Shivering as I stepped out of my cozy bed this morning as the sun warmed my lids, I put on my warmest and oldest sweater, a cherished gift from my father at Christmas over 30 years ago. It’s a brown, hand-knitted sweater with a Native American pattern, and real antique buffalo nickels as buttons. It’s soft, it’s warm, it’s a little baggy now, and it’s one of the few things I’d grab if there was a fire, because it’s part of a family tradition. All the members of our family have two … one brown, one blue. These will become family heirlooms because they were knitted by an artist, Charles Atwood King, in Upstate New York.
This morning’s light is glowing orange as it dances across the plants and grass in the backyard and lights up the side of my studio building. I’ve painted it many times, but never captured that Sorolla look of light. I’ll keep practicing, but this morning, staying warm is my priority. I’ve made my way over to the outdoor fireplace, something that makes these mornings even more special.
Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most. Little family traditions, little things that warm our souls … like sweaters, fireplaces, old shoes, or the photo albums we’ve not fed since digital entered our lives. I’m sure one day, once the hard drives have crashed, kids sneaking into the attic to look at the chronicle of our lives won’t be the same. I must get around to making prints, but that is so 1980s.
Home, as you know, is my center. The sound of the old wooden screen door slamming behind me, the squeak in the bathroom door I should fix, but kind of like, and the marks on the doorjamb that show each child’s height over the years.
I returned home just yesterday. Wanting to be home, I got up in New York at 3 a.m. after getting in bed at midnight, took a car to the New York airport for a 7 a.m. flight, and was home by 10. The kids were still in bed, so I was there to cook breakfast and start their day. I’ll do the same today, then board a flight out to Miami to prepare for ourFigurative Art Convention & Expo.
My 24-hour trip to New York was a complete luxury and a trip I didn’t need to make, a trip whose expense was not necessary — but there was something so special that I wanted to be a part of it, because history is so important in art.
We Are Old Photos to Come
I love old photos of artists from the 1940s (or 1840s), and I love to look back upon traditions, which is why I wanted to be at the event on Friday night celebrating the Salmagundi Club’s 100th anniversary in its Fifth Avenue location. I also knew it would be an opportunity to see all my friends and meet people I’ve always wanted to meet. It was a grand event, and you’ll read about in Fine Art Connoisseur and Fine Art Today.
Can You Say Sleepy?
My first visit to the Salmagundi Club was disturbing. I was the guest of a member, and we ate in the downstairs dining room. The walls were covered with historical paintings by members — the history as rich as it gets for a painter. Yet everyone I saw in the club seemed to be over 70.
As I looked into it, I found the membership was on the decline, and there were few activities to draw younger artists. It was my prediction that this wonderful club would die off with its remaining members.
A year later, in the same dining room, I visited with a man who had just joined the club’s board and had the same feelings about its future. He managed to step in, get beyond the politics and deep resistance to change, and slowly rebuild the club.
New Oxygen in an Old Place
Today, about 10 years later, the club has returned to its former vibrant prominence and become a venue for important art shows and activities. It was the vision of Tim Newton and his board, and key members like Roger Rossi, that brought the club back to life. Had this not happened, I’m not sure the club would have ever made it to 100 years on Fifth.
The California Art Club was going through the same thing. Great heritage, but dying a slow death. But it was saved and revitalized over 20-plus years by Elaine and Peter Adams.
Ties to a Tattered Past
My visit to the club on Friday got me thinking about the importance of being a part of something old, something with roots in the past, something that held on to deep tradition. As an artist and publisher, I want to be a part of something that artists cherished 100 years ago. I love walking through the library knowing the great artists of the past were in that room, smoking cigars and telling stories about paintings. Those same artists’ paintings fill museums today.
There is something magical about being a part of these kinds of traditions. Maybe it’s knowing that perhaps artists in the future will look back at the old pictures of us at the 100-year event, wishing they could have been alive to meet the iconic artists of our time.
Icons of the Future
We often don’t think about or realize that artists like Joe McGurl, Don Demers, John Stobart, C.W. Mundy, Quang Ho, and others, too many to mention, will be hanging in major museums (some already are) and will be the icons people look back upon and wish they could have known.
This is what drives me to do so many art instruction DVDs with interviews … it’s recording history and technique, because I wish I had video of Sargent. It’s for that reason our library of over 200 videoscontinues to sell, even videos shot almost 30 years ago. These are historic documents.
I’ve realized that linking to history is important to us all, and that each of us needs to find a way to create traditions. Someone, probably a group of a few artists over dinner or drinks, started the California Art Club and the Salmagundi Club. What can you and I start? What traditions can we be a part of?
Give some thought to traditions you are a part of and the gifts they provide, and perhaps something you can do to start traditions or fix something in need of new life.