Having long been married to a painter, I am aware that for most artists, making art is a solitary activity. Every day, my wife goes to her studio to create, to think, and to be her own critic. Except for the days that she has to teach, she is loyal and looks forward to being in her space. On occasion, she receives visitors; other artists, curators, collectors, school groups—they come into her space to look, perhaps share feedback, and simply talk about art making. When our (now adult) children were toddlers, I would go to work, Eva would stay with the kids during the day, and when I came home at night, she would then go to her studio. Once, when working for an upcoming gallery exhibition, she wanted to create large paintings, and her studio was quite small, so she sublet Fred Tomaselli’s studio in Brooklyn while he was artist-in-residence at Skowhegan. Fred charged her less than he was paying, a gift Eva remembers to this day. Eva would leave for the studio in the evening from the West Village, and would return well after I went to sleep. She worked late into the night, alone – incredibly happy to be creating. Even after the show, we continued to work in shifts, taking turns caring for our children so we both could work.
Most people think that making art is a private activity—and it often is—but for the artist to exist in the art ecosystem, they need community, and friendship. Artists need curators, critics, collectors, trade folks, gallerists, friends, and other artists, as allies to sustain both their creativity and their livelihood. We work alone, but we only survive because of our friends.
The letters that follow remind us of the importance of life-long friendships. When my wife, painter Eva Lundsager, and I were undergrads at the University of Maryland College Park, we were incredibly fortunate to have as teachers Claudia DeMonte, David Driskell, Ellen Gelman, Sam Gilliam, Nick Krushenick, Keith Morrison, Stephanie Pogue, Anne Truitt and critic/theorist/Kabbalist Jack Burnham. They were all teaching at a state university, where the tuition was about $700 a semester. I also include Ruth Asawa because of my love for her work and my admiration for her devotion to teaching. I hope readers of the Brooklyn Rail will see the long friendships and constant advocacy these artists and teachers gave to each other and to the students they mentored, and think about the friendships and mentors who have been important in their own lives. Diving into these letters of support, encouragement, and friendship, many of them from my past teachers, has been a beautiful moment for me to understand and appreciate the unparalleled generosity of artists and teachers. They have been some of the most generous people in my life.
Many people were generous with their time and suggestions, and I would like to thank the following who either directly helped, or who, perhaps unknowingly, inspired us to do this project:
First and foremost, Phong Bui, for his tremendous contribution to the art community in founding, editing, and publishing the Brooklyn Rail these past twenty-three years. Phong, you have made us see not just the art, but the very human people behind the art. Thank you. And thank you to the Rail’s managing editor, Charlie Schultz, for his acute eye and for keeping this project on track.
In addition, we thank:
Tewodros Abebe, Senior Archivist, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University
Leif Erik Anderson, Public Services Library Specialist, Special Collections, Stanford University
Marisa Bourgoin, Chief of Reference Services, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Lindsey Bright, Library Technician, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Phong H. Bui, Co-Founder and Artistic Director, The Brooklyn Rail
David Conway, Archivist, David C. Driskell Center for the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora
Tyhe Cooper, Production Editor, The Brooklyn Rail
Teresa Eggers, Director of Institutional Relations, David Kordansky Gallery
Ruth Fine, Independent Curator (formerly National Gallery of Art, 1972–2012)
J. Larry Frazier, Co-Trustee, Lois Mailou Jones Pierre-Noel Trust
Annie Gawlak, Sam Gilliam Estate
Marianne H. Hansen, Curator and Academic Liaison for Rare Books and Manuscripts, Bryn Mawr College
Tessa Bachi Haas, Curatorial Fellow, List Visual Arts Center at MIT. Without Tessa doing the lion’s share of the research, we would not have been able to finish this project for the Brooklyn Rail.
Geoff Hargadon and Patricia La Valley for reconnecting Eva and me to Dr. Driskell in Maine.
Earl Hooks, Jr.
Sarah Haug, Archivist, Helen Frankenthaler Foundation
Paul Lanier, Son of Ruth Asawa and Albert Lanier
Eva Lundsager, artist, and my long-time partner who I met at the University of Maryland. Eva and I were both in Mrs. Truitt’s seminal, now mythical, seminar class, and Eva also studied with many of the artists included in this article.
Julie Markey, Licensing Executive, Artist Rights Society
Jackie Martin, Prints and Photographs Librarian, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University
Catherine Morris, Sackler Senior Curator, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. Catherine was also an undergraduate at the University of Maryland with Eva and me, she is someone I’ve always relied on for counsel, and I consider her my most valuable colleague and friend.
Nicholas Oakley, Digital Services Librarian, Howard University Libraries
Grady O’Connor, Images, Rights, and Digital Assets Manager, Helen Frankenthaler Foundation
Andrea Pollan, Curator’s Office
Charles M. Schultz, Managing Editor, The Brooklyn Rail
Lela Sewell-Williams, Curator of Manuscripts, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University
Elizabeth Smith, Executive Director, Helen Frankenthaler Foundation
Vivian Tong, Arts Manager and Archivist, Ruth Asawa Lanier, Inc.
Alexandra Truitt, Daughter of Anne Truitt. Thank you for your generosity.
Henry Weverka, President, Ruth Asawa Lanier, Inc.. So incredibly supportive. Without you, we would not have been able to complete this project.
Yuriko Yamaguchi, Artist
And we give our utmost thank you to all the artists we are honored to include here. It has been a joy to read and handle the paper on which they wrote, and to feel their artists’ touch through their handwriting and signatures. We learn so much from the legacies of their work, their epistles, and their on-going friendships, reminding us to cherish our own communities. Thank you, Ruth Asawa, Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Gilliam, Lois Mailou Jones, Jacob Lawrence, Stephanie Pogue, Martin Puryear, and Anne Truitt; it has been an honor to go through your archives, and it is a joy to share your thoughts and friendships with the Brooklyn Rail’s readers.