And why does everyone hate on mistletoe?
Buffalo Grain Elevators, Ralston Crawford, 1937, oil on canvas, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
“We saw a beautiful painting by Ralston Crawford in an exhibition at the Ashmolean (American ‘Cool’ Modernism). It said he was a Buffalo painter, but I’d never heard of him. I’m picky about abstract art, but I really loved that painting!” wrote an expatriate reader.
I’m from Buffalo, and I hadn’t heard of him, either. I certainly never saw his paintings at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo—because they own none. They do, however, own prints of some of his photos.
Buffalo (2 grain elevator cylinders), Ralston Crawford, 1942, gelatin silver print, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
Crawford was born in St. Catharines, Ontario (across the Niagara River from Buffalo) in 1906. He spent his childhood in Buffalo, where he shipped aboard Great Lakes Freighters with his father. At the age of twenty, he pushed out of Buffalo harbor for good, crewing on tramp steamers plying the coast of North and Central America. That landed him in California, where he enrolled in California’s newly-minted Otis Art Institute. After a stint working at Walt Disney’s studio, he headed back east to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1934, he had his first one-man show, at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
He was associated with a 1930s group from Bucks County, PA, called the Independents. They—rather predictably, by this time—were in rebellion against the Pennsylvania Impressionists then in vogue. But Crawford suffered from bouts of wanderlust all his life, so he didn’t stay in Philly, either. He painted and took photos all around the world. He was invited to witness the first public test of an atomic bomb in the Marshall Islands in 1946. What he saw ended up as the basis of a series of paintings of the “devastating character” of the nuclear bomb. He’s buried in New Orleans, in a cemetery that—in life—he loved to paint.
1961–Number 3, Ralston Crawford, 1961, oil on canvas, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
“Why are Mainers so worried about mistletoe?” asked a summer visitor. “Isn’t it supposed to be festive?”
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant. I don’t know why it ever became a symbol of fertility, because it’s toxic and destructive. At least the English version is decorative. The species that grows in Maine—Eastern Dwarf Mistletoe—is too small to see from the ground. Instead, it stimulates its host to produce large twiggy growths called brooms. Its preferred hosts, unfortunately, are our majestic native spruces, usually on headlands along the open ocean, although it will colonize on pine, balsam, and larch, too. Farther away from the water, it’s less common for the infestation to be as heavy, and such trees may carry their parasites for many years.
However, those on the coast will die over time, especially those with serious infections. The only ‘cure’ is to chop down mature infested trees and hope that reforested babies avoid infection. But the ancient spruce overhanging the sea is a Maine icon, so mistletoe is definitely unwelcome here.
Lafayette Street, Ralston Crawford, 1954, lithograph, courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum
Last weekend for first dibs on my holiday sale.
Have you wanted to get someone (or yourself) one of my paintings but never quite been able to afford one? I’m offering a few paintings starting this week at steep discounts. These are on a hidden page, which only my readers have access to.
Here’s the link: Hidden Holiday Sale
There are 28 paintings in all, discounted 30, 40, 50, even 60% off their list prices. Not only that, but postage to the US and Canada is included.