#19 Berlin, Amsterdam

January 17, 2018

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.

Painting on Silk by Silke

Painting on Silk by Silke

Germany: Berlin: During one of my visits to our friends Jacky and Jörg, Jörg introduced me to his young cousin Silke, an artist who made delicate paintings on silk (an appropriate ground for a woman named Silke!). I spent an afternoon with her at her apartment to watch her at work, snapping photos of her as she applied her brush to the stretched panel of silk, her boyfriend hovering nearby all the while. (Silke is a beautiful young woman, and I could sense how uneasy he was to have a man spending so much time with her in her studio). How delighted I was, when some weeks after our return to the States, I received a small card of thanks from her with one of her original silk paintings enclosed!

Holland: Amsterdam On the suggestion of the artist Françoise Gilot whom I had met and wrote about in ART TIMES, I sought out the gallery that represented her in that country. The gallery, located on the main canal, was a handsome building, the owner welcoming and pleased that I had taken the trouble to visit. Her English was excellent, and I commented on that fact. “Oh, I lived in America for awhile — mostly in New York State. Both in Manhattan and in a small upstate town.” “Oh,” I said. “Where upstate?” “Woodstock,” she said. “I visited and stayed with some friends there.” “It wouldn’t have been the van Hamels, by any chance?” I asked. “You know them?” she asked. “Oh yes. Manette and Dick have been friends for some time. I know her as an artist,” I added. “I’ll have to tell her that I met you.” “Please do,” she said. “Will you be visiting their son while you are here?” “I didn’t know they had a son,” I said. “I only know her daughter, the prima ballerina, Martine van Hamel.” “Oh, but you must stop in and say hello to him. He lives on a barge just down the canal from here.”

Meeting up with Cornelia who had been visiting the Anne Frank House while I was at the gallery, I told her about my visit and we decided to look up the van Hamel son. We did not find him at his barge but at a nearby gallery where he was setting up a show. When we knocked, he opened the door and we said, “Your mother says hello!” Surprise, and then amusement as we shared our story with him. Another pleasure when we returned to share the whole story with Dick and Manette back in Woodstock.

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#18 Arles, Florence

January 9, 2018

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. 

France: Arles: Getting off the train at the little station in January 1989 and then walking toward town, both of us pulling our wheeled suitcases behind us and seeking a place to stay, made me flash back to that day when Gauguin pulled into the same train station just over 100 years ago in October of 1888 — although he had arrived in the pre-dawn hours — and walked the same way — through the Medieval Gates — into town in search of the “Yellow House” where Vincent van Gogh anxiously awaited his arrival. The Yellow House is no more; though the old Roman arena is still there — only a short walk from our room — and one of those old drawbridges crossing a tributary to the Rhone that van Gogh had made famous (I walked across it, though I doubt if this particular one was yet built during his stay). I’d heard about a local dish made of ox that I was anxious to try, but when we went in search of a restaurant all but two were closed — and they were Vietnamese. So, on that first night, we ate “Chinese” though it was an adventure to hear Orientals speaking French. At the time, they were celebrating an “Arles 31éme Salon International des Santonniers” (Dec 88-Apr 89) — I still have a souvenir t-shirt with “Vincent” emblazoned on the front from the event, though it is slowly becoming more tattered as I often wear it when I paint. For inspiration? Who knows?

Italy: Florence: On the way from the train station to our pensione, bags in tow and unsure of where we were going, I happened to look down and saw a wallet lying in the street. I stopped to pick it up and, glancing inside, found no money but what were obviously the press documents of some journalist. Feeling a sense of kinship, I resolved to find a police station after we checked in to our rooms in order to officially declare my “find”. The police station — in fact right in the train station itself — was easy to find and I entered to discover several smartly-dressed policeman standing about. My Italian is extremely poor, and I immediately found myself in difficulty in trying to explain why I was there. At first, they seemed to think I was telling them that I had lost my wallet and did not seem overly interested in the problem. Finally, through laying the wallet on the floor and pantomiming my walking along and discovering it, they understood. Immediate change in attitude. Smiles and amiability as I handed over the wallet. “There is no money”, the policeman said in fairly good English. I shook my head and held my palms up. Again: “No money?” I shook my head ‘no’ more firmly and pointed out the papers of the wallet’s owner, them my credentials, and tried to explain my reasons for being such a Good Samaritan. They still seemed doubtful about the lack of money, but after almost 45 minutes of mis-communication and suspicion, eventually they took my card along with the wallet and hailed me with a round of “grazias”. Greatly relieved, I returned to our hotel where Cornelia was beginning to wonder what had happened to me and I told her that the next time I saw what might be a wallet laying in the street that I would look the other way. The ordeal had left me more than a little disenchanted with my first experience of Florence, but things got considerably better the next several days. And even better some months later, when I received a letter from Italy in my home mail. I immediately recognized the name of the sender — the name I had said and heard over and over in the Florence police station. My neighbor, a native of Italy, had to read the letter to me, but it was gratifying to know that the gentleman was “molto” appreciative of my gesture and happy to get back his papers. So, I guess my good deed finally did bear some fruit!

 


There is Still Hope

January 7, 2018

In spite of the severe downward turn in our culture — especially evident in our “modern” tastes in art — it is still my privilege to continue meeting artists who refuse to follow the latest trend in ‘isms’ and carry on the struggle with those elusive and inscrutable Muses that guide the hand in producing, not commodities, but genuine “art” that enhances life. (What an idea! Buying and/or collecting ’’art” for enhancement rather than investment!)

I know I use terms that several of my readers deem pompous and I must admit that many of my ideas come from extensive traveling and reading; I’m the product of lower-class, poverty-threatened folks from Brooklyn and my “culture” was largely gleaned from the streets of our neighborhood and, later (at the age of 12) on a dead-end road in the woodlands of the Catskills. Trips to museums, libraries, etc. were never on my parent’s calendar, nor were books a part of our lifestyle. Art was not on the curriculum of any of the schools I attended, so I had a great deal to learn. My first “awakening” occurred when I was drafted into the US Military and discovered that not all people were raised as I was raised or learned what I learned. Stationed a full year in Germany, and all I ever visited were popular beer halls! Later, and still in the Service, I discovered a library on the Canadian base up in the arctic (Fort Churchill) that I was assigned to for one year. As we were “guests” of the Canadian Air Force, we were closely monitored — so no alcohol (or women) — ergo, plenty of time for the well-stocked library available to all of us on “isolated duty.” Never having been much of a library-goer, it took me some time to learn my way around. Previously an occasional “Mickey Spillane” follower (when and if I picked up a book), I had no idea what treasures awaited me once I got used to turning pages. Having 365 “isolated duty” days on the tundra sans alcohol and women looking me in my oft frost-bitten face left me literally little choice — but once started, I voraciously ‘ate’ my way through, first the art history section, quickly followed by ancient history, world literature and philosophy.

Although rather haphazardly read at the time (I thought that Plato and Dostoevsky were contemporaries), all would be organized, expanded and clarified when I finally started college in my early 30s, concentrating on those very fields of study and finally receiving my B.A and M.A. in Liberal Arts. I taught English in Public School and a short stint at College over a period of about 14 years, then co-founded ART TIMES with my partner, Cornelia Seckel, putting my full concentration on art — writing Artist Profiles, and either reviews or critiques of art exhibitions. Although I never ‘took’ an art class, I was drawn to the subject since the only “talent” that survived my Brooklyn upbringing was being able to draw, sketching on the living-room floor long before I started school. So, already familiar with pen and pencil, after absorbing some art history I was drawn to learning about other mediums and the creators behind the work; hence ART TIMES and my profiling of artists. Living near Woodstock, New York, I had a veritable plethora of artists nearby to visit and started writing about artists some years before we founded ART TIMES in 1984, freelancing my work to various local newspapers and eventually, with ART TIMES as a base, broadening my scope to profile over 200 artists from the U.S. as well as from abroad — Germany, Italy, China, and so on. Supplemented by my critiques, reviews, traveling, lecturing and further reading, yes it is probably true that I sometimes come across as “pompous.” And yes, I am “set in my ways” — or passé, to many “modernists” — still quoting Bernard Berenson (as above) and his theory of “life enhancing” art, still inclined to agree with Oscar Wilde and his claim that America went from Primitivism to Barbarism without having passed through “Civilization.”

Yet, the real truth is that in spite of my last 40 years dabbling in “art”, the only inconvertible ‘truth’ I have discovered is that opinion rules and that no one has yet discovered an authoritative definition of “art” — me included since my “knowledge” is only based on endless page-turning and tramping around the world. Some, in fact, have even declared that “art” is dead! Not even my picking up of brush and palette knife some 20 years ago to paint landscapes, all I am “sure” of is that I try to “reproduce” three-dimensional Nature on a two-dimensional flat surface. So the “pomposity” is probably nothing more than a smoke-screen trying to obscure my ignorance. All that said, however, does not nullify my opening remarks, namely that I still have the privilege of meeting “artists” — who, more often than not, are struggling to come up with their own definition of what it is that they are doing — (I try to avoid the glib ones, who sound too much like salesmen and bloviating agents. Art, already a communicative language in and of itself, is largely un-translatable and meant to ‘speak’ for itself (humans were making pictures on walls long before they made words and sentences). In the opinion of Edgar Degas, literature ((i.e. words)) only did “harm” to art, and readily agreed with his friend, the writer Jules Renard, who wrote, “When I am in front of a picture, it speaks better than I do.”* So, to all of you still fighting the good fight, I urge you to continue ignoring all the gobbledygook. I wish you warm and pleasant Holidays and a continuing success in your struggle — you have certainly enriched (and enhanced) my life for a long, long time.

 *Cf. Julian Barnes “Humph, He, Ha”, London Review of Times, Vol. 40, No. 1., Jan 4 2018.


#17 Hinton-St George, Ellis Island, Roman Empire & Europe

December 12, 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. 

church-Hinton-St-GeorgeEngland: Hinton-St. George: Visited with the Cannings (Jo and Rick), a hardy couple that seemed to love taking us to “sights” — Winchester, Bath, Avebury (a miniature Stonehenge, which we visited at a later time when we were off on our own), etc. They had their hiking shoes stashed permanently in the “boot” of their car, ready at a moment’s notice to hop out to show us something (most often something up some hill, until I blurted out — when I caught my breath — “Don’t you have any downhill sites?”). Spent an afternoon with Jo Canning’s parents who lived nearby; they took us to lunch where we had the most delicious bread-pudding we’d ever tasted. Later, they took us to a small church to show us its stain-glass windows and told us one of the most charming “WWII” stories about them. Seems a German pilot had been shot down and held prisoner on a local farm. Pleased with how good the townspeople had treated him, he promised that if he ever got back home, he’d have his father — an accomplished worker in stained-glass — send them a window for their church after the war. More than good to his word, the townsfolk were delighted when, not one, but six beautiful windows arrived some time after the war ended — all of which still grace their charming little church.

trunks-ellis-islandUSA: Ellis Island: It was the wicker traveling “trunks” that got to me. Imagine placing your valuables in such a fragile container and striking out on a voyage to a new country! What faith our forebears must have had in the promise of America!

Europe: I’m referring to the whole European scene here: In pretty nearly every country in Europe we were constantly coming across remains and footsteps of the Roman Empire — walls, roads, buildings, artifacts, ruins, traces, sites, amphitheaters, etc.,, etc., etc.

roman-road-cologne-germany

Roman Road in Cologne Germany

Amazing to see and learn of just how far the Empire extended its footprint (and left it!) almost all over the continent. Better than in any book or classroom, a vast sense of history is there for the curious onlooker! Wow!


#16 Barbados and Wupperthal, Germany

November 24, 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. 

Barbados: Woodstock sculptor Anthony Krauss suggested we introduce ourselves to the former Prime Minister of Barbados who had commissioned a piece from him some years before and, doing so, were invited to an afternoon “tea” at his home. The Prime Minister was away in Europe, but his wife had warmly welcomed us and, for the occasion, had invited several others to the “do”. It was a lovely day, and lawn chairs and tables were scattered about the pleasant garden with small groups gathered at each. At one point we were joined at our table by an English couple and it was only after a few moments that the gentleman said that he understood we were from New York. We acknowledged that fact, whereupon he turned to me and asked in his very British manner what I thought about the fact that New York State had been recently reconsidering bringing back the death penalty. Sipping at my teacup, I looked up at him and said, “Well, for myself, I’m all in favor of introducing the electric couch — that way we could get three at once.” For the rest of the afternoon, the gentleman and his wife kept as much of the exquisitely manicured lawn between us as was possible.

Germany: Wupperthal: Took a ride on their overhead tram, a train that was suspended over the Wupper River (“thal” means valley), sinuously following the meandering course of the flowing water beneath. A new experience! While in Wupperthal (Wupper Valley), I learned that nearby in “Neander thal” — the valley of the Neander River) — our pre-human ancestors, the Neanderthals. settled there.


#15 Cologne Germany, Marseilles, France, Brighton, England, Tokyo, Japan

November 17, 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. 

Konstanze Jarczyk

Germany: Cologne, Buttermarkt: Konstanze Jarczyk (Heinz’s daughter) invited us to her small apartment in the old section of Cologne known as the “butter market”, only steps away from the remains of the old Roman road still visible to today’s visitors. A light lunch and then a special performance: Konstanze, a professional harpist with worldwide performances to her credit, giving us an intimate concert meant only for our ears! Unforgettable. Touching.

France: Marseilles: Just one day, but bouillabaisse of course! And, a bottle of local white wine to wash it all down. Amazing to think that this town on the coast was founded by the Greeks around 600B.C.!

England: Brighton: Stopping in at a small “antique” shop, I spied a tiny metal bell, gaily painted with flowers. The owner told me it was a sheep bell (I had seen cowbells but this was the first of these I had seen) and its dainty size and hand-painted surface appealed to me. As the man wrapped it for me, he asked me why I wanted it. Noticing Cornelia nearby, I said with a smile, “Now when I want my coffee in the morning, all I have to do is tinkle this little bell.” The look I got from her warned me that I might try it once, but chances were that instead of getting coffee I’d have it tied around my own neck! Anyway, it sits on a shelf above our kitchen sink where it still appeals to me…and every so often (when no one’s around) I shake it to hear the little tinkle.

Raymond J. Steiner and Marti Kerton at Narita Airport, Tokyo

Japan: Tokyo, Narita Airport: Huge crowd of hundreds of travelers, many lines, in airport on way to Beijing. As we stand at the end of a long line, we strike up conversation with a young woman behind us. Her name: Marti Kerton, a Honolulu native. During our talk we discover that she is the daughter of Sudjana Kerton, one of the over 200 artists to send me anecdotes for my book, The Art Students League of New York: A History. Small world indeed!


#14 Ritten, Switzerland

November 1, 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. 

Switzerland: Ritten, in the Tyrolean Alps: On our way to Munich from Verona, our hosts (Gabi and Norbert Witmer) ask us if we would like to take a brief side-trip tovisit one of the small villages nestled at the top of a mountain. We of course quickly agree and soon find ourselves winding through one horseshoe curve after another as we slowly ascend. At one lookout point, we look down far below at the Italian city of Bolzano that we had passed through earlier that morning. Grapevines covered the steep sides of the mountain, each vine meticulously pruned and cared for, prompting our wonder at how the workers could work on such a precipitous slope.

Finally we reach the top and park in a small lot in front of a restaurant. The village has a handful of houses, a church abutting a cemetery. The restaurant seems to be the only visible business establishment. As our waitress brought us a light lunch (excellent soup!), I remarked on the striking likeness of the young woman with my sister Rita — or at least as she looked when she was also young. After lunch, we strolled the little village, seeking better views of the Dolomites looming through a lowering sky. At one point we stepped into the small church — it might have held thirty people — and stood silently in the rear as a sole occupant, an elderly woman, knelt at the altar. It was as we waited for the woman to leave that I began to have the feeling that I had been in this church before and, as the sense of déjà vu deepened, it began occurring to me that a good bit of the town had also seemed familiar to me. Strangely, I was convinced that I had been there — yet, I knew that I had never before traveled to this part of the world, had no connection whatsoever with this German village called Ritten. Months later, in thinking about the odd experience, I began to wonder how it connected with my studies of ancient history shortly before we left for Europe. I had recently completed the 8 volumes of The Barbarian Invasions of the Roman Empire by Thomas Hodgkin, a good deal of my curiosity centered on my own “barbarian”, Teutonic roots. I had come to the conclusion that my forebears came from the Allamani tribe, the very tribe that eventually settled in the Alps after they left the northern part of Europe. When I related this ‘adventure’ to Christiane Jarczyk, she immediately said, “Of Course. That is where your grandfather’s people lived!” So, had I been in tune with some lingering vibe from an ancestor who lived atop this mountain? An ancestor whose progeny included that waitress who resembled my sister? Nonsense, undoubtedly — but still?