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...
Museum Of Art - Seven Decades of Creativity
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
By EDGAR ALLEN BEEM
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.
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