David Bruce: The Funniest People in Art — Exhibitions, Fathers

Exhibitions

• By the 1970s, African-American folk artist Clementine Hunter had become famous, although she had not started to paint until she was 53 years old. President Jimmy Carter sent her an invitation to attend an exhibition of her work in Washington, D.C., but Ms. Hunter had been born in 1886 and she did not like to travel. She said, “If Jimmy Carter wants to see me, he knows where I am. He can come here.”

• American Impressionist artist Mary Cassatt was talking with some friends at an Impressionist exhibition in Paris when a woman turned to her and said, “But you are forgetting a foreign painter who [Edgar] Degas thinks is first rate.” Ms. Cassatt asked, “Who is that?” The woman replied, “Mary Cassatt.” Ms. Cassatt said, “Oh, nonsense,” and the woman turned away, murmuring, “She’s jealous.”

• Berenice Abbot once exhibited her photographs in Brussels, but although they sold well, she didn’t receive any money from them. The art dealer who had arranged the exhibition kept the money, telling her that he “did not have the courage to be poor.”

Fathers

• Stanislaus Szulkalski was a Polish sculptor who always met his father for a walk every Sunday morning in a park in Chicago. One day, he arrived at the park to find a crowd around his father, who had died after being run over by a car. At the hospital, people asked what he wanted to do with the body. Mr. Szulkalski was poor, and he didn’t have the money to bury his father. In addition, he was an artist who was too poor to pay for lessons to learn about human anatomy. So he solved two problems at the same time — he took his father’s body home and dissected it, thus disposing of the body and learning about human anatomy. Later, people looked at his sculpture and told him that he certainly knew a lot about human anatomy — they also asked how he had come by that knowledge. Mr. Szulkalski always answered, “My father taught me.”

• The father of American realist painter Andrew Wyeth was the eminent illustrator N.C. Wyeth, who trained his son to be able to follow his profession. As a young man, Andrew was given a book to illustrate, but he struggled with the assignment because the book was so badly written. His father knew why he was struggling, so he told him, “Andy, it’s utterly ridiculous for you to do that book. Go to Maine and paint like hell! I will support you. You don’t have to be an illustrator.” Andrew followed his father’s advice, winning his father’s praise for the work he did. In fact, Andrew succeeded so well that soon a young painter asked N.C., “By God, are you the father of Andrew Wyeth?” N.C., of course, was disgusted by this question, preferring to be known for his own work.

• The father of choreographer Bella Lewitzky taught her the importance of having an art to practice. He worked an ordinary job, but when he came home, he painted. Ms. Lewitzky says, “He taught me that it didn’t make a d*mn bit of difference what you did for a living, as long as you had something that rewarded your life.” He also didn’t feel that it was necessary to have an audience for his art because the act of creation was rewarding in itself. Bella and her sister used to steal their father’s paintings — because if they didn’t, he would paint another work of art on top of the one he had already created.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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