GILBERT FRANKLIN 1928–2004
Former Co-Chair FAWC Board of Trustees
Gil Franklin’s death is a great loss for the Fine Arts Work Center. His involvement with FAWC was long and intense. He’d served on just about every committee, and was Co-Chair of the Board of Trustees with me for six years. His steady leadership helped to steer us away from the dangers of debt toward greater security, and to institute new programs without any loss to our main mission. Gil was a natural steward, conserver, and conciliator.
Gil will be remembered as an artist of great skill and inventiveness. His work was characterized by a love of form, especially those sensual forms of the human body abstracted to very particular telling curves and volumes. He created the beautiful medal with which FAWC honors distinguished artists and writers whose careers are models of mentoring and generosity. (In other words, people very much like Gil.) His life was rich with family, friends, and former students. Most of all, it was shared with love and grace by his wife, Joyce, whom he’d met when she was seventeen when both were students at the Rhode Island School of Design, some sixty-five
The arc of our friendship began forty years ago, when I was a very young, inexperienced member of the painting department in the division he chaired at RISD. Over thirty years later, we became co-chairs of the board of FAWC. We faced a rather daunting challenge, one to which he brought the experience of his many years at RISD. His talents as a teacher, and later administrator, made the school work during some of its stormier periods. He treated everyone with respect and in a friendly, almost avuncular, manner. When, all aflame, I would bring him troubling news, he had a way of chuckling at doom and then following that up with "I know, I know" that relaxed me and somehow made all of it less important and solvable. I particularly remember his coming into my studio when I was just starting out at RISD and saying, with an implied wink, about a particular piece: "That’s a winner." He could not have known how much that meant to me and might have been embarrassed if I’d told him then—as he was, much later, when I was finally able to tell him. I will miss his friendship and his many kindnesses. He was "the real winner."
The Fine Arts Work Center community was saddened to learn of the death of artist Leon Golub on August 8, 2004. A man who passionately believed that his role as an artist was to challenge the organization of society, he created large-scale figurative pieces echoing the horrors of battle and the prevalence of violence in the world. His tortured images are both provocative and confrontational, witnesses to and perpetrators of the evils of war and senseless inhumanity.
The political nature of his work and the gruesome subject matter he depicted did not find favor in the art world, and for the early part of his career he was ignored. "Leon certainly wasn’t making art for art’s sake," says Paul Stopforth, director of the undergraduate art program at Harvard University, and one of the many artists influenced by Leon. In the 1980s, his work finally began to get the attention it deserved, and in 1984 he exhibited a solo retrospective that toured to many venues, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Now an artist of international acclaim, his work has been exhibited and collected by institutions worldwide, including the Whitney Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
In addition to striving to raise social consciousness through his art, Leon and his wife, artist Nancy Spero, also worked to support younger artists. Having experienced firsthand how difficult it was to find acceptance in a less-than-receptive art world, Leon and Nancy both funded and served as inspiration to countless young artists struggling to survive. The Fine Arts Work Center recognized the efforts of Leon and Nancy by honoring them in November 2003 with the Distinguished Service in the Arts Award. "They were so diligent at bringing younger artists to the attention of curators and jurors,” says Katy Kline, director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and a longtime admirer of Leon’s work. “They picked out people whose purpose they admired and then championed them."
In June 2004, Leon and Nancy had an exhibition in the Hudson D. Walker Gallery at the Work Center titled “Bad Male Behavior and Women’s Laughter.” The show drew crowds, and was complemented by a slide lecture on their work, given by sculptor Lauren Ewing, who also served as curator of the exhibition.
As Picasso’s "Guernica" forced viewers to recognize the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, Leon Golub’s work requires a new generation to consider the suffering and agony perpetrated by the torture and violence that still pervades our culture. His inviolable convictions, his integrity, his generosity, and his talent have made a deep and lasting impression on the world.
Elise Asher, wife of Fine Arts Work Center patron and former US Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz, died on March 7, 2004, at the age of 92. Elise was a multi-talented artist in her own right; a painter who wrote poetry and a poet who painted. She was born and raised in Chicago, where her father entertained the likes of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and where Elise went to hear W.B. Yeats read from his work. She began writing poetry at a young age, and published her works in a number of journals including Poetry and the Partisan Review before producing her first collection titled The Meandering Absolute in 1955. A second book, The Visionary Gleam, juxtaposed 47 color plates of her artwork with the poetic passages from which she derived her inspiration, including lines by Milton, Blake, Keats, Hopkins and Yeats. A series of these works were inspired by Stanley Kunitz’s poems "The Long Boat" and "The Illumination." The Night Train, comprised of new and selected poems, was published by Sheep Meadow Press in 2000.
Her painting career began in 1953 with her first solo show at the Tanager Gallery in New York City. For Elise, painting was a way to " immerse myself physically in the poems." She created a universe of her own, with mythical landscapes and imaginary creatures that worked as a metaphor to more fully explain her version of reality and memories of her past. Speaking about her series of paintings inspired by Stanley Kunitz’s poem "The Long Boat" she said, "It has for me the force of visionary experience made strikingly palpable and real, the sensation of being submerged in endless waters of unknowing as I seek to transform into a painterly vocabulary the awareness of a more-than-usual state of being, the condition of ‘other-ness.’"
Elise Asher’s work has been exhibited widely and is part of many collections, including the National Academy of Sciences, the National Collection of Fine Arts, and the Corcoran Gallery, all in Washington D.C.; the Museum of Modern Art, Storm King Art Center, and the New York Cultural Center in New York; and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. Locally she exhibited at the Cherrystone Gallery in Wellfleet, and the Long Point Gallery in Provincetown. In 2000, there was a retrospective of her work at the Hudson D. Walker Gallery at the Fine Arts Work Center, curated by artist Varujan Boghosian.
A witty woman who enjoyed keeping people on their toes, Elise was once asked what she hoped to do through her writing and painting. "The intention of my art?" she asked. "Quite simply, to make myself immortal, of course." She has succeeded in this endeavor. We will sorely miss her clever company.