THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 18
In November 1960, Mummy and Daddy were en route to Williams College for Alumni Weekend and stopped by to see how I was doing in my new life in Providence. I remember Mum was all dressed up in a purple wool suit, beautifully tailored and looking absolutely gorgeous. The purple suit was chosen especially for that weekend. Mummy was sporting the Williams’ colors when I was taking them on a brief tour of the campus. Daddy paused and said “Golly Sweetheart, there sure are an awful lot of men around here in the middle of the week. Where are they coming from? Wow! Almost three months at RISD before Daddy found out that RISD was co-ed! By this time I was thoroughly ensconced in my new surroundings, and from that moment on, I had Mummy and Daddy’s support.
As freshmen, all of us carried eight courses each semester: Art History, Creative Writing, Two Dimensional Design, Three Dimensional Design, Lettering, Life Drawing, Anatomy and Nature Drawing. For the first time in my life I had no one to answer to …only to myself alone. I could set my own schedule and fit into it, as many visits to Brown University as I could. I took Comparative Religion up there and sang in a church choir on campus, early each morning. Choir members were paid $1.00 to sing which put some spending money in our pockets. Choir singing also offered one a chance to meet Boys. Life was Great!
The Freshman Foundation courses at RISD introduce you to many different fields in the arts. In addition to the survey courses, dance, theater, and music courses were offered, and yes, all of Brown University as well! Just as important, you met students from all over the country with differing ideas and opinions on education, art and politics. Excellent discussions on every possible subject happened daily in the dorms, in the classrooms, in coffee shops and on street corners. The RISD education sought to teach students, how to teach themselves and how to get themselves out of a rut should they happened to find themselves in one! We were exposed to all forms of Art, both contemporary and classical. Then we were encouraged to define our own ideas of what Art should be. Class discussions and criticisms of ones’ work were unceasing and intense. That sort of thing toughened us up for the real world to come and it forced us to defend our work and believe in ourselves.
At this point, I must say that one cannot underestimate the contributions of our faithful RISD models. Ulla was a gentle soul, with Renoir Hair, whose fair skin was strewn with a multitude of happy freckles. And then there was Trula, who lived in an old, dark gray coup, which was parked just outside of the school and packed to the gills with her “what-not.” Trula would bring all of her “what-not” to class and either knitted or crocheted her way through the hours. Trula, was shaped like a pyramid. She would peer through her half-inch thick spectacles, while chatting with the students, and sharing her knowledge of just how to make use of these “What-nots.” Jackie, big and dark and beautiful, looked like a living Gaston La Chaise and of course there was Johnnie. Johnnie was an antique, who owned one position only. You would always see Johnnie standing firmly on both feet, supporting himself with a wooden staff. Each and every muscle could be seen through his taught, transparent skin. You could learn a lot from Johnnie. Beautiful Jenny Bornstein modeled for many years at RISD and is well known among the RISD Alumni. Sometimes, Jenny would take over the class for Mr. Macumber who was elderly, portly and sometimes too tired to teach. Jenny would walk barefooted, with only a bit of soft silk wrapped around her, from one student to the next, handing down her crits” whenever she thought they were needed. When I knew Jenny, she was well into her seventies. Oh yes … How could I forget Carl Markowitz? He was most extraordinary! No one would ever forget Carl Markowitz. Carl took his work very seriously and invested himself heavily into the study of the Contra-Posta positioning of the figure. It was rumored that Carl had published two books on the subject of the artist’s model. The first book was titled: “Modeling is a Lost Art“ The second book was titled: “Modeling is Not a Lost Art.” I never saw these photographic essays, although I did see many photographs of Carl himself at work! Whether true or not, Carl was a great model! Lastly, there was Charlie and his wife, who worked together as a team, teaching us how to work with related figures on the page. When they were not modeling, they ran a nudist camp, somewhere up in the northern part of the state.
John Mazur’s Anatomy class was intense. We learned the figure ... inside and out. Full figure drawings of real skeletons from every view were assigned and drawings of the muscle structures of every part of the anatomy.
The final examination was frightening. We were not advised in advanced as to what the exam would be, but of course we assumed, that it would be on anatomy. In fact it was. However ….the model arrived and sat down in a rather twisted position on her chair. The assignment: To draw the entire figure from the opposite point of view from where you were seated! First, we had to draw the figure with a skeleton inside. Then we had to draw the figure with all the musculature included. All of this was done based on one’s knowledge and imagination of the figure from the opposite point of view. This sort of discipline is why you received such a good education at RISD.
The next three years were devoted to sculpture, the figure, and forms in space, mold making, and bronze casting. Yes! We were going to cast our very own sculptures into bronze! However 1962, RISD had no casting facilities. Before we could do this, we would have to build our own furnace, in order to melt the bronze. The new foundry was relegated to a filthy little stone room in the bottom of Benson Hall. It took several weeks to build under the expert care of sculptor and foundry master, Thomas Morin. At last we were ready to cast the first bronzes ever to be made at RISD. We were so proud of ourselves and so very excited about demonstrating the casting process to several very well dressed, members of RISD’s, Board of Directors who had gathered to see the first pouring. The fires were lighted, the furnace roared. The crucibles were heated and ingots of bronze were carefully dropped into place with long handled tongs. Wow what a day! We were making history! The new process was underway. Fires licked the sides of the crucible and you could see the bronze ingots begin to puddle. And then…Well….then it happened. All hell broke loose. The heat set off the sprinkling systems. The old pipes burst, spewing black soot and rusted water in all directions. When the water hit the molten bronze, it exploded into steam. There stood our beautiful board of directors, covered in black soot and slime. It was back to the drawing boards and several more weeks before we had the furnaces back in operation. In the late spring of 1962, we were at last, able to cast our very own sculptures in bronze! What an extraordinary challenge and accomplishment. I was hooked on bronze from that moment on. Graduation took place in June of 1964.