In Harmon (1942)
oil on canvas
29 3/4 x 24 3/4
Private Collection, TX
The Foundation collection contains several canvases
painted in the summer of 1942. The two largest and most impressive
are a forest of tangled green trees, named simply "Trees"
(Now belongs to Fredell and Ralph.) and a colorful still life
with a table bearing flowers and fruit and teapot, standing
in front of a window which looks out on the same forest. Ary
called it "Summer Day" (Now belongs to Barry Lack)
and it was shown and praised in several group exhibitions.
The locale for these paintings was our summer cottage in Harmon,
on the Hudson River, the first summer after our marriage. Ary
thought we should find a place for the summer, but we had so
little money, it was a problem. Several artists had summer places
in Croton, which adjoined Harmon, and in the surrounding hills,
which made Ary think of this vicinity. The real estate agent
whom we contacted at Harmon proved to be the son of a painter
who had studied at the Chicago Art Institute when Ary was there
briefly, years before, and he knew exactly what we wanted. "I
know a place," he said, "which is so crazy that only
an artist could possibly want it, but I think it may be just
what you are looking for." And it was. Not for me, I must
admit the ceilings were so low I felt hemmed in, and
the whole place was so unkempt. Then there was the matter of
furniture, but Ary said that an auction house he knew down on
University Place could take care of that. So of course I gave
in, and I grew to love the place almost as much as Ary did.
It was one of several houses built by Margaret
Mayo, a playwright of that period. As the agent remarked, she
seemed to have built a fireplace and a house around it. The
fireplace was the chief feature of an enormous living room.
The remainder of the ground floor consisted of a large kitchen
and a bathroom. The narrowest of stairs led to the bedroom on
the second floor. Outside the bedroom was a large verandah,
which was practically in the treetops, for a large maple tree
overhung the greater part of the porch and shielded it from
Ary bought $25 worth of furniture at the University Place auction
house, and paid another $25 to have it brought out from New
York. The beds and other bedroom furniture had to be hauled
up with ropes from outside, since the narrow stairway wouldn't
permit carrying the larger pieces by hand.
An unbelievable quantity of furniture made up that $25 purchase
besides the bedroom pieces a huge table for the living
room, a sofa, chairs, etc. The landlord provided a small ice-box
and the iceman was to come every other day. But when Ary's friend
Paul Burt came to visit us several weeks later he insisted that
we must have a Frigidaire he had some connection with
a company that handled them. So after another couple of weeks
a most impressive looking Frigidaire arrived. Unfortunately,
after a little while the Frigidaire broke down, and we found
that it wasn't worth repairing. By that time the landlord had
taken the ice-box away and we couldn't get it back. So the rest
of the summer we had to buy our provisions day by day.
The ceilings were indeed low. Our niece Fredell Lack, the violinist,
came to visit us one weekend, bringing her violin with her,
and she found that there were only two or three spots where
she could practice, so that her bow wouldn't strike the ceiling.
And the ceiling had other drawbacks; we found that out with
the first rain. We soon learned to cope with that; at the first
downpour out would come the pans and kettles from the kitchen,
and we knew just where to place them on the floor so as to catch
But whatever discrepancies the house had were compensated for
by its surroundings. At the side of the house there was a big
cherry tree, which was lovely when in bloom, and heavy with
fruit later on. Ary had a race with the robins to pick the fruit
when it was ripe. I can see him now, up on a ladder, gathering
in the red cherries, with all the excitement and delight of
a small boy. I made preserves from the fruit; I let it cook
too long and it came out with a curious, almost burnt flavor,
which was amazingly good.
In the back of the house was a wide stretch of forest. Evidently
it once had been cultivated, for there were remains of rose
beds and bushes and flowers which someone must have planted.
Now, however, it was untended. It proved to be a treasure-trove,
for each day some new flower would appear in what had seemed
the previous day to be only a tangle of underbrush. There were
bushes of berries also I don't know if they were wild
or cultivated, but the fruit was delicious. Ary, who would meet
me at the railroad station each evening when I came home from
my work in New York, would take me first to the forest to see
his newest discovery. There were squirrels in the woods, and
rabbits, and all sorts of birds. Outside the windows of the
house spiders would spin their webs, and Ary would watch with
rapt attention, as the spiders would perform a courtship dance.
Unfortunately for my peace of mind we would hear mice scampering
around on the floor below as we were in our upstairs bedroom
at night, and squirrels would run across the roof. Ary taught
me to be a little more friendly towards these animals. But I
really couldn't feel happy about the mice, even the white mice
which evidently had been tame at one time.
Flowers and Koschka
oil on canvas
24 x 18
Foundation Collection, TX
Koschka didn't like the
white mice either. Koschka was the black cat who followed us
home one night as we were taking a walk, and then proceeded
to adopt us. She (or I supposed it was really he) had the soul
of a tiger, but she took a mad fancy to Ary and loved to spend
her time with him. Evenings as we talked or read she would spread
herself out across his chest, her paws embracing him and her
eyes intent on his. And all night long she would sit outside
our bedroom door, ready to rush in when I opened the door in
the morning and jump up on Ary's bed. I told Ary I thought she
was the reincarnation of Cleopatra, or some such passionate
beauty. Beautiful she was, and wild; she would disappear for
days, roaming no one knows where, and then suddenly as we would
walk across the lawn, she would plummet herself down from one
of the trees, landing right on Ary's shoulder.
As for the white mice one afternoon when I came home
Ary met me quite excited and triumphant. Koschka had caught
one of the white mice, he said, and he found her in the yard,
playing with it, the mouse desperately trying to escape, and
Koschka pulling her back each time. What to do? Koschka wouldn't
listen to him. So he got a big kettle from the kitchen and once
when the mouse had pulled away from Koschka he threw the kettle
over it. Koschka, deprived of her plaything, soon became bored
and went away to find other excitement, and then Ary lifted
the kettle and let the bedraggled white mouse escape.
Among the canvases we never parted with is a painting depicting
a corner of the living room, a big bowl of wild flowers on the
table, and Koschka by the door, in that tense attitude of expectation
that she took on when she looked out at the forest, which had
such a rich store of small field animals and insects to investigate.
When we left Harmon at the end of the summer Ary found a fellow-artist
who was glad to take Koschka to his home in the nearby countryside.
When he came to the cottage to get her, Koschka fought and clawed
at him with all the tiger blood in her nature. He finally succeeded
in carrying her off and she had a happy home with him and his
family for a short time. We heard from him later however that
she had accidentally been killed; they did everything possible
to save her, but in vain. Perhaps Koschka was destined for that
summer with Ary and that alone.
It was nearing the end of the season and time to go back to
New York. Ary had a second-hand dealer come in to give us a
price on the furniture. He said the most he would pay was $10,
including the incapacitated Frigidaire. Ary said no, he would
rather leave the furniture for the next person who would rent
the place. He went back there once and found the house unoccupied.
I don't know what became of it after that.