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An Era That Has Gone IX

By       Message Peter Duveen       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment, In Series: An Era That Has Gone

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With perspiration dripping from his forehead and trickling down onto the collar of his already moist shirt, Stanis loaded several of his large paintings into the elevator, shut the heavy elevator doors, and rode up with them to his new studio on the sixth floor of the Ovington Brothers Building. The paintings had come from a month-long exhibition in Manhattan, and he and Aleth were about to host a reception in their studios as a way to show off their latest work. It was early August, and both were having a busy summer. Some new commissions had come Stanis's way, but he was also spending much of his time and effort in getting his existing body of work before the public. The Manhattan show was only moderately successful, so Stanis retrenched, and began to lay down deeper roots in his recently adopted community.

Stanis and Aleth were in many ways inseparable. While they had become steadfast friends, Stanis developed an even deeper appreciation for the older artist after completing a portrait of him. They continued to work together, and their destinies were becoming intertwined. This relationship provided an additional bulwark for Stanis, who, while having become partially acclimatized to American ways, was still struggling in that regard.


Aleth Bjorn
(Image by Bjorn Family archives)
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Aleth Bjorn had first traveled to the United States in 1892, and was by now thoroughly familiar with the ins and outs of surviving in the social and legal systems of the United States. He was an invaluable resource for Stanis, not only as an artistic compatriot, but also in matters practical. The two had only weeks earlier taken studios on the sixth floor of the Ovington Brothers Building, and managed to become neighbors with, as fate would have it, fellow painter Leon Dabo.


Leon Dabo in his studio, ca 1910 (detail).
(Image by Archives of American Art)
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A tall, slender and pensive looking character sporting a well-manicured beard and mustache, Leon was a talented artist with a unique style that catapulted him to fame in Europe, but dampened his acceptance in the States. He had spent many of his early years in Europe, but upon returning to America, is said to have worked with Tiffany competitor John LaFarge on the design of stained glass windows for Brooklyn churches, later moving on to large-scale murals. In the meantime, he developed a sort of misty surrealistic style in his oil paintings that didn't quite grab American audiences. That said, he did catch the attention of Robert Henri in the first decade of the twentieth century, who, when expanding his group of 8 so-called "Ashcan" artists, included Leon in the second round of shows. In 1913 Leon was instrumental in preparations for the Armory Show that introduced the American public to contemporary trends that were shaking up the art world. Some years later, during World War I, he was a captain assigned to intelligence duty in France, and returned to the states with war hero status. Five of his paintings of the war front are among the illustrations that can be found in a volume describing the wartime exploits of the Fourth Division, to which he belonged. Thereafter, he was instrumental in the establishment of the Brooklyn Society of Artists, being one of the early members of that group. By the time Stanis arrived in Brooklyn, Leon, then approaching his sixties, had already assumed a position of elder statesman of the art scene there.

As the afternoon approached, guests began to trickle upstairs to the sixth floor of the Ovington Brothers Building. Some came because Stanis had painted their portraits. Others were friends, or friends of friends, of the artist. They included the wives of doctors and attorneys who often made their homes in the upscale Brooklyn enclave, the borders of which barely encompassed the Ovington Brothers Building before merging with Brooklyn's downtown retail district. Gradually clusters of visitors streamed up to the studios to see what new works were being shown.

Although he would later become better known as a marine painter and a Works Progress Administration artist, Aleth had a strong affinity for decorative arts. The centerpiece of his display was a wall hanging he had been working on for some time. To establish a classical, pastoral setting, the tapestry featured a bust of Pan, the Greek god of music. Surrounding the statue were four human figures, two of which were standing, the other two, reclining. All of this was set before a background of trees. The bucolic work attracted many positive comments from visitors.

Having successfully braved the hot weather and unraveled the idiosyncrasies of the passenger elevator, Nancy, Esther and Corrie made their entry into Aleth's studio, and as they scanned the different pieces on the walls, they immediately took a liking to the wall hanging, so different was it from the usual artist fare of oil paintings and etchings. The trio studied other items that Aleth put on display, before making their way to Stanis's studio across the hall, the 1880s vintage wooden floors of the hallways emitting creaking sounds beneath their feet. Once arrived, all were confronted with the smell of fresh oil paint that filled Stanis's smallish studio, a scent that young Nancy was beginning to enjoy. It is hard to know which of the three -- Corrie, Esther or Nancy-- was more infatuated with Mr. Rembski. All were glad to have a chance to socialize with him, and Nancy, shy as she was, would never miss an opportunity to see him. They were stunned with excitement to be members of the inner circle of a working artist.

Among those stopping by to see Stanis's latest work was Robert J. Wickenden, who would soon have his portrait completed by the young artist.

One individual who was obvious by his absence was Syrian-born artist Nicholas Macsoud. Macsoud's family immigrated to the United States at the end of the 19th Century. While he was one of the founding members of the Brooklyn Society of Artists and a regular contributor to the BSA shows, in the summer of 1924 we find him traveling, not the streets of Brooklyn, but rather in the lands of his forefathers. He was making numerous stops throughout the region, including the Holy Land and Lebanon. During his travels, he found the time to paint numerous works, one of which is in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. These he hoped, upon his safe return, to display in an upcoming show of the BSA.

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Many of Stanis's newfound colleagues were now scattered about the northern coasts or harbored in various mountain retreats throughout New England, in their efforts to escape the intolerable summer heat and uncover new vistas to capture in their canvases. Summer art schools and colonies flourished in July and August, accounting for the relative quietude of the art scene in the city.

Of these matters, Nancy was a young and interested bystander who had other concerns. Far from being constrained to attend events exclusively of an artistic nature, she had been in the last few months taking in a variety of new experiences. As far back as January, her mother, never weary of finding new distractions for her daughter, took her to the Saturday premier of the play, "Upward Bound," which explored themes of the afterlife. Unexpectedly, Ira Glackens, the son of "Ashcan" artist William Glackens and only a couple of years Nancy's senior, was also at the theater, so the two took seats together with their respective parents in close proximity. Ira and Nancy had known each other since childhood, when for a number of years, the Glackens family made Bellport, Long Island, the family's summer retreat. Esther's mother, who was still alive at the time, kept a bungalow at the beach, and the two families had struck up a friendship. In 1913 we find William and wife Edith at the same library fundraiser with the Henshaw family in Bellport.

A family tradition had it that Ira and Nancy went to the same Montessori school there, and this tradition has a ring of truth, since around that time, a Montessori school is said to have opened its doors in the vicinity. At any rate, it would seem that Ira was quite pleased to have an opportunity to sit next to the attractive and shapely Nancy for the performance in question, and his journal for that day documents what for him was a fully satisfactory afternoon at the theater:

"Of the play," he says, "I can only say it was a most artistic drama in itself, most well done. Mother liked it very much, and she is a far more cold critic than I am. As far as a thriller, it kept up to the very end, and we all went out of the theater as mother said, 'with quaking knees, at the end of a perfect day.'"


Ira Glackens, far left, with his sister Lenna, below, and two friends.
(Image by Private collection)
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Born in New York, March 14, 1949. Staff writer for the New York City Tribune, Economic Growth Report, Register-Star. Presently publish on OpEd News. Mr. Duveen heads up a project known as "The Museum of Brooklyn Art and Culture,' which explores (more...)
 

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