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Monday, April 24, 2017

The Norman Rockwell Museum

Norman Rockwell Museum
Inside Norman Rockwell's final studio, not just as he left it when he died in 1978, but as it was around 1960 when he created the painting on the easel, Do Unto Others,  sometimes referred to as the "Golden Rule" painting.
In recent months I've taken to highlighting some of the smaller, yet outstanding, museums this country has to offer. Most of them deal with art in general with perhaps a bias toward a particular type, or era. Some deal only with American art, others only with wildlife or that of the American West, while others concentrate on the wild, wild east. Only one such museum in this series deals with the art of just one man--the iconic, all-American painter, Norman Rockwell. As these smaller museums go, the Rockwell is medium in size with between five and eight hundred original works (depending on who you ask), and is the largest, most complete collection of the artist's work to be found anywhere. It's also Stockbridge, (western) Massachusetts' only major tourist attraction.
 
Rockwell's studio as it is today (upper photo) and as it
was being moved several miles from Stockbridge to
the museum grounds outside the town.
I'm not going to expound to any great degree on the art of Norman Rockwell. God knows I've done that in the past, many times over. This is about the museum--the big white box (below) that holds and protects it all. The museum was founded in 1969 by the artist and his third wife, Molly. It was then "refounded" by the Rockwell heirs fifteen years after the artist's death on a 38-acre site just over two miles outside of Stockbridge. In addition to hundreds of original works by Rockwell, the museum also houses the Norman Rockwell Archives, a collection of over 100,000 various items, including photographs, fan mail, and business documents. In 2014 the Famous Artists School donated to the museum its archives, including numerous drawings from 1948 by Rockwell, who was one of its founding faculty members.


 Norman Rockwell Museum
Norman Rockwell in his studio with model Hank Bergmans examining the painting Can’t Wait, about 1970-72.
To me, these miscellaneous items, photos, and drawings having to do with the man, his three wives, his three sons, and the source material (photos, below) he had created are far more interesting than his paintings, most of which I've seen dozens of times before. I wish I could say I've seen them in the Rockwell Museum setting, but alas, I haven't gotten that far down my "bucket list" yet. Photos such as the ones below with two of his three sons add an extra dimension to the artist as a father, with which few people are familiar.

Norman Rockwell Museum
Rockwell's youngest son,; Thomas (above-left) has
become a successful artist in his own right.
As a painter myself, nothing delights me more than getting a peek at that which an artist used as reference material. Rockwell was rare for his time in using the services of a professional photographer in posing his models, especially the youthful ones, especially the rambunctious pre-teen boys which so often appeared in his Saturday Evening Post cover art. Rockwell worked for the Post for some forty-two years before switching over to that magazine's upstart rival, Look, during the final ten years of his career. Working for Look, Rockwell took on much more contemporary, often controversial, content such as New Kids in the Neighborhood (below), here accompanied by his source photos. It's especially interesting to observe where he closely followed the photos and when he departed from them, and trying to discern why he may have done so.

Norman Rockwell Museum
New Kids in the Neighborhood, 1967, Norman Rockwell.
(Notice who owns the black dog and the white cat).
The Rockwell Museum is also a good place to come to terms with the evolution of its namesake as to style. Looking closely it's not hard to see three distinct periods in Rockwell's stylistic development. From around 1916, when Curtis Publishing first put Mother's Day Off, on the cover of their flagship magazine, until 1943 when Rockwell painted his famous Four Freedoms (and coincidentally, his studio burned to the ground destroying many paintings and all his old props), we might call his style "Early Post." From that point until 1963 when he painted his last Post cover, we might call it his "mature" period. And finally, during his ten years with Look, he found a new, fresh, much more contemporary, photographic style--"The Look look." The museum covers all these stylistic elements in depth.

The Post years, paintings so familiar Rockwell fans can identify them even in a tiny "thumbnail" format.
In moving and reconstructing Rockwell's studio (top) during the last 25 years of his career, the museum has relied upon the visual documentation provided by an overzealous Post photographer sent to cover a "day in the life of an artist." The man not only shot copious photos of the artist at work, but damned near everything else as well. His employer was not amused by what they saw as a waste of valuable film, but the Rockwell Museum curators have come to bless him to no end. He made their work easy as well as authentic down to the smallest detail.

Norman Rockwell Museum archives.
A "contact sheet" from negatives discovered in the
museums archives.
During Rockwell's years with the Saturday Evening Post, he painted 321 covers. Naturally, not all of these works are represented on the walls of the museum as full-size originals; but even in magazine cover format, they make for quite an impressive display. At one point, a rival periodical offered Rockwell a thousand dollars a week (twice what he was making from the Post.) Rockwell turned them down. So impressed was the Post by the artist's loyalty, they doubled his salary. Rockwell painted sporadically up until early 1978 just six months before he died of emphysema. Ironically, Rockwell's trademark pipe was likely the direct cause of his death.

Norman Rockwell Museum
The museum goes "Postal."

Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas (detail,
central segment), Norman Rockwell. For
several years Rockwell's studio was on the
second floor of the central building.

















Col. Harland Sanders' Portrait,
1973, Norman Rockwell. This may
have been Rockwell's final portrait
commission, coming some five
years before his death.



































Click below for a quick tour of the museum.







































 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

John Eyre

Sydney Cove, 1806, John Eyre, now (top photo) and then from roughly the same angle. The present-day photo was probably taken from the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
My interest in people, places, and things as seen now and then is not limited to art. In fact I have long been fascinated by history years before I became a budding artist (by at least a year or two). Ever since the third grade, when I learned the Christopher Columbus wasn't the only maritime explorer to sail the seven seas, I have been as much interested in historic trivia as in history itself. The Australian painter, John Eyre was a trivial painter. Truthfully, one would have to call him a hobbyist by today's standards, his work far more important as visual history than as art. It would appear that, like many such artists, he more or less "backed" into painting for lack of anything better to do.

Sydney Cove, now and then. The famed Circular Quay, built between 1837
and 1844, now occupies the triangular area to the left of Sydney Cove. 
Therefore, very little is known about the man himself. We know John Eyre was born in 1791. He would appear to be self-taught. He certainly didn't get any art instruction from his father, who was a Coventry, England, wool-comer and weaver to whom he was apprenticed in 1794 at the age of thirteen. By the time he was eighteen he had been convicted of "housebreaking" (breaking and entering in today's parlance). He was sentenced to "transportation," which means he would be sent to the British penal colony in Sydney, Australia. He arrived there in 1801 to fulfill his seven-year sentence. If you're looking for a picture of the man, forget it. He didn't do self-portraits and photography hadn't been invented yet.
 
First Government House, Sydney, John Eyre
Eyre seems to have learned his lesson. He was granted a conditional pardon in 1804. His early drawings are dated from around this time. He generally focused on urban landscapes, giving his creative output value not only as works of art, but also as historical records. Over time, Eyre's work progressed from purely representative topographical depictions, to more artistic compositions with embellishments such as Aboriginal figures and ships at sea. This progression is typical of the developmental pattern of landscape depiction in the early colonial period. John Eyre was still relatively young when he left Sydney in 1812 at the age of forty-one. He was a free man, never to be heard of again.
 
Sydney Cove by an unknown artist, possibly John Eyre.
I should point out, that about that time, another John Eyre--Edward John Eyre--was born in England. He eventually traveled to Australia to explore the continent, later to become the Colonial Administrator. One source I found had him creating the etching below in 1812, three years before he was born. If that were true, he'd be the youngest child prodigy in the history of art.
 
Port Jackson Harbor, in New South Wales, with a
distant view of the Blue Mountains, 1812, John Eyre.




























Saturday, April 22, 2017

Psychedelic Art

 
The Artist's Hand, 1997, Alex Grey

Let me begin by setting the record straight. I don't do mind-altering drugs, I never have, and except perhaps on my death bed, I never will. I don't smoke--tobacco or any other grassy substance. I don't consume alcohol except for rare, European excursion with lunch. I've never even tasted beer. I have never been inebriated (drunk). Moreover, except for cigarette smokers, I don't hold an opinion one way or another regarding those who pursue any of these pleasures. My own addiction has to do with food, which I fear would probably translate to a similar dependency with regard to these other substances if I were to indulge myself.
 
Psychedelic art, many probably suppose, has its roods deep in the countercultural movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Actually, that era merely saw the sprouting of buds, branches, and limbs, as it were, when associated with marijuana, LSD, cocaine, and other such substances. Actually, the so-called "drug culture" literally mushroomed from a mushroom--the Psilocybin mushroom, to be exact. And that little booger has impacted the human consciousness dating back at least six-thousand years to primitive Aztec religious ceremonies. Insofar as art is concerned, carved Mushroom stones and motifs have been found in Guatemala dating from as far back as 1000 BC. They depict a mushroom strongly resembling Psilocybe Mexicana found in a west Mexican tomb in the state of Colima. The Psilocybe species was known to the Aztecs as Teonanácatl (literally "divine mushroom"). Thus there's nothing new about psychedelic drugs or the art they've fostered.
 
An Opium Den At Lime Street (detail), John L. Wimbush
China Opium, A Chinese man
preparing his opium pipe, 1859.
Most of the art associated with mind-altering drugs tends to be about them rather than art created using such substan-ces. For the most part, art about drug use breaks down into two categories, that which glorifies it and that designed to frighten potential users. I won't comment on either type ex-cept to say they are both valid forms of art and the former, naturally, is usually much more attractive. In our modern era, both types have their origin in the opium dens of China. So powerful was the attraction for this drug it came to pervaded all levels of that country's social classes (left). Its economic impact was so huge the British even went to war twice to gain a piece of the action (1839–42 and 1856–60). They won the wars but ended up with Chinese opium dens in London (above).

Peter Max to the max. Were they created about drugs or
using drugs?
The quintessential Psychedelic artist of the 1960s and 70s was (and is) Peter Max. His work has become an indispensable guide for cultural literacy of the 1960s. Today his paintings command a large following (and large prices) in becoming consistently collected worldwide. There were, however, precursors such as Salvador Dali as far back as the 1930s with his The Persistence of Memory (below) which may reference the seeming "slowing of time" reported by many drug users. Was Salvador Dali simply painting an encounter with the wrong kind of mushrooms served at dinner? Quite apart from his state of mind, what I find remarkable about this painting is that the public has so embraced its clash of two different worlds, the real and the imaginative (surreal).


The Persistence of Memory, 1931, Salvador Dali
Before Peter Max took up Psychedelia, San Francisco graphic designer, Wes Wilson designed some of the first and most well-known psychedelic posters. Among his best were for Bill Graham (not Billy Graham) of The Fillmore in San Francisco, in which he invented a style (below) that is now synonymous with the peace movement, psychedelic era, and the 1960s. In particular, he is known for inventing and popularizing a psychedelic font around 1966 that made the letters look like they were moving or melting.

Fillmore Auditorium Poster, 1966, Wes Wilson
Op Art, short for Optical art, is a style of abstraction that relies on geometric shapes, lines, and color juxtapositions to create optical illusions for the viewer. Gaining popularity in the 1960s, such art had little to do with the drug culture of the time but everything to do with a similar interaction between the brain and the eyes, without the influence of drugs, but having many of the same effects. It often featured patterns, grids, and curving or diminishing objects. In form, it had a tremendous influences upon psychedelic art. The Op art movement was driven by artists such of Victor Vasarely and Bridget Riley (below).

Bridget Riley. Stare at it. Pretend you're on drugs.
Abstract Expressionism and the New York School of the 1950s had loosened the bounds of what could legitimately be called art. Psychedelic art feasted upon that broadened definition. But such art also choked on the same problem that had earlier bedeviled Abstract Expressionism. It was so new and there was so much of it being churned out by artists ranging from zombie drug addicts to entrepreneurial masters such as Peter Max, that no one, even most critics, could differentiate between what was "good" Psychedelia and what was simply a bad acid trip splattered on canvas (below).

What's a drug trip like? This may be close.

An artist using drugs? I'd say so, wouldn't you?



























The cat that ate my stash.












































Friday, April 21, 2017

Barthélemy d'Eyck

Aix Annunciation, 1443-45, Barthelemy d'Eyck
I always find it fascinating when I encounter an artist whom the art "experts" admit they don't know everything there is to know as to their careers and the art which he or she produced. Naturally, the further back you go, the more likely you are to encounter such ambiguities. There is, of course, prehistoric art, having to do with cave paintings and crude wood and stone carvings for which no expert could be blamed for having to make conjectures. However, for all intents and purposes, when it comes to biographical, and academic details of an artist's life and work, it seems we should consider any art or artists up through most of the 15th-century as being "prehistoric." And it's here that terms and phrases such as attributed to, conjectured, undocumented, generally accepted, presumably, probably, associated with, considered as, uncertain, described as, suggesting, thought by many, proposed, may, might, and could creep in. I always told my students that in reading a contemporary news item, if any of those words appeared (or variations of them), to take what they read with the proverbial "grain of salt." And the more times such words appeared, the more grains of salt should be consumed (especially true today on the Internet). The same reasoning applies to art history.
 
Barthélemy d' Eyck, probably
a self-portrait, 1456
The Early Netherlandish painter, Bar-thélemy d'Eyck, is a perfect example. As an experiment, count the number of times any of the terms and phrases listed above are used from here on down. If the so-called "experts" are uncertain, what's a beleaguered, expository writer like me to do? For instance, Barthelemy d'Eyck was born ca. 1420 (ca. means "around"). He died after 1470--now there's an ambiguity if there ever was one. (After 1470 could mean the day before yes-terday.) He worked in France, probably in Burgundy, as a painter and manuscript illuminator. I could find no indication as to where he was probably born. The portrait (right) is attributed to the artist so that's presumably what he may have looked like.

An illuminated manuscript attributed to Barthelemy d'Eyck.
If the biographical details as to Barthélemy d'Eyck (Bartholomew of Eyck) are a bit on the "sketchy" side, when we look at the artist's work itself, the experts really get into educated guesses. In fact, no surviving works can be decisively documented as his, though he was praised by contemporary authors as one of the leading artist of the day. As a result, a number of important works are generally accepted as being by his hand. Barthélemy has been accepted by most experts as the artist formerly known only as "The Master of the Aix Annunciation" (top) as to painting. He was called "The Master of René of Anjou" for his illuminated manuscripts (above). Likewise, Barthelemy is thought by many to also be "The Master of the Shadows" responsible for parts of the prayer calendar, Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (The Rich Prayers of the Duke of Berry).

January
The book was worked on, for nearly a century--
1412-1489. Barthelemy is believed to have contributed
to the illustrations for the months of March, October,
December, and January.
It is believed that Barthélemy d'Eyck was related to the pioneer oil painter, Jan van Eyck. If so, it is undocumented. Barthélemy's stepfather was a cloth merchant who followed René of Anjou to Naples and later to Provence in the South of France. Virtually nothing is known of Barthélemy's mother other than that she was said to be of German descent and died in 1460. Some authorities have suggested, based on stylistic grounds and the likely family relationship, that Barthélemy trained in the workshop of Jan van Eyck. They think it likely that he worked in the 1430s on the Milan-Turin Hours, a famous illuminated manuscript, in which a number of different painting "hands" have been recognized. Much of the evidence survives only in black-and-white photographs after the manuscript's destruction in a fire. Barthélemy's last appearance is found in the accounts of his employer, René of Anjou (below). In 1469, he was paid his salary, plus that of three servants, and three horses. There is some evidence he lived until 1476. It's interesting how the minutiae survives in the annuls of art history while the important stuff becomes problematical.
 
The Dream of Rene Anjou, ca. 1440, Barthelemy d'Eyck













































Thursday, April 20, 2017

Allaert van Everdingen

A River Landscape with Figures on a Bridge, Allaert van Everdingen
As a general rule, I'm not fond of European landscape paintings. Having said that I guess it would be more accurate to say I'm not fond of the painters who have painted them. At least until the impressionists came along, pretty much regardless of the nationality, the setting, the artists, or the era in which they were painted, there has always seemed to me to be a certain bland, sameness to such work. There are a number of reasons for this, over which the artists sometimes have had little or no control. First of all, there's the weather...it always seems to be cloudy. Second, the setting and content chosen by European artists always seems to range from fairly uninteresting to downright boring. The third factor is a matter of style, a delicacy of technique, regardless of content, that seems out of keeping with the texture and rawness of nature. That is to say, they seem too refined. And finally, it took hundreds of years before the impressionist demonstrated that...surprise, surprise...nature is quite colorful. And when they did, the European art world gasped in horror, then cried out with angry outrage.
 
Twilight in the Wilderness, 1860, Thomas Moran
To see what I mean, noticed the fairly interesting landscape by the Dutch artist, Allaert van Everdingen (one of his better ones) titled A River landscape with Figures on a Bridge (top). Now compare it to Twilight in the Wilderness (above), from 1860, by the American landscape painter, Thomas B. Moran. If the word WOW! comes to mind, you aren't alone. Is it fair to compare a sunset to a midday painting? Probably not, but look below; both his Scandinavian Landscape and van Everdingen's House for Pillars in the Winter (below), from around 1670, depict sunsets.
 
House for Pillars in the Winter, ca. 1670, Allaert van Everdingen.
Is it fair to compare paintings created nearly two-hundred years apart? Strictly speaking, probably not, except for the fact that van Everdingen's work is so timeless as to be quite similar to landscapes created in much of Europe well up through the early 19th-century. Keep in mind that Moran's gorgeous American landscape was painted in 1860, shortly before the impressionist colorized European landscape painting. Until then, it was as if European landscape painters were somehow afraid of color. It may seem strange, but that's not far from the truth. In fact, there was something of a philosophical battle raging within the French Academy as to which was more important fine drawing or vivid color (the Poussinistes Versus the Rubenistes).

Allaert van Everdingen had a "thing" for waterfalls,
and apparently muddy ones at that.
I chose the work of Allaert van Everdingen as representative of much of the European landscape tradition in that he was generally regarded as one of the most important pioneers in the romantic landscapes. His influence extended from the mid-1600's, through prominent landscape painters such as Jacob van Ruisdael, and Meindert Hobbema, until the era of Romanticism in the early 1800s with names such as Caspar David Friedrich and Johan Christian Dahl. Despite this, he is today virtually unknown among the general public, and relatively few are aware of his enormous art-historical importance.

Allaert van Everdingen,
1621, Adam Pijnacker.
Allaert van Everdingen was born in the Netherlands in 1621. He died in Am-sterdam in 1675. Together with his brother, Caesar, he began his career as a painter and printmaker in the mid-1630's. Allaert was the bolder of the two brothers and moved early on to Utrecht, to study under Roelant Savery. A short time later he moved on to Haarlem, where he joined Pieter de Molyn, who exerted a significant influence on the young artist. However, most art his-torians agree that it was in Scandinavia that he came to fully develop the unusually dramatic landscape imagery for which he became best known. With the help of the painter's sketchbook, we know that van Everdingen visited Göte-borg, Bohuslän, Sweden, Dalarna and probably Norway's southeast coast. His sketches, which were usually created in the wild, were used as a basis for the relatively free and imaginative compositions which he methodically worked out in the Studio.
Hikers in the Highlands, after 1655,
Allaert van Everdingen
Ironically, there are a much larger number of van Everdingen's drawings and etchings in England than elsewhere. His Landscape with a Barn (below) is an excellent example of his printmaking skills. Being a collector as well as an engraver and painter, he brought together a large number of works of all kinds. The sale of these by his heirs in Amsterdam on March 11, 1676, gives an approximate clue to the date of the painter's death. 

Landscape with a Barn Between
Boulders, Allaert van Everdingen




















































 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Dulah Marie Evans Krehbiel

Orange Umbrellas at the Beach, ca. 1920, Dulah Marie Evans
When writers discuss the art, life, and times of well-known artists, if they mention that artist's spouse, it's only in passing unless the spouse has posed for paintings, or was in some other way influential in the artist's work. Yet the fact is, very few husbands or wives of artists are not in some way influential, even if it's behind the scene. I know this from both personal experience and from writing about other artists. If something doesn't look right, my wife is not the least bit hesitant to tell me so. Moreover I've learned that she's seldom wrong. In writing about other artists I'm probably as guilty of anyone in not emphasizing the presence and impact of a spouse in this role. At times, I've completely omitted the fact that an artist was even married, or in doing so, been negligent in mentioning the spouse by name.
 
Dulah Krehbiel, ca. 1906
That was the case a little over two years ago when I wrote a biographical piece on the American impressionist and art educator, Albert Henry Krehbiel. Even though his wife, Dulah Marie (Evans) Krehbiel, was an accomplished artist with extensive academic credentials, I neglected to even mention their marriage or her name. Dulah Marie Evans was born in 1875 and married Albert Krehbiel in June of 1906, shortly after he returned from Europe and accepted a teaching position at the Art Institute of Chicago. The couple settled in suburban Park Ridge, Illinois, the home of several important artists and designers. Dulah assisted her husband with his most important commission: a series of allegorical murals for the interior of the new Illinois Supreme Court Building in Springfield. She designed and sewed the classical draperies in which she posed for many of the figures. She also worked on several of the paintings. A few years later, Dulah established her own studio business, The Ridge Crafts, which produced illustrated greeting cards and bookplates from her designs, some featuring verses by her sister, Mayetta, which were hand-tinted with watercolors.

Dulah Evans Krehbiel Christmas card,
The Ridge Crafts, Park Ridge, Illinois, 1911
Golden Curls, 1915,
Dulah Marie Evans
In April 1914, Dulah gave birth to their only child, Evans Llan Krehbiel, who soon became a model for several of her paintings as seen in her Golden Curls (right) from 1915. The challenges of running a household and raising her son coincided with growing market challenges to cottage industries in graphic design. She was obliged to close The Ridge Crafts in 1915. Two years later, the Krehbiel family, accompanied by Mayetta Evans, moved to Southern California for a three-year stay interrupted by return visits to Chicago, where Albert was still on the faculty of the Art Institute.

Though untitled (insofar as I could determine) this
painting by Dulah Evans likely dates from around 1920.
They rented a bungalow in Santa Monica. Family responsibilities were undoubtedly one cause of the apparent hiatus in Dulah’s career between the years 1917 and 1919. However, around 1920, she returned to painting with a new intensity. She completed several impressionist figural landscapes showing Mayetta and Evans in Santa Monica. A painting of three women before an open window is her only work in a public collection (National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.). It may have been completed in Park Ridge following the family’s return there from California.

Three Ladies at an Open Window, 1920, Dulah Marie Evans
In 1925, Dulah's sister, Mayetta, purchased a separate Park Ridge home, dubbed Studio Place, for herself, Dulah, and Dulah's now teenaged son, Evans. Dulah actively promoted her son’s burgeoning artistic efforts while virtually cutting him off from all contact with his father. Later, in 1930, an attempt to reestablish a successful career by moving to the New York City suburb of Scarsdale, failed. She was forced to return to Park Ridge and her husband's financial support.

Waterfalls, Dulah Marie Evans
Throughout the following decade Dulah exhibited her paintings in the annual members’ shows at the Arts Club. She became known as the “Park Ridge modernist,” as she continued to paint fantastic landscapes filled with female figures while also completing several portraits, notably of Evans, in a contrastingly straight-forward, realistic style. In the early 1940s, Dulah exhibited her last works, paintings depicting still-life arrangements of seashells and flowers. In her final show, in 1945, she was represented by a painting from 1920 listing herself under her married name. only a few weeks later Albert Krehbiel died suddenly. By then, arthritis and a series of strokes had forced Dulah to abandon her career. Dulah Marie Evans Krehbiel died in 1951 at the age of seventy-six.

Mountain of the Blue Moon, 1934, Dulah Marie Evans (Krehbiel)
Dulah’s career of more than fifty years was a determined effort to make a place for herself in the contemporary American art world. She tried a wide range of media and genres, including painting, drawing, etching, and photography, repeatedly moving off in unprecedented directions, learning new techniques, and absorbing the influences that surrounded her. Over the years, as she struggled for financial independence through her art, she created some of her most striking works, such as the fantastic figural landscapes of the 1920s and 1930s (above), all deeply personal statements of female self-identity and aspiration. They also collectively constitute Dulah’s greatest claim for renewed attention as an artist with an important place in American Modernism.
  
Evan's Poinsettia, 1920,
Dulah Marie Evans









































Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Rodolfo Escalera

The All American Game, Rodolfo Escalera
Most painters today, and for hundreds of years in the past, have painted on stretched canvas or paper (in the case of watercolorists). Even today though, in rare cases, some artists paint on wooden panels (often Masonite). When I was growing up in the 1950s, Morgan County, (southeastern) Ohio, was not exactly a hotbed of artistic activity. I can think of only one "professional" landscape painter who even lived in the area. His last name was Kelly. I never met him nor knew his first name. And in recalling his art, I'd have to say he was pretty much of the self-taught variety though not what you'd term "folk art." He probably painted some traditional framed paintings, but he was best known for painting in oils on dinner plates, having a spring fastened hanging mechanism on the back. He sold them for five (1950s) dollars each. They weren't particularly "collectible" at the time, but in looking back, I'd probably pay several times five dollars to get my hands on one now, if only for sentimental reasons.
 
Aztec Gods, Rodolfo Escalera
One of nine different plates with
an edition of 250.
I was reminded of this as I encountered a much more successful Mexican artist named Rodolfo Escalera, who also produced art on ceramic plates, though each one was not painted by hand. Escalera was, however, considerably more adept and his work definitely quite collectible. In 1983, Rodolfo Escalera was awarded a license by the 1984 Olympic Organizing Commit-tee to design and create nine oil paintings depicting the various events of the Summer Olympic Games to be held in Los Angeles California. Using his beloved oil paints and his trademark “00” paintbrushes, Escalera sought to capture the true spirit of competition in his realistic renderings. An interesting fact is that many of the athletes portrayed were actually members of the Escalera family and close family friends who posed for him. The paintings were in turn reproduced onto collectible porcelain plates and sold as limited edition sets. They went on to be designated the “Official Gift of the 1984 Olympic Games” and were presented to all of the visiting dignitaries from around the world.

The self-portrait (above, upper-right) was painted in 1999, just a year before the artist's death from cancer.
Rodolfo Escalera was born in 1929, the only son of a family of five living in Gomez Palacio, Durango, Mexico (about halfway between Mexico City and the Rio Grande). His love for drawing was noticeable from an early age; a talent that was “inherited” from his father and grandfather who were both talented artists. His father, however, tried to discourage his son's artistic pursuits, telling him that artists in Mexico were “under every stone you turn.” He actually forbid him from pursuing art as a career. Consequently Escalera decided to become an architect in order to appease his father and somewhat satisfying his creative craving. Unbeknownst to his father he secretly continued to develop his painting skills. Later, Escalera’s father was paralyzed by a stroke after having been commissioned by a local school to design diplomas for their graduating class. Escalera, offered to take on the project. Upon presenting a sample to the school director his work was approved and he was able to complete the project on behalf of his father.

Escalera was at his best when painting animals of any kind.
Two years later, in 1948, Rodolfo Escalera's father died of a heart attack. The family subsequently decided to relocate to California. Escalera attended a semester of school to help him learn to speak English but then was compelled to throw himself in to the work force to help support his mother and two sisters. Eventually he landed a job in an architectural firm while continuing to develop his painting technique after hours and on weekends.

Escalera studied architecture in his college days. Los Arcos, (The Arches) is a study in perspective, a real challenge to accurately achieve such a level of depth on a two-dimensional plane.
By 1950 Escalera was working at an advertising firm that held a contract with a film company which distributed movies in the United States that were produced in Mexico. He was given the account as his to manage along with a degree of creative freedom. With all going well and beginning to feel financially secure, he returned to Mexico and married his childhood sweetheart, Susana. By 1961 the Escalera’s had grown to a family of six and Escalera had by then opened his own advertising agency. This, for him, was the absolute perfect scenario as he could make a living doing what he loved as well as set his own hours thus enabling him to devote time to the creation of five incredible masterpieces that took 20 years to complete! His The All American Game (top) was one of these five, painted when a critic stereotyped his work as exclusively Mexican genre. Escalera set out to prove otherwise.

El Chisme (Gossip), 1980, Rodolfo Escalera
Following their father's death in 2000, the Escalera family has held on to the works of their family’s patriarch. Though the originals could have been offered for sale, the artist’s family decided to instead have created high end Giclée reproductions. Rodolfo Escalera created more than 70 works of art over the course of his lifetime including landscapes, wild life, still-lifes, and several genre paintings of people in various real life settings.

Special Delivery, 1980s, Rodolfo Escalera,
his granddaughter, Regina.