Rick Wedel - "Domestic Composition No. 1"

Rick Wedel, (Michigan 1968 – Present), Domestic Composition No. 1
(1998), 28″ x 22″, Oil on Masonite.
“Choosing a predominantly cool palette, Wedel has produced a view of silent everyday life, beneath which tension and anxiety lie...”
That brief artist’s description accurately and elegantly describes this thought provoking abstract-figurative work by Michigan artist Rick Wedel. Executed in oil on the rough side of a Masonite canvas, Wedel depicts the underlying tension and daily monotony that can erode and eventually destroy a relationship if we so carelessly allow it to happen.

This allegorical work portrays the human condition in a literal sense by showing us a modern but timeless scene with a disillusioned husband in the foreground and his equally disillusioned wife bent over the stove behind him. The child in the background (in the high chair) appears to be quietly observing his apathetic parents. I feel sorrow for this young family as it seems to be headed for a terminal state for which it can’t recover. The emotion is already deep rooted and inescapable. They are as detached from each other as the melancholy couple depicted in Edward Hopper’s “Room in New York.” A different time period, but no less tragic.

I love the drama of the message and how Wedel’s artistic expression draws me further into his work to explore its intimate details. It made me think about the cause of the ambivalence, and how it relates to the ease of acquiring immediate satisfaction through the internet. The net is often touted as the ultimate interactive experience, but it just doesn’t substitute for a living dialog about living life. There are tragedies that punctuate our lives, and there is often a silent anxiety that surrounds our daily existence (better known as a “rut”). That may be the only message Wedel is portraying here, but I think there’s more.

I’ve been accused of going beyond the interpretation, but the purpose of art is to tell a story (most of the time) and where it ends is up depends on the viewer. That’s part of the enjoyment of owning original art and it’s how I define “living with art.” Very few works of art come with instructions on how to look at it. That’s always been left to the aesthetic sense which seems to come in time. Just like developing a taste for wine lead to my appreciation for the dryer styles, art had a similar effect in that while those beautiful and serene landscape vistas that hang in museums around the world are pure eye candy, I find people oriented art much more satisfying. That’s why Wedel’s art ‘works’ for me. I particularly like one of his ‘artist’s statements’ describing his style:
“Hard wired in each of us are the mechanisms giving unique importance to the figurative form. It’s visual gravity is so strong that even in very generalized and abstracted versions, it has a strong influence. I’m relying on the figure in these compositions to offer solidity and calm to otherwise chaotic and unrealistic surfaces.”
When I read this part of his bio I knew we had some common ground to explore:
Rick often opts for texture over detail to achieve the forms in his works. “I enjoy creating anonymous figures because it encourages interpretation, and brings a sense of the infinite. To me, concealing the identity of figures and environments is an invitation to the viewer. That the viewer brings something to the work that makes it personal for them is important to me. Art becomes memorable when people make their own connections with it. In my work I have sought to make these associations possible by creating starting points. Each viewer then goes their own way.”
You can read his full bio here.

I love the moody palette and how he accents relationships with contrasting colors (orange outlining the man and woman). Wedel painted this work on the rough side of Masonite creating an intense texture and emotion which can only be appreciated in person. It currently sits in a cheesy, blue colored wooden frame I bought from Aaron Brothers just for the sake of hanging until I can find or make a frame that will do it justice (another enjoyable facet of collecting art we’ll talk about later).

The only criticism about this work I can find is a personal preference; I think a wailing kid might have been more appropriate in the scene to add more continuity to the overall tension. But I like it a lot as it is.

Stop on by Rick Wedel’s site and have a look at his unique style.


Emigdio Vasquez Honored

Orange County’s Godfather of Chicano Art, Emigdio Vasquez was honored on Saturday, September 4th by the members of Chicanos Unidos. The premier artist of Chicano life and imagery in Orange County that includes murals, sketches and paintings. Emigdio’s paintings point out the culturally historical struggles and insights overlooked by the mainstream for decades. Chicano Unidos looked to honor his commitment and support of the working class Chicano community. Click here for more info.

(Click here to see my review of an Emigdio Vasquez painting I used to own.)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - "Aristide Bruant"

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, (France 1864 – 1901),
Aristide Bruant dans son cabaret
(1893), 8-7/8″
x 12″, 4-color lithograph.

I found this delightful little lithograph while browsing around the bottom floor in one of our favorite haunts – King Richards Antique Mall in Whittier, California, hanging by a nail on a solitary old ceiling support post in the middle of the most glorious pile of rusty 1950’s appliances you’ve ever seen.

At first glance the image was unmistakably Lautrec, “Just more wallpaper,” I thought. I noticed some foxing along the sun bleached margins which often indicates aging (and poor care) and prompted me to take a closer look. I recalled that Lautrec was commissioned by that great singer and comedian of the 19th century to create these works and that they were the best of friends. I wasn’t sure where in time this one fell, but there are many online resources available I could access to pin it down. It was mounted under glass in a thin black wooden frame with a stamp on the verso revealing its origin. I had lived in Europe for a couple of years but I had never been to Tunbridge Wells, England (although it is twinned with Weisbaden, Germany, which is where I worked.)

I also wasn’t sure about the sizing since many of Lautrec’s posters were comprised of two large sheets and this was the size of a standard sheet of paper, but the mystery was irresistible so I payed my ten bucks and took it home. This is often the case with the art in my life. If there’s something that grabs me, either emotionally, spiritually or even physically, I’ll take a chance on it whether it was done by a listed artist or not. Part of the enjoyment of collecting original art is the hunt for background information about the artist, comprehending the meaning or the implications of the work and the pleasure of discovery. Very few things in life seem quite as rewarding.

Lautrec, born on November 24th, 1864, was the firstborn child of Comte Alphonse and Comtesse Adele de Toulouse-Lautrec, an aristocratic family from the Midi-Pyrenees region of France. As was the custom, the Comte and Comtesse were cousins, and inbreeding is believed to be the cause of Lautrec’s disfiguration1. He was a painter, printmaker, draftsman and illustrator who immersed himself in the decadent and theatrical life of the Parisian Cabaret where he met Aristide Bruant (1851-1925), who began performing at cafes and developed a singing and comedy act. Dressed in a red shirt, black velvet jacket, high boots and a long red scarf, Bruant soon became the star of the Montmartre Quarter of Paris.

An alcoholic for most of his life, Lautrec was later placed in a sanatorium and died just a few months before his 37th birthday.

Bruant had commissioned Lautrec to create four posters. The above work is his third and originally measured 52-3/8″ x 38-1/4″ across two sheets of paper in four colors (the text was added by another hand after the artist’s design.) The artist’s signature and monogram are on the lower left, which is exactly the same as in my smaller work.

Looking very closely at the lithograph (through the glass) I could just make out four crosswise folds. That could indicate (I hoped) it was originally a handbill produced by the artist for distributing around Paris on foot, and had been folded and placed in someone’s pocket (I know, a long stretch, but an intriguing one). It may also be a Mourlot lithograph such as the Calder piece I own, but I wouldn’t know that unless I took a peek at the back for the publisher’s stamp.

I hate undoing anything that seems to be doing fine without my intervention, but curiosity was biting hard. I really wanted to know if it had an original pedigree or if it was just another wall hanger. Either way I’ll still enjoy the image, but there’s that aesthetic thing again. Besides, it didn’t cost that much and the return in value and appreciation if it is an original would be a great surprise. It would also be wise to change out the old backing for newer archival materials to ensure longevity.

I started by carefully peeling off some old, dried-up masking tape and brown paper backing revealing 14 very rusty metal wedges holding the cardboard backer together. I removed the wedges, pulled out the backing and found…nothing. The lithograph had indeed been folded but there were no marks or stamps on verso. The substrate feels like poster paper and is in pretty good shape with some foxing. I replaced the backing with archival material and buttoned it up.

So, it remains a mystery until I find the time to research Lautrec’s poster work and verify the different sizes that were produced during his lifetime, and perhaps delve a little further into 19th century lithograph technology to understand and appreciate more what Lautrec had contributed to the media. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy this little gem and the history of the men behind it.

  1. Lautrec had broken both legs as a child and they failed to grow. His body grew to normal proportions but he stood only 5′1″ tall.

Dennis Hopper - Double Standard

For all his eccentricities, Dennis Hopper was a hugely multi-talented actor. Besides film, in which he wrote, directed and starred, he was also known for his collection of modern art going as far back as the 1960's when he purchased a print of Andy Warhol's Cambell's Soup Cans for $75. What I didn't realize was that he was also a pretty fair photographer and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles is hosting an exhibition of his work called, "Dennis Hopper - Double Standard" until September 26th. Wish I was there to see it. Click here for more info.

1st – 3rd Century Gandharan Buddha Head

Unknown artist, 1st – 3rd Century Gandharan Buddha Head, 3-1/2″,
stucco mounted on wood.

A contemplative Gandharan Buddha head mounted on wood by none other than actor, art collector Vincent Price in the 1950’s. This example shows the Buddhavista in frontal pose with lips and area under his cap still showing signs of red pigment. Small area of loss to the left side of the face, otherwise quite nice. This ancient relic was purchased by a Colorado ancient arts gallery in August 2003 directly from Price’s daughter, Victoria, and then by myself in October of the same year.

I should say this is my favorite Vincent Price art that I’ve acquired without purposely collecting Vincent Price art! For about five years, in Southern California, most of the art that I’d come across in galleries and antique stores that gave me notice were oldies from the original Vincent Price Fine Art Collection at Sears in the 1960’s. I don’t know why but they just seemed to jump out when walking by begging me for a closer look. I had always wanted to add some real antiquity to my collection and this old Buddhavista grabbed my attention. It came at a very fair auction price with the additional perk of a documented Provenance, which is rarer still. All of this adds up to a growing appreciation for the personal side of a public figure (Price) I never knew existed (mainly because of my youth).

Traditional stucco consists of lime, sand and water, and has been used as an art medium for millennia. Portland cement was added in the late 19th century (modern stucco) to improve strength. It was used in the art of belcomposto, a Baroque concept integrating the classic arts, architecture, sculpture and painting. Islamic art used stucco as a decorative element in mosques and palaces.

So, what makes this antiquity so special, and where in time and space does it come from?

Since it’s estimated to come from the 1st through 3rd century, it’s possible it was around when Christ walked the earth. That’s incredible, and to personally own something that goes so far back in time is simply awesome. Also during the 1st century Alexandria was the focal point of Greek culture on the Mediterranean. And, in 14 AD, Augustus died leaving his stepson, Tiberius, to rule the Roman empire. It was during his rule that the principle of dynastic succession in the empire was introduced.

Other notable history includes the Han Dynasty, which, in 25 AD, established China’s lasting model of imperialism and imposed a new national consciousness that survives today. In 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted and destroyed Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae (Pliny the Elder, the author of Natural History, died in the disaster.) And in 80 AD, the Roman emperor Titus dedicated the Flavian Amphitheatre, otherwise known as the Colosseum.

Perhaps more important is where this artifact originates. When Alexander the Great was conquering all of the western and near-eastern world, his soldiers ventured into areas of Pakistan and India. In addition to leaving their progeny, they also left their influence on art and culture. Even 300 years after the Greeks were defeated their artistic influence is still evident in the Gandharan art from this region.

The Kingdom of Gandhara lasted from the 6th century BC to the 11th century AD. It attained its height from the 1st century to the 5th century under the Buddhist Kushan Kings. After it was conquered by Mahmud of Ghazni in AD 1021, the name Gandhara disappeared. Gandhara was located in what is now northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. Its main cities were Purushapura (modern Peshawar), literally meaning City of Man and Takshashila (modern Taxila). A comprehensive article on the history of ancient Gandhara can be found here.

Unfortunately, this part of the world has suffered many violent civil wars in recent times which has taken its toll on its people, and their country’s treasured antiquities.

Here’s an excerpt from Archaeology: Museum Under Siege, by Nancy Hatch Dupree:
When Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988, all but the capital of Kabul had fallen to the resistance, known as the mujahideen. When Kabul itself was taken in April 1992, ending the 14-year rule of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA), mujahideen factions began warring among themselves for control of the city. Attacks were often launched from the south, and the National Museum in Darulaman, six miles south of Kabul, was often on the front line. Each time a new faction triumphed, it would loot the ruins. On May 12, 1993, a rocket slammed into the roof of the museum, destroying a fourth- to fifth-century A.D. wall painting from Delbarjin-tepe, site of an ancient Kushan city in northern Afghanistan, and burying much of the museum’s ancient pottery and bronzes under tons of debris. Last November 16 another rocket hit the northwest wing of the museum, exposing storerooms to winter rain and snow and further depredations of the combatants. Despite efforts to mediate factional rivalries, the fighting and looting continues.
About 70 percent of the museum’s collections are now missing. Most of its vast gold and silver coin collection, which spanned the nation’s history from the Achaemenids in the sixth century B.C. through the Islamic period, has been looted. Also gone is a Greco-Bactrian hoard of more than 600 coins from Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan, dating to the third and second centuries B.C., including the largest Greek coins ever discovered. Pieces of Buddhist stucco sculptures and schist reliefs dating between the first and third centuries A.D. and Hindu marble statuary from the seventh and ninth centuries have been taken, as have carved ivories in classic Indian styles from Begram, site of the summer capital of the Kushan Empire in the early centuries A.D. Also missing are many of the museum’s prized examples of the renowned metalwork of the Ghaznavids, whose sumptuous capital flourished 90 miles southwest of Kabul during the tenth and eleventh centuries. Many of these pieces are destined for sale in Islamabad, London, New York, and Tokyo.
In early March, 2001, the Taliban decided to destroy all pre-Islamic statues and objects in Afghanistan after an edict was announced by their leader Mullah Omar in late February. The Taliban destroyed numerous statues in the Kabul Museum which survived the previous looting and destruction as a result of war. The Taliban also destroyed two giant Buddhas from the 5th century in Bamiyan and other ancient historical statues in Ghazni. One of the Buddhas in Bamiyan was the world’s tallest standing Buddha. Apparently, Peshawar, Pakistan has been the clearing house for international art trafficking selling off the museum’s most precious assets to the highest bidder. In Berenice Geoffroy-Schneiter’s book, Gandhara: The Memory of Afghanistan, you’ll find a photograph of an incredible collection of decapitated Buddhas’ heads individually wrapped in newspaper stolen from the Kabul Museum that turned-up in Peshawar. Among other things, that started me thinking about the hopelessness the victims must have felt from the loss of a cultural identity.

I mentioned in my review of a 17th century Salvator Rosa etching how awestruck I was when holding and viewing the 350 year old piece, and this relic is no exception. But, how this delicate little fragment of near-eastern history has survived such a turbulent past is almost beyond comprehension. Price became interested in antiquities in the late 1940’s, and along with friends and gallery owners, embarked on the gathering of ancient artifacts including pre-Columbian, near-eastern and African art. This is the time frame where I believe this piece falls. Earl Stendahl and Ralph Altman were very influential in the Southern California primitive art scene back then and I’m sure they both were a guiding force to Price. Although I can’t say with surety how this piece came into the country so many years ago, I am confident it was not obtained by forceful means. I know from his writings, museum donations and TV appearances that Price cherished his art, and according to his daughter this little reminder from a long lost empire was an important part of his collection. It is truly a joy to behold and a pleasure to own.


Milford Zornes - "The Couple"

Milford Zornes, (Oklahoma and California 1908 – 2008),
The Couple
(2000), Watercolor, 8-1/2″ x 11″, on clay paper.

One cannot collect art in Southern California without owning a Milford Zornes–and that’s the law! A true local icon who, along with Millard Sheets and other pioneering artists, lead the California Style watercolor movement in the 1920’s.

I’ve always admired watercolorists in that they seem to be able to indelibly create “on the spot” more so than the oil Plien Air artist since watercolors cannot be as easily reworked. The composition of this couple out for an evening stroll, the grand lady wearing a plumed hat with her arm casually around her man, is brought to life with Zornes’ flowing and festive brush strokes. I like the dimension he gave to the piece by creating space around the overlying areas, and the rustic colors with the suggestion of a burning desire in the woman as depicted by a splotch of red on her bosom (my imagination, I’m sure). The sentiment is timeless. Also charming is the fact that this was the first “people” painting by Zornes that I’ve run across since most everything else I’ve seen by the artist have been landscapes or seascapes. Besides that, it was affordable.

Another thing that struck me about this work is how naturally the creative process must come to Zornes in order to quickly knock out something so meaningful. It probably didn’t take him more than a minute to create it, and who knows how many others he did just like it. But there’s enough there to cause me to pause and reflect upon these two people and the artist that gave them life. Not bad for a man of 92.

Here’s a brief bio of Milford Zornes courtesy of “California Watercolors 1850-1970″ by Gordon T. McClelland and Jay T. Last. Copyright Hillcrest Press, Inc. 2002:

MILFORD ZORNES (1908-present)...Born: Camargo, OK.

Studied: Otis Art Institute (Los Angeles, California - Pomona College)

Member: National Academy of Design, American Watercolor Society, California Watercolor Society.

Milford Zornes grew up in Oklahoma, Idaho and California. He loved to travel, so at twenty years of age he hitch-hiked across America, worked on the New York docks, and then shipped out for Europe. By 1930, he was back in Los Angeles studying art with F. Tolles Chamberlin at the Otis Art Institute. Zornes became very interested in watercolor painting and took additional study in the medium from Millard Sheets at Scripps College.

By 1933, Milford was exhibiting his watercolors and receiving awards. As a result of his art production for the P.W.A.P. Art Project, he was given a one-man show at the Corocan Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. One of his watercolors was selected by President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt to hang in the White House and an enormous amount of publicity followed. Within a very short time, Zornes went from being a California watercolor student to being a nationally recognized artist.

Over the next few years, Milford Zornes concentrated on painting a number of high quality watercolors for exhibitions in California, Texas, Washington, D.C., Ohio, Kansas, New York, Illinois and other parts of America. When Larson P. Cooper formed the California Group traveling show in 1937, Zornes was one of the twelve artists picked to represent California watercolor painting. On the West Coast, Zornes also became known as a gifted instructor of watercolor painting. Throughout this period, he was an active member of the California Water Color Society and was president of that organization in 1942.

In 1999 Zornes gave the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Art an extended interview at his home in Claremont, CA, the transcript of which can be read here.

Although this is a simple work, I feel it has great aesthetic appeal because of the historical and celebrated artist that created it, and the playful quality this abstract-figurative impression imparts to the viewer. When you place the works of Milford Zornes along side of Millard Sheets, Phil Paradise and other California watercolor pioneers you’ll see a venerable style and pallet that is timeless in its appeal to all collectors of fine art.

Addendum: Milford Zornes passed away on February, 24th, 2008, at the age of 100 from complications of congestive heart failure. He lived a full and enriching life doing what he always loved; painting, and teaching others how to paint. He continued painting and teaching into his 90s, completing a mural for East Los Angeles College in 2004. He gave his last public demonstration in January at the opening of an exhibit celebrating his 100th birthday at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. He left an astounding number of works that will proclaim his legacy for many generations to come. 


Maxime LaLanne – "Nogente"

Maxime Lalanne, (Bordeaux 1827 – 1886), Nogente (1883), 6-1/4″ x 4-1/8″,
Etching on thin laid paper.

This delicate and sensitive rendering of the small French town of Nogent-sur-Marne was executed by Lalanne just three years before his death in that ancient commune situated in the eastern suburbs of Paris, France. The walkway on the left invites the viewer to tag along on a leisurely stroll around a quiet waterway hedged by charming old guinguettes1 and lush vegetation basking under a voluminous sky filled with expansive clouds.

I’m afraid I cannot locate my purchase notes about this piece but I believe it was bought in the mid 1990’s when I was finding art works from the old Vincent Price Fine Art Collection (Sears) in antique stores around the area. This piece is from one of the master etchers responsible for the etching revival in France near the end of the 19th century. Maxime Lalanne was a draughtsman, designer and etcher, and was known for his sensitive and poetic renderings of the French countryside, and often made political statements in his works.

I was familiar with Lalanne and when I saw this exciting little etching I had to take it off the wall for a closer look. Again, on the back, I found more Sears Vincent Price Fine Art Collections stickers that I’d been running across, but this time the original owner kept Price’s program note from the store, and there was an inscription taped to the back that was kept after someone had re-matted the work (I assumed). That old familiar feeling hit me hard again. I knew I’d purchase this subtle and pleasing work anyways, if not for its real value (it was an original 19th etching, and a bit costly), but Price’s notes and his inscription to someone I’d never heard of (Marion Mills) made for another art mystery I just had to investigate. From the information on the back I knew it came into public ownership via Price’s Fine Art Collection in the early 1960’s, but before that it would be anyone’s guess who the previous owners were since the print was about 80 years old when it was sold by Sears (125 years old as of this writing). That’s unfortunate since my research into Vincent Price the art collector reveled how meticulous he was with keeping records about the thousands of art purchases he made for Sears in those years. So I’m sure those records still exist, or existed, until his family liquidated most if not all of his holdings after his death in 1993.

This is what the man could do with a pencil (from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website) titled, “Ferme au grande arbre.” So elegant and expansive is this view of the French countryside and the adjoining valley.

The title, “Nogente,” refers to Nogent-sur-Marne, a commune or settlement located 11km east of the center of Paris, France. Nogent is one of the oldest Gallo-Roman settlements going as far back as the 6th century. The Merovingian King ChilpĂ©ric I (539-584) met the Roman Eastern Emperor Tiberius in his royal villa in Nogent, and in the Middle Ages, Nogent depended on the neighboring abbey of Saint-Maur, whose monks cleared the area and planted grapevine on the hills of the river Marne. At the end of the Ancient Regime, Nogent was a small village inhabited by farmers and wine-growers. The development of Nogent started under the Second Empire, with the opening of the railway lines Paris-Mulhouse (1854) and of the Bastille (1859). During the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, the inhabitants of Nogent moved to Paris, where the municipal council had its seat on boulevard Voltaire. After the war, the town thrived with the building of schools, a college and a colonial garden. During the Second World War, Nogent was a center of the anti-German Resistance. On August 24th, 1944, at 11:00, the local Committee of Liberation took control of the town hall. The next night the German army blew up the arches of the viaduct of Nogent and carried on the fight near the fort of Nogent. Eleven patriots were killed and buried there on August 29th, 1944.

Nogent is rich with history, and it served as the final resting place for Maxime Lalanne when he died there in 1886. This etching was made just three years before his death and is rapidly becoming a mystery since I haven’t been able to locate a single reference to it. The largest online collection of Maxime Lalanne etchings I’ve found is at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco website. There you’ll see many of his beautifully detailed landscapes, and why I think no other etcher in his time was able to render skies and trees as eloquently as he. But among the 55 ethereal works depicting towering windmills to lazy waterways, I didn’t find a single reference to Nogent.

Here’s his bio courtesy of artoftheprint.com:
Maxime Lalanne: A leading French etcher and painter of landscapes and urban views, Maxime Lalanne studied under Gigoux. His art was first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1852 and he continued to regularly show both etchings and paintings there until the mid 1880’s. He was also the author of several important books on the subject of etching.

Maxime Lalanne was at the forefront of the French revival of etching during the 1860’s decade. He was a founding member of the Societe des Aquafortistes, along with Auguste Delatre, Cadart, Ribot and Bracquemond. In total Lalanne created over one hundred and fifty fine etchings.

Lalanne’s art continued to be influential in the early twentieth century when a major retrospective exhibition was held in London in 1905. His entire oeuvre of etchings was exhibited there and many contemporary British and French etchers closely studied his unique style. His ability to render almost Impressionistic effects of light and shade, in particular, is without equal in the medium of etching.
As with all the framed paper art that I’ve purchased, I disassembled the pieces from the wooden frame to more closely examine the work and to replace the backing, mat, tape, etc., with modern archival materials while saving any historical attributes (such as labels or stickers on the back). I found that the work had indeed been re-matted, and the etching was affixed to it with some old, dried-up masking tape. Fortunately, the tape pulled away clean from the etching, which doesn’t happen too often. Great care and patience must be employed when removing old materials stuck to paper art work, and if you don’t feel you have the patience or the dexterity to do this I suggest you take your precious art work to a framer or print restorer and pay them to do it for you. It’s well worth the time and money, and you will be confident that your fine art will be preserved for generations to come.

There is a slight sunburn around the margins of the plate, and unfortunately this is common with antique prints in their original frame. No art should be exposed to direct sunlight, but when it hangs on a wall inside your home the sun’s rays may reach it sometime during the day if you’re not careful about the location. This can also happen if artificial light is positioned too close to your art and it begins to ‘cook’ it, which will greatly affect it over time.

The etching was printed on thin laid paper and bears the MBM watermark. MBM stands for Morel, Bercious and Masure, who first introduced mouldmade machines to the Ingres d’Arches paper company in 1883. The artist signed, titled and dated the work in the plate.

As for the inscription, Vincent Price probably knew everyone of any importance during his lifetime and had lifelong friendships with actors, artists, writers, business heads and just about every other walk of life you can think of. So attempting to discover the identity of Marion Mills posed a real challenge. I am familiar with his writings, but that name didn’t ring a bell. So off to the internet I went, and of course, found a ton of Marion Mills’ listed in Google. From authors to cotton mills she showed up, none even remotely connected to Price or his art, until it dawned on me. He was an actor, so why not an actress?

The IMDb (Internet Movie Database) is a wonderful resource for actor, actress, and movie related searches, right down to the most obscure detail you can think of. That’s where I believe I found her; as an uncredited showgirl in the 1929 movie, “Words and Music.” This would fit in his time frame having broken into movies in the late 1930’s, meeting her and staying friends until his or her death. There’s another Marion Mills listed as a costume designer for the 1973 film, “Paperback Hero,” which would be even more plausible since Price’s second wife, Mary Grant, also was a costume designer of some fame. I guess I’ll never know for sure who she was, but as that old Italian saying goes, “O ‘bien travatto,” (If it ain’t the truth, it’d make a good story.)


1. Small cabarets in the suburbs and surrounds of Paris.

William Blake - "Gay's Fables"

William Blake, (England 1757- 1827), Gay’s Fables – The Goat Without a
Beard (1793)
, 3″ x 3-3/4″ (image), Engraving on heavy paper, printed for
John Stockdale, Piccadilly.

This quaint little 18th century engraving by William Blake was a commissioned work to create a new set of designs for a portion of the popular fables of John Gay (1685 – 1732), which had gone through five editions since 1732. Although the subject matter and the designs for the fables had already been roughly set, the publisher of the new edition, John Stockdale, allowed his engravers liberty in their re-engraving of the earlier illustrations. According to Robert Essick, Blake’s cataloger, “[t]hey probably prepared drawings for transfer onto the copperplates, and this procedure gave Blake the opportunity to invest his renditions with something of his own sensibility.” To say that Stockdale’s version of the Fables was popular does not do it justice. The plates were run through four separate editions (1793, 1809, 1810 and 1811), before plate wear prevented further use. This engraving is from the first printing, and the strength of the impression is clear. 

I have to admit from the start that this is not my art. Well, it kinda is and kinda isn’t. You see, when I met my (soon to be) wife she had recently retired from a successful career showing purebred LaMancha dairy goats in the county fair circuit to pursue her education in college. It was a mutually beneficial relationship in the beginning since she was a math major who hated English, and I was an English major who hated math. Mutually exclusive might be more accurate, but it seemed to work out since she finished second in her class (by one lousy “B!”). So, how else would an avid art collector court a prospective bride? Need I ask?

Flowers are always an appropriate and welcome bait, I mean gift, but I was looking for something a bit more enduring. I searched high and low for something relative to her past interests (sure to be a hit, I hoped) at local galleries and antique stores but came up with very little, except for a couple tacky brass goat door stops, that would more likely have gotten a laugh instead of kiss. So I went surfing online for that rare gift which was sure to impress (rarer still were ANY decent online art dealers in those days) until I ran across a dealer I would do business with for years to come. The site was organized by genre, artist and collection, and each listing had an excellent scanned image of the work for sale and a well written snippet of background information. I saw my bank account dwindling before my eyes when I perused the lifetime etching category which included works by Rembrandt, Goya and various Dutch artists that simply amazed me.

Fortunately, for me, the dealer was promoting a recently acquired collection of 18th century engravings executed by William Blake for the Stockdale edition of Gay’s Fables, and since my quarry’s name was, Gay Maree, it seemed a likely series to pursue. Likely turned into Perfection when I saw the listing for “A Goat Without a Beard.”

The fine lines on the floor and walls in this humorous little work compliment the groomed texture of the busy monkeys preparing to service their haughty caprine customer. The complacent look on the goat’s face brings a smile to mine, and I hoped it would be as enduring to my prospective love as it was to me.

Here’s the story listed as FABLE XXII: The Goat without a Beard
‘Tis certain, that the modish passions
Decend among the crowd, like fashions.
Excuse me, then; if pride, conceit, (the manners of the fair and great)
I give to monkeys, asses, dogs,
Fleas, owls, goats, butterflys and hogs.
I say, that these are proud. What then?
I never said, they equal men.
A Goat (as vain as goat can be)
Affected singularity:
Whene’er a thymy bank he found,
He roll’d upon the fragrant ground,
And then with fond attention stood,
Fix’d, o’er his image in the flood.
I hate my frowzy beard, he cries;
My youth is lost in this disguise.
Did not the females know my vigour,
Well might they loath this rev’rend figure.
Resolv’d to smooth his shaggy face,
He sought the barber of the place.
A flippant monkey, spruce and smart,
Hard by, profest the dapper art;
His pole with pewter basons hung,
Black rotten teeth in order strung,
Rang’d cups, that in the window stood,
Lin’d with red rags, to look like blood,
Did well his threefold trade explain,
Who shav’d, drew teeth, and breath’d a vein.
The Goat he welcomes with an air,
And seats him in his wooden chair,
Mouth, nose and cheek the lather hides,
Light, smooth and swift the razor glides.
I hope your custom, Sir, says Pug.
Sure never face was half so smug!
The Goat, impatient for applause,
Swift to the neighb’ring hill withdraws
The shaggy people grinn’d and star’d.
Heighday! what’s here? without a beard!
Say, brother, whence the dire disgrace?
What envious hand hath robb’d your face?
When thus the fop with smiles of scorn.
Are beards by civil nations worn?
Ev’n Muscovites have mow’d their chins.
Shall we, like formal Capucins,
Stubborn in pride, retain the mode,
And bear about the hairy load?
Whene’er we through he village stray,
Are we not mock’d along the way,
Insulted with loud shouts of scorn,
By boys our beards disgrac’d and torn?
Were you no more with goats to dwell,
Brother, I grant you reason well,
Replys a bearded chief. Beside,
If boys can mortify thy pride,
How wilt thou stand the ridicule
Of our whole flock? affected fool!
Coxcombs, distinguish’d from the rest,
To all but coxcombs are a jest.
William Blake (1757 – 1827), was an English poet, painter and printmaker who, like many creative geniuses, was largely unrecognized in his time. Today his eccentric views are highly respected for their expressiveness, as well as the philosophical and spiritual concepts contained within his work. Blake confessed to seeing “visions” early in life, and on his deathbed he briefly regained his composure and sang praises about what he saw in heaven just before he passed away. There’s a very comprehensive biography about William Blake’s interesting life available on Wikipedia.

Another benefit of collecting art from a good dealer is preparation. I’ve often received art that was shipped in such makeshift packaging I wondered how it ever made it to me. This piece was not only packaged appropriately for shipping, but was expertly mounted in archival materials including acid-free mat boards, tape, corner tips and a glassine sheet. Two mat boards were carefully prepared by cutting-out the viewing area on one then taping the two together at the top to form a hinge. The engraving was secured inside four corner tips, and a single glassine sheet was installed over the assemblage to protect it against probing fingers. As delivered, this piece is ready to be placed inside your desired frame (with glass and backing) and hung on the wall without any further consideration of preservation. A very nice touch and an excellent business practice that will assure my continued patronage.

And yes, the gift was whole-heartedly received, and we did eventually marry (although I doubt it was completely responsible for her affirmation to my marriage proposal).

So, since we ARE married, I can say, in the spirit of community property, that this work is indeed mine (or ours). Then again, …that means all the art I’ve collected over the past 35 years is hers, too. HEY!!!


Emigdio Vasquez - "Early Morning at OVC"

Emigdio Vasquez, (Arizona and California 1939 – Present), Early Morning  
at OVC (1980), 24-1/2″ x 30-1/2″, Oil on canvas.

I first became acquainted with Emigdio Vasquez some 20 years ago during one of my visits to Rita Chemer’s Gallery in Tustin, California. When entering the gallery that day I was confronted with an assortment of colorful and realistically rendered scenes of Chicano life and historical figures from the past and present. These reflective depictions of everyday, ordinary people struck a chord with me as I had always thought a missing study in modern art to be that of ordinary man.

Artists such as Rembrandt and Goya portrayed man as he really was—perhaps not glamorous but always human, and Emigdio’s work epitomizes those same people we see around us every day. In Rembrandt’s etching, “Two Male Models, One Standing,” the two figures look at us as they looked at Rembrandt while he so expertly and touchingly portrayed the quiet pride in their eyes and the aura of their humanity. Emigdio’s murals convey that same quality of pride and touch the heart of those who take the time to stop and reflect upon the message being sent by paint and mortar.

The variety of Emigdio’s interest and his skill in translating his sentiment onto canvas was made evident by the range of paintings that were present in the gallery that day. I saw poignant illustrations of day laborers lingering in places such as the Old Orange Deli south of the Circle (Orange, CA), and in stark alleys and dusty streets that were cautiously hidden from public view. I saw contemporary and historical figures from Cesar Chavez to Emiliano Zapata along with landscapes and still life compositions. I was particularly delighted with an incredibly realistic still life of a glass of beer surrounded by vegetables on a wood-grained tabletop. How true to contemporary times was this painting in comparison to the Victorian “Dead Pheasant on the Kitchen Board” still life that can still be found in most museums and hotel rooms but has little relevance to here and now.

I knew this artist would become a part of my collection but which painting among the dozen or so desirable works should I choose? I was looking for that rare kind of art that spoke to me–the kind of art that reminds us that we indeed have responsibilities to others beside ourselves. It was just as I nodded my head at the Orange Deli painting that another caught my eye. It was a common sight I’d seen a thousand times while driving through any town but paid little attention to it. The painting was titled, “Early Morning at OVC” and was completed in April of 1980. It consisted if three young men, friends, in a parking lot exchanging pleasantries. Or just chit-chatting…who knows? But Vasquez painted life into the scene by making it so believable through the way he played light against the many textures surrounding them and how the characters simply belong (the Golden Triangle is well represented here). Although the scene incorporates a great amount of detail such as the shading of the cement sidewalk, the weathered paint on a trash dumpster and graffiti on a wall that looks as if you can actually feel the coarseness of the stucco, nothing steals away from the main focus of the composition—the three young men. The painting conveys the feeling that regardless of family problems, job difficulties or social pressures, this is a time of tranquility to be savored in the crisp morning hours of a new day. Peace shared between brothers, void of pretense. A few precious moments appreciated simply for what they were—a chance to be free. These are rare personal moments that should always be cherished and art allows us to re-experience those feelings whenever we need to and even when we don’t. And as you can see it became the painting of choice.

Vasquez’s interest in art began in Kindergarten. He would copy the drawings in comic books and base them on stories his father told him about the Mexican Revolution. In the late ’50’s he took up oil painting. In the mid ’60’s, inspired by Diego Rivera, he painted his first mural in his parent’s patio. In 1979 he would go on to earn his Masters in Art. His works have appeared in the milestone exhibitions of Chicano art, including the 1975 Chicanarte exhibit at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, and in UCLA’s Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation in 1990.

Here’s his Curriculum Vitae:

1973 Santa Ana College, California – Associate of Arts
1978 California State University, Fullerton – Bachelor of Arts
1979 California State University, Fullerton – Master of Fine Art Awards

1989 Pier Painting Commission, City of Huntington Beach, CA
1988 Artist in Residence, Artist in Community Grant, California Arts Council
1987 Art in Motion, OCTD, Santa Ana, CA
1982 First Place: Realistic Painting, 21st La Mirada Festival of the Arts
1981 Irvine Company Award, Newport Art Festival

You can view his full bio, articles written about his work and several pages of his paintings on his website here.

Emigdio’s daughter, Rosemary, handles most of her father’s affairs concerning his work and I’ve had the pleasure of corresponding with her over the years. She even arranged an interview with him for me to satisfy a college class assignment, and recently has been acquiring her father’s vintage paintings, such as this one. It was about five years ago that she had asked me if I’d sell her back the painting. This work has garnered more comment, from the cable guy to my Aunt Genevieve, than any other piece I own. It’s always a pleasure to look at it if not for the finely detailed automobiles or that lifelike concrete sidewalk, and it has always been one of the cornerstones of my collection. I couldn’t think of parting with it. Then, after the passing of several relatives and friends and seeing their estates come and go in a most undesirable way, I knew I didn’t want this painting to end up in someone’s yard sale with a two-dollar price tag stuck on it. So last year I contacted Rosemary and transferred the painting back to her.

I still love this work and I’ll always recall the enjoyment it had given me over the years, but I am glad it is now in the possession of the artist’s family to do with it as they wish. I know it couldn’t be in more caring hands.


Alice Beamish – "Studio Corner"

Alice Beamish, (New York and California ? – 1989?), 
Studio Corner
(late 1960’s), oil painting on canvas,
9″ x 9″ (11″ x 11″ framed).
Here’s a wonderful little find from a small antique store in Orange, California. It measures only 9″ x 9″ and is painted on canvas. I love the simplicity of the composition and her choice of coloring. The frame sets it off perfectly. Her rendering of the chair in the foreground reminds me of the old colonial dining room set we had when I was a kid and that may have been the subliminal message it sent just before I picked it up. This is another work done by a relatively unknown artist for the Sears, Roebuck and Company, Vincent Price Collection. Since Price’s little Program Note (1) isn’t attached I’d have to place the date of the work in the late 1960’s.

Unfortunately, my research into Alice Beamish netted me very little about the artist. I found her Curriculum Vitae buried in an obscure website owned by Fr. Stephen Frost, PhD, having something to do with mysticism and religion called Nepsis.com. Apparently he studied under Alice Beamish at Berkeley and compiled a list of artists and their background. Miss Beamish had passed away by that time so there was little other than her Curriculum Vitae available:
M. A. and B. A. from the University of California at Berkeley.

Extended study with Hans Hoffman, Europe, North Africa and United States.

Fellowship at Huntington Hartford Foundation– Residence, studio and stipend.

Purchase awards and exhibits at De Young, Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles County Museums.
He also said this about her:

“Alice Beamish saved me in college, was my second great art teacher, took me into the world of Abstract Expressionism just as it was dying, introduced me to a Benedictine monastery where I was baptized into the ‘Way of Life,’ i.e., Religion. She died screaming in a contemplative convent– Religious life being too different from the Art world and cancer too painful. A great friend. A great teacher.”

I did manage to locate another online artist named Loraine Veeck, a very fine pastel and acrylic painter in her own right, who also studied under Alice Beamish. I contacted Ms. Veeck regarding her relationship with Ms. Beamish and received the following response:

"Alice taught painting and drawing for many years at Los Angeles Pierce College. Every year with the help of Father Werner she put together an art exhibition at the Vallyermo Priory in Vallyermo, CA which was part of a fund-raising festival for the Priory. I believe she was active in other ways for the Catholic Church. She studied under Hans Hoffman. I believe she studied with him, first in New York, then at Berkeley. She was very interested in the expressionist movement and would use images of that movement and the California movement a great deal to encourage expression in her student’s work. She worked hard as a teacher and artist and was always more than willing to share her knowledge with others."

I could not find a valid email address for Dr. Frost anywhere on his website. I’m still trying to locate more examples of her art, but in the meantime I will enjoy this little precious work of art that easily warms the heart while pleasing the eye.

Addendum: I received a response from Ms. Veeck saying that she thought Beamish had died from breast cancer in the late 1980’s and that I should contact the Vallyermo Priory for more info.

A search found St. Andrews Abby in Vallyermo and I sent off an email to the webmaster, the only email link I could find on the site. We’ll see.

  1. Price wrote a short artist bio, or “Program Note” as he called it, on each work he purchased for Sears at the start of his affiliation in the early 1960’s, but later on the retailer simply pasted on Vincent Price Collection stickers when the relationship ended. Price’s wife, Mary, a talented costume designer, did the framing of the art work.

C. W. Sharpe - "The Tempest"

C. W. Sharpe, (England 1818 – 1899), Caliban. Miranda. Prospero.
The Tempest
(1875), 6-9/16″ x 5″, Engraving on heavy paper.

A wonderful rendering of the first act (Scene 2) of Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest, when Prospero beckons Caliban, the son of the witch, Sycorax, and claims he is corrupt having tried to rape his daughter, Miranda. Prospero threatens and cajoles Caliban’s obedience, but Caliban’s presence makes Miranda uneasy.

This delicious 19th century engraving by C. W. Sharpe was found in a backwoods antique store hidden in-between pages of old newspapers and family heirlooms which often prove to be excellent hunting grounds for discovering rare fine art prints. I haven’t read The Tempest since high school and it was with delight that I reacquainted myself with the Bard’s final work (written solely by him in 1610-11) about betrayal, romance, exotic, super-human characters and a happy ending (what else could you ask for?).

Here’s a summary of the play from shakespeare-literature.com:
Alonso (the King of Naples), his brother Sebastian, his son Ferdinand, Antonio’s counselor Gonzalo, and Antonio (brother of Prospero, the usurped Duke of Milan) are on a ship with sailors caught in a tempest at sea. The storm scares all of the nobleman to abandon ship, fearing it split in half. When the storm subsides, the exiled Duke Prospero and his daughter Miranda appear on the island they have inhabited for 12 years. Miranda tells him she saw the ship crack in the storm, but Prospero calms her, explaining it was a magical illusion he created. He explains he was once Duke of Milan, but his brother Antonio took over when he began deeply studying literature, eventually teaming with Alonso to banish Prospero and Miranda and abandon them at sea, where they luckily landed on the island and survived since Gonzalo had given Prospero money, clothes, and his sorcerer books in the boat. Now, he explains, his enemies have sailed by, so he created the tempest to shipwreck them. He causes her to sleep and calls his spirit Ariel to come. Ariel verifies that the nobles are safe on the island, while their ship is deep in a hidden harbor with the crew asleep; further, the remainder of the fleet has returned to Naples believing Alonso is dead. We learn that Prospero rescued Ariel from the “foul witch” Sycorax and will free Ariel himself when his plans for the nobles are complete. Sycorax had imprisoned Ariel in a tree for refusing to do her evil, then, after her death, Prospero freed him. She also had a deformed son, Caliban, whom Prospero commands as his slave (Note that Caliban anagrams from a slightly misspelled canibal). Hidden, Ariel sings a song and scares Alonso’s son Ferdinand as he wanders around the island, eventually meeting Prospero and Miranda. Both Miranda and Ferdinand immediately fall in love, but Prospero (although approving) pretends to be gruff and critical toward Ferdinand.
In another part of the island, Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo, and the lords Adrian and Francisco are wandering. Alonso fears Ferdinand is dead, but Gonzalo assures him he may be living, since they are living. Ariel causes all to sleep, except Sebastian and Antonio. Then, Antonio convinces Sebastian to kill Alonso, so Sebastian will become heir to Naples’ throne. Prospero, though, has Ariel awaken Gonzalo to warn Alonso. Elsewhere, Caliban is gathering wood when the jester Trinculo, then the drunkard Stephano (both from the ship) come upon them. Caliban takes Stephano to be a god (the Man in the Moon), and vows to serve him.
At Prospero’s cave, Miranda meets Ferdinand carrying logs for her father. Here they exchange their love for one another and vow to be married. Prospero, watching in secret, approves. Elsewhere, Caliban convinces Stephano to kill Prospero and seize Miranda so they can be king and queen. Ariel, though, overhears and will warn Prospero. Alonso and others are wandering when Ariel and other spirits bring in a table of food. Before they can eat, Ariel appears and takes the food away, then informs Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio that it is their evilness toward Prospero that has caused their current sorrows (shipwreck, loss of Ferdinand, etc.).
At the cave, Prospero presents Miranda to Ferdinand, though instructing him not to “break her virgin-knot” until after they are properly married. He celebrates by presenting them with a show by the spirits Iris, Ceres, and Juno. However, Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo show up to kill Prospero. He, however, creates a distraction with extravagant garments, then sends the fairies after them like hounds hunting foxes.
In the final act, Prospero brings the nobles to his cell and reveals himself to them. He forgives Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian then reveals that Ferdinand is safe with Miranda. Alonso restores Prospero’s dukedom and Prospero promises to return all home safely to Italy. As for Caliban, he promises to mend his ways while Stephano and Trinculo repent for plotting to kill Prospero.
This excerpt from the introduction of The Tempest at enotes.com summarizes Shakespeare’s theatrical intention of the play:
No reading of The Tempest can do it justice: The play was composed by Shakespeare as a multi-sensory theater experience, with sound, and especially music, used to complement the sights of the play, and all of it interwoven by the author with lyrical textual passages that overflow with exotic images, trifling sounds, and a palpable lushness.
You can read the play in it’s entirety here.

This richly detailed engraving is a joy to look at, and offers many clues about it’s origin for the amateur detective (all art collectors are amateur detectives). The image area measures 6-9/16″ x 5″ on a sheet of 7-13/16″ x 5-15/16″ heavy paper. There’s a half-inch tear above Prospero’s head (in the tree) that could easily be mended (click on the image).

A big part of the treasure contained in these kind of finds is the amount of information included with the image. In this case, not only do we know who engraved the image (C.W. Sharpe), but we also know who designed it (M. Retzsch), who painted it (Henry Inman), and for whom it was created (The Columbian Magazine). There is also another name that appears to the right of the title–W. L. Ormsby, for which we’ll have to speculate.

C. W. Sharpe (1818 – 1899) was a British engraver who seemed to specialize in the rendering of aristocratic family scenes and Shakespearian plays. All of the works I found by him were done by steel plate engraving (versus the copper plate engraving used by his predecessors). Etching and engraving are printmaking techniques where the artist creates his/her design onto a metal plate. The plate is then inked and the reverse image is printed onto paper. The difference between the two techniques is for engravings, the artist uses a stylus to draw precisely onto the plate, and for etchings the artist sketches onto the plate and applies an acid bath to further deepen the original lines.

Research about this artist came up with conflicting information regarding his nationality (one noted art site listed him as an American), and he can also be confused with a Scottish artist of a similar name and time frame. I had to dig deep to find this stingy information from a Google Book Search (a wonderful resource for searching both modern and antiquarian books) located in The Dictionary of National Biography published by the Oxford University Press (Great Britain) in 1909;
…Eliza Sharpe was employed in making watercolour copies of pictures in the South Kensington Museum, her last work being a set of copies of Raphael’s cartoons. She died unmarried on 11 June 1874 at the residence of her nephew, Mr. C. W. Sharpe the engraver, at Burnham, Maidenhead…
Maidenhead is located in Berkshire, England, which is where I’m going to settle for Mr. Sharpe’s place of birth (or England in general).

The only work related to The Tempest by C.W. Sharpe I could find was a dreamy depiction of Ariel, the airy spirit of the island. I found it odd that no reference to the above engraving existed anywhere, until I realized it was a commissioned work based on a previous design. Sharpe engraved the scene according to an existing concept, so I have to assume it doesn’t show up in what paltry catalogue raisonne I can find on him simply because it wasn’t entirely his own creation. As for the year of the engraving, things get a bit sticky.
The Columbian Magazine was founded by Mathew Carey (and others) in 1786 and lasted until 1792. That magazine and the American Museum were important early American publications. The Columbian Magazine was back into publication in the 1800’s with John Inman and Robert A. West as it’s editors (Israel Post, New York) . During my online research of the available Columbia Magazine editions I found mention of The Tempest but not a republication of the play, and no illustrations. Then, reviewing C. W. Sharpe’s most productive years, and the release of Charles Knight’s two-volume Imperial Edition of The Works of Shakespere (London: Virtue and Company, 1873-76) in which Sharpe engraved scenes from several plays, I tentatively set a date of 1875 for this work (until I find other evidence).

Friedrich August Moritz Retzsch (1779 – 1857), also known as M. Retzsch, was a German painter, draughtsman and etcher. His style of outline engraving was very popular in England and in 1828 he published his first work on Shakespeare, Umrisse zu Hamlet, a set of sixteen outline scenes. That was followed by outlines for seven more plays, including The Tempest, which was published in 1841. I believe this etching was based on an outline etching by Retzsch that would have existed for more than 30 years before it was utilized by C. W. Sharpe for The Columbian Magazine.

Henry Inman (1801 – 1846) was an American painter of portraits, including more than 30 Native American portraits of which nearly a dozen are in the collection of the White House. His son, Colonel Henry Inman (1837 – 1899), was a decorated Army officer in the old wild west, an associate of Colonel W. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) and author of The Great Salt Lake Trail. This engraving lists Henry Inman as “Painted by” but I found no reference or museum record to validate that fact. This is the time when you wished you had at least one comprehensive book on every major artist that ever lived in your library (yeah, right), or at least access to them.

Waterman Lilly Ormsby (1809 – 1883), or W. L. Ormsby as it shows up to the right of the engraving title, is an interesting character. He invented several ruling-machines, transfer-presses, and other implements that are used in bank-note engraving, a machine for engraving on steel called the “grammagraph,” and one for splitting wood. He was a founder of the Continental bank-note company, which during the civil war and afterward executed a large amount of work for the United States government; and the peculiar design for a five-dollar bank-note was largely the result of Mr. Ormsby’s idea for the prevention of counterfeiting. It is claimed that he assisted Samuel F. B. Morse and Henry A. Munson in the invention of the Morse alphabet, and, aided by Mr. Munson, he transmitted messages at the first public exhibition of the telegraph in New York city.
Now, a long-time collector of fine prints would instinctively know what Mr. Ormsby’s moniker is doing there located in a seemingly random spot on this engraving, but since my experience in this medium is sorely limited, I went looking around for a clue, and I found one. Listed on page 35 of the Hudson-Fulton Exhibition List of Prints, Books, Manuscripts, Etc., published in 1909, is an entry for an engraving by J. White for The Columbian Magazine that was originally printed by, you guessed it, W. L. Ormsby. So, from this information I can surmise that his signature is a printer’s mark, and that would explain the almost currency-like quality of the image when viewed close up.

I admire the exceptional mastery that was utilized in telling this story of Caliban, Miranda and Prospero. Even though your interests in literature may lie elsewhere, the sheer talent and skill required to create such euphoric artistry is enough to cause one to pause and wonder if there truly is such a thing as divine revelation.


M. Brown - "Untitled"

M. Brown, Untitled (10/2004), 10-3/4″ x 7-1/8″, Graphite and ink
marker on drawing board.
An energetic and emotional portrayal of a young man painfully struggling from the mental anguish of a love relationship gone bad, loss of a family member, sibling abuse, etc. The reasons are as varying as they are timeless. The realistic rendering of the scene intensifies the emotional drama that is both familiar and saddening. Most of us can identify with the pain of dealing with tragedy seemingly alone, but in retrospect we appreciate the experience as psychological growth and the forming of character (at least that's what they tell us).

I love this passionate depiction of a struggle with strong emotion, and the rich textures and surrounding the artist employed to relate the feeling of desolation and disparity. The subtle texture of the young man’s back and arms contrast against the bold and confining geometry of the floor and doors. Is this an allegorical work depicting man against authoritarianism? Is the young man being shut out, or shut in? Is it a self-portrait? That’s the beauty of the visual arts–you can make of it what you wish, unless the artist indicates otherwise through another form of narration.

The detail and texture of this piece are truly impressive when viewed in person. The ink marker outlining of the young man’s jeans and the heavy shading of the window blinds guides our eyes to the real sentiment of the composition; a young and fragile mind. I find myself envious of artists that can render such dramatic and graphic emotion with something as simple as a pencil. The knack to visually create is something an artist is born with but it may take time and experience before it surfaces. I have no such knack, and that was made clear to me in junior high school when my desire to create and collect art became apparent. I was deeply into the old masters and wanted to become an expert on the realistic rendering of my left hand. I drew that hand in every possible contortion imaginable; fingers bent forward, backward, flighty, mighty and in repose. I perfected crosshatching for shading in different lighting and had digit perspective down pat. It was with stratospheric pride that I handed-in my extracurricular handiwork to my art teacher, only to see him quickly dump them into the trash can one day when he thought I wasn’t watching. When I inquired why he treated my work with such disdain, he said there could only be one “A” in the class (?), and that it would go to the naturally talented kid who drew cartoons with flair. I could hardly object. The kid was pretty good at it. I continued my artistic endeavors into high school with equal success, but I made a personal agreement that if I couldn’t draw or paint with the same quality of work that I admired, I’d collect it instead. That’s another way of saying why I do what I do.

But, sometimes there’s a downside to collecting art, and this is a good example of it. I came across this piece while browsing the Direct from the Artist category on eBay. From there you can narrow down your search by selecting a type of art, such as “Drawings,” which is where I found it. It was striking when viewed online, and after a modest winning bid, became a valued addition to my collection. The only problem is I have no idea who the heck M. Brown is since I can’t find my purchase records!

eBay is a great resource for discovering new artistic talent. I’ve spent countless hours perusing the art pages and have discovered some real finds, new and old. And the prices for new and upcoming artists are a bit more realistic than you’ll find in most places. If you find a work you really like and the opening bid is too high in your opinion, make them an offer. I’ve also used that to my advantage when an auction goes off unsuccessfully. I’ll write the artist and make a more realistic offer citing their failure to get a bid at their asking price. That usually opens a dialog in which we can come to a more agreeable price. You may think your purchase only amounts to taking a chance on an unknown artist’s future popularity. In reality you are simply purchasing something that delights your senses with the potential to grow with it over time. You should NEVER have to grow to like a work of art, unless, of course, it was a gift.

But with all the search tools and the overwhelming variety of art available on eBay, their auction records only go back as far as 60 days. I know I acquired this piece within the last two years but I have no way of knowing for sure, and a search for M. Brown has turned up nothing. I manually search the drawing category now and then to look for a similar style in hope to locate the artist, but so far that has come up empty. As a registered member of eBay you have the option of setting up a search that will notify you when your criteria has been met over a period of time. I’ve done that for this artist and hopefully something will come of it soon. A Google search for M. Brown turned up everything from Sopranos to photographers, but nothing that remotely resembled this work. That’s a shame because I truly believe this artist should have their own eBay Store, or at least a listing on some artist community site (there are literally millions of them).

You may think a piece of art without an identity is as worthless as an orchid without a tag, but that’s simply not true. Look in any major art gallery and you will find several masterpieces by an Unknown artist hanging on the walls right next to the Raphaels and the Tintorettos. This piece is signed and dated by the artist, but like many art works it may simply end up as a transient moment of creativity relegated to the same nicotine-stained walls as those unidentifiable old paintings hanging in back alley antique stores around the world. Then again, great art speaks for itself (but it is nice knowing from whom it came).

What’s the moral of this story? Save everything related to an art purchase, and store it in a location you’ll be able to find again!