for such a Victorian woman, Luhan had a decidedly free-spirit streak. Luhan wanted to leave the strictures of the East. Her need for self expression led her to Santa Barbara and then to Taos, New Mexico.

None of her friends understood how such a well-bred sophisticated woman wanted to live in a remote dusty place such as Taos. Luhan loved the area and wrote about the sense of space and spirituality. In Taos, she met and married Tony Luhan, a Taos Pueblo man. Together, they expanded a small adobe house into a large compound.

Ms. Luhan invited her Eastern friends to come for a visit. Once again, she gathered together the avant-garde artists and thinkers of post-war America. It was under her influence that Georgia O' Keeffe decided to settle near Taos.

Many other artists accepted her invitation. Willa Cather, D. H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Thomas Wolfe, Carl Jung, Edna Ferber, Leopold Stowkowski and Greta Garbo represented only a small portion of the guests who stayed and felt the influence of Taos- thanks to Luhan.

Although Luhan died in 1962, her home - registered as a historic landmark - remains a retreat for creativity. If the experiences of a workshop, a need for artistic solitude or a desire to free the mind from clutter appeals to you, Luhan's wizardry is waiting.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Artist and the New Year's Baby

Have you heard of J. C. Leyendecker?(1874-1951) What if I added that he was the illustrator who inspired Norman Rockwell?

You see, Leyendecker was the illustrator of the magazine covers at the very popular Saturday Evening Post. In that role, he preceded Rockwell.

I was searching for iconic images for 2011's first blog. There were many images of chubby, precocious New Year's babies which I had seen before. What I didn't know was that they were all illustrations by one artist - J. C. Leyendecker. As I researched his name, I found that he was responsible for the style and look of the magazine's covers. I needed to know more about him and share what I learned with you.

Born in Germany, Leyendecker emigrated as a child to the United States. He was only a a teenager when he received his first paid commission for illustrations. Formal training at the Chicago Art Institute would follow. After an additional year of art study in Paris, he returned to Chicago and begin receiving commissions.

In the course of 44 years, he illustrated at least 322 magazine covers for the Saturday Evening Post! Leyendecker's creative output would include not only the chubby New Year's baby, but also the rotund image of Santa Claus. (Perhaps based on the poem, "Twas the Night Before Christmas" by Moore.)

One more bit of interesting info: Leyendecker's illustration style not only influenced Rockwell's work, but also today's artists. It seems that computer game illustrators have used his techniques for various game graphics. Inspiring artist indeed!

Here are a few more of his New Year's baby covers... and Happy 2011 to you!