POLLY THAYER STARR & THE ALCHEMY OF PAINTING
Self Portrait: The Algerian Tunic, 1927, Oil on canvas, 35 x 30 inches. Private collection
Sursum Corda, Mixed media on paper, 19 1/4 x 22 3/4 inches framed
Centered (aka Iris), 11 ¾ x 13 ½ inches. Mixed media on paper
PTS and Kahlil Gibran – Conversation between Aging Artists, Copley Society, 1999 Images courtesy of Dorothy Koval
Rockport Art Association & Museum is proud to host the first major retrospective of Boston painter Polly Thayer Starr, who passed away in 2006 at the impressive age of 101. Noted in the Hub as a woman of imagination and humanity, Polly Thayer, as she signed her work, was a woman who continually searched for “the invisible within the visible,” as William Blake put it.
Raised in the forward-thinking family of Boston lawyer, Ezra R. Thayer – later Dean of Harvard Law School – Thayer grew up with artistic leanings, taking lessons as a 10-year-old with Beatrice Van Ness before progressing to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, at the age of 19. Only a few months earlier, she had been pressed into service as a nurse to the wounded and dying when she was caught up in the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake that leveled Yokohama and Tokyo.
Thayer’s education as an artist began with the traditional foundation course at the Museum School: anatomy and drawing with Philip Leslie Hale. However, she left in her second year to pursue a more eclectic direction. Although adept in the ‘Boston School’ manner, Polly Thayer broadened her education by studying with diverse artists such as Charles Hawthorne, Hans Hofmann and Jean Despujols of the Ecole des Beaux Arts.
Her professional career got off to a dramatic start when her painting Circles was awarded the Julius Hallgarten Prize at the National Academy of Art, NY, in 1929, quite a coup considering the competition. Nor was this a fleeting success. The following year, Thayer’s self-portrait, Interval, received the Gold Medal at the Boston Tercentenary Exhibition. New York Herald Tribune art critic, Royal Cortissoz, described Thayer’s art as “exciting, for behind that finish there must lie the rich promise of more and more interesting work,” while The Boston Globe critic announced it “surely settles her status as one of the foremost painters in the country, especially notable in portrait painting, but evidently gifted with that kind of genius which is not circumscribed.”[i]
As Thayer continued to perfect the art of landscape, urban genre and the natural world, she also began exploring the metaphysical; what she called Mysteries. “I find there are secrets, certain numinous things, that seem to speak to me in a special sense, signaling in a language that compels decoding. To be faithful to this task demands absolute attention.”[ii]
Despite marriage and a family, Thayer maintained a successful career as one of New England’s premier women artists, proving an active role model for the following generation. Even after developing glaucoma as well as macular degeneration, Thayer worked harder and longer to complete as much work as possible before losing her sight. Using a jeweler’s loupe, she began a series of close-ups of flowers – cyclamens, thistles, iris, beach peas and countless others – which she portrayed in both monumental and intimate fragility. Bees, ants and spiders also provided inspiration for Thayer’s pencil, joining countless paintings and drawings of cats, dogs and cows.
Thayer’s life was filled with creativity, compassion and a constant need to explore the world, both visible and invisible. Thus, the legacy she left in chalk, pastel, watercolor, oil and mixed media is a testament to a life well lived and a woman of accomplishment, clarity and insight. Her works captured the culture and whimsy of her native Boston and New England with a unique combination of detail, emotion and curiosity. Widely exhibited both during her lifetime and after her death, her art is represented in many museums and individual collections.
Polly Thayer Starr and the Alchemy of Painting, featuring more than 80 works by the artist, will be on view at the Rockport Art Association and Museum, 12 Main Street, Rockport, MA 01966 from October 20 through November 26, 2017. For further information on gallery walks, talks and demonstrations during this show, please visit www.rockportartassn.org or call 978.546.6604. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 am – 5 pm, Sunday 12 – 5pm. A 72-page, soft cover, full color catalogue accompanies this exhibition, which is sponsored by the Polly Thayer Starr Charitable Trust.
Rock Bound: Painting the American Scene on Cape Ann and Along the Shore closes at end of month
The last day to view Cape Ann Museum’s special exhibition Rock Bound: Painting the American Scene on Cape Ann and Along the Shore is Sunday, October 29, 2017. Don’t miss the chance to see this unique exhibit made up primarily from private collections.
Rock Bound captures the years immediately following the Civil War, when Cape Ann set out on a path that would make it one of New England’s most vibrant and influential art colonies of the early 20th century. As the foundation on which this growth took place was broad, with countless artists working in a myriad of media, no one trend or style would come to dominate the emerging colony. There did arise, however, a fascination with capturing the “American Scene” as embodied on Cape Ann and in the surrounding areas.
With paintings drawn from private collections and the Museum’s own holdings, Rock Bound explores the ways in which an array of artists of the early 20th century sought to capture the natural beauty of the region, the power of the ocean and the hardscrabble way of life that was quickly disappearing in other places. The exhibit will also consider how artists placed local populations and traditions in their context, whether it was carpenters working in the shipyards of Essex, women and children relaxing on wide sandy beaches, or fishermen and quarrymen pursuing their timeless and dangerous ways of life. Artists featured in Rock Bound include Childe Hassam, Jane Peterson, Martha Walter, Gifford Beal, Leon Kroll, Marsden Hartley and Stuart Davis among others.
Image credit: Gifford Beal (1879–1956), Northeaster #2, Bass Rocks, 1930. Oil on board. Private collection.
About the Cape Ann Museum
The Cape Ann Museum has been in existence since the 1870s, working to preserve and celebrate the history and culture of the area and to keep it relevant to today’s audiences. Spanning 44,000 square feet, the Museum is one of the major cultural institutions on Boston’s North Shore welcoming more than 25,000 local, national and international visitors each year to its exhibitions and programs. In addition to fine art, the Museum’s collections include decorative art, textiles, artifacts from the maritime and granite industries, two historic homes and a sculpture park in the heart of downtown Gloucester. Visit capeannmuseum.org for details.
The Museum is located at 27 Pleasant Street in Gloucester. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission is $12.00 adults, $10.00 Cape Ann residents, seniors and students. Youth (under 18) and Museum members are free. For more information please call: (978)283-0455 x10. Additional information can be found online at www.capeannmuseum.org.
For a detailed media fact sheet please visit www.capeannmuseum.org/press.
Flatrocks Gallery presents Timothy Harney: Dialogue & Correspondences – A Selection of Collages 1987-2017. The exhibit runs from October 19th- November 19th, with an opening reception Saturday, October 21st 6-8pm. All are welcome.
Tim Harney_Michelle Behre Photography
Tim Harney’s career as an artist and a teacher spans five decades; he has been making collages for more than thirty years. Tim works with paper, especially old paper, deploying shapes animated by patches of vivid color to create a visual language. Each of his collages has a syntax, a rhythm, and a meaning particular to itself, as if each were a poem. And, as with poems, Harney’s collages are distillations of emotion and memory, in which layering, fragmenting, and reconstruction suggest the passage of time and the act of recollecting. Embedded in his choices of shape, pattern, and color are multiple associations, redolent of his thought processes and of the art and artists who have influenced him. This show, he says, “isn’t simply a selection of work from these many years, but also a range of work that I feel reveals some sense of what a deep involvement and continual dialogue means to the work, and how the vocabulary has evolved. One of my interests in presenting this work was to make the point, obvious maybe – that there are rich consequences from an involvement this long: the incalculable number of decisions, rejections, changes of direction, varied vocabularies are all informed by a dialogue over years.”
Flatrocks Gallery 77 Langsford St., Gloucester. Open Thursday-Sunday noon-5pm. www.flatrocksgallery.com
8th Annual Charles Olson Lecture
Ann Charters: Evidence of What Is Said
Image: Charles Olson and Ann Charters walking on the Boulevard in Gloucester, Mass., 1967. Photo credit: Sam Charters. Author information from Small Press Distribution (SPD), spdbooks.org.
The Cape Ann Museum and Gloucester Writers Center are pleased to present the 8th Annual Charles Olson Lecture featuring Ann Charters on Saturday, October 21 at 1:00 p.m. at the Cape Ann Museum(27 Pleasant Street, Gloucester). This program is free and open to the public. A suggested donation of $10 is appreciated.
Ann Charters, noted Beat Generation scholar, photographer, and Professor Emerita at University of Connecticut, Storrs, visits Gloucester to discuss her correspondence with poet Charles Olson. Beginning in 1968 with Charters’ request for Olson to reflect on his “earliest enthusiasm for Melville,” and continuing until late 1969, these letters traverse the final two years of Olson’s life. Centered on Charters’ book Olson/Melville: A Study of Affinity, the correspondence ultimately maps two writers’ existence in an America that is simultaneously experiencing the wonder of the moon landing and the chaotic escalation of the Vietnam War. All the while, their exchanges navigate the convolutions of Olson’s ideas about history, space, and time in relation to his pivotal book Call Me Ishmael and his Black Mountain College lectures.
Charles Olson was born in 1910 in Worcester, Massachusetts. His first book, Call Me Ishmael, published in 1947, is a case study of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Olson was an essayist, poet, scholar, and avid letter writer. He was a professor who also taught at universities ranging from Clark to Harvard to Black Mountain College. His influence in the 1950s and 1960s was expansive in many fields of thought. He died in New York in 1970 while completing his masterpiece, The Maximus Poems.
Ann Charters is the author of the first biography of Jack Kerouac, published in 1973, as well as a number of major studies of Beat literature and its personalities. She began taking photographs in 1958 on Andros Island in the Bahamas to document Samuel Charters’ field recordings for Folkways Records. These photographs of musicians are featured in Blues Faces: A Portrait of the Blues (David Godine Books, 2000). Her photographs of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Kesey, and others are included in Beats & Company: Portrait of a Literary Generation (Doubleday, 1986). Her photo essay on Charles Olson in Gloucester was published in Olson/Melville: A Study in Affinity (Oyez, 1968). Her photos also illustrated Samuel Charters’ The Poetry of the Blues (Oak Publications, 1963) and Songs of Sorrow: Lucy McKim Garrison and Slave Songs of the United States (University Press of Mississippi, 2015). Ann Charters’ photo essay featuring the Nobel Prize-winning poet Tomas Tranströmer is included in Samuel Charters’ translation of Tranströmer’s BALTICS, published by Tavern Books in 2012.