ddrees art

My art work and thoughts

Ninety Years Old

Posted by ddrees on July 8, 2009


D  rwbays are getting shorter again. My mother was ninety years old on the fourth of July. She has always taken pleasure in having the fourth of July as her birthday. She said she was red, white and blue; red hair, white skin, blue eyes.momolderVA

She has the longest ribbon of DAR ancestor bars I have ever seen, over thirty, and she wore them proudly. By amazing synchronicity, I spoke on the phone last night to my youngest sister who was visiting Utica for Mom’s birthday and she told me that the ancestor bars had been missing but that they had recently found them . The DAR friends of Mom who had come to the July 3rd birthday party had put the pressure on Sis to be in the July fourth parade so she acquiesced (a first) and wore the ancestor bars. Grandfather always used to march in the parade. He had an antique military costume, I think Civil War, and was in a small group of guys called “the ancients”, (Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Boston) This is more interesting to me now than back in the day. Always patriotic, Mom delighted in going to DAR conventions in DC in her mature years; too busy and poor when we were kids. She liked to be an organizer of receptions for Uticans who just received their citizenship, one of the various tasks her DAR group upholds.

I remember quite a few of her birthdays. Once I gathered some of my grandmother’s July fourth blooming roses to make a circlet on her cake. Cakes were a big deal to me and she taught me to make them from scratch. I was famous in first and second grade for drawing birthday cakes in perspective for classmate’s birthdays. I would draw the outline and they would decorate them from there. They looked a lot like these by Wayne Thiebaud.

Wayne Thiebaud  Cakes

Wayne Thiebaud Cakes

Mom was an excellent tailor and taught me a lot of that too. We would design clothes and Mom would figure out how to put them together. I copied this Betsey McCall blue and white striped dress when I was in fifth or sixth grade. I really loved that dress.

betsey mccall paper dolls

betsey mccall paper dolls

Mom studied home economics at UVM and design at the Traphagen School in NYC. She worked a short time as a ship’s draftsman but she met my Dad and brought him back to her hometown. He was happy to escape hell’s kitchen and was convalescing from TB and they found civilian jobs at Griffiths Air Force Base in Rome during the war, he teaching radio stuff.

After children started to come she was all about home and hearth. I am nothing like that. I have not figured out why trajectories are what they became.

Up till my twenties and thirties I used to make clothes, go to G Street Remnant in DC when it was still on G Street and fall in love with certain pieces of cloth.

The dress in this school picture from the eighties was one of the last dresses I made. (I am the straw hat and dress) It was a superb French cotton, couturier quality from G Street. Work became too demanding and due to worldwide underpaid labor, store bought clothes became incredibly cheap. The really good fabrics are not there but…. Mom always took pride in dressing us well and turned her nose up at ordinary stuff.  She also did great knitting and taught me that too, but unlike some who find knitting relaxing I would find it nerve wracking and anxiety would build as I tried to get it finished, stitch after relentless,tedious stitch, like driving at night in a snow storm.

first Art Department at CCBC in the eighties

first Art Department at CCBC in the eighties

Here we are in the forties dressed to match with clothes made by Mom. I think this a real family tartan, good stuff, Scottish made. The velvet jackets and hats were hunter green.

sister mom and dd

sister mom and dd

These are corduroy jumpers. They were a nice medium blue green. See how my dad dotes on my mom. After being poor in the depression and almost succumbing to TB he felt he was in paradise already. I think that was true!

Christmas 46 blue-green jumpers

Christmas 46 blue-green jumpers

The items in this drawing feature handworks from the women in my family, Grandmother’s china painting, Sisters engraving and jewelry and Mother’s ceramics.

Framed ©d drees 1982 , pen and ink

Framed ©d drees 1982 , pen and ink

© Charles Burchfield -The Sphinx and the Milky Way-1946

© Charles Burchfield -The Sphinx and the Milky Way-1946

In Framed there are also pictures pinned to the wall from my museum, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute (MWPI), which looms large in my legend. They have a wonderful Charles Burchfield collection that is a great influence on me. In my ink drawing, Burchfield’s The Sphinx and the Milky Way is the largest pinned up picture at the top. The Thomas Cole Voyage of Life series at MWPI is one of two sets, the other being at the National Gallery in DC. Naturally I like the Utica set best. There is a detail from the first picture in the set, Childhood, pinned on the wall in the ink drawing at the upper left. The pinned up picture to the left of the tulip poplar leaf is the entrance to my grandfather’s backyard. I had cleaned out his backroom after he died to use as a summer studio in my last years of college. Below the leaf is a mysterious postcard of sheep from Hokaido that grandpa had sent his mother in the teens and that I have used as a picture reference in art work more than once.

Cole_Thomas_The_Voyage_of_Life_Childhood_1842-MWPI

Cole_Thomas_The_Voyage_of_Life_Childhood_1842-MWPI

Toy-by-Baziotes-MWPI

Toy-by-Baziotes-MWPI

Established in 1919, MWPI provided me with a very sophisticated view of the arts for a kid from Utica. In the forties and fifties I believe, but am not sure, they had artist visitors like Phillip Guston, Theodoros Stamos, Baziotes, Rothko and that ilk from whom they would acquire choice pieces. Somebody had terrific taste, but I was  too young to know how that worked. But I got to grow up seeing excellent stuff with the paint barely dry.

When I was in high school I saw Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor  and Jose Greco perform at MWPI. My sister and I regularly borrowed recordings and art books from the MWPI library. We listened to ethnic music, folk music, Elizabethan songs and various obscure recordings that were not commonly found. In 1966 or so I put a frame on an ink drawing of a tree I had done at Skidmore and had it accepted in the Artist’s of Central New York Regional at MWPI, my first exhibit in an adult show.

©1966 d drees , Tree , brush and ink

©1966 d drees , Tree , brush and ink

Dad took us to art shows at MWPI when we were little, way before the Phillip Johnson building was built. We took classes there from kindergarten to high school. Mom’s ceramics and Sister’s early jewelry were made there. We watched the Phillip Johnson building going down several stories subterranean and then up in the fifties. It was and is an elegant international style building. I remember the row of Victorian Procter family houses that were raised to make space. My mom remembers the childless Mrs. Proctor , who started the MWPI foundation, driving in her electric car in the twenties.

Phillip Johnson Building-MWPI

Phillip Johnson Building-MWPI

We lived just a block down the street. MWPI eventually acquired the greater part of our family land for their new school, except for my mom’s ante bellum (Civil War) house. She has lived on that street for all ninety of her years. We felt it was a good thing to have the school built up around mom in her old age for safety reasons though MWPI would rather have acquired the whole property. She takes pleasure in what she can, being frail now. She seems to have some lingering disappointment for not having traveled much and surprise at the shortness of ninety years. One set of ninety years is nowhere near enough to encompass it all. But who says it is supposed too.

for life’s not a paragraph

and death i think is no parenthesis

e. e. cummings, since feeling is first

Advertisements

3 Responses to “Ninety Years Old”

  1. Bob Raiano said

    I went to Egert Bagg School from 1949 to 1955. I too also wondered who he was. Now I wonder no more. Thanks to you. Thank you again.
    Yours truly,
    Bob Raiano

    • ddrees said

      I was there from 1951 to 1957 so we likely had very similar experiences. They did not change personnel very quickly. Our times overlapped for a couple of years. I remember a Carol Raiano. Kin of yours?

  2. […] Ninety Years Old July 2009 2 comments […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: