Sunday, November 22, 2009

Florine Stettheimer ~ Cathedrals of Broadway

Florine Stettheimer painted her Cathedrals series over the course of fifteen years. All four of the paintings are part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection although they may not all be hanging on the gallery walls at any one time. Cathedrals of Broadway is a perennial favorite and shows Stettheimer's distinct style. Once you've seen a Stettheimer how could you not recognize the bright colors and figure filled images as being hers. She paints a New York that is much like it is today, a city that never sleeps. In Cathedrals of Broadway painted in 1929, about the same time as the Portland Art Museum's Portrait of My Teacher this week's piece, you can take in a time of change. Silent movies are on the way out and are shown with the word Silence roped off. The talkies have arrived and are symbolized by the newsreel clip in the top center showing the beginning of baseball season. As she did in many of her paintings, Stettheimer included herself. In Cathedrals of Broadway, she is entering on the painting's left with her older sister Stella and her cousin Walter Wagner.

Cathedrals of Broadway inspired poet Naomi Shihab Nye to writed "The World, Starring You" that was included in Heart to Heart a book of poems inspired by Twentieth Century American Art. Nye is quoted in the introduction of Heart to Heart as she talks about Stettheimer's work ... "her scenes woke me up with their beautifully luscious shapes and colors of flowers and figures, and gave me a deep feeling of closeness with the times in which she lived." Here is Nye's poem that accompanied Stettheimer's Cathedrals of Broadway.

The World, Starring You
Naomi Shihab Nye

Florine, we would live inside your colors! Red joy,
golden rushes of hope, the 1929 we will never see.
Names of radiant theaters flame your sky – RIALTO – ROXY –
citizens mingling in pearls, top hats, inside a glittering flare.
Where have they gone? a ticket booth waits like a small domed mosque.
An usher – or is he a policeman ? – wearing white gloves and yellow cape
pivots between welcome and EXIT. Even the mayor looks smart.
Frills and flgs, banners, tiny dancing sprites . . .
You painted the flurry and flux,
abundant addresses of Broadway welcoming crowds.
I like the fanfare, the dreamy dazzle, canopies of light!

Florine, the early 20th century chimed like a chord,
but we are hobblers at the millennium, cleaning out our drawers,
nothing looks enough like you.
The age of gracious penmanship was yours.
Balance your globe on tipsy clock,
lift the darkness with arches and stars.
And ever, ever, a roped-off fluted SILENCE at the center.
Take us where you were and where you are.

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