“Rest on the Flight into Egypt,” 1879, by Luc-Olivier Merson.
I’m taking the week off from writing. While black bears and moose couldn’t stop me, the two tiny tots arriving tomorrow have a way of stopping all progress.
This Christmas season has been one of trial among my friends. That includes a homeless family, a dead son, and a friend with advanced cancer.
“You don’t have to look very far to count your blessings,” my mother would say. I would in turn wonder why it is only in the face of others’ disasters that we remember to thank God for our own safe-passage. But that’s how our minds work.
I grew up in a home where joy was muffled by grief. Christmas, like no other season, was when the pain came poking through the shroud. My mother checked out by working through the holiday; my father checked out by drinking through it. Parents model a lot of things to their kids, and one of them is how to be happy.
Grief teaches us that happiness is a tissue so fine that it can crumble in our hands. Peace teaches us that this doesn’t matter, that we must learn to accept our moments of joy regardless of our fear.
It’s not enough to just enumerate one’s blessings—we must also live them. Mine are mostly going to be here this week. So rather than work, I’m going to play with babies, cook with my daughters, and even watch TV with them.
Immanuel—God with us—takes many forms. A Merry Christmas to you all.
Trump posing in her apartment before the Tony Awards. (Instagram)
Alex Da Corte, whose small assemblages sell in the $18-25K range, recently tweeted, ““Dear @Ivankatrump please get my work off of your walls. I am embarrassed to be seen with you.” He is part of an Instagram feed called called “Dear Ivanka” in which artists under the umbrella of Halt Action Group (HAG) repost images of Ms. Trump paired with political appeals. The political appeals are perfectly legitimate protest. Demanding that an owner remove a piece of artwork is not.
Bloomberg just saved me a ton of work by figuring out how much the art in Ivanka Trump’s apartment is actually worth:
“It’s a moment of reckoning,” said Alison Gingeras of HAG. “Going forward, we need to think more carefully about how our work gets brought to the world, and who it’s sold to.”
Ivanka Trump-branded purse in front of a work by Christopher Wool. This painting appears in a lot of photos of her home.
Who are these semi-professional sans-culottes? Certainly not struggling artists. The majority of ‘emerging artists’—i.e., the rest of us—sell in the $100 to $5000 range. We are happy to sell our work at all. I, for one, never enquire into my buyers’ politics. I just smile as I cash the check.
The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA) was the first national legislation in which ‘moral rights’ of artists were addressed. However, these are limited to the:
right to claim authorship;
right to prevent false attribution to works one didn’t create;
right to prevent distortion, mutilation, or modification that would prejudice the author’s honor or reputation.
And of course, artists maintain copyright.
The client purchases the right to display and resell a piece of artwork. In other words, Alex Da Corte can’t demand that Ivanka Trump remove his painting from her home; she paid good money for that privilege. Her use of the artworks in tweets, however, sails a little closer to the wind. In considering copyright, the courts factor the effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. For example, an aspiring Hitler can’t use a landscape to promote the Third Reich, even if he bought the painting. And your painting can’t be used to market whisky unless you get royalties.
Ivanka Trump’s apartment contains works by Nate Lowman, left, and Dan Colen. I’m of course reposting her Instagram photo under the Fair Use Exemption.
And that’s the point on which the question turns. Until a few weeks ago, artists were chuffed to see their paintings in Ivanka Trump’s tweets. She was marketing herself as an urbane, sophisticated collector, and marketing them as the artists being collected by the cognoscenti.
What has changed? Nothing substantive, only the perception that she is part of the smart set. Since they were happy for her to do it last year, I doubt they can stop her from doing it next year.
If you were raised in the United States, the odds are overwhelming that you had at least one Little Golden Book while growing up. These books were introduced in 1942 as a joint project of Simon & Shuster and Western Publishing. The idea was to do big runs of color pages so the books could be sold cheaply. They premiered with a cover price of a quarter, which rose to 29¢ in 1962. That was cheap enough for nearly everyone, which made them ubiquitous, and extremely important. With more than two billion sold, they have been “baby’s first book” for many American children.
Cover art by Eloise Wilkin.
Eloise Margaret Burns Wilkin has been called “the soul of Little Golden Books.” Born in 1904 in Rochester, Wilkin moved downstate at age 2. She returned to Rochester to attend the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute, now known as Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). This school has a long tradition of excellence in art instruction.
After earning an Art and Illustration degree in 1923, Wilkin opened a studio with her friend Joan Esley in Rochester. Struggling to find work, the pair moved to New York City. A week later, Wilkin was hired to illustrate The Shining Hoursby Mary Meek Atkeson.
Cover art by Eloise Wilkin.
In 1930, Wilkin put her career on hold to marry. She, her husband and their four kids lived in Canandaigua, in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Her house there made cameo appearances in many of her books.
In 1944, Wilkin signed an exclusive contract with Simon & Shuster. This required her to illustrate three Little Golden Books each year. She had it all—wife, mother, career.
Cover art by Eloise Wilkin.
In an interview with RIT’s University News, Wilkin’s son Sidney recollected his mother working long, long days as she approached her deadline. “We would run in and out of the house by her studio and she would stop us, show us something and ask if we liked it.”
In 1974, Wilkin revised “My Little Golden Book about God” to reflect our multicultural reality
Eloise Wilkin will never be remembered as a great artist, but her warm, beautifully-rendered pencil drawings had a profound influence on generations of American children. If you pored over books as a child, she probably had a hand in shaping your visual aesthetic.
Cover art by Eloise Wilkin.
Wilkin illustrated more than 110 books, including 50 Little Golden Books. She died of cancer in Brighton, New York at the age of 83.
You might know my young friend Sandy Quang. She was my painting student for a long time, then my studio assistant, and sometimes my workshop monitor. Most recently, she worked at Camden Falls Gallery.
Sandy’s parents run a restaurant called Dac Hoa. It’s a small eatery on the edge of downtown Rochester, known for its fresh Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese food. Ha, Kahn and Nu know this range of cuisine because their families left China during the Chinese Civil War and settled in Vietnam. After the fall of Saigon they moved along again, eventually ending up in Rochester. I respect them for their courage, hard work, and integrity. Through Sandy, we’ve become friends.
“My parents’ restaurant,” graphite on paper, approx. 16X18, 2008, by Sandy Quang.
When I was a kid, I had a crush on an imaginary boy called Homer Price. I loved him because he was nice and could fix anything. Years later, I met him in the form of a gangling high school student. We’ve had four kids and grown grey together.
At the time, I didn’t know anything about Homer Price’s creator, Deer Isle’s own Robert McCloskey. I’d never seen his other children’s book classics. But I raised my own kids on a steady diet of his books. My youngest took Make Way for Ducklings very much to heart. The lad loved everything about ducks. “Well, that’s cute,” I thought. His obsession about ducks was just one of those things that were in the background of our collective family consciousness.
And then he was slightly older and we were at Dac Hoa during a Christmas season very much like this. He was restive and annoying, as little boys are wont to be. Looking to amuse him, I showed him the roasted ducks in the window. To this day, I have no idea why I thought this would be a good idea.
He dissolved into howling, violent grief. Our dinner, obviously, was ruined. The lad cried for days.
“That boy is going to be in therapy for years,” I thought ruefully.
Last week we were in Dac Hoa celebrating the same kid’s 20th birthday. I asked him if he remembered the incident with the ducks. My husband pulled an exasperated face. Nu laughed. And my son also laughed. I’m so relieved.
I simultaneously believe that parenting is our most important job and that kids make their way somehow despite it. I guess for this youngest one, “World’s Okayist Mom” was good enough.
Christmas is the season of grace-made-manifest through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It’s nice to know I’m forgiven.
I was listening to Mantovani’s “Christmas Carols” (1954) with my young friend Casey Jones Costello, who is my go-to guy for all things mid-century and musical. If modern Christmas music annoys you, you should give this album a listen: it’s your grandparents’ Christmas.
The album includes—of course—the 19th century carol “O Holy Night.” This lovely melody has been recorded by everyone from Enrico Caruso to Josh Groban. It is many people’s favorite (including mine). Imperiously commanding all humanity to “fall on your knees!” is as close as I’ll ever get to being an operatic diva.
The lyrics to “O Holy Night” were written in 1847 by Placide Cappeau. His hand having been shot off at the age of eight, Cappeau was unable to follow his father into the family barrel-making business. Instead, he took degrees in literature and law and became a successful dealer in wine and spirits. He was a writer on the side, hanging with the young poets who formed the literary group called the Félibrige, dedicated to preserving the Provençal langue d’oc.
“Santa,” by Carol L. Douglas.
In short, Cappeau was the perfect traditionalist type to pen a poem for Christmas Eve services, as his parish priest requested. According to Cappeau, he wrote Minuit, Chrétien on a stagecoach to Paris somewhere between Mâcon and Dijon.
For music, he turned to his pal Adolphe Adam. Adam was the son of a prominent composer and musician, but his own career was not so august. Having failed to secure a Prix de Rome at conservatory, he went on to write vaudeville music. At the time he wrote the music to “O, Holy Night,” he was deep into a failed scheme to open a fourth opera house in Paris.
“O Holy Night” premiered in Roquemaure in 1847 by opera singer Emily Laurey. It was an immediate and enduring hit. Adam himself called it the Marseillaise of French Catholicism.
“Christmas reindeer ornament with double rainbow,” by Carol L. Douglas
And therein lay the rub. Europe was fast approaching the revolutions of 1848. In France, they would end the Orleans monarchy forever. Revolution is in general no respecter of religion, and the French Revolution of 1789-1799 had been particularly brutal for the Catholic Church and its clergy.
The Church recognized the song for what it was—a pop tune, not sacred music—and its composers as primarily socialist reformers, not Catholics. “O Holy Night” was excommunicated and would stay that way for decades.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Imagine that being translated into American politics of the time, which was galvanized by the question of slavery. In 1855, New England transcendentalist minister John Sullivan Dwight (widely credited as the first music journalist), translated “O Holy Night” into English. It was a hit in New England, and remains one everywhere today.
A traditional Tom and Jerry set, like the one on the bar at Schwabls, will set you back a significant chunk of change.
When facing cancer, a brilliant doctor is your greatest ally. A mediocre doctor can cause a lot of damage. I know this from personal experience. The first time I had cancer, both my internist and gastroenterologist missed it, writing off my symptoms as running-related. They got worse and I finally switched doctors a year later. My new medico figured I might have a tumor. A week later, I was diagnosed, and the specialists he sent me to, saved my life. Thirteen years later, another team got to do it again for a completely-unrelated cancer.
The first time, I had six weeks of radiation, ten months of chemo and three surgeries. It was an aggressive regimen and there was some discussion about whether it was overkill. “You have young kids,” said my oncologist, and that was that.
That’s why I still go to Rochester twice a year to see my doctors. I realize there are fine doctors in Maine, but for now, I’m afraid to cut the cord. This is my week for medical tourism. “You really must like travel,” one of my friends commented. Well, I do, but I don’t like the Rockport-to-Rochester loop. I don’t much like being prodded, poked and scraped, either, but I’ve gotten sixteen good years out of it.
The Place lets you keep the mug as a reminder that your headache is not necessarily from your sinus infection.
Since I’m in Western New York anyway I met a gaggle of my kids in Buffalo for a Tom and Jerry and a beef-on-weck sandwich.
A Tom and Jerry is a form of hot egg nog laced with brandy and rum and topped with nutmeg. It’s very sweet and lethally potent. It’s been around since the early 19th century. Damon Runyon wrote a short story in 1932 that featured his protagonist drinking them with “one of the best lone-hand git-‘em-up guys in the world.”
“This hot Tom and Jerry is an old time drink that is once used by one and all in this country to celebrate Christmas with, and in fact it is once so popular that many people think Christmas is invented only to furnish an excuse for hot Tom and Jerry, although of course this is by no means true.”
It being Prohibition, Runyon’s characters substitute drugstore rye whiskey for rum. Runyon touches on the delicacy of the recipe. “[I]n the days when it is not illegal a good hot Tom and Jerry maker commands good wages and many friends.” Tom and Jerrys start with a meringue batter, and from personal experience I agree; it’s hard to make.
The sandwich, more properly called a beef-on-kümmelweck, is made of roast beef on a roll topped with salt crystals and caraway seeds. The beef is slathered in horseradish. Its origin is lost in time, but it was a beautiful collaboration between baker and butcher back in Buffalo’s German heyday.
Forget poutine; beef on weck is the apotheosis of cold-weather eating in North America. The horseradish can cure anything.
In general, you don’t find these foods in trendy new places, but in bars that are as old as your grandfather. Schwabls in West Seneca is often our destination but The Place in Elmwood Village got our custom on Wednesday.
Buffalo is simultaneously the most beautiful city in America and the one with the worst climate, I told myself as I slid on my walk back to my car. Coincidentally, my kids were off to the hospital to see a friend who’d fractured her kneecap earlier in the day.
Wind is whipping around the corner of the house this morning. Our bedroom is unheated, so until one of us runs downstairs and stirs up the woodstove, we’re huddling here under a warm woolen blanket.
I’m going to do some on-line shopping until then. Paintings are a popular Christmas gift. On winter days when the sun barely rises and the wind is shrilling outside, it’s easy to see why. Here are a few painters whose work is broad and graphical and who work in bright, warm palettes. All of them have work in every price point, and they’ve made shopping easy by having good, clear websites.
“York River, Maine,” by Mary Byrom
Mary Byrom lives in North Berwick, Maine, and mostly paints the southern Maine coast. She is a great simplifier of complex scenes. That’s possible because she’s outside braving the weather at every possible moment. Her available work is marked on her website. There’s a contact form here if you see something you like.
“Monhegan Memories,” by Renee Lammers
Renee Lammers lives in Bucksport, Maine, and her work is centered in Stonington, Acadia, and the northern end of Penobscot Bay. She works on copper. Her work is priced on her website, which is set up for online sales.
“Sparkle,” by Bobbi Heath
Bobbi Heath splits her time between Yarmouth, Maine and Westford, Massachusetts. Right now, she’s donating a percentage of her sale proceeds to the American Cancer Society, so you can not only score a good painting, but do a good deed at the same time. Her website is set up for online sales.
“Point Look-out Barn,” by Elissa Gore
Elissa Gore lives in New York City but often paints in the lower Hudson Valley. Her work is simple and exuberant. Her website is exhaustive, and you can contact her for information about a painting that interests you.
“Sidelot off Pike Street,” by Kari Ganoung Ruiz
Kari Ganoung Ruiz was my monitor for my 2014 workshop at Schoodic in Acadia National Park. She lives and works in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, and her color palette is the softer, warmer tones of that area. She is passionate about painting old cars and other vehicles. Her website has prices, and you can contact her about buying work.
And, of course, there’s me. My website isn’t set up for e-commerce, but if you see something you like, let me know, and I’ll put you in contact with the gallery currently showing it. And of course, you can always get yourself or someone else my summer workshop for Christmas. Do so before the first of the year, and you can have $100 off.
“The Monarch of the Glen,” 1851, Sir Edwin Landseer
Sir Edwin Landseer’s The Monarch of the Glen is perhaps the most widely-copied of Victorian paintings. It has been used for everything from the Hartford Insurance Company’s stag logo (c. 1867) to biscuit tins and butter wrappers.
Completed in 1851, it was part of a three-panel commission destined for the Refreshment Rooms of the House of Lords in the ‘new’ Palace of Westminster. The House of Commons, however, balked at paying Landseer’s bill of £150. That’s about £17,000 in today’s money, whereas Monarch is valued at about £10 million. Apparently, the 19th century House of Commons wasn’t very good with money.
“Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner,” 1837, Sir Edwin Landseer
Monarch was sold instead to one Lord Londesborough for 350 guineas. Londesborough sold it to Lord Fitzgerald, who in turn sold it to Lord Cheylesmore. It was owned briefly by the Pears Soap Company and sold in 1916 to Thomas Dewar, who wanted it for the Dewar whisky business in Perthshire.
From there it became a corporate asset, traveling with the Dewar’s name as it was absorbed into larger and larger companies. Eventually, Dewar’s was bought by the world’s largest manufacturer of booze, Diageo. They sold the brand but kept the stag. In 1999, Diageo loaned the painting to the National Galleries of Scotland, where it has hung ever since.
“A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society,” 1838, Sir Edwin Landseer. Landseer had a thing for Newfies.
Having decided that the painting has no relevance to its current brands, Diageo has decided to peddle the thing at public auction in March. If the National Galleries can raise £4 million from the public, Diageo will donate the remainder of the value of the painting. (If you are interested in contributing, you can do so here.)
When Landseer painted Monarch of the Glen, he was working within a craze for all things Scottish. Greatly influenced by Sir Walter Scott’s romantic novels, young Queen Victoria and her husband first visited Scotland in 1842. It became one of their favorite hang-outs. Whisky itself was newly respectable after the Excise Tax of 1823 legalized its distillation. Forever after, whisky and stags have been linked together in our sentimental view of Scotland.
Landseer is most famous for his lions at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, but he was a prolific and popular painter of Victorian sentimentality. When he died in 1873, all Britain mourned. By the 20th century, when Monarchwas being slogged around for advertising purposes, Landseer’s animal portraits were anathema to high-brow art critics. We are more or less past that now.
“Man Proposes, God Disposes,” 1864, Sir Edwin Landseer
I can’t imagine how much money has been made by The Monarch of the Glen in its 165 years. It’s sold soap, insurance, whisky and everything else. (In modern America, artists don’t automatically transfer licensing with works of art, thank goodness.)
Diageo is under no legal obligation to give Monarch to Scotland. However, it has indirectly—through the acquisition and resale of the Dewar’s marque—made a lot of money off the old stag. Since its net income last year was in excess of £2 billion, it wouldn’t suffer from writing off the whole £10 million tab.
Still, I expect the Scottish people will stump up the £4 million. Here’s hoping that The Monarchof the Glen stays in Edinburgh forever.
“Diaspora,” by Hope M. Ricciardi, remembers the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923.
The UN believes around 50,000 civilians are still trapped inside rebel-held East Aleppo, Syria. They were to be evacuated this morning but latest reports are that the buses sent to carry them out remain idle and shelling has resumed.
This is certainly the worst holocaust of the new millennium. The trapped include a large number of children, who have been the most vulnerable victims of the bombings all along. At least 82 civilians, including women and children, were shot on Monday, according to a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. One imagines it will get worse.
Now comes the inevitable hand-wringing. As Julie Lenarz writes in a heartbreaking essay in the Telegraph, we’re once again reduced to saying, “never again” when it’s already too late.
“The Third of May 1808,” 1814, Francisco Goya
Aleppo is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Located at one end of the Silk Road, it was a cosmopolitan mix of the world’s people. In the 20th century, after the Suez Canal had bypassed it as a trading center, it became a refuge for Armenian Christians fleeing genocide (some of whose descendants are now trapped).
Modern Aleppo was home to more than 2 million people, some of whom have escaped and many of whom have been killed. We had the opportunity to intervene when the costs were lower; we inexplicably sat on our hands. Today a consortium of Russia, a genocidal dictator (Assad) and the world’s leading state sponsor of Islamic terrorism (Iran) control most of the city. And there’s no hope anymore of moderate rebellion: what’s left are jihadists. It’s a terrible indictment of our role as the world’s superpower, and it also points out that ignoring festering problems never works.
“Die Gefangenen,” (The Prisoners), 1908, Käthe Kollwitz
Last week I saw a headline that called our Japanese internment camps “concentration camps.” There’s a line of thinking that says our government is as flawed as Nazi Germany’s. It’s a kind of reverse Holocaust denial, promoting the idea that we have no right to intervene in other governments’ dirty business, since we’re just as bad.
There will always be historical revisionists. And that’s where art comes in. Through history, artists have used their skill to create indelible records of the horrors inflicted upon the weak by the strong. Often, it took great courage for them to record their impressions. I pray that none of us are ever called to witness such events. But if we are, may we have the courage to use our pencils to tell the truth.
“The Great Nanjing Massacre,” 1992, Zi Jian Li
It’s almost Christmas, of course, and my thoughts inevitably turned to practical matters. I stopped at Renys for more wrapping paper. As I checked out, I heard a clerk making a phone call. “Your layaway was paid by a generous customer,” she told the person on the line. “You can come and pick it up now.”
That can’t erase the atrocities in Aleppo, but it does remind me that mankind is also capable of kindness. Evil may seem to have us by the short hairs, but it is countered by quiet virtue. As long as that’s true, there’s hope for us all. Pray for peace, remember war’s victims, and be grateful for the light that shines in your own backyard.
According to legend, when George Will signed up to become a syndicated columnist in the 1970s, he asked his friend William F. Buckley, Jr. — the founder of National Review and a columnist himself — “How will I ever write two columns a week?” Buckley responded (I’m paraphrasing), “Oh it will be easy. At least two things a week will annoy you, and you’ll write about them.” (Jonah Goldberg)
I’m often asked how I can write five days a week. I keep a list of topics, but I seldom get to them. Usually, something else catches my attention first.
“Pine Point, Scarborough,” Christina Perry Davis
Such is the case with Christina Perry Davis. Her work appeared in my Facebook newsfeed. She doesn’t have a website, so what I know of her I’ve learned from her profile. She’s 51 years old; she was raised in Westbrook, ME; she now lives in Scarborough, ME; and she’s married.
“I am a painter of landscapes mostly and am always drawn to the way color and light mingle but I look for the movement of grasses, clouds or light that surrounds what I see. I feel it’s necessary to capture this feeling because it is dramatic and freeing to tell the story of something that only last for such a short amount of time,” she told me.
In other words, her subject is turbulence.
“Prince Edward Island,” Christina Perry Davis
“I have learned basic painting skills from my early days at Portland School of Art but recently have taken a class in pastel from Jacob Aguiar, which has opened a wonderful world of painting with pastel.”
“I love drawing,” Davis said. That shows in the perspective of her clouds and the way her buildings are seated in a receding landscape. Pastel, she says, allows her the opportunity to give drawing and painting equal emphasis in her work. That can be true of oil painting, of course, but it takes longer to get there.
Pastel is different, of course, because you can bore into it with hand pressure. Davis’ chromatic intensity and ferocious mark-making create a world of upheaval. I’m interested in where she goes with this subject.