Passing Through

 In Artists, Peter Ilsted, William Woodward

The young girl peered out of the window of Stone + Press onto the dark mud streets of early 18th century New Orleans. Claudia was like any other 10-year old girl anticipating a visit to the candle-lit antique doll store across the street. One difference – Claudia was a Vampire.

Anne Rice’s “Interview with a Vampire” was being filmed all around our French Quarter gallery. Electricity did not exist in that era so the gallery was compensated for keeping the lights off. This night, the crew was scheduled to film a scene with ten-year old Claudia being played by actress Kirsten Dunst. Director Neil Jordan commandeered our gallery as the “green room” for the young actress while the doll shop across the street was prepared for her scenes. Claudia was the first vampire to visit the gallery but, being in New Orleans, she probably wasn’t the last.

When talk is of vampires, graveyards come to mind and this early 20th century etching of an old New England burial site by William Woodward (1859-1939) seemed appropriate.

Born in Seekonk, Massachusetts in 1859, Woodward enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design, graduating in 1883. He went on to complete additional study, first at the Massachusetts Normal Art School and then through correspondence with the Academie Julian in Paris.

William arrived in New Orleans in 1884, having accepted an appointment as professor of art and architecture at Tulane University, then in its first year of existence as a private institution. A year later his brother, Ellsworth Woodward, joined the Tulane faculty as a professor of drawing and painting. William played an important role in the development of Tulane as an educational institution. In 1886, he helped establish Sophie Newcomb College, a women’s college affiliated with Tulane. In 1894, he helped design both the layout of the campus and the appearance of its buildings when it moved to its present location.

Often called “the father of art in New Orleans,” William Woodward was a prolific painter, etcher, potter, architect and teacher. With his brother Ellsworth, William Woodward expounded the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement and founded Tulane University’s school of art and helped establish its department of architecture.

moonlit graveyard by William Woodward

Graveyard by William Woodward / etching / $290

One day, right after the gallery opened, a human hurricane named Delta came through. Delta Burke and her husband, Gerald McRaney were living on Chartres Street – just blocks from Stone and Press. Delta spent hours going through the inventory, selecting images and hugging anyone in reach. She made her purchases and left the gallery. Right before closing, Delta called the gallery with what she termed an “art emergency”. She had seen a modernistic engraving of a cow in our window and she desperately wanted it for McRaney’s Mississippi farm. I brought an impression to their home in one of the area’s historic buildings. She insisted I meet McRaney who was upstairs. She kept calling out to him, insisting he come down. McRaney was very gracious as he hobbled down the narrow stairs, in a leg cast!

Sharon Augusta Mitchell (American, b. 1960) was the artist who created the bovine piece that Delta had to have. Mitchell’s “Portrait of #20” was very popular and the edition sold out quickly but we have another original etching, drypoint and aquatint by Mitchell. “White Pelicans”, created in 1990 in an edition of 125, is signed, titled and numbered by hand.

three large white pelicans on a light blue background by Sharon Augusta Mitchell

White Pelicans by Sharon Augusta Mitchell / 1990 /   $300

Mitchell studied printmaking, portraiture and creativity at the College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California. From 1985 through 1990, she was the artist in residence at Kala Institute where she focused on traditional intaglio plate techniques. She owns and operated Aesop’s Editions.

danish man with beard reading a book by Peter Ilsted

Hendrik by Peter Ilsted / 1924 / $1800

Print collectors often build their collections around a certain style or time period outside of which they will not move. One such New York power couple collected only images in which a reader appeared. Galleries knew them and their passion and would try to assist them in their quest. A person in the act of reading was essential to their mission, no matter how central or peripheral the reader was

On one visit I remarked that they appeared to be purchasing more than usual. The wife informed me that they had just acquired a new apartment, which needed art for its walls. She explained that their Manhattan apartment was really her husband’s domain and the Connecticut home was hers. The new third space was a neutral space they could share in common. “It’s the secret to a long and happy marriage,” she quipped. When I observed that not every married couple could afford three homes, she responded, “it works so well. The Feds ought to create a program to subsidize the idea.”

Danish artist Peter Ilsted (1861-1933) created this 1924 mezzotint, “Hendrik”, in an edition of 75. Hendrik was an image that was a great fit for this couple’s collection.

Born on the island of Falster, Denmark in 1861, Peter Ilsted attended the Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen, and he later received the Gold Medal in 1890 from the Academy at Charlottenborg (the equivalent of the Royal Academy). Best known for his scenes of domestic interiors, Ilsted belongs to a group of Danish artists who specialized in this genre. Like his contemporaries Carl Holsoe and Vilhelm Hammershøi, Peter Ilsted often depicted a solitary figure in an austere room, accented only by a few delicate objects. His bare interiors are suffused with the warm glow of light through a single window, clearly showing the influence of Vermeer, as well as that of his brother-in-law, Hammershøi. His art expresses the essence of middle class life in Denmark at the turn of the twentieth century: tranquility and orderliness, contentment with home and family and isolation from the political and social turmoil in the countries to the south.

stature of Christ with large shadow in New Orleans French Quarter by Frederick Mershimer.

Sanctuary by Frederick Mershimer / 1996 / $1200

Among our clients was the team doctor for the New Orleans Saints who collected only images with a religious theme. Another was a prominent real estate broker who never set foot in the gallery space. She would review our catalog mailings, make her selections, call to verify availability and write out her check. She’d request curb service, call us when she was blocks from the shop and we’d meet her with her purchases at the curb. She chose not to bother parking in the crowded French Quarter.

Frederick Mershimer’s 1996 mezzotint and aquatint, “Sanctuary”, was issued in an edition of 90. It is a piece that both collectors mentioned above might have sought out since it was both a religious subject and a prominent local landmark. The image is St. Anthony’s Garden in the area behind St. Louis Cathedral on Royal Street between St. Peter and St. Ann streets. At night, the shadow thrown by the lighted statue of Christ with outstretched arms dominates the area. New Orleans has always been a haven for literary figures. William Faulkner lived at 624 St. Peter Street right off the garden. When Tennessee Williams lived at 710 Orleans St., this was the view from his balcony.

two mexican women sitting in a box at the theater

Teatro by Caroline Durieux /cliché verre / 1971 / $2000

One of my favorite gallery visitors was stage, film and television actress, Carrie Nye. Nye was born in Greenwood, Mississippi and met her husband, Dick Cavett, when she attended Yale Drama School. A New York Times profile described her:

“Miss Nye speaks in a throaty theatrical voice that is part Tallulah Bankhead and part Greenwood, Miss., where she was born Caroline Nye McGeoy, an only child. Her father was a wealthy banker and cotton planter, and Carrie had a childhood ‘somewhere between Harper Lee and William Faulkner.’ When Miss Nye’s parents died, she inherited the family plantation. ‘It’s really nothing; everybody down there has a plantation,’ she said, in a wry, self‐demeaning manner that she may have picked up from her husband — or vice versa.”

Nye had played Blanche DuBois, Maggie the Cat, Lady McDuff, Cressida and Cleopatra. She usually dressed in white from head to toe and every visit to the gallery was like a private performance. When she described “taking the evening train to Greenwood,” it was like having Maggie the Cat come to life.

“Teatro”, a 1971 cliché verre by Caroline Durieux and issued in an edition of just 10, gives us a glimpse of two Mexican women in a theatre box. A satirical look at the theatre is offered in homage to Carrie Nye who was a fan and collector of Durieux.

Caroline Durieux (American, 1896 – 1989)

Printmaker, painter, satirist, innovator, social activist, Caroline Durieux was born in New Orleans and was already making sketches by the age of four. Her formal art training was at Newcomb College (1912-1917) and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (1918-1920).

Carl Zigrosser of the Philadelphia Museum of Art encouraged Durieux to try lithography. While living in Mexico, she learned lithography from Emilio Amero and later worked with Diego Rivera and the other Mexican masters.  Her lithographs of the 1930s and 1940s rank as some of the finest satirical pieces ever made.

Durieux joined the art faculty at Newcomb College and taught from 1938-43. She also served as the Director for Louisiana’s WPA Art Project, which she administered without regard for the race of the participants within a totally segregated society. She also successfully produced the first color cliché verres while simultaneously perfecting her technique for making electron prints.

Durieux’s work is in the Museum of Modern Art, the Chicago Art Institute, the National Gallery of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Library of Congress and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Another collector and frequent visitor to the gallery was the proprietor of a hardware store in Tupelo, Mississippi. Tupelo Hardware has been in business for 92 years and is famously known as the store where Gladys Presley bought her son’s first guitar. When George came to the gallery, his teenage daughter, Lacey, would often come along. We’d talk about college choice and what major she intended to pursue. Our last visit was in Manhattan at the New York Print Fair. By then Lacey was in graduate school and George had come to visit her and catch the print fair as well.

Fast forward ten years. I’m looking in the Times for a new book to read and I see this review in Editors Choice: “On the basis of “The Answers,” I’d read anything Catherine Lacey tried her hand at: science fiction, a screenplay, an epic poem … hell, a limerick. And as many novels as she possibly could.”

I read “The Answers” and liked it as well. On reading About the Author, something clicked. The writer I discovered through the Books of the Times was indeed that young teenager in the gallery with George. She was using her first name ‘Lacey’ as her surname now. Catherine Lacey’s new book drops on August 7th. Try “Certain American States: Stories” by Catherine Lacey.

Lacey’s dad and I had sponsored a mezzotint workshop with Carol Wax at the art museum in Tupelo a number of years back.  Wax often references writing in her work including monumental typewriters images such as “Remington Return” and “Remington Noiseless” and a color mezzotint, “Writer’s Blocks”. We don’t know if Catherine still uses a typewriter to create but one thing we want her to avoid is writer’s block.

Writer’s Blocks by Carol Wax / color mezzotint / $500

Carol Wax (American, b. 1953)

Carol Wax originally trained to be a classical musician at the Manhattan School of Music but fell in love with printmaking. Soon after she began engraving mezzotints she was asked by the renowned print dealer Sylvan Cole to exhibit at Associated American Artists Gallery, launching her career as a professional artist/printmaker. With the publication of her book, “The Mezzotint: History and Technique”, published by Abrams, 1990 and 1996, Carol added author and teacher to her credits. In the ensuing years she has expanded her repertoire of mediums beyond printmaking into other works on paper and painting.

In compositions reflecting an appreciation for antiquated machinery and vintage textiles, Wax creates imagery that, in her own words, “… speaks to an inner life perceived in inanimate objects.” She uses stylization and imagination to reinvent subjects, transforming an ordinary typewriter into a monumental icon, unplugged fans into whirring creatures, and fabric into rippling water or animalistic forms. Her sewing machines, emblazoned with elegant hieroglyphs, reflect a bygone design sensibility while her accordions vibrate with the rhythms of a Cajun dance hall on a Louisiana bayou.

A selection of the many collections that own her prints are The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The New York and Boston Public Libraries, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Library of Congress, and The National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Recommended Posts
<< Return to Main Blog

Contact Us

Contact us with questions:

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt

Start typing and press Enter to search

dark details of ocean with red tint