WHEN IT RAINS IT POORS Members of the artistic community gathered at a party for artist Anna Poor at J.G. Con-temporary, the Chelsea outpost of James Graham & Sons. Attendees were delighted by Ms. Poor's 10 bas relief's and 20 sculptures, which exhibit the artist's mastery of innovative bronze casting. Her grandfather, Henry Varnum Poor (1887-1970), is concurrently the subject of a mini-retrospective at the James Graham & Sons location on Madison Avenue. Among those at the gathering , for Ms. Poor were ceramics sculptor Teru Simon, who teaches art in the area of Bennington Vt., and whose father, the late sculptor Sidney Simon, was a co-founder with Henry Varnum Poor of the Skowhegan School of Art and Sculpture; Al Blaustein, wearing a collection of about 50 of the small en- trance badges issued at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; stock- broker Jay Grimm Sr., whose son Jay Grimm Jr. is the director of J.G. Contemporary; bow- tied Richard Porter, an art catalogue essayist and self-described "recovering academic," and Werner Thomas, a young easel painter who has had two recent exhibits on West 13th Street at Synchronicity Fine Arts. Mr Thomas said: "Anna Poor's small works make me think of Kiki Smith's work." Also attending were the artist's father, Peter Varnum Poor; Robert Reiss, who has published work on the Baroness Elsa Freytag-Loringhoven, a Dadaist, and artist Sarah McPherson, who is Ms. Poor's grand-aunt; sculptor Gwen Marcus, who arrived at the gallery with jazz musician and song-writer Heyward Collins, who has recently returned from having lived abroad in France. Mr. Collins has penned a number of Top 40 hits, including "Baby Come Back." He lived for a decade in a fishing village near Cassis in southern France after growing up on Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking district and "seeing cows, sheep, pigs, stepping out of huge trailer trucks, walking down wooden planks." The show of Ms. Poor's work runs through April 10. Meanwhile, running through April 24 is the Henry Varnum Poor show, illustrating the breadth and depth of his heterodox accomplishments as easel painter, ceramicist, potter, muralist, architect, author, and illustrator. It includes oils and works on paper as well as examples of handcrafted furniture and ceramics. As an art student, Poor traveled abroad in 1910, studying with Walter Sickert at the Slade School in London. He attended the famous Grafton Galleries exhibition, a forerunner to the Armory Show of 1913 in New York. Cu-rated by Roger Fry, the show garnered widespread attention for the "School of Paris" oeuvre. These encounters left a lasting impressioI1 upon the varied work of Poor. In the 1920s, his distinctive ceramic work was sold downtown at Astor Place at Wannamaker's Department Store, and in the 1930s he won major commissions for true-fresco murals, which are still extant in Washington on Justice Department walls and elsewhere. Over the years, Poor designed and built homes in and around New City, N.Y., in Rockland County for the artistic-mind-ed such as John Houseman, Burgess Meredith, Ben Hecht, Judy and Mac donald Deming, playwright Maxwell Anderson, and others. His own home, Crow House, was described by the biographer of Carson McCullers as "the most beautiful house in America," recalling a French stone farmhouse. McCullers visited there on many occasions with her husband, Peeves. Mr. Deming once recalled that as a teenager, Poor used his hand as a model for a mural of Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Reiss recalled Mr. Deming once joking, upon shaking his hand, "You have just shaken the hand of Abraham Lincoln." Because Poor had designed his house, Mr. Deming-a successful attorney also once said, "I live in a Poor house." Among the notable paintings in the gallery exhibition is "The Golden Tree." Although the title refers to golden autumnal foliage as seen through a window at Crow House, it is also an homage to Poor's wife, the late novelist Bessie Breuer, author of "Memory of Love," which was banned in Boston and made into an RKO feature with Cary Grant. In this painting, Breuer is depicted editing her own work at the window table with an old manual typewriter. It was Breuer who encouraged Poor to concentrate on his easel painting. She humorously quipped to her husband, after perhaps one too many commissioned ceramic tile shower stalls: "It's time to get out of the plumbing business." The wonderful thing in such a family of artists is that rather than hiring models, they can pose for each other. Of those human subjects posing in Poor's oil on canvas compositions are artist Anne Poor (1918-2002), the adopted step-daughter of Henry Varnum Poor and for many years represented at Graham-Modern. A memorial was held for Anne Poor last winter at the National Academy of Design. Poor did not abstain from engaging in art controversies of his period. In "Realty: A Journal of Artists' Opinions," Poor wrote that museums "were making of our profession a thing of cults and fads, and obscurity and snobbery" by their promotion of Abstract Expressionist art. In 1933, New York Times art critic Edward Alden Jewell opined, "Poor's paintings compel a surface appearance to yield the wealth of true character that lies beneath, and that so few artists seem able to get at." A new generation of gallery-goers will enjoy the rediscovery of this enduring family of American artists with the two exhibitions-up-town at James Graham & Sons and downtown at J.G. Contemporary.
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