From Realistic to Abstract: Picasso’s “States of Mind” on Display

Picasso saw things differently. On January 2, the Tournament of Roses Parade will pass Norton Simon Museum.

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The grandstands at left have platforms for cameras.

What were the steps in Picasso’s mind when he looked at a person or animal, drew it, and changed it into an abstract image? What were the steps on paper?  In a current exhibit, a likeness of his companion becomes abstract over a series of ten lithographs. There is a longer series of a picture of a bull. When I saw these along the wall, I just had to see them one on top of another. I’ve done that in these videos.

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Picasso said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

This exhibit, “States of Mind: Picasso Lithographs 1945-1960,”  is on display at Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, until February 13, 2017.  Also, Van Gogh’s “Bedroom” is there through March 6, on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago. http://NortonSimon.org. Happy New Year!

A Fence Around Her: Lottie Johl

A ghost town is the home of the stories of its past residents.

[This post was written by reader Brigid Amos. Maybe you have seen her comments here. She is the author of a new book,  A Fence Around Her. I’ll let her continue…]

There is something bittersweet about a collection of abandoned homes, businesses, churches and civic buildings, all decaying slowly in a remote location. A visit to such a place always seems to evoke the dashed hopes and bitter disappointments of those who once walked its now-lonely streets, and this is true even if the ghost town is well-maintained and heavily visited, as is Bodie, California, a prosperous gold and silver mining district in the Eastern Sierra that boomed in the 1880s. Of all the stories I’ve read or heard about Bodie, the one that always gets to me is that of Lottie Johl. I find her story so sad and touching that I loosely based a major character in my novel A Fence Around Her on this real-life Bodie resident.

Lottie was a sweet, good-natured woman who found herself, through unfortunate life circumstances and limited employment opportunities, working in a house of ill repute in Bodie’s red-light district. There she met a hard-working German immigrant named Eli Johl. Although he was quite successful as a butcher, he was a lonely bachelor, perhaps due to his limited English skills, and he seemed to be searching for someone to share his life. The woman he found was Lottie, and much to the horror of the respectable people of Bodie, he took her as his legal wife. He built her a comfortable house and furnished it in the best style he could afford. Lottie showed an interest in painting, and Eli bought her an easel, a palette, and brushes, and he kept her well-supplied with oil paints and canvases. Isolated in her opulent parlor, Lottie painted fantastical landscapes. Eli had them elaborately framed in red velvet and gilt and displayed them on the parlor walls, although no one came to their house to look at the paintings, because Lottie was still shunned by society.

Finally, Eli hatched a plan to almost force Lottie upon Bodie society. A masquerade ball was to be held at the Miners Union Hall, and Eli sent Lottie to the event alone, dressed in a white satin gown covered in fake diamonds and pearls, with a matching crown perched on her blond curls. All the men wanted to dance with the lovely lady in the diamond and pearl-encrusted dress, and all the women envied her. The committee assigned to give out the costume awards decided to give the mysterious lady the first prize. But when midnight struck and everyone took off their masks, poor Lottie was abandoned by her dance partner. A member of the committee discreetly asked her to leave, and she went home in humiliation.

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Lottie Johl. Photograph used with permission of the Bodie Foundation.

And if the events of Lottie Johl’s life weren’t sad enough, her death and burial are truly heartbreaking. Lottie felt sick one day (though probably not sick enough to die), and a doctor wrote a prescription. The druggist filled it, and Lottie took the medicine. She was dead by next morning. Instead of the prescribed medicine, the druggist had given her a deadly dose of a toxic substance. It was probably a mistake, but I have to wonder if the druggist took less care in filling the prescription when he saw that it was for Lottie Johl, someone he considered of little importance.

Eli was not allowed to bury his beloved wife inside the fence of the cemetery with the “respectable dead,” so he erected an ornate wrought-iron fence around her grave. He was determined that she would have a much finer fence than the one around the cemetery, so that people would see what a fine woman she was. I think it’s ironic that so many of the people who made Lottie’s life miserable are completely forgotten, while the memory of Lottie Johl lives on.

I felt that it was important to honor the real-life inspiration for Lilly Conoboy, the mother of fourteen-year-old Ruthie Conoboy, the protagonist of my novel A Fence Around Her. I want to make it clear that Lilly is not Lottie. While Lottie was an innocent victim, Lilly brings on her own tragedy. While Lottie seems like someone I might seek out as a friend, Lilly is someone I would avoid if I could do so. But that is what we historical fiction writers do. We take history and turn it into fiction, and the two are not the same. I will always feel gratitude to the historical Lottie Johl for being who she was and leaving behind her story.

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Pamela:  You can read an excerpt of A Fence Around Her, Young Adult Historical Fiction published by Clean Reads, and purchase at the links below.

Amazon 

Barnes and Noble

iTunes

Kobo 

Smashwords  

Brigid and I would like to hear your comment!

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Author and playwright Brigid Amos

Every Pack with a Prize Inside

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Tennis cards, like baseball cards? Yes and no.

 

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These are called cigarette cards. Not much bigger than a modern business card, these trade cards were a bonus in a pack of cigarettes. They came in a series, usually twenty-five or fifty, with a similar theme.

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Each came in a different pack of cigarettes.

Many were aimed at male smokers:  airplanes, sports and cars. These cars were modern at the time.

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Cigarette companies wanted brand loyalty from consumers, so they gave them tiny works of art.

From the 1931 series "Picturesque London"
From the 1931 series “Picturesque London”

Another good way to get customers to keep buying from their company, and not from a competitor, was to display numbers on the cards.

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Or even letters of the alphabet.

Each letter has a different flag signal.
Each letter has a different flag signal.

The cards above and below are part of a 1910 series, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

 

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Some were embroidered silk. Recently, a quilt made of many of these was on display at the Pasadena Museum of History.

I came across all of these, and many more, by accident, at a hotel near Yosemite, the Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal. All of the ones there were from Great Britain, from 1890 to 1939. The cigarette cards below of British military uniforms were issued in 1939, when the country was fighting for its survival in World War II. I like to imagine people in a bleak time appreciating the small, patriotic works of art.

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The Artist’s Garden: Impressionists and the Garden Movement

Take a second or two to load these beautiful paintings from “The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1887-1920,” now at the Huntington. With the rise of the middle class and railroads, more people could commute to their job in a city and come home to a suburb.

Book published in 1901
Book published in 1901

Artists and other people enjoyed gardening in their own yards or in their artists’ colonies. Both painting and gardening involve color, form, and composition.

"The Crimson Rambler," ca. 1908, by Philip Leslie Hale
“The Crimson Rambler,” ca. 1908, by Philip Leslie Hale

“The Crimson Rambler” may look wonderfully old-fashioned to us, but its 1908 audience recognized this hybridized rose as a lovely product of technology. I like the lavender light on her white skirt, above,

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the pink in the multicolor grass,

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and the veil that is in sun and shadow.

Laundry drying on the clothesline, along with grass and shadows, is beautiful.
Laundry drying on the clothesline, along with grass and shadows, is beautiful.

 

"A Breezy Day," 1887. Charles Courtney Curran.
“A Breezy Day,” 1887. Charles Courtney Curran.

I think these women are spreading out laundered sheets to dry. This is a jewel of a painting, small (not quite 12 x 20 inches), and vivid, clear, and crisp as a windy day.

This exhibit, from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, is at the Huntington through Monday, May 9, and then continues its tour in the East. If you don’t live close to Los Angeles, that’s okay. I’ll keep posting about the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Can you see the banner of the painting "The Crimson Rambler?"
Can you see the banner of the painting “The Crimson Rambler?”

I’ll leave you with two artists’ own homes.

"My House in Winter" by Charles Morris Young
“My House in Winter” by Charles Morris Young

The labels with “The Artist’s Garden” exhibit state that the garden in winter was often discussed in books and magazines. The winter garden was considered a relaxing retreat, and winter a time of renewal.

The artist's home. "Snow" by John Henry Twachtman.
The artist’s home. “Snow” by John Henry Twachtman.

At the Huntington, I had read “renewal” to mean the sleeping gardens. I think of renewal in springtime grass and flowers. Maybe the writer meant personal renewal. Gardens, and impressionist art, renew and refresh me.

Happy Spring! Enjoy nature. I’ll post again on the first Monday in June.

Getting It Right with ‘Urban Light’

Artist Chris Burden was profiled in the Los Angeles Times on May 11, the day after his death. The first line says that he once had himself shot in the arm for a performance piece. Luckily, the bullet just grazed him. Although shocking, that’s not why art critic’s Christopher Knight article about him was on the front page of the L.A. Times, where only the famous, such as statesmen and Hollywood celebrities, get their obituaries. Burden’s is there because his “Urban Light” has become a Los Angeles landmark.

Chris Burden saw art in vintage streetlamps. He painted them gray and installed them in front of the L.A. County Museum of Art, on busy Wilshire Boulevard. They are now solar powered. The lampposts in each row are identical, so that even the most ornate have a peaceful grace.

This video by Mike Fix showcases the art installation with aerial views and gorgeous music: “Experience” by  Ludovico Einaudi.

 

English Grandeur in San Francisco, Part One

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This gallery has paintings and 285-year-old furniture from Houghton Hall’s Saloon room, and a copy of its wallpaper.

It’s not the real Houghton Hall in Norfolk, England, but a San Francisco museum has plenty of its furnishings and art. Different rooms of the hall are depicted in the rooms of the California museum. Houghton Hall was built in the early 1700s by Sir Robert Walpole, the first de facto British Prime Minister. Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House is an exhibit at the Legion of Honor, a grand building itself. The grounds have a sweeping view of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and sea cliffs. The exhibit will be there until January 18, 2015.

Furniture from the Marble Parlour in front of a large photo of the real parlour papering the wall.
Furniture from the Marble Parlour in front of a large photo of the real parlour papering the wall.

 

The Marble Parlour was a dining room, and its beautiful china and silver is here along with its chairs, above.

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The Library, as displayed in San Francisco’s Legion of Honor.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a fifteen-volume work

The galleries have videos of the actual rooms, so ornate they are stunning!  I’ll give you a link to the real Houghton Hall below, and look in the bottom row for the room with the bright blue wallpaper shown below. That same room has a lavish bed for a child, the grandson of Sir Robert Walpole, a christening gift from the child’s godparents, King George II and Queen Caroline. The bed is in San Francisco, too.  This page of the website of Houghton Hall, Norfolk, England, has a dozen small photos you can click on to enlarge.

Wallpaper hand-painted and -printed in China about 1780. From Houghton Hall.
Wallpaper hand-painted and -printed in China about 1780. From Houghton Hall.

 

English Grandeur in San Francisco, Part Two

This is about Lady Sybil, not of the show Downton Abbey, but of the Houghton Hall of my last post.  This Lady Sybil rescued Houghton Hall from neglect. She and her brother Sir Philip Sassoon collected art which is now at the Hall, and some is now at the San Francisco exhibit.

Lady Sybil Sassoon (1894-1989), later Lady Chalmondeley, was a friend and supporter of statesmen and artists. She founded the Women’s Royal Naval Service.

The American painter John Singer Sargent painted this portrait of her as a gift when she married the heir to Houghton Hall, the Earl of Rocksavage, in 1913. Sargent gave her the cashmere shawl she wears and painted “To Sybil from her Friend, John S. Sargent.”

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Her husband inherited Houghton Hall six years later and it was Lady Sybil’s home for the next seventy years, and she restored it to its former glory.

Houghton Hall, Norfolk, England
Houghton Hall, Norfolk, England © Copyright dennis smith

Last week, I posted photos from San Francisco’s Legion of Honor’s current exhibit Houghton Hall. Here’s a photo of one more room in the exhibit, the gallery with artifacts from Houghton Hall’s Tapestry Dressing Room.

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 Lady Sybil wore this robe, train and dress at the coronation of George IV in 1937. A peer’s rank dictates the type of ceremonial dress. Her father-in-law, the 4th Marquess of Chalmondeley, had the role of Lord Great Chamberlain at an earlier coronation (Edward VII in 1902) and wore the uniform above, including this hat.

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Here is the website of Houghton Hall, a page showing its splendid rooms. Click on the thumbnail photos to enlarge them. The exhibit at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor closes January 18, 2015.