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Gretchen Feldman: Love Letter to Earth

“Bad News” by Gretchen Feldman, Watercolor, gouache, & pastel on paper

Love Letter to Earth (1934 – 2008)
Opened  April 2012

The American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) is pleased to present, Gretchen Feldman: Love Letter to Earth (1934 – 2008). This luminous retrospective of 40+ vivid paintings exalt the exquisite, eternal themes of “Perfect Unions:” where land meets sea, day embraces night, sky kisses earth – opposites inherent to life’s sacred cycle of union and touch. Among Feldman’s bright, abstract works are vibrant, colorful landscapes and scenes
depicting idyllic country life, contrasted with an artful examination of cancer cells which cut short the artist’s most loving and happy life.

Born in Philadelphia in 1934 to a family of modest means, Gretchen was raised in Baltimore and attended The Park School on a full scholarship. With husband Sam, she raised her family in Baltimore and worked as a textile conservator, and later moved to an island home on Martha’s Vineyard to surround herself with an extraordinary garden sanctuary. Views of sea, sky, and swaying grass flooded Gretchen’s home and art studio with
inspiration and peace. At age 73, she was diagnosed with lung cancer, and began to study scientific imagery of microscopic cancer cells in her paintings. Quiet, but always possessing a lively sense of humor, Gretchen asked her family to be sure to note in her obituary, à la other dedicated liberals, “In lieu of flowers, please vote Democratic!”

This spring, an intimate collection of Feldman’s vibrant watercolor, acrylic and mixed media works light up the third floor gallery walls of AVAM’s Zanvyl A. Krieger Main Building for a limited, special engagement exhibit. These radiant works, accompanied by personal photographs, essays, and quotes, celebrate the life and artistry of one unusually loving and sensitive soul.

***** **** *** ** * ** *** **** *****

Introduction to GRETCHEN FELDMAN
Love Letter to Earth (1934 – 2008)

Master of the Universe / grant me the ability to be alone; / may it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grasses, / among all growing things, / and there to be alone, and enter into prayer, / to talk to the One to whom I belong.
—Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav

Toward the end of an exceedingly happy, family-filled life, artist Gretchen Feldman declared her garden on Martha’s Vineyard, “My best friend.” Views of sea, sky, and swaying grasses combined with the play of seasonal color and natural light to flood Gretchen’s island home and art studio with inspiration and peace. Dominating her subsequent artistic explorations that were intensified by a surprise diagnosis of lung cancer in the last year of her life, are Gretchen’s luminous paintings depicting exquisite and eternal themes: where land meets sea, day embraces night, sky kisses earth, and all the color and radiance inherent to that balanced and alchemical, sacred cycle of union and touch.

Born Gretchen Lvov Vogel on February 19, 1934 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to parents of Romanian and Russian Jewish parentage, Gretchen’s family was of modest means. Gretchen’s father worked in a steel mill and her mother as a seamstress. Raised in Baltimore, Gretchen and her only sibling—older brother Robert—attended on full scholarship the progressive and private, The Park School, where her father, Ned, secured a position teaching English and her strikingly beautiful mother, Vera, was hired as assistant to the School’s principal. On graduation from Park, Gretchen attended Swarthmore College for two years, changing to Maryland’s Goucher College after she met her future husband, Sam Feldman, on a blind date. Both experienced that great rarity—a lasting “love at first sight.” Married in 1955, Gretchen worked as a textile conservator, while Sam became a successful men’s clothier and retailer. They raised two daughters in Baltimore, Dene and Leigh, sending them, also, to The Park School.

Gretchen sewed her children’s clothes, made their costumes, and loved providing her family nightly home cooking. She and Sam shared many passions—classical music, politics, art and a dedication to community well being. Together, they were among the first to support the establishment of the American Visionary Art Museum. Gretchen and Sam’s wooded Baltimore garden was filled each spring with many thousands of daffodils. After their two daughters, Dene and Leigh, were grown, Gretchen light-heartedly declared Baltimore, “a tight shoe,” and carefully scouted a nature-filled site to make a home in Chilmark, on Martha’s Vineyard. There, they nurtured barn owlets in their field, kept sheep, and benefited from indigenous garden expert Wolfgang Oehme’s respectful vision of the land that was wholly harmonious with Gretchen’s goal to replicate a natural meadow. Gretchen’s joy was in finding and collecting nature’s worn, heart-shaped, beach rocks—an ongoing hunt whose delight she passed on to her friends, children and adored grandchildren.

Quiet, but possessing a lively sense of humor, Gretchen was a voracious reader who clipped New Yorker cartoons for her adult daughters and dinner guests as apropos place settings. She requested the following quote by Woody Allen be read at her funeral:
“In my next life I want to live my life backwards. You start out dead and get that out of the way. Then you wake up in an old people’s home feeling better every day. You get kicked out for being too healthy, go collect your pension, and then when you start work, you get a gold watch and a party on your first day. You work for 40 years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement. You party, drink alcohol, and are generally promiscuous, then you are ready for high school. You then go to primary school, you become a kid, you play. You have no responsibilities, you become a baby until you are born. And then you spend your last 9 months floating in luxurious spa-like conditions with central heating and room service on tap, larger quarters every day and then Voila! You finish off as an orgasm!”

Gretchen asked her family to be sure to note in her obituary, à la other dedicated liberals, “In lieu of flowers, please vote Democratic!”
—Exhibition Co-Curators: Dene Feldman and Rebecca Alban Hoffberger

More information on Gretchen Feldman at: http://www.gretchenfeldman.com.

American Visionary Art Museum • 800 Key Hwy • Baltimore, MD • 21230 • 410.244.1900 • avam.org •1800 KEY HWY • BALTIMORE, MD • 21230 • 410.244.1900 • AVAM.ORG

A  slideshow of a selection:

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