Saturday, June 1, 2019

Ruth Gikow- Francis Quirk Brings Her Art to the Lehigh Valley

We continue our stream of posts about artists who were helped by Francis Quirk by looking at Ruth Gikow.

Gikow's career - from aspiring commercial artist to recognized fine artist - began in New York City, where her family settled after fleeing an antisemitic pogrom in the Ukraine. She had been born there on Jan. 6, 1915. During their two year flight they had wandered through Europe including a year outside Bucharest in a gypsy camp. In 1920 her family immigrated to the United States including her father, Boris Gikow, a photographer, and her mother, Lena. They settled on the Lower East Side, where Gikow grew up in poverty. With a zest for living she never lost, she overcame the language barrier quickly and survived the teeming streets, diverting her tough cronies with chalk drawings on the sidewalk. She won distinction for her artwork at Washington Irving High School, which had one of the strongest art departments in New York City.

Ruth Gikow with her family c 1950 including husband Jack Levine and Daughter Susanna
She intended to pursue a career as a fashion artist after graduating from high school in 1932. Instead, unable to find a job, she enrolled at Cooper Union, where she was a pupil of the American regionalist painter John Steuart Curry and Austin Purvis, Jr., director of the school. She was determined, she said jokingly years later, ''to make a lot of money so I could have a French maid.''As she had throughout high school, Gikow continued to support herself and contribute to the family income by working evenings at Woolworth’s.

During her studies at Cooper Union, Gikow abandoned her aspiration to do commercial work and chose painting instead. A fellowship during her second year allowed her to study privately with idealistic young Raphael Soyer. A review of his work will show some similarities in technique. Soon an informal exhibition of her work, painted in a social realist style, was held at the Eighth Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village. From then on, her subjects remained the urban environment and the vast multiplicity of its inhabitants.

As an impoverished young woman, she joined the Federal Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration as a muralist, an assigment, she later said, compatible with her desire to bring art ''to the people.'In 1939, she was commissioned to paint murals for the children's ward at Bronx Hospital, Riker's Island and Rockefeller Center. We have not been able to find images of these works. With some associates, she helped found the American Serigraph Society, which turned out a volume of original graphics within the range of people of modest means.
Ruth Gikow Tunnel of Horrors 1935 through WPA

Following World War II, after a brief career in commercial art, she met and married artist Jack Levine. Challenged by his dedication and commitment, she returned to her own painting and drawing with renewed vigor. She illustrated Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" and began to exhibit at New York's Weyhe Gallery, Grand Central Galleries, Nordness Gallery, Forum Gallery and the Kennedy Galleries. Her endless quest to find humanity in a turbulent and sometimes hostile environment led art critic Henry-Russell Hitchcock to describe her as one of the country's "ten outstanding women painters."

By 1946, the time of her first one-woman show, Gikow had settled into Expressionism. Two years later, a critic found that Gikow was making ''extraordinary progress'' as ''her mood deepened in a new maturity.'' By the early 1960's, most of her paintings were of people, caught in a variety of moods as she emerged as an Early Modernist. 

One representative painting, ''Kleptomaniac,'' showed a prim elderly woman with fear and humiliation on her face. It was inspired by something that Miss Gikow had seen years before when she was working at Woolworth's. The prim, elderly woman had been caught stealing a tiny bottle of perfume.''An artist must constantly refer to life to get a living, growing art,'' Miss Gikow said. We have sought out images of this painting without success. However, the painting below may be an apt illustration of her work and the accompanying description from an exhibition held at the George Grevsky Gallery describes it well.

Adoration of the Gadget 1969 by Ruth Gikow

"Nowhere are these themes more clearly relevant than in Adoration of the Gadget, 1969. In this painting, various people are preoccupied by their cameras, hair dryers, and other electronic devices. Gikow, however, is not praising the rise in home electronics, but is commenting on the captivation of the human mind by that which it does not fully understand." - Text from George Krevsky Gallery

The people she painted seldom were anchored in a particular place, but instead seemed to hover on the surface of the canvas. Sometimes the figures were almost fluid, an effect that Gikow helped to achieve by using oils thinned by turpentine. Against 'Facelessnes'I wanted to get underneath things,'' Gikow said, ''to be more involved with individuals, and to get away from facelessness.'' Miss Gikow's last show, at the Kennedy Galleries in 1979, was almost entirely of people - sitting, standing, walking, running, dancing and, matter of factly, growing old.

The two works below as are renditions of the same image in two different media. Since she reproduced the work, she must have had some affinity for it. 

Ruth Gikow- The Kitchen    print
Ruth Gikow-  The Kitchen   oil on canvas

The works below show Gikow's range of style, technique and media. 
Ruth Gikow- Ballerinas

Ruth Gikow- Interior   lithograph

Ruth Gikow- Psychosis- Two Napoleons and a Josephine    screen print

Ruth Gikow- Seance

Gikow's work is represented in numerous private and public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art in New York, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Portland Museum of Art, Maine, National Institute of Arts and Letters, New York, Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts, Hartford Arts Foundation, Connecticut, and the Butler Art Institute, Youngstown, Ohio. Among her awards were an Institute of Arts and Letters grant and a Childe Hassam Fund Award.

If you are a fan of her work, or if this blog has piqued your interest, you may be able to locate or purchase a work through the George Krevsky Gallery.

Learn more about Ruth through her Wikipedia profile.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

James Penney- Muralist, Hamilton Professor, Work in exhibition curated by Francis Quirk

As we work through the artists that exhibited their works at Lehigh University Art Galleries under Francis Quirk's aegis, we will today highlight James Penney who taught in the Hamilton College Art Department from 1948 until his retirement in 1976.

A native of Saint Joseph, Missouri, James Penney came to New York in 1931 after graduating from the University of Kansas. At the Art Students League he studied with George Grosz, John Sloan, Thomas Hart Benton and the printmaker Charles Locke.

In our research, we checked out the oral history interview kept at the Archives of American Art and learned that Penney's first mural commission at Queens, New York's Flushing High School was through the WPA. Photos are below and textual descriptions can be found here. 

WPA sponsored Mural Panel in Flushing High School by James Penney

WPA sponsored Mural Panel in Flushing High School by James Penney

WPA sponsored Mural Panel in Flushing High School by James Penney

WPA sponsored Mural Panel in Flushing High School by James Penney

First recognized as a major American artist during his years as a muralist with the WPA Arts Project. He made the mural the Memories of Marion Country for the Palmyra Post Office, and Aspects of Rural Missouri for the Union Post Office – both in Missouri. 

Memories of Marion County by James Penney  Palmyra Missouri Post Office
Memories of Marion County by James Penney  Palmyra, Missouri Post Office
Close up of  "Memories of Marion County" by James Penney  Palmyra, Missouri Post Office

Close up of  "Memories of Marion County" by James Penney  Palmyra, Missouri Post Office

Aspects of Rural Missouri By James Penney

The realist style of the 1930s and early 1940s eventually gave way to a freer, more expressionistic handling of both oil and watercolor. Penney went on to teach at Hunter College, Bennington College, and the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute and Hamilton College.

Studio West 58th Street by James Penney

Penney went on to win several national competitions, including the commission in 1963 to paint the murals in the vestibule of the Nebraska State Capitol at Lincoln. (Note that some biographies give him credit for murals in the rotunda, which does not appear to be accurate.) We reproduce two of them below. First Furrow is particularly striking in that it captures the effort to break the sod of the Nebraskan plains. One can feel the oxen straining and hear the creaking of the plow with the driver struggling to retain his balance as he guides it through the sod.  The second provides a classic American scene of people coming together to frame a house. 

First Furrow by James Penney Nebraska State Capitol

Raising the House by James Penney Nebraska State Capitol

An archive of Penney's New Yorker cover drawings, mural studies, and prints, is in the New York Historical Society (the lithograph Subway was in their exhibition Impressions of New York, 2005). There are Penney lithographs in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress.

Subway Interior by James Penney

"Girders and Lights" Etching by James Penney

Like Quirk, Penney would master realism and establish himself as a beloved figure in academia. Penney differed  in that he took his art in different directions including city life, prints, abstract, recycled objects. 

"Edge of a Field' by James Penney 

In 1955 the Munson-Williams-Proctor Museum of Art had a retrospective of his work referring to him as a member of the Ashcan School. You can see/buy the catalog here on Etsy. He also has works in the Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York.

We also note that Penney definitely held strong opinions as this painting executed during the depression makes a strong point. 

"Thoughts of Capitalism by a Missourian in the Depression" by James Penney

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Henry Strater, The Ogunquit Art Colony, The Ogunquit Musuem of American Art

We recently posted a bit about Professor Quirk's efforts to bring art to the Lehigh University community through an annual exhibition. (We are amazed that Lehigh's Museum has not yet put on a retrospective of his work given his importance to the institution's development.) In this post we will highlight one of the painters who had a work in the 17th exhibition- Henry Strato, and how his life overlapped with Quirk's in several interesting ways. 

Interestingly, Henry Strater's profile has parallels to Waldo Pierce in that both were painters who spent time in Maine, had large families and were close to Ernest Hemingway.  

Henry Strater came of age in the Lost Generation after the first World War.  He attended Princeton, where he met F. Scott Fitzgerald;serving as the inspiration for the character Burne Halliday in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel "This Side of Paradise."
"I was the model for Burne Halliday, I regret to say," Strater once said. "Why? Well, I was pretty much of a wild Indian."
He later went to Paris in the 1920s to study at the Academy Grande Chaumiere and with Edouard Vuillard. There his path crossed with Ernest Hemingway, beginning a life long relationship that would include fishing and a few portraits. 
Portrait of Ernest Hemingway by Henry H. Strater
A Strater portrait of Ernest Hemingway later was used for the cover of Carlos Baker's biography of the Nobel-winning writer.
He also illustrated the controversial "Cantos" of poet Ezra Pound.

Island Lillies by Henry H. Strater

Happy Birthday Adam by Henry H. Strater

Strater was a versatile painter  and his portraits, watercolors and other realistic works are or have been displayed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the City Art Museum of St. Louis, the Detroit Institute of Arts. Lehigh University Art Gallery and the Ogunquit (Maine) Museum of American Art, a small museum he built in the art colony where he had spent his summers since 1925. You can learn more about the Ogunquir Art Colony through the book "A Century of Color" by Louise Tagard.
Henry Strator painting in Ogunquit Maine

Born in Louisville, Ky., he died at 91 in Palm Beach, Florida in 1987.
The interesting parallels with Quirk are many. First, both had homes in coastal Maine (Ogunquit and Saco) and Arizona (Verde Valley and Prescott). Both painted and would effectively create art museums that would continue as their legacies. Both studied art in Paris and would paint a variety of subjects including maritime scenes.  We don't know the details of their relationship, but it is fair to assume that they knew each other; to what degree we do not know. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Francis Quirk Brings Art to The Lehigh Valley Through the Annual Exhibition of American Contemporary Paintings

Over time our feeling has grown that Quirk's legacy extends beyond his work as a painter which first drew him to our attention. Then, we saw how his reach extended to his students, such as Helen Bacon Hoffman.  But perhaps equally important is his work in bringing arts to the Lehigh Valley.

In addition to bringing prominent artists and emerging trends into the campus galleries, he organized an Annual Exhibition of American Contemporary Paintings that was supported by Lehigh University alumni Ralph Wilson and his wife. (You can learn more about Ralph Wilson here.

Quirk reached out to six galleries for works including the following:
  • East Hampton 
  • Forum
  • Frank Rehn
  • Kraushaar
  • Midtown
  • Ogunquit
Over time many of these have closed.  We have tried unsuccessfully to find the Ogunquit and East Hampton Galleries.  Frank Rehn's papers are archived and include communications with Quirk that we have not yet focused on. 

At the exhibitions an opening reception was held with hostesses from the community. The exhibited paintings were for sale including one by Professor Quirk. 

The visitors to the exhibition were invited to vote for a favorite painting. This painting would be purchased and added to the permanent collection of Lehigh University

Presenting Artists

  • Elyot Henderson
  • Raymond Mintz
  • James Penney
  • Charles Coiner
  • Robert Eric Moore
  • Henry Strater
  • Joe Lasker
  • Johyn Heliker
  • John Guerin
  • Andree Ruellen
  • Karl Schrag
  • George Picken
  • Cornelus Ruthenberg
  • Kenneth Callahan
  • Jason Schoener
  • James Lechay
  • Ruth Gikow
  • William Thon
  • Jerome Witkin
  • Elsie Manville
  • Tanos Ghikas
  • Raphael Soyer
  • Max Weber
  • Peppino Mangravite
  • Harmon Neill
  • Manuel Ayaso
  • David Lavine
  • Patience Haley
  • Ralph Dubin
  • Francis J. Quirk
  • Roy Moyer
  • Kenneth Evett
  • Balcombe Greene
  • Robert La Hoten
  • Wallace H. Smith
  • Lenore Laine
  • Chris Ritter
  • Seri Berg
  • John Hartell
  • Carolyn Cross
  • Zona

Quirk was helping to boost the careers of these artists by giving them exposure,  an exhibition line on their resumes, a potential museum holding and a potential sale. 

While we have only scratched the surface of the list, we can see a few names that were prominent in the Ogunquit Art Colony including Henry Strater and Elyot Henderson. Henry Strater would be instrumental in the founding of the Ogunquit Museum of American Art.  You can learn more about Strater through this Esquire profile found here

We do have high quality images of this pamphlet and are seeking to master posting them in a better format. 

Friday, May 3, 2019

Francis Quirk's Final Resting Place- Laurel Hill Cemetery in Saco Maine

Through a line in a newspaper obituary we had long believed that Francis Quirk was buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Saco, Maine. However, we were unable to confirm that in our searches through gravestone sites and cemetery directories. 

We also had heard apocryphal stories surrounding his actual internment that left us a bit uncertain to what actually transpired. 

However, a relative has graciously provided this photo of Francis and Anna Quirk's tombstone at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Saco, Maine

The Latin(?) phrase below "Ars longa vita brevist est" did not translate well in google translate, so we would welcome feedback from our erudite readership as to the actual meaning. 

Francis Quirk Painter tombstone, Saco Maine
Tombstone for Artist Francis Quirk and his wife Anna in Saco Maine. 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Pastel Portrait of Francis Quirk's Daughter Ada-Lee

Ada-Lee Quirk is the only surviving child of Francis Quirk. She recently reached out to us and has graciously provided an image of a pastel portrait of herself at age 11. 

Image of pastel portrait of Ada-Lee Quirk  as an 11 year old  by Francis Quirk
Pastel Portrait of Ada-Lee Quirk at age 11 by Francis Quirk
Ada-Lee also has several other works, so we are excited and anxiously hoping to see more images coming before too long. 

Also, a collector in Pennsylvania has graciously sent us personal letters and catalogs from a few exhibitions that Quirk was involved in. We are just beginning to dig into them. These will provide more information about him, his work and his efforts to bring arts to the Lehigh Valley region. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Francis Quirk Watercolor Painting Emerges in Florida

Recently, a friend of this effort provided an image of a Francis Quirk painting that was previously unknown to us. The watercolor is hanging in a Florida home it depicts an early springtime scene with bare trees, but plantings in bloom. We do not know the exact location or date of the work. 

But one elements of Quirk's style is the depiction of the leafless tree at the right of the painting. It appears to mirror portions of the lumberjack painting we highlighted in this earlier post

Given that Quirk was in Pennsylvania during most of his springtimes, we suspect it was painted while he was either teaching at Ogontz College or Lehigh University.

Artist Francis J. Quirk,  Watercolor early spring, Francis Quirk, Pennsylvania
Early Springtime Watercolor by Francis J. Quirk