Glimpses #9: Germany, Italy, Switzerland

September 15, 2017

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. The introduction and first two “Glimpses” are in the Blog uploaded on October 2, 2016

Germany: Cologne: While visiting a distinguished photographer at his sumptuous apartment, the walls covered with photographs of famous people and places covering who knows how many decades, we approach the elderly gentleman seated in his wheelchair as our introductory remarks are translated by a serious-faced woman, too young to be his wife, perhaps his attendant. The meeting had been arranged by the director of Amerika Haus, a cultural arm of the U.S. Government at which I had recently lectured on a book I had written about the Cologne-based etcher/painter Heinrich J. Jarczyk. The very formal introductions completed, Cornelia casually asked if we could take a photo. Astonished glances of consternation were quickly and silently exchanged between the famous photographer and his attendant. A photo? Within moments we had quickly realized the misunderstanding. Our request was interpreted as our taking one of his photographs from his walls and the agitation perhaps on deciding which one to give up to these upstart American visitors! When Cornelia held up her camera, however, smiles and sighs of relief suddenly lightened the room and the situation — ah, the joys of bumbling along in a foreign country.

Italy: Siena: Treated to the lauded Italian sense of style in the tiny, front show-window of a shoe store: a single shoe atop a piece of drapery folded just so. (There is a European saying: “The French, with their logic, should think of it; the Italians, with their style, should design it; the Germans, with their sense of order, should build It.”). Siena is a beautiful little city, full of beautiful women (I never saw so many in one place!), many with high heels and all their elegant finery zipping along on tiny Vespas.

Switzerland: Berne: Friday evening and we seek out a synagogue to see if we can attend services. Two exotic/ commonplace surprises: Cornelia had to sit in a separate location high up in a balcony at the rear, and the strange sense of familiarity as the German-speaking rabbi switched to the same ancient Hebrew prayers we hear at home.

Italy: Venice: On the way back to the train station, crossing over the Rialto Bridge with Gabi and Norbert — the setting sun off to our left just as we reached its crest. Lovely! (Note: Gaby and Norbert Witmer, friends who live in Deichelweg outside of Munich and whom we met through the Jarczyks; we took many trips with them through southern Germany and northern Italy).

 

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AN OPEN LETTER TO ARTISTS

August 29, 2017

THE PURPOSE OF this letter is to acknowledge and to thank the many, many artists, both deceased and those still ‘fighting the good fight’ who have helped me over the past 40-45 years to understand and appreciate the process as well as the product.

Your influence began early, back in the late‘40s when I used to work as a handy-man in Woodstock, New York, clearing woodlots, mowing lawns, tending gardens for the summer residents, most of them artists who came up from the city to join the ever-growing number of plein-airistes flocking to the burgeoning art colony who wanted to spend their time painting rather than mowing their lawns. Even after the summer ended, teachers and students at the Art Students League of New York’s summer school a little way out of town, would spend week-ends and off-hours in town, most willing, even eager, to ‘talk art’ to interested listeners — even handymen at Deane’s, the popular diner on Mill Hill Road. Although neither a painter nor a student of the craft, I had from a child been able to draw, to replicate in pencil whatever I attempted to copy, and almost always carried a sketchbook with me — so ‘listening in’ to the conversations of ‘real’ artists was always too tempting to pass up.

When I began free-lance writing for local newspapers, I eventually focused on art and artists, profiling many of the “Woodstock artists”, spending hours at their studios or over the counter having coffee at Deane’s, listening to them presenting their views, art, journey, comments and work-habits eventually sharing them with my publishers.

Eventually, I grew more and more dissatisfied with the way my writing was being handled by copy-editors, layout people, and the ever-present errors (including the misspelling of the artists’ names in more than one instance) that were being presented to the public under my name. This led to my wife Cornelia and I co-founding our own arts journal — Art Times — in 1984. Over the years, I have since profiled over 100 artists both here and abroad. Some of my essays grew into introductions of monographs by various publishers and even into my own books on artists. Soon, I was interviewing artists in NYC and even as far as Europe and China. By being commissioned by Rosina Florio, past Director of the Art Students League of New York, to write a history of the League, the undertaking broadened my knowledge even further as many past and present League members added their stories to my growing warehouse of art-knowledge.

Through my experience with the Art Student’s League, I began hearing about other arts groups, some local, some regional, others national — even affiliating with some — for example the National Art Club in NYC after Will Barnet sponsored me, and especially The Salmagundi Club, a club that is nearly 150 years old and devotes its resources to artists and their art instead of sales and celebrity. Never much of a ‘joiner’, I was fortunate to become a member of the Artist’s Fellowship, which exists solely to give aid to artists in distress (probably the only meetings I enjoyed attending since each session ended in a specific and meaningful act — giving a hand up to deserving artists across the country). My associations with such art organizations expanded my knowledge of art well beyond any college courses I’d taken.

In 2005-6, I wrote a novel entitled The Mountain that attempts to trace the development of an artist (in literary terms, a “bildungsroman”). Set in the NYC and Hudson Valley areas it includes some history and background of Woodstock and its environs to ‘flesh out’ the influences on my protagonist, Jacob (Jake) Forscher (‘Jacob’ because he wrestles with the angel as do all serious artists, and ‘Forscher’ because, again like all artists, he is a delver, a seeker). The book came about after a conversation over lunch with the artist Jack Levine in a small restaurant in New York City’s Greenwich Village. As usual, the subject of art came up, and specifically Zola’s book The Masterpiece, ostensibly a book about his childhood friend, Paul Cezanne. I asked Jack if he knew of any books in English that traced the life and development of an artist. He could think of none that specifically did so, but several about artists in general. Thus the genesis of The Mountain. I chose the title to reflect Melville’s Moby Dick — in essence, the “Mountain” (Overlook, in the Catskills and visible from Woodstock) is Jake’s ever-illusive ‘white whale’, which he tries to ‘capture’ on canvas. His story, your story, is a fictional re-telling of what you taught me over the years — in fact, I felt very much like a mid-wife rather than an author in ‘creating’ my novel. The Mountain is available as a book on demand or kindle http://amzn.to/2pGX659

So, my artist readers, if it were not for sharing those early encounters, the prolonged studio chats, the stories, the exhibitions, the struggles, the insights, the life-sharings for my profiles and books — if it were not for you, dear artist (whether we met face-to-face or only through your art), the artwriter Raymond J. Steiner would never have come into being.

Therefore this letter and my deepest thanks for all of your contributions to my education and for helping make ART TIMES such a valuable resource for artists around the world for over 30 years.

Raymond J. Steiner


Glimpses #8: China, Germany, Switzerland

May 8, 2017

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. The introduction and first two “Glimpses” are in the Blog uploaded on October 2, 2016

Bird Market, Beijing

China: Beijing: Walking the avenue outside our hotel (Tianlun Dynasty Hotel) I take in street scenes: an old man with a chair, a cloth, and a pair of scissors — haircuts given al fresco! A short distance away, a man selling birds from a birdcage to passersby who promptly release them into the air. As I watch, I see the freed birds return to the seller, to be sold again and again as the day goes on.

Germany: Esslingen/Karlsruhe: Many years ago (around 1955) I was stationed at Gersewski Barracks while in the army, in a small town named Esslingen just outside Karlsruhe. At least once a month or more, I would take a bus into Karlsruhe (a good-sized city) and go to a what became my favorite restaurant for wienerschnitzel (a meal my Mom used to make and one of my favorites). After some time, the waiter got to ‘know’ me and when I walked in, he’d ask, “Der Ushual?” and I’d smile and nod. He’d have the stein of Dinkelacher almost immediately on my table (also ‘ushually’ the same) and go back to the kitchen to order my meal. I was stationed there for a year, and after some months I’d had wienerschnitzel ‘up to here’ and once asked if they served shrimp. The waiter looked at me puzzled and asked, “Vas is das?” I began to describe a shrimp for him and as I did so, his face slowly turned from expectant to disgusted. When I got to the legs and feelers, he blurted, “You eat zis?” I looked up a bit sheepishly and murmured, “Wienerschnitzel, bitte.”

 

Sephardic Synagogue Beth Yaacov, Geneva Switzerland

Sephardic Synagogue Beth Yaacov, Geneva, Switzerland built in the 1700’s

Switzerland: Geneva: While walking around town we noted a synagogue that had intriguing architecture — it almost looked like a mosque. Circular in construction, we walked around the building but could find no access. As we walked, we came upon a couple who seemed to be heading there as well. They told us that it was closed but that it would be open the following day for a funeral for Still intrigued as to what it may look like on the inside, we decided to come back during the funeral. We were in for a complete surprise: the funeral was for the Dr. Alexandre Safran, head rabbi of Geneva and the place was packed with Swiss notables, both religious and political.

Funeral service for Dr. Alexandre Safran at the Sephardic Synagogue Beth Yaacov

Funeral service for Dr. Alexandre Safran at the Sephardic Synagogue Beth Yaacov

We both had to sit up in the balcony, which was fortunate because it gave us the opportunity to take a few unobtrusive photographs of the proceedings. Several speeches were given in tribute to the rabbi and we felt rather privileged to have stumbled in on this special occasion. Cornelia wrote about the event in ART TIMES (http://bit.ly/2qKxCr3when we returned home and, shortly thereafter, she received an email from the rabbi’s son, both thanking her for the article and requesting that she send copies of the photos she had taken. What a strange world in its mysterious interconnections!


Glimpses 5: Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, China

March 20, 2017

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs.. 

Coaster from U Fleku, Prague

Coaster from U Fleku, Prague

Czech Republic: Prague: Jacky, Jörg, take us to U Flecku, an incredibly old tavern some distance from the town’s center. Scarred wooden tables. Loud men-talk. Hearty laughter. Many mugs of Urquell disappeared from our table. How many dreams had been started, thwarted, and realized in this ancient beer hall? The following day, Cornelia and I visited the newly-opened Mucha Museum, while Jacky and Jörg explored elsewhere. (Note: We met Jacky Sparkowsky and Jörg Iwan in Berlin through the Jarczyks and have visited and traveled with them in Europe extensively).

Germany: Bergisch Gladbach: Walking back home with Heinz after a visit to his favorite art shop, we stop along the way at one of his favorite haunts — a small Italian restaurant where they warmly welcome him. Our order? An espresso and shot of grappa — enough to spur on at least an hour of small talk!

Germany: Leipzig: We find a tavern on the small square and see what we can get for lunch. As we sit at our table, I discover that this was the very place where Goethe wrote part of his “Dr. Faustus”. I try to conjure up his shade and absorb his spirit. All I come away with is the taste of beer. A short distance away, the church where Bach was choirmaster. My mind whirls with history.

 Switzerland: Somewhere in the Alps: Taking a short side trip on a local train from our Eurail route from Germany to Italy, we are in a carriage filled with young skiers. Rounding one mountain as we come from shade into full sunlight we unexpectedly come upon a sky filled with multi-colored hot air balloons, all sailing past our window at eye-level! Fantastic to see their tropical, parrot-like colors against the backdrop of snow-covered Alps!

China: Beijing (1999): A city of bicycles! (I hear that now they are rapidly being replaced by automobiles in China’s burgeoning economy. It was already a city of dense smog and pollution in 1999!). Beijing — A city of signs we cannot read!


Taking Stock

March 12, 2017
Cornelia Seckel in July of 1984 laying out Vol. 1 No. 1 of ART TIMES. The porch windows served as a light board.

Cornelia Seckel in July of 1984 laying out Vol. 1 No. 1 of ART TIMES. The porch windows served as a light board

Although, when Cornelia and I co-founded ART times back in 1984, we did not set ourselves up as a not-for-profit entity, we soon discovered that de facto, regardless of our intent, it would indeed be a not-for-profit enterprise. For the 30-odd years we’ve been in ‘business’, beyond keeping ‘afloat’ and meeting our basic needs, our income over expenses has been extremely modest. Lately, however, we’ve ended up “in the hole” (as, in fact, a great many publications and newspapers have been failing for the same reason in recent years), not covering our expenses for some time, periodically supplementing ART TIMES with loans from our modest savings when necessary to meet our obligations.

More than once over the years — and especially during the last few — we’ve been asked why we stay in business. We look at each other, at the questioners, and mostly just shrug. But, Yes! Why do we continue? Our answer sounds a little corny — even silly, perhaps — but to put it into one word, the answer always was and remains: altruism. The word, derived from the Latin alter, meaning “other” (cf. e.g. ‘alternate’, ‘alternative’, ‘alter ego’, etc.) was perhaps not in our minds at the time, but the truth of the matter is that neither of us were typical “businesspeople” — Cornelia was a teacher, counselor, and networker while I was a teacher, poet, and essayist. So “making money” — beyond a “living” — was not foremost in our thinking/planning/creating an ‘arts journal’. Our primary goal was to create a forum for the arts, specifically a publication that would further, bolster, promote and broadcast the cultural riches of our region — a project that Cornelia would physically “make happen” and that I would edit and contribute to. After putting together a mock-up to “float” out into the world in the early summer of 1984, Voila! Volume 1, No. 1 of ART TIMES came “hot off the press” in August. We did it! The “artworld” was pleased and readily supported its production from the outset. Our resultant travels to art exhibitions, conferences, lectures, museums and culture venues across not only America, but to Europe and Asia as well, became business expenses that not only contributed to the success of ART times but greatly enriched our (and our readers’) lives. We saw places and met people that we most likely would have never experienced if not for our creation of ART TIMES.

However, as ‘enriched’ as we felt culturally by being able to support our travels, we never thought of including a regular weekly “salary” for either one of us, content to get along on covering the basics of every-day living.

Cornelia Seckel and Raymond J. Steiner. A toast as the last ink on paper issue of ART TIMES is done.

Cornelia Seckel and Raymond J. Steiner. A toast as the last ink on paper issue of ART TIMES is ready to go to the printer.

Altruism, although admirable…even desirable…is, however, not quite cutting it lately. Our resources have been rapidly dwindling, and in the Summer of 2016, in an effort to “stop the bleeding” we moved from publishing in print to a digital-only presence; by doing so we not only eliminated our major costs of printing and shipping, but the move also resulted in our getting our advertisers out to a global audience.

Still, perhaps a little bit of ‘business sense’ would have been helpful back then when we sort of rashly took the plunge. Thankfully, our readers and supporters have rapidly responded to our situation and we are so grateful both for their encouraging words and advertising dollars. Any guesses of what’s on the horizon?


Glimpses 7: Germany Italy Ireland

March 2, 2017

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs.

Germany: Berlin: Passing under the Brandenburg arch (there was a time in Imperial Germany when only the royals were allowed to pass under this arch) and strolling along “Unter den Linden” (how many times had I read about this famous street!) and then a trolley ride with Heinrich to the Eastern side only one year after the wall came down. As we ride past the uniformly gray and drab city, I see tears in Heinrich’s eyes. I am sorry that we insisted on going to “take a look” (old Berlin Gallows humor: Airline Stewardess: “Welcome to Schönenfeld Airport! Please set your watches back forty years!”) The Russians deliberately retarded improvements—you could still see bullethole-ridden walls everywhere—to punish the Germans for WWII. How many sad memories this country has! At one point we got off the trolley and walked a few streets, stopped at a small store to buy sandwiches. The woman who waited on us was obviously pleased that we stopped in, delighted to discover that we had come from America. As she wrapped our lunch, she asked if we had a “messer” (a knife) to cut our sandwiches. We shook our head “no” and she turned back to her counter to pick one up and carefully wrap it before she tucked it into our bag. We protested, but she insisted that it would come in handy later. We were touched; to have so little yet to be so willing to give away one of her utensils to us. And a surprisingly pleasant memory as well!

Italy: Cinqueterra: Eating fresh calamari on the Ligurian shore. Delicious! Back to Portofino later that day, walking the ‘pedinale’ up on the hill behind the town.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Ireland: On the way through the Burrens to find the Cliffs of Mohrer, we get lost and stop to ask directions from a lone man walking the road. He speaks for several minutes while giving hand directions. Neither of us understood a word he said. We continue and find the cliffs on our own. Gusts off the Atlantic so strong that we could not stand upright — the wind got under one of my gloves and peeled it right off my hand! I would have lost it forever if I hadn’t grabbed it quickly. Wildly beautiful!

Northern Germany: On a houseboat trip through Germany’s northern lock-connected lakes a few years after the Wall came down in Berlin, we (Jacky, Jörg, Cornelia and I) dock at a small town on one of the larger lakes. At a gift shop I see caps on sale that read: “Middletown Police Department”! When I asked the lady behind the counter about them she said she knew nothing about the little town in upstate New York (a town in a neighboring county from where we live) or how the hats got to her store.

Germany: Malchow: On this same houseboat trip, when we came to the town of Malchow, there was a one mark “toll” to enter the town’s small harbor, the coin taken by a man on shore with a pouch at the end of a long flexible pole…what might he have done if we had ignored the small pouch dangling before our eyes?


Glimpses 6: Czech Republic, Italy, Germany, Japan

February 23, 2017

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs.

Czech Republic: Prague: We walk across Karl’s Bridge with Jacky and Jörg and go to a restaurant under the abutments on the far side. Like walking into a grotto. Who had sat in my seat in the past? I can’t recall the food. The next day I find an art shop and buy a print of the bridge. It now hangs in my dining room and each time I look at it I am reminded of the restaurant, the castle up on the hill, and the artists working along the bridge. 

Town of Colonnata, Carrera Italy

Town of Colonnata, Carrera Italy

Italy: Carrara: Cavi di marma loom, white marble glinting in the sun, the road narrow and twisty as we rise in our little rented car above San Pietro. At the end of the road, a small town — Colonnata —full of old men in the square, all with some visible disability (seemed like I was visiting some home/place for the disabled) ..found out they were all local, hurt in accidents from their mining work. A monument honoring the men and the marble stands at the edge of town. Intermittent dynamiting disturbs the quiet little town. How difficult must it have been without modern technology during Michelangelo’s time!

Germany: Bergisch Gladbach: A small gathering at the home of Heinrich and Christiane Jarczyk celebrating Heinz’s 70th birthday, several of the people “new” to us, apparently friends and neighbors who were outside his artistic circle. At one point during the evening, an elderly gentleman, ramrod strait and very formal, remarked to me in a clipped and precise Oxford-English, “You call him Heinz?” “Yes,” I said somewhat lightly. “That’s his name.” The old man — I could picture him with a monocle and fencing scar — pulled back his head and said emphatically, “I know Herr Doktor Jarczyk for almost twenty years — and I do not call him (a slight hesitation here) ‘Heinz’.” I shrugged. “Well, I’m American, you see. We do not stand on such ceremonies. We are friends and he calls me ‘Ray’, and I call him ‘Heinz’.” I bowed slightly to his rigid glare and moved to take part in another nearby conversation. He did not deign to speak to me again for the rest of the evening.

Japan: Narita International Airport: On our departure flight from Japan to Beijing I was watching out my window as we taxied to our runway and noted a line of workers — baggage handlers? I was not sure, but they were all dressed in a white, work uniform — facing our plane and, as we taxied by, bowing deeply at the waist. I’d never seen anything like that and, to this day, do not know if it was a customary farewell to all airlines or was there perhaps some political VIP up in first class. Whatever, it was an extraordinary sight and strangely comforting to me as we took our leave.