The World Of Dahlov Ipcar







"I find it hard to explain my art, but then it doesn't really need explanation.
It may seem mysterious or challenging, but all you need to do is to open your
heart to the joy and excitement of a new visual experience, to accept a new
vision of a world full of the unusual, a world of the creative imagination."

Dahlov Ipcar - Seven Decades of Creativity...

Portland Museum Of Art - Seven Decades of Creativity

Maine Times Review 11/2/901

Art's a family affair

A soul-satisfying exhibit in Portland features Dahlov Ipcar and parents Marguerite and William Zorach

Contributing Writer

Maine art history is rich with creative families. The Wyeths, of course, are the most celebrated, but there are also the Shahns (Ben, Bernarda and daughter Abby), the Laurents (Robert and son John), the Porters (brothers Eliot and Fairfield) and the Cummings (Willard and daughter Daphne). The most homespun artistic family in Maine history, however, is surely Marguerite and William Zorach and daughter Dahlov Ipcar. Currently, the Portland Museum of Art is presenting a Zorach family feast in the form of the companion retrospectives, Marguerite and William Zorach: Harmonies and Contrasts (through Jan. 6) and Dahlov Ipcar: Seven Decades of Creativity (through Jan. 27).

There has never been a better time to take your children (whether they are 6 or 60) to the Portland Museum of Art. For not only are Dahlov Ipcar's animal fantasy paintings and soft sculpture endlessly appealing to children, the experience of two floors of a museum filled with the creative output of mother, father and daughter spanning the entire 20th century adds new and genuine meaning to the words "family values."

"All this time I have been trying to stand on my own," says Ipcar, 84, of her unparalleled artistic upbringing, "but now it's nice to go back and be seen as part of a family again."

Ipcar's father, William Zorach (1889-1966), was born Zorach Samovich in Lithuania and came to the United States with his family in 1893. The Samovich family settled in Cleveland where they changed their name to Finkelstein, and their son's first name became William. In 1908, William Finkelstein traveled to New York to study at the National Academy of Design, and in 1910 went to Paris where the following year he met Marguerite Thompson, a young painter from California. When Finkelstein married Thompson in New York in 1912, the thoroughly modern young couple adopted William's given name Zorach as their common last name.
As young artists studying and working in Paris and New York, the Zorachs initially embraced the waves of Modernism sweeping into this country from Europe in the teens, and visitors to the Portland museum are greeted first by Zorach paintings made in the wildly colorful manner of the Fauves and the fractured picture planes of the Cubists. Very quickly, however, the Zorachs worked their way out from under such influences to embrace more personal idioms.

In 1922, William Zorach, who previously had been a painter like his wife, turned definitely to sculpture. Attracted to the physicality of sculpture, he adopted the direct carving method of working in wood and stone and began creating traditional figurative sculptures that link him aesthetically with Gaston Lachaise and Robert Laurent. The Portland show features Zorach cats and kids, fish and frogs, mothers and children, all somehow possessed of a heroic quality.

"My father was horrified by what he saw as academic art," says Dahlov Ipcar, "so he went back to African primitive art as well as to Egyptian and archaic Greek sculpture. When I was a child, he took me to the Met all the time to look at individual Greek and Egyptian statues. He said that kept him on the _parent track."

In 1923, the Zorachs, who had been introduced to Maine by their friends Gaston and Isabel Lachaise, purchased an old farm in Robinhood on the Georgetown peninsula. Though William taught at the Art Students League in New York City from 1929 until 1960, Maine increasingly became a center of Zorach family life. As Marguerite moved away from her first Fauvist instincts, her palette took on the more somber hues of rural New England, and her subjects increasingly became family and farm life. A folksiness crept into her painting that was part Social Realism, part the Modernist embrace of antiquities and, in large part, the influence of living on the coast of Maine.

Just like her parents...

Dahlov Ipcar was born in Vermont in 1917, but she grew up in Greenwich Village and Robinhood. Though she enjoyed a very progressive education at the City and Country School and later attended the Walden and Lincoln School of Teachers College in New York, as well as Oberlin College, Ipcar is largely self-taught as an artist.

"My parents had always encouraged me to develop my own style of art," Ipcar writes in the catalogue for her PMA retrospective (The Zorach and Ipcar exhibitions come with excellent matching catalogues). "They both had undergone conventional art school training, but when they became involved in the modern art movement, they found they had to unlearn everything they had been taught. They had deliberately left me unschooled in art, wanting to see what would happen if I were left alone to develop in my own way."

What happened was that Ipcar was already winning national attention while hardly out of her teens. In 1939, she was given an exhibition of her childhood paintings and drawings at the Museum of Modern Art, and, the same year, two of her paintings were selected for the Corcoran Gallery of Art Biennial in Washington. Despite such a promising beginning, however, Ipcar would ultimately choose love and family over career.

Dahlov Zorach was only 14 in the summer of 1932 when she met 27-year-old Adolph Ipcar, whose family had rented a farm near the Zorachs. She was only 18 in 1936 when she married him. In the depths of the Depression, the newlyweds decided to settle on the Maine farm and raise a family. As a result, Ipcar's exhibition career has been largely limited to Maine since the 1940s, though her popular children's books (among them, One Horse Farm, The Calico Jungle, B_parent Barnyard, Lobsterman and A Flood of Creatures) have found a national audience.

"I think leaving New York did affect my career," says Ipcar, "but I wouldn't have fit into the Abstract Expressionist movement. A lot of artists were frozen out of the New York scene at that time. And I had a dread of subjecting myself to the politics and pressures of the New York art world. A little obscurity is a great thing."

Working quietly in the obscurity of Robinhood, Maine, Ipcar began creating the fanciful paintings of wild and domestic animals that have made her one of Maine's best-loved artists. Most of us, however, only know the Ipcar of the 1960s on, when her paintings became increasingly stylized and decorative, kaleidoscopic tableaux of colorful creatures cavorting across the canvas. The delight of the Portland museum retrospective is to see Ipcar's more naturalistic paintings from the 1940s and 1950s. Ipcar's early Maine paintings such as "Ice Harvest," "Blacksmith Tent at Topsham Fair," "November Evening" and "Cats and Cards" are wonderful, warm regionalist pictures drawn not from her imagination but from her life.

"I never wanted to show my early work with my later work because I didn't feel they went together," says the artist of why her paintings of the 1940s and 1950s have rarely been shown.

...only different

In a curious way, Ipcar reversed the evolution of her mother's work, which went from high-keyed color in her early years to more drab tones as she matured. Ipcar started out with the browns, yellows and grays of her mother's late palette and then exploded into b_parent, jewel-like colors as her work became more fanciful later in life. Still, her early work is solid and satisfying.

A remarkable pair of portraits Ipcar painted of her artist parents are my favorite works in the show. The portrait of her overall-clad father sitting in a wooden rocker was painted in 1944. The portrait of her mother looking up from her needlework was painted 55 years later in 1999 to be a companion to the paternal portrait. Ipcar explains that she had always meant to paint a portrait of her mother but never did while her mother was alive. The prospect of the museum retrospective was what prompted her to return to the style and palette of the 1940s to recreate her mother from memory, setting her in the same room where she had painted her father.

As Ipcar herself was a favorite subject of both her mother and father, what comes across as you walk through gallery after gallery filled with objects and images from the hands of Marguerite and William Zorach and Dahlov Ipcar is a satisfying sense of love and purpose, of the essential goodness of family life. You also come away from the two retrospectives with a re-affirmation of something that is increasingly rare in American life - a sense of the dignity of working with your hands.

From her Bohemian childhood in Greenwich Village to her youthful summers in Maine and her family life in Robinhood, where she still lives with her husband Adolph, now a vigorous 96, Dahlov Ipcar has lived a handmade life. In addition to her paintings, her resourceful mother made all of the family's clothes, cooked great meals, raised a garden, tended chickens, milked cows, bred Dalmatians, embroidered tapestries and rugs, and even remodeled her own home when a fly-by-night contractor failed to make good on the work he had been paid to do.

Artist, author, illustrator and farmer, Ipcar picked up where her mother left off. In a sense, the Zorachs and the Ipcars were back-to-the-landers decades before the homesteaders of the 1960s arrived in Maine. And Dahlov and Adolph Ipcar passed along the make-do values of living a life close to art and nature to their sons. Robert has recently published a science fiction novel titled Children of Orion and Charles Ipcar, a well-known local folk musician, has long been active in Maine conservation and anti-nuclear power causes.

"My son Charlie," laughs Dahlov Ipcar, "says I was my parents' great experiment and it worked."

If you were looking for an exemplary Maine family, you could do far worse than the Zorach-Ipcar clan. There has not been a more soul satisfying conjunction of exhibitions at the Portland Museum of Art since it opened in 1983.