Monday, January 7, 2019

Impressionist Impressions

Julie playing violin

I made a new friend today, and I’m so excited. Her name is Berthe Morisot, and she’s a GREAT French impressionist painter. Granted, she’s been dead 124 years, but why let a little thing like that get in the way of our relationship? I mean, we won’t be getting together for cafĂ© au lait anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t buds, right?

The Barnes Foundation is presenting an exhibition of Berthe’s work. You need to know this about the Barnes: it is arguably the most idiosyncratic art museum on the planet. Dr. Albert Barnes hung his purchased masterworks according to an eccentric, self-devised pattern: he would find a unifying element (colors, shapes, subject, etc.) and then just put everything together on a wall. An El Greco might hang right next to a Pennsylvania Dutch farm implement, and a Gaughin. A visit to the Barnes is a feast for (or assault on?) the senses, and even a little bit of the totality can be overwhelming.

But the Morisot exhibit was different, just room after room of one gifted woman’s artistic expression. Berthe was every bit as talented as Degas or Monet in my view, but she’s been all but forgotten. With shimmering brushstrokes, she immortalized the 1880’s ideal of Parisian beauty in fashion and furniture—but she also painted gorgeous still lifes and landscapes. Her favorite subject was her daughter Julie, who she captured playing an instrument, holding a doll, and staring confidently at her mom, the artist.

So what do we have in common? Besides having daughters named Julie?

I was struck by this: for most of her working life, Berthe did not have any kind of artist’s studio. Instead, she drew and painted at her kitchen table, in her bedroom, in the back yard. I can imagine her, in the thick of her household hubbub, drawing energy from the people and things swirling around her. I can see her clearing the breakfast dishes to make space for her palette. I have done the same, moving someone’s cereal bowl to make room for my laptop. The core message is that creativity and inspiration will find a way through the most mundane circumstances. I don’t kid myself that I am on Morisot’s level of talent, but I get her milieu, big time.

It has taken over a century for Berthe Morisot to begin to get her due. My prayer, for my daughters, and all the daughters of our time, is that they may be recognized, while they live, for the great gifts they have to give. May they have the choice of working in the dining room or the board room, both valid places for their talent to flourish.

Berthe, mon amie, I wish we had shared the planet at the same time. I think we really would have clicked. But I still count you as a friend, and I hope future generations will be enriched by your vision, your beautiful impressions of the people and places you loved.

Eugene Manet (Bethe's husband) and young Julie

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Good Investments

Aiden can find the way with his new compass!
We don’t play the stock market. Our family “portfolio” is a tattered manila folder containing a couple of savings bonds the kids were gifted with at their baptisms, along with a few random warranties and receipts that made their way in there over the years. I can picture a broker, getting a gander at our finances, and keeling over in shock. Our 401? Not ‘K!

What we HAVE played, much too often, is the toy market. We spent the equivalent of their college educations on Beanie Babies and Brio trains and stuff by Nintendo. We usually bought when prices were highest—like at Christmas time, when supply was limited. I recall the year A #1 big sister Rose spent her baking business money on an elusive Game Boy Color for young PJ. There had been a typhoon near the factory in Japan and shipments were basically halted, just before Yuletide. When she at last found one on eBay, what should have cost less than $50, ended up being (ahem) several hundred hard-earned bucks. Another quest was for the royal purple Princess Diana Beanie Baby. Along with half the parents in America, I stalked every Beanie-selling emporium at holiday time, praying that a Di would suddenly pop up somewhere. Never got one, but did nab another few "valuable" Beanies. Everyone said they were all collector’s items and would be worth a mint someday! Needless to say, our stuffed friends' tags were soon torn off by one child or another, and their perceived value plummeted. I think you can find them now for about five bucks.

Well, now I am living with two parents who do not play the toy market, Sheridan and Ya-Jhu. While my instinct is to overindulge Aiden and Peter, they are quick to rein me in. And guess what? They are two very happy, well-adjusted, non-acquisitive little boys. Aiden’s Santa list this year (which was actually a random scribbling of letters all over the page) was translated by my grandson as, “I love you, Santa.”

On Christmas morning, our small guys got a modest haul—but the point is, they loved every item because there weren’t too many of them. Aiden’s compass from Julie and Gil, Peter’s woolen hat shaped like a shark, from Patrick and Meg—BIG hits. Both kids love a show on Netflix called “Octonauts”, a cartoon featuring undersea animal explorers that is actually quite educational, as well as cute. So the major item from Santa Seyfried was an Octonaut play set, complete with creatures and Octopod. Aiden has played with it nonstop for the past 48 hours, no exaggeration. That and their few other, well-chosen toys, will keep them happily occupied for months.

Do I wish for a parenting do-over, with more Dow Jones and less Mattel? Not really, I guess. Our major investment has always been our family, and while that will never buy us a retirement yacht (or even rowboat), when it comes to love, Steve and I both feel like millionaires.

Patrick's prize present, circa 1999