1959—Isabel Came to the Faculty Wive’s Dinner Dressed in Red Stockings and Caused Quite a Stir

IsabelRed Low
2019. Oil on canvas, 53 x 72″

The quote in the title came directly from my next door neighbor Helen who knew the Lichtensteins in the late 1950’s. Her husband, Ernie, was a physical education teacher and the soccer coach admitted the same semester and year as Roy—Fall, 1957.

For me this was a big oil adventure in a small studio space. Most days I wore a breathing mask, and on others I just sniffed Turpenoid® until I dreamed I was in Hawaii.

I built the frame, stretched the canvas, composed and painted the piece in 11 hours with a total cost of about 60 dollars, or .0923% of the families’ annual income. I could make 50 paintings this size a year at a cost of $3000 which translates to 4.61% of our total annual income. Actually, $3,000 has been my allotment for the last 10 years. I produce over 200 paintings a year, few ever reaching floor to ceiling proportions (like the one above), and all are done in acrylic which dries fast and stacks more efficiently than oil.

I have never made a financial profit from this endeavor. But I am beginning to see our investment give back exponentially.

In the fall of 1957 Roy Lichtenstein arrived in Oswego to live and teach. By the end of the year he had “completed” just 16 artworks. One 10″ woodcut for a magazine, four day sketches on paper, three mosaic tabletops, and 8 paintings. Gallant Scene II was his largest oil on canvas at 66 inches. For the year 1957, Roy was a painter like I am a Rochester commuter, a city in upstate NY that I visit about 8 times a year.

Lichtenstein graduated with an MFA from Ohio State University in 1949. His oeuvre from then to his arrival in Oswego consists mostly of U.S. history themes with an emphasis on painted stories of the wild west. (The Lichtenstein Foundation has a completed works timeline. Worth a visit.)

Actually, I love many of these paintings, even if several are based off the work of other artists (a pattern he will take up again for Pop). In future interviews Roy will say that he was working with a cubist style, mirroring Picasso, one of his favorite painters. When I look at this early to mid-1950’s work, I don’t see Picasso. I see how Roy Lichtenstein wanted to be known at the time. I also see great painting, and contrary to what one biographer insinuated, that the compositions were “meh” and the technique “meh-meh”, I feel many are far superior to his early 60’s Pop productions. Original, free, enthusiastic… the opposite of Pop.

In 1957 Roy was not a prolific painter. He was a husband and father of two little boys in a world much less freer than the one I live in today. His equally or more ambitious wife, Isabel, would never become the stable breadwinner of the family. The pressures of a suburban society were not going to allow Roy to paint all day using 4.61% of the family income. His society was so much more severe. In 1957 Oswego (or Cleveland), one did not strike up a conversation at the supermarket check out and declare that he paints, not for a living, but for joy, and the wife takes care of all that money nonsense.

Pressures were on Isabel too. She wore red stockings to long dress events.

 

Another Study in Acrylic for Future Big Oil

isabel
11 x 14″ on canvas paper. Title below

“1959—Isabel Came to the Faculty Wives Dinner Dressed in Red Stockings and Caused Quite a Stir!”

This, (or something nearly this), will become a large oil painting when the oils arrive.

The quote in the title came directly from my next door neighbor Helen who knew the Lichtensteins in the late 1950’s. Her husband was a physical education teacher and the soccer coach admitted the same semester and year as Roy—Fall, 1957.

I too feel like wearing red stockings wherever I go in Oswego. Now I think I might. Who could tell with the sweatshop of garments I need to wear just to step outside in January!

 

Where’s Roy?

1960 faculty photo
From 1960 Ontarian—Yearbook from State Teacher’s College at Oswego

I am corresponding with local archives to arrange time to visit. I need to research the late 1950’s Oswego scene. Likewise, I have written to the Lichtenstein Foundation hoping to gain permission to use a few images of Roy’s paintings during this time period.

Already I am feeling the magic of historical daydreaming. Roy and I share a connection to Oswego, however slight. Below is a photo of Park Hall, the academic building where Roy and his colleagues taught art to future teachers of America. I walk this view nearly every day in summer, and live less than a tenth of a mile from it.  Roy must have pushed out the doors of Park Hall not knowing what the hell he was up to, nor the fame explosion he would experience just a year and a half later.

view of park 1960
Looks like the photo was taken in the fall of ’59. Which car is Roy’s?

I want to learn where he lived, the stores he shopped at, and restaurants he frequented. Could he even afford to take the family out on a teacher’s salary? Did his wife Isabel work? Where? How old were his kids at the time?

The paintings will come. I have stretched the first canvas and ordered the oils. Artistically, Roy was in crisis. He would have known he was leaving Oswego and heading to New Jersey for a different life. His painting was going nowhere. I know where my paintings are. I also know that I don’t need New Jersey for a future to come to me. I just need to push through a crisis and find my focus. Roy sought outside encouragement. I seek courage, yet during the process, I wouldn’t mind running into satori once in a while.