Franshell Rathert - Sweet Memories of a Dear Friend

If we're lucky we'll occasionally meet that special someone who makes our working life just a bit more tolerable. We may even look forward to seeing them every day as their energy and enthusiastic outlook gives us the desire to march on and do the best we can, hoping to earn their trust and approval which in turn makes us feel useful and appreciated. Franshell Rathert demonstrated these qualities to all who worked with her, in the same way our spirits were easily lifted by her beautiful smile.

Today, July 18, 2013, we lay Franshell to rest, her familiar presence already sorely missed by those who loved her. I didn't know Franshell and her family outside of work but I spent many enjoyable hours over the years discussing everything from current events to the beautiful landscape of Germany and the German people and their foods since we'd both spent some years living there, and, of course, reading and writing. But Franshell always had an influence on me that I'd like to tell about. Although there are many years between us, she easily earned my respect and admiration just being herself--a natural at managing people and using her resources to get the job done. I've worked with many professional managers over the years, male and female, and I can honestly say none of them had anything over Franshell by way of communication and resource management. She also had a subtle and clever wit that was hard to ignore, and possessed the ability to make you feel like everything was going to be alright, even though the sky was falling.

I have to go back to the beginning of my work life at the age of 12 to fully explain why I've come full circle with Franshell and Lowe's (it won't take long).

There was a small neighborhood pet store where I grew up and I had my eye on a certain tortoise in the window. It wasn't one of those little toy turtles you find in fish bowls people think look so cute, but a real, bonafide tortoise the size of a shoe box. It was $25, and way beyond my allowance (for the next five years). Mary, the store owner, had seen me browsing the varied specimens she had on display many times and asked me what I was looking for. I pointed to the tortoise and she said, "Well, that's quite an expensive pet, but I'll tell you what--if you work for me during your summer vacation you may have it." Yeah! With permission from my parents I started the next day. My duties included buying a head of lettuce in the morning for the rabbits, feeding the adorable hamsters, the brightly colored parrots and other bird species from around the world, the stinking monkeys, reptiles and a wall full of aquariums containing tropical fish. In between feeding I would bag-up rabbit pellets and hamster feed, and of course, operate the cash register. The cash registers in those days contained rows of dollar and cents buttons pressed for each item, then you'd pull down a large lever ready for the next item. When done with the order you hit a big "Total" button the size of a doorknob and pulled down the lever for the last time. You then counted out change depending what was given to you. Mary left a pad and pencil near the register so I could do the simple subtraction but soon I was able to do the math in my head mainly because I always felt the customer's need for urgency. One day, when I rung up a particularly large order and counted out the customer's change I caught Mary watching me out of the corner of my eye. She hadn't really acted concerned about me operating her register and handling money but she had a smile and that unmistakeable look of approval on her face, which made me feel pretty good.

The end of summer vacation finally came and I was awarded the tortoise for my efforts. Funny thing was the feeling I went away with from my time in her store was worth more to me that that tortoise. I learned that I was able to earn people's trust, that I enjoyed making people happy, and I could count without a pencil!

Fast forward 40 or so years and our move to Kentucky. Lowe's was the hottest thing at the time and a new store was being built down the street from the old store in Glasgow so I applied and got hired post haste. Hottest thing meaning racking and stocking the shelves of a new store in the middle of August--without air conditioning! Everyone pitched in and we eventually assumed our positions at work. After a few years of working in Electrical I got call from my manager one day notifying me that I had to observe how to operate a cash register when things got backed-up. "What," I asked. "I'm a Sales Associate, not a Casheeerrr!" "Go see Franshell," she said, "then get back here." "Oh, all right," I said.

Although we had seen each other around the store many times I introduced myself to Franshell and said I was sent there to "observe" cash register operations. She said, "Okay, log in and go to one point four." "Um...I'm suppose to observe--watch what goes on here," I clarified. She said, "Okay, log in and go to one point four." "Oh, okay. One point four it is," I said, surrendering. "That's the sales screen in which you scan a customer's order into before it's totaled," she said. "Just like you'll do for the customer that's headed this way."
"Oh, no," she heard me say. "Just relax and be cordial," she said.
"Okay. No problem," I said, as my pulse rate increased a few beats.
"Hey! How's it going, Buddy?" I blurted out.
"Did you find everything you were looking for, sir?" Franshell whispered.
"Oh, ah, did you find what you were looking for, sir?"
"Yes, thank you," he said.
"Scan all of his items and bag them making sure you scan and deactivate everything, then hit the Total key," she said.
"That will be $54.28," I announced.
"Will you be using your Lowe's card for your purchase today?" Franshell whispered into my ear.
"Well, I don't know. I hadn't planned on buying anything today," I said.
"Ask him!" she said.
"Oh, sir, will you be using your Lowe's card today?" I asked, feeling pretty dumb.
"No. I'll be paying with cash," he said, handing me a hundred dollar bill.
"Type in $100.00 and hit the Cash key," she said.
"No sweat." I hit the Cash key and started calculating his change when Franshell asked, "What are you doing?"
"I'm figuring his change for a hundred."
"It's right there," she said, pointing at the monitor.
"You mean it automatically tells you what to give back? Wow!" Franshell shook her head.
"Your change is forty-five dollars and seventy-two cents, sir," I said as I counted it out to him.
"Thank you for shopping at Lowe's," she whispered.
"And thank you for shopping at Lowe's, sir."
 I turned to Franshell and said," I know I looked like a fool, but I can do this."
"I know you can, Mike," she said, with much more confidence than I had.
I was bound and determined to get this cashier thing right so I got mentally prepared for the next customer that came along, and it didn't take long.
"Good day, sir. Did you find everything you were looking for today?"
"Yes, I did, and I received some good advise back there in your plumbing department. Your people were very helpful"
"Yes sir. We have some talented folks on the floor who have been specifically trained to assist their customers the very best they can," I said.
I rang-up his purchase and asked," Will you be using your Lowe's card for your purchase today? You receive a five percent discount each and every time you use it as a special thanks from Lowe's for giving us your business."
"I wasn't aware of that discount," he said. "Here's my Lowe's card."
"And here are your items and thank you for shopping at Lowe's. Please come back and see us again. Have a great day!"

When I turned to Franshell she just stood there with a silent smile in her eyes. It was the
same look Mary had when I knew she was pleased with my work, and it once again filled my heart with joy even after all those years. I got a phone call from Electrical requesting my presence back to the department but I told her I was still in training. "Well, let's get going. We have customers." I said, "I have customers, too. Be there when I can!" About a hour later when I was about to head back to Aisle 14 it dawned on me how much I missed interacting with people. Down stocking and taking care of IRPs were also important, but I wanted more of what Franshell had introduced me to. I stopped her on the way to the break room and asked if there was room for one clumsy sales associate in the front end. She smiled and said, "I'd love to have you up front with us. But you'll have to learn how to take returns, too." I said, "Let me at 'em!" In two weeks I was a full fledged cashier and loving every minute of it. Sure, there were times when you wanted to scream, but they were few and far in-between to make that much difference to me, and I've never really looked back--greatly due to Franshell's casual but efficient way of managing people, and the unwavering fairness she displayed to all. Not once did I ever hear her talk down to anyone, and she was always available to hear our concerns.

Franshell had a lighter side to her and it was delivered when you least expected it. Like most people I had a particularly miserable evening followed by a equally miserable morning. I didn't want to go to work but showed up anyway, only to regret being there in my supposed misery. So, displaying my best Typhoid Fever imitation, I pathetically shuffled over to Franshell and said, "Franshell...Franshell," I pleaded. "I don't feel good." Without hesitation she reached over and pinched my arm and said, "You feel good to me!" I couldn't help but laugh. Then, having blown my cover, shuffled off saying, "Never mind." There was also the time I thought I'd take advantage of a complaint by Franshell about insulation blowing machine rental forms. She thought it was impractical for them at the Customer Service desk to process a form for equipment kept in the lumber department, and that registers two and three should really be doing the paperwork. She was right, but I had to get something in return. "Okay, how about this. We'll do all the blower machine rental forms and you do all the returns at the Return desk," I suggested. "After all, merchandise returns should be taken to the return desk, right? Do people take returns to the Produce department at Walmart? No, they take them to the Return desk. Why in the world do people around here think the Lumber department is the return desk?"
"Okay, agreed. I'll bring all the blower machine rental forms down here and you send all returns to the Return desk," she said. I thought, "Yes! Finally, no more returns! Yahooo!" Franshell didn't get two steps away when she stopped and turned. "Hey, wait a minute," she said, hands on her hips. "You're supposed to be taking returns down here anyways. We've been doing it since Day One!" Shoot! So now we have to process blower machine rental forms AND take returns. The moral of this story? Never try to outfox a fox.

Of all the sterling qualities Franshell possessed, there are three I will miss the most--Her unwavering fairness to all within her sphere of influence, her irresistible charm and her clever wit. Those three qualities alone make for an exceptional human being, in addition to being the embodiment of kindness and graciousness.

There are times in our lives when we all wonder why the Almighty God takes the young. Every day we read about babies, children, teenagers, young adults and people in their 20's, 30's and even 40's that are just starting life or a promising career and are struck down by violence, neglect or illness. We ask "Why?" Why does the Lord allow these things to happen? Why are good, decent people such as Franshell taken from their families and friends at such a young age? Why? It just isn't fair!

Until one day I heard someone say, "God takes the young, because he doesn't want to be without them in his Kingdom."

That's the way I choose to remember this day, and my dear friend, Franshell Rathert.




Please feel free to share your memories and experiences about Franshell right here as a comment to this article. This page will remain here indefinitely.

Next Up: Diether Kressel - Color Etching (c. 1973)


Deither Kressel, (Düsseldorf 1925-), self portrait,
c. 1973, color etching, 9" x 12" on laid paper.

Mike Vines - 1970's Black and White Photography

Ground Roof, White Water, California. 1974. Canon FTb with a 28mm lens. High-contrast photography utilizing lithographic film. The subject is a gas station island roof that had been blown over by high desert winds.

    Photography was a natural progression for me from the early days of pondering the many art books that filled my parents bookcases, reproducing the graphic illustrations contained within my mother's nursing books with pen and ink, to experimenting with negative printing in the make-shift darkroom of my bedroom closet.

While the majority of photographers worked to achieve the same low grain/super-sharp/infinite depth-of-field negative quality that Ansel Adams had established many years ago, most of my '70's work consisted of high contrast compositions made with Kodak Lithographic film, and solarized architectural renderings utilizing high-speed recording film.  I enjoyed experimenting with the grains and textures that approached the quality of graphite and charcoal drawings, and attempted to duplicate the delicate space where wood grain and sand mingled in the desert. This required hours of creative and technical discipline in the darkroom and even then you really didn't know exactly what you were going to get until you turned on the lights. Occasionally, you got the look you were after which made all your efforts gratifying and worthwhile, but they were indeed rare. Even Adams said he was doing well if he got one "good" image a year. My output during these times was scarce since I was beginning a career that was taking me to different lands and all my thoughts and efforts went into learning a new technology. But I never overlooked photography, or art for that matter, which had always served as my personal life preservers when times beat me down.

The negatives from which these images were made had survived years of relocation, and serve as an example of why we use archival materials for storage. Without a little foresight I doubt any of these negatives would be around today. This, of course, is not an issue with digital cameras.

The following is not an art review as much as it is shameful self-promotion. These are my favorite images from the '70's and I have made them available for purchase in many formats via imagekind. Please visit my gallery and browse my available works for sale. This would help support my efforts in maintaining this website and I would be grateful for your patronage.

Triple Cross. This hanging cross was a found arrangement in an abandoned shack located in what was a rural area in the north hills of Yorba Linda, Ca. Harsh summer light illuminated the interior from a broken window on the left. The lighting of the corners are the same at a diagonal and adds a sense of balance to the composition. This structure was torn down to make room for an apartment complex which is already 35 years old. Canon FTb with a 28mm lens. f11@1/60. Kodak Panatomic-X film at ISO 32.

Oil Tanks, This night time shot utilizes Kodak 2475 Recording Film and Solarization. Creating an image with a fast film speed and briefly exposing the print to room light during development created an image with a charcoal drawing-like character. The tonality of the film grain and solarization extracted fine details that were initially invisible to the eye. Illumination was from mercury-vapor security lighting on the right. The reflections and shadows on the tanks create a delicate conte drawing appearance. Taken at the Union Oil Refinery in Brea, California in 1974. Canon FTb and a 200mm lens.

Warehouse, Fullerton, Ca. Kodak 2475 recording film and solarization in the darkroom. The water stains running from the window ledge were completely invisible to the eye. Solarization gave this photograph a pleasant charcoal drawing character. Canon FTb with a 200mm lens. 1975. 

Melrose Abby Cemetery Entrance, Anaheim, Ca. Kodak 2475 Recording Film. Canon FTb with a 200mm lens. 1975.

Melrose Abby Cemetery Exterior, Anaheim, Ca. Kodak 2475 Recording Film. Canon FTb with a 200mm lens. 1975.

Melrose Abby Cemetery Chapel Window. Anaheim, Ca. Interior shot of a stained-glass window positioned over the alter of the chapel. Kodak lithographic film. Canon FTb with a 200mm lens. 1975.

Wood and Sand. Texture study taken with lithographic film at White Water, California in 1974. White Water is located a few minutes from Palm Springs and served as a secure telephone relay station during WWII. Once an active little town, it now homes a sizable rock quarry and a trout farm. Canon FTb and a 50mm lens.

Overhead Crane. Taken while standing underneath a crane in a rock quarry at White Water, California, with lithographic film. When solarized in the darkroom, the developer created random wisps of moody clouds over the tops of the San Jacinto Mountains and a 3-dimensional effect on the crane. Canon FTb with a 28mm lens. 1974.

Preserving Art for WWIII?


From the Washington Post comes this article about the curator of the National Gallery, Andrew Robinson, and how he is selecting works of art for preservation if World War III should become a reality.

They said, "In the two storerooms that Robison asked not be photographed or their locations disclosed, the black, cloth-lined boxes, each the shape of very large books, bear the label “WW3,” drawn in calligraphy. These in-case-of-World-War-III containers lie ready for any possibility, and in Robison’s absence, security guards have a floor plan that shows their exact location, like an X on a pirate map."

I'm glad to hear our artistic treasures will be preserved for the remnants of mankind, but I'm really curious what Washington knows that we don't know.

David Padworny - "Untitled hh23"

David Padworny, Untitled hh23, 7-1/4" x 6-1/2", pen and ink drawing on paper.

    Did I mention I've always been a sucker for a good drawing? When I ran across David Padworny's colorful and daring art work on his website (www.padworny.com) I spent some time looking for that one (affordable) example of his core artistic skills, and I think I found it. Among vibrantly colored and coarsely textured abstract impressionist works I saw deeply rendered emotional portraits of men and women, a few similarly inspired landscapes and still life's, and several drawing studies of nudes. These were all pleasant and unique enough to cause me to contemplate ownership, but what grabbed my eye (and first impressions are everything concerning art) was this little pen and ink outline rendered portrait of a man. You may have seen this style of portraiture before, its been around for quite some time, but Padworny's work exudes character and motivated me to promptly contact him considering it's purchase. Packaging and delivery was commendable and in short order I was admiring his work in the privacy of my home.

I like everything about this portrait. The relaxed angle of the head and the forward lean of the shoulders adds a comforting spontaneity to the image suggesting that the man is participating in an interesting conversation.  It's style is so natural that it makes me want to say, "I think I know that guy!" It's a subtle but lively composition which I find irresistible to view. You can imagine anything you want for the subject matter being discussed, and you can make the man a neighbor, work acquaintance or even a relative. Whatever gives you pleasure, and the possibilities are endless. This is what I sometimes refer to as "working art" since it tends to motivate the viewer to participate in what the artist has created for us to experience. It is not only something to merely look at and admire (although any art can be a joy to merely look at), but this piece stimulates my imagination into some sort of interactive mood. It is also a pleasure to simply ponder the skillfully placed graphic lines that form the expression and shading of the subject. I can't ask much more than that from any art.


Fortunately, there is an abundance of background information available for David Padworny, the artist, which is a huge benefit to any art collector.  Listed within his well-developed web presence are numerous mentions of his group and solo exhibits, scholastic portfolio, awards and honors and the following brief bibliography:
David Padworny was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania. He studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. He received a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art. David currently lives and works as an Artist in Baltimore, Maryland.
He also notes the following under his early studies:
I was introduced to art through a neighbor, illustrator Mike Adams. From kindergarten through second grade, I would watch him paint children's book illustrations of characters from some of my favorite TV shows, like Fraggle Rock. He would give me large sketchbooks so I could draw on the floor while he worked. I remember how much I liked his lifestyle of working at home on illustrations and cartoons all day, especially in contrast to my father, who worked very hard at a more typical 9-5 job.

Around the time I was in fourth grade, my family moved, and I began modeling for and studying under another neighbor, Sidney Quinn. He purchased supplies for me, introduced me to classes, and (harshly) critiqued my work for years on a regular basis. When I was about ten, I showed him my first large watercolor and counted as he pointed out 27 things wrong! (illustration that I modeled for in Highlights magazine)

Freshman and sophomore years of high school. I began meeting with and receiving critiques from Edson Campos and Chas Rowe.

During my junior year, I was introduced to Barbara Bassett, who was a tremendous influence from that point forth. Her teaching method was derived from Kimon Nicolaides of the Art Students' League of New York and supplemented with the study of art history.
Although I went to her Winter Park studio for lessons a few times a week for years, she would never show me a single one of her paintings, despite my abundant requests. She was a great teacher, I miss her.

While in college at MICA, I studied under Timothy App and Raul Middlemen, who both proved to be major influences.
Also included on his site are links to his online gallery, a mailing list and contact information. How much more information about an artist could you ask for?


I really enjoy Padworny's eclectic range of style and subject matter. When viewing the many works on his website you'll never know what's going to pop into your browser and give cause for thought. His art is both modern and enticing and worthy of your time and consideration. Have a look, and prepare to be intrigued.

Mike-

Salvator Rosa – "Two Warriors"


Two Warriors (1656-1657)
 
Salvator Rosa, (Naples and Rome 1615-1673), Two Warriors (1656-1657), etching with drypoint, 5 1/2″ x 3 3/4″, on medium laid paper, margins as shown, third state of three (with Rosa’s rework of the left foot of the seated soldier), a relatively early 17th century impression, the drypoint still strong and bold [Wallace 44].

    That’s what the description said about this etching on the dealer’s site where I purchased it several years ago. When I first viewed this work I was struck with the similarity of etching styles between Rosa and the two Rembrandt restrikes that I own. They were contemporaries and exchanged their work with each other from what I’ve read [cite source].

I haven’t been able to verify the above facts given in Wallace 44 since I don’t own a copy or have access to that scholarly work but I do agree with the description about the image; dark and clear and rendered with such care that you can feel their anguish; the foreground warrior in a state of exhaustion and the tormented facial expression of the rear warrior. Here it is listed at The Art Institute of Chicago under a slightly different title.

I’m still awestruck whenever I view this piece, and I enjoy the simple routine of quietly removing it from its protective sleeve and holding it in my gloved fingers while looking closely at its fine detail under a bright light. The expressions of the warriors could only have been obtained from seeing and feeling their meaning in person, or by experiencing it first hand through the trials of life. And only the talent of an artist such as Rosa is able to convey that expression of emotion simply and directly through the skill of his own hand. This is also a prime example of art that can be gotten at realistic prices, and there’s nothing like owning original fine art. To hold and closely examine a lifetime1 etching in your hands that was personally produced by the artist some 350 years ago is both astounding and gratifying.

As much as I love this little piece that comes from a 64-etching series known as the Figurines, it doesn’t come close to the mastery of some of his other etchings such as Democritus in Meditation, or Rescue of the Infant Oedipus. These allegorical works not only illustrate Rosa’s talent as a fine etcher, but also gives us a good glimpse into his renown character.

Here’s a short biography taken from the Web Gallery of Art:
“Salvator Rosa was an Italian Baroque painter and etcher of the Neapolitan school remembered for his wildly romantic or “sublime” landscapes, marine paintings, and battle pictures. He was also an accomplished poet, satirist, actor, and musician.  Rosa studied painting in Naples, coming under the influence of the Spanish painter and engraver José de Ribera. Rosa went to Rome in 1635 to study, but he soon contracted malaria. He returned to Naples, where he painted numerous battle and marine pictures and developed his peculiar style of landscape – picturesquely wild scenes of nature with shepherds, seamen, soldiers, or bandits – the whole infused with a romantic poetic quality.

His reputation as a painter preceded his return to Rome in 1639. Already famous as an artist, he also became a popular comic actor. During the Carnival of 1639 he rashly satirized the famous architect and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, thereby making a powerful enemy. For some years thereafter the environment of Florence was more comfortable for him than that of Rome. In Florence he enjoyed the patronage of Cardinal Giovanni Carlo de’ Medici. Rosa’s own house became the center of a literary, musical, and artistic circle called the Accademia dei Percossi; here also Rosa’s flamboyant personality found expression in acting. In 1649 he returned and finally settled in Rome. Rosa, who had regarded his landscapes more as recreation than as serious art, now turned largely to religious and historical painting. In 1660 he began etching and completed a number of successful prints. His satires were posthumously published in 1710.”
This work, the aforementioned Rembrandt restrikes, and just a few others make-up the antique print category in my collection. The Rembrandt etchings again portray humanity as sensitive and as real as he must have felt and lived then, and they are a superb reference, but the lifetime Rosa etching has the additional aesthetic of having come directly from the artist’s hand which adds that much more to enjoy. And that’s saying a lot.

Where can you find lifetime prints and how much do they cost? You’ll be hard pressed finding them at your local galleries since most of them will be promoting local artists (as they should be). If you are lucky enough to have a print dealer in your city I’d advise creating a close relationship with them. They can be invaluable to your education and a great resource when researching an unknown work. And don’t forget to patronize them for their time.

Cost is tricky. Famous names will always command the highest prices and most of us don’t have those kind of assets available, but if you discover an artist, new or old, that you really like and don’t have enough to cover it right then and there, make an offer. You’d be surprised how willing galleries and dealers can be to get you what you want. It took me almost a year to pay off an Emigdio Vasquez painting I had to have and the dealer was more than happy to help me out by arranging interest-free terms. As the old saying goes–it never hurts to ask.  You’ll also find a wealth of sources on the net, including eBay. But forgery is big business so put your initial trust into a known and reputable dealer.

You’ll find owning original art is greatly rewarding and well worth your efforts. Consider it a lifetime investment (and don’t forget to look at it now and then).

Mike-

1. A work of art produced during the artist’s lifetime, presumed to be by his/her hand.

Raymond Sipos – "Sheltered Cove & California Desert"


Sheltered Cove – 1989
Raymond Sipos, (Michigan and California 1939 – ), Sheltered Cove (1989), Acrylic on Plexiglas, 20″ x 30″

    Yeah, I know. Wallpaper. I always thank my parents for exposing me to art by the occasional purchase of an oil painting by a local artist and the presence of all kinds of art books around the house when I was growing up, but I swore I’d never invest my time and money on the same mundane landscape scenes and wrought iron rooster sculptures that decorated our wood-paneled 1950′s living room walls. But there comes a time when, after cultivating a great interest in abstract art and its many incarnations through museums, art galleries, books and documentaries, the return to a sublime landscape now and then to relax our senses and prepare them to once again embark on that strange and wonderful genre is a welcome repose.

I was first introduced to the work of Raymond Sipos in 1989 when I lived in Laguna Hills, California. Nearby, squeezed in-between a commercial printer and a machine shop in a dense industrial complex was a small art gallery named, “Gallery of Arts.” I came to find the folks that ran the gallery were of Greek heritage, and so was the bulk of their stock, except for a sizable collection of original Erté prints. Although I did show an interest in their stable of local Greek artists, they were really pushing the Ertés suggesting the ole’ boy was about to kick off (and they were right) and an investment in his work today would be worth many times more in the near future. But as hard as I tried to like his work, those gaudy, metallic designs reminded me too much of the film costumes for which he was brought to Hollywood by Louis B. Mayer in 1925, and did nothing for me at that time. If I looked at art strictly as an investment I would have gobbled-up every Erte they had. But I don’t, and I can honestly say I haven’t purchased a piece of art with the intention of making a profit because, like most, its about how the piece grabbed my attention in the first place and won my desire to own it rather than unloading it later on for a gain.

I then brought their attention to a very realistic original landscape that I couldn’t turn away from by a local artist I’d never heard of–Raymond Sipos. His brush strokes seem to illuminate from what I thought was canvas to create a light of their own. A beautiful panorama of color and subtle highlights reminded me so much of the California coastline I had been in love with all of my life. I could almost feel the brisk offshore wind blowing off the misty caps of the curling waves breaking towards the sandy beach, and that rarest of ice plant nestled on top a foreground of craggy rock, a local treasure not to be disturbed. This painting, as simple and sublime as it was, captured a corner of my heart and told me if I wanted a little secret place to escape to now and then, this was it.

I inquired if Mister Sipos had other paintings available and after a brief phone call I was asked to return the following Saturday when his agent would show some of his other available works and I was given his current catalog to ponder.


And ponder I did. Among the quaint meadow and marsh scenery, the towering Golden State Bridge seen from a remote side of the San Francisco Bay, and numerous dramatic seascapes was a series of desert settings pictured near the end of his portfolio. One in particular caught my eye as another reminder of those places I always looked forward to visiting, and the high desert is one of them. Many years back we would load up the car and head out to Lucerne or Apple Valley for a weekend of R & R. We normally did this in the fall just when the rainy season started and the temperatures went below a hundred degrees. At night we would watch the skyline dissolve into layers of pastel colors giving way to a bright blue/black sky. Sometimes we’d catch a sparkling meteor shower while laying on the roof of our cars sipping wine or enjoying one of the delicacies a chef friend thoughtfully brought along. In the morning we’d wake to a revitalized landscape, and the smell of damp vegetation and smoke from a wood fired stove emanating from a distant chimney, just like this one–

California Desert – 1989
Raymond Sipos, (Michigan and California 1939 – ), California Desert (1989), Acrylic on Plexiglas, 20″ x 30″.
This picture brought back all those sensations and when I saw it in-person, it became another must-have. Both of these works measure 20 x 30 inches, unframed, and are painted, interestingly enough, on Plexiglas. I’ve seen fine art done on almost countless medium but this was my first exposure to oil painting on plastic. Sipos uses a very thick and optically clear Plexiglas as his canvas and paints them with acrylic paint. The Plexiglas canvas allows him to achieve an almost glowing quality in his paintings as evidenced by his luminous skies and flowing water highlights. And his coloring can only be described as sumptuous. This was art that was simply pleasing to the eye, and my eyes just can’t get enough of it. As a landscape it doesn’t really have anything profound to say, other than what they all should say– “Don’t you wish YOU were here?”

During my investigation into Sipos I found out quite a few interesting facts about the man and his work. About the time of my purchase (1989) he was experimenting with a new printing process he was developing for reproducing his art, with a personal touch. He wanted to retain that luminous quality of Plexiglas in his reproductions so he developed a mechanized process of printing directly onto the plastic then touching up the highlights and other details by hand. This reduced the price of his original works by more than half and I was very interested in the results. It was an involved and labor intensive process but at close inspection the colors looked washed out and the details blurred. I resisted the temptation to purchase these reproductions hoping that the process would later be perfected but I believe the project was soon afterwards abandoned for quality reasons.

Here’s an excerpt from his bio:
“Ray Sipos, who is descended from a family of Hungarian musicians and artists, began his formal art career in a most unusual way, working as a mechanic and engineer at Cal Tech’s world-renowned Jet Propulsion laboratory in Pasadena, California. Participating in an employee art show, he exhibited his paintings and sold out! With such encouragement, although he had just begun his career in engineering, he opted to develop his artistic talents instead. Such a mix of science and art was nothing new in Sipos’ life. He was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1939 and as a teenager, moved to Southern California where he attended California Polytechnic State College. While earning an engineering degree, he couldn’t resist also enrolling in painting classes. Studying with New England artist Benjamin McGrath, Sipos became a keen observer of nature. He learned to recreate the special light and atmosphere unique to California. But Sipos also began to follow his own path of exploration, thinking as a trained scientist as well as an inspired artist.”
I now see Raymond Sipos posters and prints in Wal-Mart, stationary stores and boutiques, but he seems to be leaning toward the fantastic in his current landscape renditions. Although the above two originals I purchased are more subtle in composition, the perspectives and skies are a bit dramatized and the colors enhanced, but they remain very enjoyable works none the less.

The Gallery of Arts was a nice find, and so close to home, but they have long gone by the wayside trying to provide a little culture to a tiny, bedroom community more concerned about how they look rather than how they look at things.

I purchased two original oils by Sipos from the Gallery of Arts that day, as well as one by another artist named Manos, but that’s another story.

Mike-

Rembrandt – "Prodigal Son & Academical Figures"


Return of the Prodigal Son – 1636

Two Men, One Standing - 1646
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, (the Netherlands 1606-1669), Return of the Prodigal Son (1636) (6-1/4″ x 5-7/16″) and Two Men, One Standing (1646) (7-21/32″ x 5-1/8″), etching on heavy laid paper. Amand-Durand, after Rembrandt.

    I imagine everyone would like to own a Rembrandt, and this is as close to one (or two) as I may ever get (other than at a museum). But these restrikes serve as an example of how NOT to collect fine art. Sure, the images are finely and beautifully detailed as I expected, and I realize they are not lifetime works, but because of a mis-understanding by the seller and my blind desire to own them, I ended up with an enormous case of buyer’s remorse.

The story goes one day at a local Orange County (California) gallery I frequented in the mid 1990′s, I was shown some new etchings from American master etcher Peter Milton, and I thought, “why not collect etchings from the old masters?” I already had 19th century Alfonse Legros and Maxime Lalanne etchings that I loved, so why not go back another two hundred years and see what’s available, and even more importantly, affordable. Rembrandt came immediately into mind. The Peter Milton etchings were glamorous to say the least, but like Erte’, I just couldn’t get into his decorative style.

An inquiry from this dealer got her talking on the phone to another dealer and I found the prices not nearly as bad as I had anticipated. Back then (mid 1990′s) a lifetime Rembrandt “Hundred Guilder Print” could be had for $4500, with some of the lesser works (and smaller works) costing as little as $1200. These were prints pulled by Rembrandt himself therefor oozing in aesthetic value (to me). Normally, when I contemplate the possibility of acquiring something truly inspirational (which original art does to me anyways), I automatically think of ways to juggle my financial responsibilities in a way that would enable me to buy it. But I was already in the midst of paying for an oil by one of California’s most favorite muralists (Emigdio Vasquez) so I had to exercise a little restraint (very little).

When the dealer noticed my apprehension about the price of the lifetime prints (she was always good at that), she immediately suggested Rembrandt restrikes. She said after Rembrandt died his estate containing all of his paintings and plates were transferred to the government of Amsterdam, where they sat in storage (in a humid castle dungeon) for a couple hundred years until a famous master etcher discovered them (name unknown). Now, this famous European etcher so revered Rembrandt’s work that he dedicated his life to the restoration of his etching plates by cleaning and clarifying each and every line on all of the surviving plates. This meticulous work took decades to complete but made available restrikes of Rembrandt’s original etchings now available directly from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. She said the museum issued certain prints from the restored plates every year, but only a handful were available to the public, and I may have to wait for years to get the exact ones I wanted.

Well, I swallowed this story hook, line and sinker. We went through a catalog of Rembrandt’s etchings she had right then and there and I choose an old favorite, “Return of the Prodigal Son,” and another one that caused my throat to tighten, “Two men, one standing.” I’ve always loved his Prodigal Son and how he surrounded the reuniting with a statement from the bystanders. They turn their heads away from the raw emotion of the scene as the father embraces his son, made humble by the trials of life. And the two male models, their emaciated bodies and oppressed expressions burning straight through Rembrandt as he so honestly captured their humanity.

These “restrikes” were both priced about a tenth of what their lifetime cost would have been, so I gladly laid down my payment and waited anxiously for their arrival. About two months later I got a phone call asking me to drop by the gallery to pick-up my Rembrandts! It never amazes me how joyful I can feel, with such abundant anticipation, when taking possession of original art you already know you’re going to love. The next best thing to it is discovering the pedigree or in-depth background about an unknown work of art you already own.

She said the quality of these restrikes were as good as the first pulled prints from the original plates and I couldn’t have agreed with her more. Each line was strong and clear and the plate marks were heavily indented into the thick, laid paper. The images were simply beautiful and I couldn’t help feel that they were every bit a satisfying experience as holding the lifetime versions right in front of me (I thought).

After I had owned and admired these works for awhile I wanted to know more about the master engraver that had devoted his life to their preservation. I decided to start with the “Amand-Durand” stamp on the verso of my prints which I assumed was the dealer’s stamp. This is where things went downhill, and as the saying goes, “I should have left well, alone.”

The advent of the internet opened-up the world to research where previously hours had to be spent in libraries, museums and galleries trying to track down information about an artist or his or her work. Time and money on books and magazines were the accepted norm if that piece of info was to be garnered to satisfy your curiosity. Now it’s just a click away, and away I went clicking until I found the dirt on Rembrandt’s reproductions.

That’s right–the truth is these so-called “restrikes” are simply reproductions. Now there’s nothing wrong with reproductions; they educate and satisfy a need for decoration, but I wasn’t looking for decoration as much as I wanted to feel a kind of closeness to an artist’s work, and most reproductions lack that kind of aesthetic to me.

Further investigation (which is what I should have done in the first place) reveled the master engraver to be Amand-Durand, born in Paris, France in 1831. There’s quite a good write-up on him here at an online gallery specializing on his work, but in a nutshell Amand-Durand admired 15th, 16th and 17th century Old Masters’ engravings and decided to recreate their images to preserve the original quality for future generations. He did this by exactly duplicating each work, particularly Rembrandts’, onto copper plates and called the recreations “Amand-Durand’s after Rembrandt.”

“What we have is a noted master duplicating a master some 200 years later,” says the Kavanaugh Gallery, and they are correct. They are reproductions, and I wanted to see if they really are as masterful as everyone since the 1800′s said they are since I now owned two of them. But I have to say I was terribly disappointed to learn this as all this time I thought, as I was told by my dealer, that these etchings were indeed struck from the original reconditioned, Rembrandt plates. This was an assumption about a new facet of collectible art (to me) that I should have examined before purchasing, and the same could be said about the dealer. I don’t feel that I was deliberately mislead in the beginning since she may have lacked the same knowledge that I did, but she could have notified me later on when she placed the order for the works which I doubt came directly from the Rijksmuseum since the plates were not in their possession (more on that later).

Here’s a couple comparisons between lifetime Rembrandt etchings found on the net, and scans of my Amand-Durand reproductions:


The first is a detail from The Return of the Prodigal Son found on the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website (state unknown).  This reproduction appears pretty close to the lifetime version but bear in mind the state of either of these versions is unknown, and there may be variations caused by scanning, etc., but the main thing I’m looking for are the absence and inclusion of material.

The main difference with the Amand-Durand version is the additional lines on the father’s cap, a droopier lip on the figure overlooking the father and son (who appears to have six fingers on his right hand), and an overall roughness instead of a lighter, more elegant style of the original. The son’s face appears to be turned slightly more to the right and his mouth more open in the Amand-Durand.
Here’s a detail from Two Men, One Standing (also known as Academical Figures of Two Men) found on the Jonathan Janson website:


The differences are a bit more apparent here with Amand-Durand’s additional shading on the seated man’s cheek and the lack of detail on the standing man’s groin cloth. Shading is heavier handed. But again, this may be due to a difference in the state of this particular plate between the two, or wear on the lifetime plate.

The Amand-Durand story gets even deeper, though. After his death in 1905, his original copper plates were obtained by a French book publishing family (Dominique Vincent et Cie) who used the plates for book illustrations, and for private parties interested in his work. That’s when the problem seemed to start as it was later rumored in art circles that some original Rembrandt etchings in museums may in fact be Amand-Durands. In 1985 an American art dealer researched this rumor and managed to track down and purchase all 348 original Amand-Durand copper plates from the Dominique Vincent family.

So, apparently, this art dealer (AFA Editions) is the international dealer of Amand-Durand restrikes (that’s right, they are restrikes of reproduction restrikes!), but I could not find AFA Editions anywhere on the web. That also means my pieces could not have come from the Rijksmuseum since the plates have been in the possession of AFA Editions since 1985.

In summary, I like these images, if not just for their very close similarity to Rembrandt’s work, but for the feeling and emotion that they impart to me with the story being told. They are, after all, reproductions, but they are also excellent illustrations of a master artist-- the master artist being Rembrandt.

Mike-

Book Review - "Hi! My Name is Chicken"

  
Hi! My Name is Chicken, by Rosie Lopez Schlereth, September 2nd, 2008, 232 pages, 8-1/2″ x 11″ spiral bound copy.

    I always jump at any opportunity to further my knowledge about an artist in my collection, especially a living artist that I hold in very high regard. Emigdio Vasquez is one such artist, and I was thrilled to hear from his ex-wife who had recently completed an autobiographical book that had been in the works for 11 years and included a candid look of their married lives together.

Rosie, or should I say Rosie Gloria Burgos Lopez-Vasquez Acosta-Schlereth, contacted me via email recently asking if I’d like to have a look at the third printing of her book titled, “Hi! My Name is Chicken – A Life Story – My Autobiography – Also My Married Life With Emigdio Chavez Vasquez Painter & Muralist.” She knew of my interest in Emigdio’s work through my review of a painting by him I used to own, and wondered if I’d be interested in reviewing her work, too. I sent back an enthusiastic “Yes!” and found her spiral-bound book in my mailbox shortly afterward. The publication is a full-sized, 8-1/2″ x 11″, 232 page affair that resembles a manuscript with a glassine cover and flexible backing. It lays perfectly flat on any surface, and is especially comfortable in the lap, with no binding of the pages as they are turned. It simply feels good to hold, which makes a great first impression once you get past the fact that it contains no color photographs, but the gray scale images contained within the book are noteworthy and plentiful.

Rosie has compiled 84 chapters in this fairly monumental genealogical work which begins with her birth on February 7th, 1942 in Yuma, Arizona. She has employed a story telling technique I have always admired, and always find myself doing when contemplating my own personal past, is what was going on in the rest of the world at that point in time. This is an incredibly interesting and important tool for the reader, be it a relative or a researcher, for the author to establish a reliable time frame in which a person’s key life experiences had occurred. And Rosie is quite generous with her historical notations by providing original, dated clippings from local newspapers (“TWO JAP SHIPS SUNK NEAR AMBOINA” – The Yuma Daily, February 7, 1942), background information such as the Poston War Relocation Center in Yuma County for the internment of Japanese citizens (The facility was composed of three separate camps which the internees named, Roasten, Toastin and Dustin, because of their desert locations), and an impressive recollection of events that were verbally related to her by several generations of family members.

I found the information about the impact the five million Braceros that were imported by the United States and Mexico had to the town of Somerton, Arizona, to meet our agricultural needs enlightening, and what life was like for her young family living in that rural town in those days, but what really drew me into her story was her life experiences in Anaheim, California. Rosie’s father, Benito Perez Lopez, was a farm laborer and had built the small house for her mother in Somerton around 1941. Rosie’s mother, Elvira Burgos Lopez, was raised in Anaheim, California, in a home built on north Lemon Street in 1921. Rosie goes on to chronicle her mother’s upbringing by mentioning the local schools and attractions that her family attended or visited, and I knew every one of them. What I wasn’t familiar with was the segregation Mexican-Americans had experienced in those days. Pearson Park (previously named Anaheim City Park), was a favorite summer haunt for us kids since it had the “plunge;” an enormous public swimming pool. Hispanics could only swim there on Mondays, which was the day before the pool was cleaned. At our favorite movie theater, the Anaheim Fox Theater, Hispanics were only allowed in the balcony. La Palma Elementary School was known as the Mexican school, and so on and so on. These things were non-existent by the time my Hispanic friends and I came along decades later, but it is a sobering reminder of what these proud people and their families were confronted with when they returned home from fighting and/or supporting our war efforts. Most of them understood and accepted this social inequality with grace. I was born in southern California in 1952 and raised in Fullerton; a small town bordering the north side of Anaheim. My best and oldest friends were Santos and Arlena Torres, along with the Cruzes and the Valdezes. My neighborhood was well integrated by the mid 1950′s and every family cared for each other, but even then a degradation would occasionally be heard (Santos Sr. would jokingly tell us kids that they weren’t “Wetbacks,” but “Scratchbacks” – they crawled UNDER the border fence!).

Rosie then continues for 49 chapters covering historical events in southern California that her family were part of including the Big Earthquake of 1933, the flood of 1938 when 22 inches of rain fell in the San Bernardino mountains for five days causing an enormous wall of water to invade the flatlands killing 20 migrant workers, the snow that fell in Anaheim in 1949, and a less severe flood in 1952 complete with a photograph of a 10 year old Rosie and her brother, sister and cousin standing in ankle high water in front of their home. These chapters also chronicle, in amazing detail, her moves back and forth from California to Arizona to take care of crucial family matters, the year to year events that took place from her birth to 16 years of age, and a through accounting of each ancestor for both her father and mother’s lineage going as far back as 16th century Spain and the Conquest of Cortes. The photographs that accompany the text show a proud and noble people, with an air of dignity, appreciation and love for all of those who surround them.

Emigdio Chavez Vasquez

Chapter 50 begins with Rosie’s introduction to Emigdio Vasquez. Her sister’s boyfriend would bring Emigdio along with him when visiting. For money in those days, Emigdio painted portraits of Popes for Mater Dei High School, a parochial high school located in Santa Ana, CA, which was also the school he attended. He completed four paintings of Popes and was paid $50 for each.  Rosie eventually met Emigdio’s mother, Guadalupe Chavez Vasquez, and with her blessing, the two were married in 1959 at the old Orange County Courthouse in downtown Santa Ana. Rosie was only 17 years old at the time, and Emigdio, 19, so his and her mother had to legally stand for them. The newly wed couple lived with Emigdio’s sister for a time, until they located a $50 a month apartment in the city of Orange. Emigdio soon found work at Electra Motors in Anaheim and they settled into a very modest domestic life.  I was touched by a passage Rosie mentioned about their first purchase together. A visit by a door-to-door vacuum salesman while Emigdio was at work had Rosie signing a contract for $245, “and heaven knows what the interest was!” All she had to vacuum was an overstuffed chair since the floors in their tiny apartment were wall-to-wall linoleum. “It was very foolish of me…,” she admitted, but I can imagine the elation she must have felt with her newfound ability to buy something “on time” like everyone else, and then the remorse that followed when she reckoned with the reality of the unnecessary debt.

The couple’s first son, Adolph Arthur Lopez Vasquez, was born on Emigdio’s birthday after a 34 hour labor. Shortly after Rosie returned home from the hospital she developed a 106 degree fever as a result of an afterbirth infection. Since they did not own a car, Emigdio had to run to his sister’s home on Cypress Street to get her to drive them back to the hospital. The other women in the hospital had cautioned Rosie to stay an extra day after giving birth since it was her first child, but they were eager to return home with their new baby. The infection resulted in a two-week hospital stay.

Rosie’s coverage of Emigdio’s family history is informative, and gives us some insight to the painter when he was a young boy. Thanks to the author of the family tree, Santiago Chavez Vasquez, their lineage is traceable back to 1720. Emigdio, one of ten children born to Santiago and Guadalupe, was named after his grandfather, Emigdio Chavez, and his grandmother was Emiliana Coyazo Gonzales, the maternal side of the family. On the paternal side were his grandfather, Panfilo Vasquez, and his grandmother, Micaela Gonzales. Rosie goes on to describe the young couple’s immigration from Mexico to Jerome, Arizona where Santiago found work in the copper mines. They eventually relocated to Orange County, California where he worked in the shipyards and prospered well enough to purchase a nice home in the city of Orange in 1942 and begin a family. There were, of course, sacrifices made along the way, including cultural compromises since there were no Spanish churches in those days and they had to practice their worship in English. They used this to their benefit since they wanted to be considered, “Real Americans.”

Rosie and Emigdio’s second child was Rosemary, delivered August 14th, 1960 by a inept pediatric intern and a, “crazy nurse that hates women!” Their third child, Dora, was born to a very medicated Rosie in 1963. That was also the year JFK was assassinated and when the “Breaking News” appeared on the TV set, Rosie grabbed her new born child and held her close, “sort of like a security blanket for mom.” The last child that Rosie and Emigdio were blessed with was Carlos Emigdio Vasquez (Higgy), born in 1968.  Emigdio obtained an AA degree in Art from Santa Ana College in 1973, then his Bachelors in 1978 and Masters in 1979 from Cal State Fullerton. It was also in 1973 when Rosie decided to divorce him. She had finally learned how to drive, and was hired at Sears to work in catalog sales, but she couldn’t see them being married another 14 years. “I was too young when we married,” Rosie said. “He told me, ‘I never promised you a rose garden.’ I think he meant the sacrifice it would take him to get to where he is today. He was forever in school and became a respected teacher in his field.’”

Over my correspondence with Rosie after reading her book and writing this review, I was surprised by the total lack of animosity between her and Emigdio. But this must have been a very sad time for them both, and the weight of her decision is clearly shown by her expression in a very poignant photograph taken of the couple at their home in 1973. I’ve seen that look countless times before and each time it broke my heart knowing the end of a long term relationship was near.

Over the years of their marriage, Emigdio painted Rosie’s portrait, a lake front landscape for her mother, and a portrait of her father. He also painted a picture of a court jester that was stolen in 1962, a painting of JFK shortly after he was assassinated (now part of her sister’s collection), a portrait of her sister’s in-laws, and one of Emiliano Zapata completed in 1973. He executed a 3-Dimensional painting for an art class of two ladies wearing shawls carrying a candle, in which Rosie posed. He also painted a mural in the patio of his parent’s home of Pancho Villa on his horse, as a dedication to his father. When the house was sold in 1998, the new owners expanded the wall when they remodeled but they preserved the mural.

Rosie said Emigdio admired Renaissance painters and how they utilized contrasting gold highlights in portraiture, and that Emigdio often employed those techniques to capture the true skin color of his subjects. I can personally attest to the fact that Emigdio knows what’s he doing in portraiture, for the painting I’ve owned, and those that I’ve personally viewed, have not only realistically depicted the light of the environment surrounding them, but they also give you a believable glimpse into the personality of the subject. And that ain’t easy. I had only experienced such penetrating immersion when viewing the old masters, and I was overjoyed to discover it from a contemporary artist, and a local one at that.

Rosie remarried in 1975 to Benjamin Quintero Acosta, a Railway Engineering Supply supervisor in Orange. She gave birth to Sarah Ana Lopez Acosta in 1976, and Vera Carmen Acosta in 1977. Benjamin was 13 years her junior, but again, Rosie was seeking independence, something she never really had fully experienced, and divorced Benjamin just before the new year in 1980.

The remaining chapters deal with Rosie’s personal trials such as her mother’s passing, health issues, and life’s experiences vividly recalled and lovingly notated in a way that makes you feel like you were part of her family.

Rosie met Paul Schlereth in 1992 and married in 2004. They met at that time when Rosie’s mother was very ill and she would say, “God took my mother but he gave me Paul.” By coincidence, Paul had purchased the same house in 1998 that Rosie used to walk by on the way home when she was eight years old. She remembered peeking into the front window and thinking, “This is suburban living!” Paul is of German decent, and that made Rosie think she had now come full circle since it was the German immigrants that originally settled Anaheim. Also included in the text is an interesting reprint of the life journal written by Paul’s mother titled, “The Almost Life Story of Gertrude Schlereth – Schrieshein Baden Germany.” Today, Paul and Rosie enjoy volunteering their time to the American Legion by helping our veterans in many different ways, and being the first one on the road when a family member needs help.

Emigdio never remarried, but he is a welcome guest at Paul and Rosie’s when the family gets together for the holidays and enjoys helping out with the festivities. In 2007, Emigdio, with the help of his son, Higgy, completed an eight panel mural for Cal State Fullerton depicting life sized images of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez, and others. Emigdio Vasquez has completed 22 murals in Orange County, several in Fullerton including one in the Museum Center Auditorium and several along Lemon Street. Rosie’s oldest daughter, Rosemary, married Steve Tuthill in 2008 and works as an aerospace engineer in Anaheim, California.

Viewing the photographs on the final pages of this work left me feeling a little sad as I said goodbye to Rosie and to those who had meant so much to her in her life. It was a sentimental journey for me as well since I was so familiar with the places and a lot of the times that she writes about. The people she lovingly describes seemed very familiar, too.

This is a wonderful genealogical work, and her family is fortunate to have a member that was willing to put so much effort into the preservation of it’s memories for the current generation, and for those that will follow. It also serves as an excellent example of how to compile a comprehensive and informative journal for future family members, and is a great resource for students researching Hispanic cultural history.

You can order a copy of Rosie’s book by contacting her at rosie42@pacbell.net.

vaya con Dios mi amigos!
Mike

George Gibson – "Tomasini Ranch"


Tomasini Ranch - c. 1950's
George Gibson, (Scotland and California 1904-2001), Tomasini Ranch (c. 1950′s), charcoal, 12-1/2″ x 9-1/2″, on smooth, ivory paper.

    I’ve always been a sucker for a good pencil or charcoal drawing. This one is by California artist George Gibson who was the director of the scene department at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios for such films as “The Wizard of Oz,” “Brigadoon” and “Oklahoma.” This is another one of those works you discover when you aren’t looking for anything in particular. Or one of those media types or genres that you said you weren’t going to invest any more money into but you end up buying anyway. Surprisingly, those kind of finds can be some of the most enjoyable in your collection.

I ran across this drawing while browsing around the old Starry-Sheets Gallery in Irvine, California1 on my lunch break around 1994. I was fortunate at the time to work within just a few minutes drive of several small galleries that stocked some interesting little finds. This gallery was run by the son (David) of California artist, Millard Sheets, who was a keystone of the California School of Painting movement many years ago. I also discovered Roger Kuntz and a few others during my lunchtime visits there along the way.

Beyond the given message of a work of art (if there is any), I find artist’s drawings and sketches more personal than their finished paintings for a reason I find hard to explain. They just seem more intimate, more revealing as the genesis of an idea. As though you are personally viewing the mechanics of the artist’s inner creativity and personality with each drawn line, and I find that irresistibly intriguing.

Whenever I view this work I think HOT! Hot as in hiking through the high desert in the middle of August (don’t ask me how I know this). I can almost feel the heat radiating from the surface of the huge boulders in the foreground like hot rocks in a sauna room. The trees in the background oscillate quietly from the thermals rising off the ground. The out buildings, no longer protected by the nearby foliage, bake from the punishing sun. I can imagine Gibson sitting under his umbrella while sketching this scene in the warm summer air. And I love the realistic textures he was able to render onto the smooth face of the rocks, and the old dead tree in the background.

I confess not knowing very much about the artist before purchasing this piece, but I’d have to make that same excuse for most of my collection. Here’s the short version of his bio from the Fochaberians website:
George Gibson ANA AWS
1904-2001
Artistic designer in US film industry
Director of Art, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Hollywood
1934-1969
President of California National Watercolor Society 1951

George Gibson was born in Edinburgh but brought up in Fochabers where his father worked as a tailor. George’s teacher, Dhuie Tully, recognized his skill as an artist from an early age and helped George develop his talents further.

In 1930, George decided to seek his fortune in America and found part-time work in Hollywood at the famous MGM studios as a scenic artist. As early as 1934, George became Artistic Director at MGM. He changed the way that motion pictures were made in Hollywood. George created the backdrops of many of the famous films -’The Wizard of Oz’ ‘American in Paris’ and ‘Random Harvest’ to name but a few.

On retirement from the studios in 1969, George became a practicing artist in fine arts, particularly landscape painting of California scenery. He continued to paint, exhibit and give classes to eager young students right up to his death at the age of 96.
Here’s the long version in the form of an essay written by art historian, writer and curator Janet Blake.

So years after owning this work and admiring the artist and his soft touch in landscape rendering, it finally dawned on me that I’d never heard of Tomasini Ranch!

My purchase notes mention that Tomasini Ranch was “hidden in the hills of San Luis Obispo.” A search on the web revealed some interesting facts about Tomasini Ranch and the families that owned it, and interestingly enough, Martinelli’s Apple Cider figures into it.

Apparently there were two Tomales High school students in the 1970′s that were getting serious about each other, until their uncle informed them that they were related! Turned out they shared a great, great grandfather together and an interesting genelogical story of Swiss and Italian immigration in Central California is told, including the story of Stephen Martinelli, who in 1868 at the age of 26 founded the Martinelli Apple Juice company in Watsonville.

As a young immigrant, Olympio Martinelli worked for his brother-in-law Louis Cheda, bought the Olema Store with his cousin Attilio Martinelli (who went on to be a county supervisor from 1920 to 1940), and then rented and later bought his father-in-law Battista Tomasini’s Ranch, from which Tomasini Creek and Tomasini Canyon derived their names.

There are more interesting genealogical facts about these pioneers of the Central Valley that are worth a look here. The only other mention of Tomasini Ranch was found in a paper about an E.coli outbreak from pre-washed mixed bagged salad in San Diego and Orange County2 in 2004.

I feel like my investigation into this work is mostly complete, but I lack confidence about the date of the drawing. The 1950′s reference is an estimate based on the style of the out buildings and the truck, but it could be earlier or later by at least a decade.

Mike-
  1. No longer located in Old Irvine. Last heard (2002) the Starry-Sheets Gallery was located in Pomona, CA, and operating out of the LA County Fair
  2. Investigation of Pre-washed Mixed Bagged Salad following an Outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in San Diego and Orange County, page 26.


Rick Wedel - "Domestic Composition No. 1"

Rick Wedel, (Michigan 1968 – Present), Domestic Composition No. 1
(1998), 28″ x 22″, Oil on Masonite.
“Choosing a predominantly cool palette, Wedel has produced a view of silent everyday life, beneath which tension and anxiety lie...”
That brief artist’s description accurately and elegantly describes this thought provoking abstract-figurative work by Michigan artist Rick Wedel. Executed in oil on the rough side of a Masonite canvas, Wedel depicts the underlying tension and daily monotony that can erode and eventually destroy a relationship if we so carelessly allow it to happen.

This allegorical work portrays the human condition in a literal sense by showing us a modern but timeless scene with a disillusioned husband in the foreground and his equally disillusioned wife bent over the stove behind him. The child in the background (in the high chair) appears to be quietly observing his apathetic parents. I feel sorrow for this young family as it seems to be headed for a terminal state for which it can’t recover. The emotion is already deep rooted and inescapable. They are as detached from each other as the melancholy couple depicted in Edward Hopper’s “Room in New York.” A different time period, but no less tragic.

I love the drama of the message and how Wedel’s artistic expression draws me further into his work to explore its intimate details. It made me think about the cause of the ambivalence, and how it relates to the ease of acquiring immediate satisfaction through the internet. The net is often touted as the ultimate interactive experience, but it just doesn’t substitute for a living dialog about living life. There are tragedies that punctuate our lives, and there is often a silent anxiety that surrounds our daily existence (better known as a “rut”). That may be the only message Wedel is portraying here, but I think there’s more.

I’ve been accused of going beyond the interpretation, but the purpose of art is to tell a story (most of the time) and where it ends is up depends on the viewer. That’s part of the enjoyment of owning original art and it’s how I define “living with art.” Very few works of art come with instructions on how to look at it. That’s always been left to the aesthetic sense which seems to come in time. Just like developing a taste for wine lead to my appreciation for the dryer styles, art had a similar effect in that while those beautiful and serene landscape vistas that hang in museums around the world are pure eye candy, I find people oriented art much more satisfying. That’s why Wedel’s art ‘works’ for me. I particularly like one of his ‘artist’s statements’ describing his style:
“Hard wired in each of us are the mechanisms giving unique importance to the figurative form. It’s visual gravity is so strong that even in very generalized and abstracted versions, it has a strong influence. I’m relying on the figure in these compositions to offer solidity and calm to otherwise chaotic and unrealistic surfaces.”
When I read this part of his bio I knew we had some common ground to explore:
Rick often opts for texture over detail to achieve the forms in his works. “I enjoy creating anonymous figures because it encourages interpretation, and brings a sense of the infinite. To me, concealing the identity of figures and environments is an invitation to the viewer. That the viewer brings something to the work that makes it personal for them is important to me. Art becomes memorable when people make their own connections with it. In my work I have sought to make these associations possible by creating starting points. Each viewer then goes their own way.”
You can read his full bio here.

I love the moody palette and how he accents relationships with contrasting colors (orange outlining the man and woman). Wedel painted this work on the rough side of Masonite creating an intense texture and emotion which can only be appreciated in person. It currently sits in a cheesy, blue colored wooden frame I bought from Aaron Brothers just for the sake of hanging until I can find or make a frame that will do it justice (another enjoyable facet of collecting art we’ll talk about later).

The only criticism about this work I can find is a personal preference; I think a wailing kid might have been more appropriate in the scene to add more continuity to the overall tension. But I like it a lot as it is.

Stop on by Rick Wedel’s site and have a look at his unique style.

Mike-