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Margaret Bonds(1913-1972): African American Composer and Pianist Living Forth Her Talent

Margaret Bonds in New York - 1956
Margaret Bonds in New York – 1956 From the Carl Van Vechten Collection

Margaret Bonds(1913-1972) was an African-American composer and pianist, well known in her time, but then vanishing from accounts shaped by the stereotypes of classical music.  Many times when I search for Margaret’s, I am introduced to women I had never heard of. Simply by searching something as random as one name, I discover whole worlds.  Margaret Bonds grew up with a church musician mother, and played piano from a young age, and devoted herself to music. She enrolled in Northwestern University in Chicago, although she was not allowed to live there or use the facilities because she was black. In an interview with James Hatch, Bonds describes discovering the poetry of Langston Hughes in 1929:

I was in this prejudiced university, this terribly prejudiced place…. I was looking in the basement of the Evanston Public Library where they had the poetry. I came in contact with this wonderful poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” and I’m sure it helped my feelings of security. Because in that poem he tells how great the black man is. And if I had any misgivings, which I would have to have – here you are in a setup where the restaurants won’t serve you and you’re going to college, you’re sacrificing, trying to get through school – and I know that poem helped save me.

Ten years later, Bonds finally met Langston Hughes and they started a musical collaboration and friendship. Take a moment to listen to Margaret Bonds’ arrangement of I, Too, sung by Icy Rene Simpson.

 

For a more in-depth study of Bonds’ work, check out Alethea N. Kilgore’s thesis on Life and Solo Vocal Works of Margaret Allison Bonds.

Jazz and Abstract Expressionism Meet Verve with Olga Albizu

Radiante 1967 by Olga Albizu Born: Ponce, Puerto Rico 1924. Died: New York, New York 2005 oil on canvas 68 x 62 in. (172.7 x 157.5 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum
Radiante 1967 by Olga Albizu Born: Ponce, Puerto Rico 1924. Died: New York, New York 2005 oil on canvas 68 x 62 in. (172.7 x 157.5 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum

Stratoz and I went to the fine exhibit Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art at the Allentown Art Museum(through 10/02/16). Walking into the gallery, my eye immediately went to this painting, Radiante,  by Abstract Expressionist artist Olga Albizu(1924-2005).

It looked familiar, and reading the tag, I discovered that her paintings are on several jazz album covers from RCA and Verve Records, including one of our favorites, Getz/Gilberto with Jobim(1964). This made Bossa Nova known in the US, and featured Stan Getz, American Saxophonist, collaborating with Brazilian Guitarist João Gilberto, and composer Antônio Carlos Jobim.  Astrud Gilberto sang the now famous The Girl from Ipanema.

I enjoyed how the music I love paired with art filled with abstract color energy.  Olga Albizu studied art with Esteban Vicente in Puerto Rico, and then won a fellowship to study in New York in 1948.  She was a student of Abstract Expressionist Hans Hoffman.

I wanted to know how Albizu’s work came to be on album covers, and finally found some auction notes through Christie’s, written by Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park.

Albizu’s associations with RCA were also of a practical kind: she supported herself from time to time through secretarial jobs there, and through a remarkable connection – an assistant to the head of the record division, who displayed her work in the office – at least ten of her paintings were chosen for contemporary album covers. Albizu’s financial and professional struggles as a woman artist were, unsurprisingly, of a piece with her time; like peers from Carmen Herrera to Joan Mitchell and Elaine de Kooning, she lacked institutional support and regular exhibition opportunities.

I am fascinated with how many internet articles mentioned that her paintings were on album covers and how buried the actual practical connection was.  The confluence of people and ideas can  be vivid when we are the midst of it, and become obscure as years go on.  American jazz, Brazilian rhythms, Abstract Expressionism, and  Puerto Rican artists, all converging in New York City.

If you have the chance to see the Our America Exhibit, I recommend it.

 

Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art
Exhibit at The Allentown Art Museum through 10/2/16. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

Take a Bossa Nova break:

 

Gazania in the Garden of Nutmeg Designs

Gazania from the Garden of Nutmeg Designs
Gazania from the Garden of Nutmeg Designs. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

Stratoz took care of me with a photo of this Gazania flower for my Orange Tuesday.  Gazania are from the Aster family and originally from South Africa.  They like the sun, and open when it shines bright and then close up at night, looking as if they are dead.  Also known as Treasure Flower, they are indeed like little pouches that contain the coin of vibrant color.

An Answer to ‘Sculptures’ and Margaret Honda’s Shifting Color Art

Margaret Honda, Film (Künstlerhaus Bremen) | 2016 | © Künstlerhaus Bremen
Margaret Honda: An Answer to ‘Sculptures’, Film (Künstlerhaus Bremen) | 2016 | © Künstlerhaus Bremen

Margaret Honda(1961-) is an experimental filmmaker and artist from Los Angeles, CA.  An Answer to ‘Sculptures’ had an immediate pull on me.  The 56 panes of glass at Künstlerhaus Bremen gallery became the exhibit itself. Honda used the E-Colour+ filters from Rosco, gel sheets that change the color of light for  film and video production.  The 323 colors are divided into 16 “reels” of 56 and rotated through 16 days. Not even the artist sees the entire work, because every day is different, and every time of day depending on the light through the windows.

It’s like Pantone color chips but for light.  As a mosaic artist,  part of what compels my love of the art form is watching how a piece changes depending on how the light illuminates. My work is usually on a opaque background, but transparency is still a factor, because I put the glass on a white surface in order to let in whatever light there is.  Stratoz creates stained glass, and some glass that seems ordinary in a mosaic becomes transformed by light being able to shine all the way through.

Interview with Margaret Honda about her films Color Correction(2015) and Spectrum Revers Spectrum(2014) based on the timing tapes used for color correction in filmmaking. These punched paper tapes control the color valves on the printer.  She describes the process of watching the film Color Correction for the first time:

I had actually written about the film before I ever saw it. And then once I saw it, my writing about it changed. I couldn’t have foreseen what happens when you’re watching these colors, and I couldn’t have imagined what happens in terms of time. Because with this film, one color is on the screen, and then it changes, and you don’t know how long the next color will be on screen before it changes again. And then there’s this odd retrospective aspect to the viewing, because when the color changes––and you know the color has changed because there was a different color before it––you’re then trying to remember what that color was before it. So you’re going back and forth between what you just saw and what you’re now seeing.

Margaret Honda
Margaret Honda. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

 

Margaret Honda website

Margaret Esherick House: A Louis Kahn Design for an Independent Woman

 

Margaret Esherick House (photo courtesy Craig Wakefield)
Margaret Esherick House Designed by Louis Kahn (photo courtesy Craig Wakefield).

I could not find a photo of Margaret Esherick(1919-1962), but I found many photos of the house she commissioned in 1959 to be designed by Louis Kahn, who had designed her Uncle Wharton Esherick’s Worskhop.  Margaret Esherick owned a bookstore in Chestnut Hill, and she was a single woman.  Appropriately, the  house had built-in book shelves and one bedroom.

Margaret Esherick House Bookshelves. Photo by Jon Reksten via Flickr.
Margaret Esherick House Bookshelves. Photo by Jon Reksten via Flickr.

The kitchen was designed by Wharton Esherick, with his fine woodworking. Look at those swooping counters and shelves!  Visiting Wharton Esherick’s home and studio in Paoli, PA, mesmerized me with the beauty of his craft: drawers that illuminated when opened, a carved spiral staircase, copper sink in the kitchen.

Margaret Esherick House Kitchen designed by Wharton Esherick. Photo by Jon Reksten via Flickr.
Margaret Esherick House Kitchen designed by Wharton Esherick. Photo by Jon Reksten via Flickr.

There are only scraps of Margaret Esherick’s story.  She had enough money to have a house built for herself.  She died of Pneumonia at age 43 before she had a chance to see the house fully completed.  The story speculated is that she was a Christian Scientist and believed the physical body is not “matter” and that traditional treatments, such as antibiotics, were to be refused.  

What Life is Like in Louis Kahn’s Esherick House

Photo Essay by Todd Eberle on the Esherick House

NOTE: In the process of researching Margaret Esherick’s house, I discovered that her property is along Pastorius Park in Chestnut Hill, an endeavor of George Woodward in 1915, which involved him donating land on the condition that the City of Philadelphia condemn some 30 homes, many belonging to Italian stonemasons, who worked on many of the buildings in Chestnut Hill, and also residences of African Americans. Woodward also built the Water Tower Recreation Center that has a craft show we did for a few years.  

In an Orange Room with Margaret Olley

Margaret Olley Still Life with Mandarins
Margaret Olley, Still life with mandarins, c.1975
oil on board, 76 x 122 cm, Private collection

Margaret Olley caught my attention with her orange tones which occurred again and again in her still life paintings. Orange walls, orange objects, oranges.  To my delight I discovered she had an orange dining room, and often painted there, as well as a yellow living room and a green kitchen.

Steven Alderton, Early Morning at Margaret Olley's Home
STEVEN ALDERTON, EARLY MORNING AT MARGARET OLLEY’S HOME 2011 [DIGITAL PRINT ON ARCHIVAL PAPER 158.85CM X 67.5CM] COPYRIGHT: STEVEN ALDERTON
Mandarin oranges are one of the few fruits I remember fondly from growing up in Edmonton, AB.  We would buy a crate at Christmas time, and the thin leathery skins were easy to peel with just a bit of pressure from your fingers.  I made a dollhouse from one of the wooden crates.

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