More and more I am reminded of the power of the Internet and realizing the purpose of this website!
On January 2o, 2012, I received the following message, which came from the contact feature in this blog. It said:
“This is why I am an art collector. Because it’s a journey of discovery. And today, in a thrift store in Maryland, I discovered your aunt. I bought a large (29×39 framed) painting of trees (I guess), black, against an abstract and evocative background with splashes of pale green. Looks like ink and watercolor on heavy paper. This is the kind of painting that gets your attention. And it’s signed “Sister Mary James Ann BVM 1955″ Original framing. Email me, and I will send photos.”
The writer of the message has asked to remain anonymous, but offered pictures. Of course, I jumped all over it. And true to his word, he sent me some photos of his new acquisition yesterday evening.
This painting was signed and dated 1955
A close up photo shows her familiar signature, and the date…the year I was born!
Signature seems to have been done in ink, going up the right side of the painting
The technique reminds me in a way of Japanese Sumi or India ink used in calligraphy. Here is another photo:
Image with frame
The painting of trees is somewhat reminiscent of her Birch Trees in Winter. She certainly used the same color palate, though Birch Trees is an oil:
Birch Trees in Winter, early 50s?, courtesy of Sisters of Charity
What at first glanced look like a stain of yellow in the thrift store find, is actually an intentional green watercolor wash. The owner says that it looks more green in person than what is rendered by the photo. This may have been her way of showing the emergence of spring…a snowy landscape yielding to fresh, early green grass, moss and forest floor underneath. The trees in the foreground, being conical evergreens, are the dominant vegetation. The striations of of ink and watercolor suggest a melting, nourishing rain.
In a subsequent email, the owner shared the following:
“The bold black shapes are painted with something very thick, that looks like it was sort of sticky when wet. The horizontal background elements and the fuzzy areas are definitely watercolor. The pale yellowish spots are, I’m fairly sure, watercolor. They look more green than in the pictures.”
I asked him what his opinions were about the style.
“I am a collector–not an expert! But I do feel that this painting captures its time perfectly. To me, it just screams “1955!” Framed without glass, common at the time. I will likely reframe with glass.”
I am hopeful that the new owner will grant me a personal audience with the piece one day. Not sure if he also lives in Maryland, or was just passing through. But it would definitely be worth a day trip! Nothing can replace gazing upon a work of art with one’s own eye. Otherwise we’d just have books and no museums!
This is an exciting development for me. Each piece I have discovered since this journey began has its own unique look. Because she was both an artist and a teacher, I see my aunt’s progression in these revelations - exploring and experimenting with styles, materials and techniques. She certainly did not pigeonhole herself, though I do see threads of similarity in her work, it is also evident that she pushed herself in many different directions, for her own artistic adventure and also in order to offer her students a fuller and broader artistic experience that she had personally shared.
People find treasures in all sorts of places. For someone, this painting was not meaningful enough to hold onto, and I can imagine many circumstances of how it might have ended up in a thrift store in central Maryland. Most of us who’ve watched Antiques Roadshow know that many treasures are buried in plain sight. Just over half a century ago, this work and others were likely exhibited in a local gallery. A modest price tag was affixed and someone decided to take it home. It probably was born in Iowa and changed hands along the way, both appreciated and ignored as it journeyed to to Maryland. Someone’s junk is often someone else’s treasure. Art is about communication, about emotion, about message…in this case, the painting survived decades and traveled thousands of miles and called to that special individual in order to meet with its new home and destiny!
As I had hoped, curiosity led to a search engine inquiry and a connection through my website. A new owner of my aunt’s art now knows a little bit more about her…and I in turn am able to add another piece of her artistic life to her biography. I think it’s been a fair exchange. That others did and continue to appreciate her work was never in question, but it is wonderful to have it confirmed and validated by others.
Thank you sir, for your eye, for your curiosity and most of all, thank you for sharing this with me…with everyone!