grace hartigan

February 10, 2012 § 1 Comment

bride and owl painted by grace hartigan in 1954


this painting hung in my great aunt francis’s summer home, an old whaling captain’s home with rickety wide plank floors, low ceilings and a view and the smell of the harbor. it now hangs in the smith college art museum. the painting took up the entire wall, floor to ceiling, of her dining room. as a little girl it scared me, fascinated me, awed me and most probably, so deeply influenced my love of art.

this painting was messy and dark, not like the weddings i had seen or paintings i had seen. it had presence, potential, possibilities and a quiet knowing. it was created by a woman.  it was bold though humble just like my aunt.

aunt francis lived and worked in new york, she wore chanel suits, worked for the moma, took the train to her summer home, never learned to drive a car, drank expresso in tiny cups with a slice of orange peel, distilled her drinking water, and read all of shakspeare’s work every year (her sister, my grandmother, read all of dickens, each year) though she had not pretensions.  she was unique, eccentric, and very, very kind.  she never married and lived to her mid 90’s.

a joseph cornell box sat quietly on a bookshelf right next to the spot her cat liked to mid day sunbathe, a small very very old greek urn lived among the various blooming house plants, limited print artist’s catalogs of helen frankenthler, jackson pollack, jim dine and many others stacked next to her seed catalogs, a dutch master etching hung next to a family portrait.

there was no hierarchical order in her house, all things and beings were treated with worthiness, complete attention and appreciation.

seeing this painting again flooded me with a depth of memories as rich and knowing as each expressive brush stroke on the canvas.



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