Thursday, December 26, 2013

Freshman year: PRATT INSTITUTE

I was talking with some friends today about my freshman year at Pratt Institute.

For reasons I cannot explain, I chose to commute to Pratt instead of living in the dorm there, and that cost me many stuggles wih time and energy. I rose every morning at 7:00, feeling groggy, and went to the Long Island Rail Road station in Merrick, going to the Atlantic Avenue station in Brooklyn, and from there by subway to Pratt.

I realized later that my fellow students could not only have had a more leisurely morning of breakfast and preparing for the day, but could, the previous night, have eaten dinner at the same time I was sitting on the LIRR train, attempting to either 1) do some homework, or, more likely, 2) sleep, until arriving at Merrick Station. On the class schedule that first year, Art History was taught on Monday nights in Memorial Hall , a darkened auditorium which, when the lights were out and slides were being shown, induced one to want to sleep. This class did not end at 4 PM the way many other classes did, but went on till 5 PM (or maybe even later.) I then had to get on back to Atlantic Avenue station and make my way home to Merrick, there to have dinner and go back down into my "studio" (a former coal storage room in our cellar, where during the 1940s, the coal was deposited via a chute that poured it from a truck down through a small cellar window.) My father had outfitted the room for me with a long work table and a desk that had belonged to someone in the family. I was quite happy with it. But the problem was the lack of sleep and the fear that I couldn't measure up to many of the demands of the art school and its high standards (which I should have--and probably do--appreciate, but the stresses made life really difficult.) And during that first year, I willingly stayed up all night, every single Thursday night, in order to try to pull all efforts together in order not to flunk the class that happened Friday mornings.

More about Pratt that first year: "discouraging remarks by teachers" and "encouraging remarks by teachers."  I suppose in the adult phase of life one must supply both of these for oneself but for me at that time the olive branch of the second category was what I needed. One day a teacher actually said to me, "It's always darkest before the dawn"...a really kind person was she. But I would like to offer here the two most outstanding of the discouraging and the encouraging sorts: the first by a well-regarded figure-drawing teacher who, after looking over my shoulder at the charcoal drawing on newsprint (the standard medium in the Pratt classes) leaned over and said , "You can't draw."   Then at the end of that freshman year, we had to show our portfolio of work to the Chairman of Graphic Arts & Illustration, who was the artist Fritz Eichenberg. And when I showed him  my work, telling him the "I can't draw" comment and that I was worried,  he said, so very nicely, "But your work has the illusion of life", putting me back on the road ahead, with optimism.

Here is something about Eichenberg from Sacred Art Pilgrim, John A. Kohan

Fritz Eichenberg

Fritz Eichenberg liked to point out that his German last name meant “oak mountain,” as if this, somehow, explained his extraordinary mastery of the medium of wood engraving. In a creative lifetime dedicated to graphics, Eichenberg occasionally experimented with lithographs and linocuts but always felt most inspired with a graver in hand, creating meticulous white-line prints from wooden panels, preferably, made from endgrain boxwood.
He was a visual artist whose work was inextricably bound up with words in hundreds of illustrations for books and periodicals. In a 1976 self-portrait titled Dream of Reason, the artist sleeps over an open volume, engraving tool in hand, while the ghosts of all the authors whose writings he illustrated--Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Desiderius Erasmus, Charlotte Bronte, Edgar Allen Poe, Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev--peer expectantly over his shoulder.

As a student of Russian Literature, I came to know Eichenberg’s art long before I knew anything about the artist, discovering his marvelous prints in the pages of classic 19th Century Russian novels like Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov or Tolstoy’s Resurrection. Eichenberg had this uncanny ability to pin down the elusive Russian soul in a pictorial style best described as expressionistic realism. The backgrounds in Eichenberg's illustrations were always full of persuasive period details, yet the figures seemed wonderfully theatrical and dramatically highlighted. I loved the faces most of all. They had the ascetic beauty of icons.

And the following about Eichenberg is from the blog, Victorian Gothic: 

"In the introduction to Eichenberg’s retrospective, The Wood and the Graver, Alan Fern wrote:
'It is given to only a few illustrators to create images that so exactly suit the text with which they are working that their pictures fuse with the author’s words. Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland is one of these rare cases. Eichenberg’s Wuthering Heights may possibly be another. Having seen his Heathcliff, I, at least, cannot imagine him any other way.' " 

Wuthering Heights, cover illustration:

And again from Alan Fern: "Eichenberg was able to achieve this effect, in no small part, because he clearly took the time to understand and appreciate the literature he was illustrating. His images do not merely portray the events of the story; they capture its spirit."

Jane Eyre, cover illustration:

I am so glad to have both of these books: Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Emily Bronte's  Wuthering Heights, with wonderful illustrations by Fritz Eichenberg.. The books belonged to my mother, and were published by Random House in 1943. The covers pictured above are Eichenberg's wood engravings, which are also found plentifully throughout each of the two books.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

AUNTS & A Great-Grandmother

I have fragments of information in my memory, many residing in the names of various aunts.  Not necessarily mine, but those of other members of the family. One was Aunt Annie, another was Aunt Lizzie, and then the several sisters who were my father's aunts: Hattie, Ella and Sadie. But way back before all of them was Sally Ann (Losee) Moore, born in 1810, my grandmother Nana's great-grandmother. This I know because of a spoon Nana gave me when I got married, with its nice little note, and some things I wrote on the envelope, clarifying who Sally Ann was, and that her husband, Hugh, Nana's great-grandfather, was from Ireland. (I wanted to put all these ladies all together in this post because I also remember Nana mentioned an "Aunt Losee"...and hope someday will find mention in a letter in my files about that aunt as well.)

Here is the spoon in question, and below that, the card that came with it in Nana's distinctive handwriting:

The spoon and its card reminded me of the earlier post about the booties Nana crocheted for me a couple of years before she died (I had not yet had children and she had wanted to make some for the children to come.) Here's something (paraphrased a bit) from that earlier post (The Shoe, Part 2, April 3, 2013) with the two pictures:

When I was a freshman in high school, my grandmother had recently come to live with us in Merrick, Long Island, since my grandfather had died and she would have been alone in their house. My high school involved both a longish walk and a bus from Merrick to Bellmore, and as I was getting dressed one morning, I tried on a couple of shoes, and it so happened that one was black suede and one was brown leather. Something must have distracted me because I ended up walking about a quarter mile to the bus stop still wearing the two different shoes. I was waiting with the other kids for the bus and a girl tapped me on the shoulder and said: do you know you have two different shoes on?  I blushed with shame and then thought gratefully of my gym locker where my sneakers were waiting. We had gym at my high school every day. (Sports were very important in that school, that was probably very good for us all, though sometimes annoying, but certainly this time, they were a saving grace.) I rushed there and put the offending pair in the locker to take home later and spent the day in the sneakers (and I should mention to any who might not know this, that no-one wore sneakers during the day at school in those years.) So I got through the day and went home and my grandmother was there (my parents both still at work), so I told her of my embarrassment and the solution to the problem, and she loved it. When I was a little girl, I had loved dolls a lot, and during the WWII era, there weren't all the American Girl Dolls and their clothing and accoutrements, and one Christmas Nana crocheted clothes for a small doll of mine. And whenever anyone had a baby, Nana would crochet booties for the baby, blue or pink accordingly. When I got married, Nana was in her mid 80s. And when several years went by but still no baby, Nana decided to crochet me a pair of booties. She made one in pink yarn and one in blue, and put them  in a little Lord &Taylor pink metallic box, with tissue surrounding them, and a card that said: "I tried to cater to your unusual love of variety - particularly in footwear!" Nana died in 1970 at age 90. and only after that came baby Liana in 1972, and baby Daria in 1974. Nana would have loved them very much.

I wrote more in that earlier post about not always getting along with Nana when I was young, but this changed gradually over trme. During the years I was commuting to and from Pratt in Brooklyn and she was in her little room upstairs at night, I saw one night that her light was on very late, perhaps 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning when I was coming upstairs after a night's struggle with my art homework. I went in to say hello and sat down in her armchair and we talked for awhile. I saw that she was uncomfortable (a stomach-ache) but also maybe a little lonely (even though my parents were right there in the other room sleeping.) I think she was missing my grandfather. And this was a moment I still remember as charting a different course in our rapport.

So Sally Ann, Nana's great-grandmother, gave the spoon to Nana,  a spoon of such thin-ness that her initials were almost worn away on the handle. Nana said in her little note to me: "This little gift is an antique - not new - for newly weds - with all the love and good wishes I can think great grandmother Moore whose maiden name was Sally Ann Losee, used it for years but gave to me when I was fourteen." Nana's name was Florence, my grandfather, Papa, always calling her "Flo". She had a wonderful cousin, Bonnie Moore, who used to visit Nana and Papa there in Freeport, a very buoyant person. Hugh Moore of County Down, Ireland, married Mary Ann Losee, and their daughter Maria was Nana's grandmother. (I want to know more about all, but am grazing on small bits of information, as only a few other people in the family wrote things down for the millennium, the way Nana did.)

As to two others of the aunts mentioned above: Lizzie was my father's great-aunt, second youngest of a family of eight siblings. And Annie was my mother's aunt, her father's one sister in a family of four sons. From things I occasionally heard said, I think they both might have been a little difficult in some ways, but I will be looking for photos and have some interesting things about each of them to report up ahead.

Aunt Sadie, Aunt Hattie and Aunt Ella were my father's three aunts (their names actually were Sarah, Harriet and Eleanor Rutan.)  I think Sadie was a teacher, I had a fascinating photo of her that's momentarily lost in my archives, hoping to find it soon. My cousin, James J. Keegan (Jim), is Aunt Hattie's grandson. Jim has published books on the genealogy of the Rutan family in America and its origins in Europe, so I want to add more information about his findings. Jim and I became acquainted only a short number of years ago (though our grandmothers were sisters) and that was through my cousin Nick Roach, who lived for many years in Kansas. Nick has sadly passed away this last year, but he and Jim, having found one another through, went on to share many interesting bits of information and photos with one another, and then with me as well.

Jim has produced three books of genealogical research: A Rutan Family Index, A Second Rutan Family Index, and the most recent: A Third Rutan Family Index, published in 2002, by Heritage Books (ISBN 0-7884-2113-1)

And here is an interesting paragraph or two from Jim's introduction to the book, telling how he first began to do this research:

I want to tell more about the communication between Jim, Nick and myself. Irene Rutan Kittle, my grandmother and Nick's, died very young at age 43 of a kidney ailment.  Jim said his grandmother (Dad's Aunt Hattie) was such a very loving person in his life. I wish I had known Irene (Renie to her friends and family) so here's a photo of her standing at left, with sister Hattie at right, near a canoe in which my grandfather is sitting...

The three sisters, once married, all lived near one another in Brooklyn in those years, and then went in the summers with their kids to a bungalow in the Rockaways for relief from the hot summers in Brooklyn. Here is a sweet picture of my father and his little sisters sitting on those bungalow steps...

And here are a bunch of the cousins standing on the beach one day, looking very much like kids now...

The one on the left is my father, the young lady standing next to him is his cousin, Virginia Skinner, Jim Keegan's mother, and the others are also cousins, all there on the Rockaway beach.

There was a film about the Rockaway bungalows that aired on PBS a few years ago:"The Bungalows of Rockaway, An Independent Documentary" which had  footage and photos from many years back, and revealed the fact that there are a group of people living there now in the relatively small number of  bungalows that remain. They have successfully fought to maintain them as worthy of preservation.

To view the trailer for the documentary, see this link:

Monday, December 2, 2013

EVERYTHING...and its Opposite

"Everything and their opposite" is a phrase found in a letter from my uncle, Louis Kamp (Louie.)

 It was something his wife, my aunt Renie (my father's sister, Irene Kittle Kamp) used to frequently refer to...this I discovered in that letter from Louie, Louie himself having depths of interest in science and other adventurous speculations, of which I have many examples noted in letters over the years. Louie was also a very funny guy and an artist. At one time, when I was a still pretty young, Renie was Editor of Seventeen Magazine, something I thought quite glamorous. During this time they lived in an apartment in New York City but had a summer place in Hampton Bays out in Long Island. My parents and my sister and I would sometimes drive out from where we lived in Merrick to visit them there, and it was on one of those visits, probably one August, when we were all sitting outside under a fabulous array of stars. And Louie said at one point, "One of those stars might be an atom in Bobo's leg" (Bobo being my cousin, who was a couple of years younger than me.) I was very struck by this comment, something that still seems fascinating, and especially, I liked hearing this in a setting that included me, as a child. This was around early 1950s. Many years later,  when Louie was nearing age 90, he sent me a wonderful book, The Holographic Universe, by Michael Talbot, which seemed then and seems now linked in its essence with Louie's years-back comment. I am going to add Louie's letter to this post, will photograph it and then post it. It's quite nice to read, and is interesting visually too....meanwhile, more about Louie and Renie and their interesting house and point of view:

As an artist back then, Louis fashioned small "constructions" out of discarded bits of wood into sailboats that he roughly nailed together, painted in a monochromed color, and affixed over the doorways here and there. These I liked very much. He and Renie also had pages from The Old Man and The Sea, some particular bit of text they must have loved, which he had photostatted, enlarged and made into wallpaper in one of the rooms: white letters on dark blue background.

Renie and Louie were unique in our family...they were both writers, had been writing partners during the 1940s and 50s, doing short stories for the Saturday Evening Post, and later writing screenplays together (The Sandpiper and The Lion among others.) They both also wrote plays. Renie's play, The Great Indoors, "had a brief Broadway run in 1966", as noted in her obituary.

As with many writers, their letters are full of interest, kind of like a flowing autobiography. They moved many years back to Los Angeles so we didn't see them that often, but kept in touch via letters and occasional phone calls.

Here is a photo from the day they were married, in 1945:

I am going to include shortly some excerpts of letters they'd sent over the years, and more photos, but first would like to tell about a couple of my favorite fairy tales, because each is a case where opposites somehow conspire to make something happen.

Here's a synopsis of each:

1. The Soup Stone (a Grimm's Fairy Tale)

Basically, this is a tale of a resourceful fellow, without appreciable means in life, who cleverly, as he walks along the road from one town to another, picks up a particularly smooth and rounded stone and puts it in his pocket. He approaches a village (one such as appears in many a fairy tale, set in the unspecified past.) He goes into a tavern across from the village green and has himself a nice beer or cider and gets to talking to the habitues there and gradually gets around to telling them of a magic stone he has in his pocket that is able to make soup! They are intrigued and yet doubtful and jesting about it, and he ends up challenging them to a testing of the soup stone's powers. They agree. He tells them all is needed is a fire built opposite the tavern in a clear place on the green, and a large caldron. This is done, and the water soon is boiling in the caldron. He suggests they amuse themselves with telling stories while the soup magic happens. And then he says, does anyone have an onion by chance?  And the tavern owner's wife says yes, here's an onion...and then someone else who has her shopping basket with her offers a potato or two, and someone else has a few herbs handy...and then another person says, well, here's a hambone I just picked up at the market...and as they were all drinking the beer and the cider, merriment prevailed and the smell of the onions and herbs and ham were most was soup!  And all partook of it and raved about it...and said to the guy, where on earth did you get this magic stone...and he said oh, it's so wonderful, I'm so lucky to have it...and they began to try to persuade him to part with it, eventually, offering him money for it.  and eventually, he agreed, acting as though he regretted it, but they were so persuasive, etc. They all gave him a cheer when he went to leave, and as he walked down the road, with a full stomach, he noted a nice looking stone by the side of the road, picked it up, dusted it off, and put it in his pocket as he wended his way to the next little village, with a few coins jingling in his pocket for perhaps an overnight stay in a nice little inn.

To summarize: First there is nothing. Then something materializes.

A cover of one of the Grimm's Fairy Tales editions:

grimms fairy tales

This next one was written by Oscar Wilde...

2. The Happy Prince

This story is set in a European city of great beauty, wherein a lovely gold statue of a prince graces the public square, a young man whose eyes are gemstones...and of which the townspeople and the mayor are inordinately proud. A sweet-natured bird, a swallow, comes often to sit with the statue, sheltering in its nooks and crannies against the wind sometimes, and she comes to know and talk with the prince. She tells him stories of the town, some of them sad, people who are hungry, a poet writing in a little garret, things like that. And he feels similarly as she, that something should be done for these people. Suddenly he gets the idea that she can take some of the gold leaf from his garments and bring them to the unfortunate people she has noticed. She does so, and comes back and exclaims at how happy, how relieved the people were in every case at the unexpected bounty. Finally, the gold is all gone from his being, and only the lead remains. There are still the gemstones in his eyes, and these too he persuades her to carry off to those in need. Finally, all is dark and she still sits with him...and the mayor comes forth and sees the dreariness of the statue, and says to his retinue to go and carry the now undistinguished statue to the smelter to be melted down (and probably to be replaced with another resplendent figure.) And as they carry the prince away, the swallow goes with him...and when all is melted, there is something unmeltable left in the ashes...a heart.

I just love this story...this above is my own recollection of it, there may be some details I have not remembered correctly, but the essence is there.

 Here's an illustration from the book:

Illustration for the first edition by Walter Crane

Here again: a "something", which due to a wonderful kind of goodness, became nothing, and then morphed into a much bigger something.

Awhile ago I heard about a book which sounded intriguing and ordered it from Amazon: Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them, written by Donovan Hohn. It is a case where the rubber ducks were set loose from a container ship (not on purpose) and as they were fellow creatures of a common design, they grouped together inexorably and formed a giant phalanx of sweetness and unexpected majesty and traveled resolutely around the world's seas. I had also  heard of a similar floating mass of garbage (or for a nicer term, flotsam and jetsam), much of it composed also of plastics, which was abroad on the ocean and traveling day and night with no particular destination. Its formal name is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Each bit of the garbage not much by itself, but together it was/is massive and very much itself.

A last bit of detail from my own world-view: I have noticed when doing laundry that garments of a similar fabric sometimes gather together in the dryer, as though old friends refound...sox in particular seem to like to do this.

Some excerpts of letters from Renie and Louie will be added here soon...