Aunt Ruth: Ruth Henshaw Miles Bascom (1772-1848)

Ruth Henshaw Miles Bascom, also known as “Aunt Ruth” was a twice married woman who raised children, many many children in her household (sometimes as many as 10)—being paid to help them, teach them and if their parents were not around, to foster them. She was a good wife of a minister—doing good works, caring for the poor, tending to the sick. She was also a solid diarist, who had kept diaries since her late teens through the end of her life….with notations from the weather and daily activities (in the early diaries) to details about her town’s statistics, births, deaths, weddings, expenses, cashflow and the like. The American Antiquarian Society has a very interesting pdf with notes and a list of the diaries they have in their collection. Worth taking a look.

Her portraits according to the Fenimore Museum in Cooperstown, NY

“As a minister's wife, Bascom began drawing as a pastime, but was soon traveling to other areas to draw portraiture on commission. She kept a daily journal in which she recorded making over a thousand portraits for money, services in kind, and as tokens of affection. Bascom rendered all her portraits in life-size profile. In order to create a realistic image, she first outlined a cast shadow of the sitter on her drawing paper. She then colored the picture using pastel crayons.”

The way I see it is that Aunt Ruth, in the tradition of parlor activities, would trace the sitter’s profile like a silhouette artist would have done. What is interesting — another point of intersectionality—is that sihouette cutting was popular in America from 1790 until 1840. Why 1840? We know this…the advent of photography!
Silhouette cutting was an activity that was either hired, or something one would do at home for amusement. The twist that Aunt Ruth brought to the process is she took the profile and painted it, using pastels and sometimes colored paper/ foil to dimensionalize the work. What we have is a singularly fresh, modern representation of the sitter that presents the sitter in 1840 as someone we could meet today. This work reminds me of children’s book illustration, and Alex Katz’s portraits.

Profile Portrait of a Young Woman, Her Braided Hair @orn with a comb

Profile Portrait of a Young Woman, Her Braided Hair @orn with a comb

I particularly love the sensitivity of her line work, the blends she does with the back of the women’s hair, and the flat background colors—that complement the sitter, but not overwhelming the likeness.

The image to the right—she takes one step further. Aunt Ruth uses the foil that she used as accents in her portraits and makes it dominant—feeling almost renaissance in feeling and tone. I am so taken with this from the odd placement of the figure on the field, to the use of materials, color, the gradient hair, the linework…its all pretty elegant given the world of 1840, of Ammi Phillips’ grand portraits, the triangular ladies of Field, and the advent of daguerrotypes. Surprisingly, these are not rote images and to me, transcends the change in technology as Bascom changed the process and technique—-bringing silhouettes along with her engaging work.

Snip snip

Papercutting, Christian Schwitzgebel (1914-1993), SwitzerlandBack from Brattleboro and Northampton. We went to Landmark College spending the night in adorable Brattleboro and having dinner at a very chic pizza place “Fireworks”. It was perfect and all of our spirits lifted with the hope that maybe we would be pleased with Landmark. We went to an open house on Saturday to get the lay of the land, feel out the  types of students there and see if this is/was an option. Yes, it is an option but probably not our first choice given the feeling of the program relative to Alex. But, I am going to call and get some clarification on my thinking and really better understand what the options are  for someone with language based issues as it is a small population compared to the larger percentage of ADHD students that Landmark admits. I am thinking that we will need this sort of organized help to move Alex to the point that he can keep up with reading and learning at the college level.  I want him to have the tools to succeed…and need to come up with a few options to really analyze what is best for him. I am not optimistic about what the school here can offer in the next six months.

We visited the amazing Brattleboro Food Co-op which was hands down, the best coop I have ever visited with it all organic and or natural with a wealth of things to choose from and not so crunchy and groovy that it didn’t have a reality to it. The Food Co-op is as sensible and organized as any great grocery would be with prepared food, beautiful meats (affordable) and produce for everyone. Gorgeous (my italian grandmother (even though I do not have an italian grandmother) is channelling). We went to the great outdoor store (equally as remarkable and bought socks and scarves for Alex (his gumdrop for being a good boy) and then down to visit Kitty in Northampton.

It was great to see our girl. She is in fine feather—filled with stories and opinions on her new world at the costume shop which she adores and is finding herself camped out in. She is involving herself in all aspects of costuming and costume development and is poking into new projects for next semester along with taking a costume class at Smith (which she was anxious to be a part of). She is bubbly, talky and a bit tired but sparkling like the gem she is…and we are so proud of. We will see her on Wednesday.

Johann Jakob Hauswirth, paperDuring the little bit of downtime in the hotel room while Rob slept and Alex made mashups, I got rebitten by Scherenschitte, swiss papercutting. I found a wonderful fabric source that had the work of three remarkable swiss artists, Louis Saugy(1871-1953), Christian Schwizgeben(1914-1993) and Johann Jakob Hauswirth (1809-1871) . And so I googled away. I am struck by how much there is to learn between the three of these fine artists from the way they subdivide their page, the use of black, the use of tiger toothing (my phrase) and how much the work is prime for vectors. There are aspects that morph from artist to artist from technique and style to the actual iconography they use—I  plan to develop my own pseudo swiss illustrations to mimic to learn what they are doing. My hands down favorite is above. Wow. The floral frame is as right and embracing as the story inside. And the use of the central celebration of the flower basket in an almost heraldic way is such a kick. Deer and cattle. Houses and flowers (psycho flowers like I do), birds and squirrels, trees upon trees, rabbits and people, farmers and floral arrangements—all together regardless of scale, of story or of anything but black and white boldness.

Katie Rose Barnes from Manchester UK, a student of interactive arts wrote some wonderful short blog entries at her blog “Drawing a Blank, Art & That” on these fellows that I will link to as her writing and storytelling is lyrical and lovely. Thank you Katie. On Johann-Jakob Hauswirth, Louis- David Saugy.

I am loving this.