Shirley Hartman: The Matisse of Pennsylvania

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Mar 27, 2017
Category: Art

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I visited the chapel that Matisse created in Vence 35 years ago, but it wasn’t until last year that I stumbled on the story of its creation.

In 1942, Henri Matisse was 72, living in Nice and recovering from an operation. He was divorced. His children were distant. His only companion was his chilly Russian assistant. Needing help, he hired Monique Bourgeois, a 21-year-old nursing student who knew nothing about him. In the 15 nights they were together, Matisse came to love her like a daughter. But because she was leaving to become a nun and Matisse loathed religion, they parted on bad terms.

Five years later, Matisse was living in Vence. So was Monique, who was now Sister Jacques-Marie. After they resumed their friendship, she asked a favor. Her convent prayed in a garage with a leaky roof. If Matisse would design a stained glass window, the nuns could raise money and repair the chapel. Matisse had another idea: a new chapel. Over opposition, he and Jacques-Marie created the Vence Chapel, which he described as the masterpiece of his career. And then he died.

A great story. Not widely known. Never dramatized. So I wrote a play, “The Color of Light,” about the spiritual romance of Matisse and the nurse/nun. It’s apparently very good, because when I asked a Famous Dramatist to give it to her friend, Famous Actor #1, she was happy to do it. A Famous Actress sent the play to Famous Actor #2. Meanwhile, I’ve arranged for it to be staged in California later this year, and I’ve made some progress getting it to New York.

Now we come to the twist — I own many pictures that look as if Matisse painted or drew them.

In the 1990s, there was a woman selling her art on pleasant Saturdays. Shirley Hartman was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where she still lives. Her father, who played guitar with the Dorsey brothers, filled their home with art, music and books. He died when she was just eight, but his discipline and love of the arts defined her — at 10, she was painting on the basement walls of her family’s home.

Hartman studied art in Philadelphia, where she encountered Matisse and surrendered to his graceful lines and vibrant colors. By her early 20s, she was supporting herself as an artist.

Hartman isn’t a slavish copyist of Matisse. I think of her as a gifted interpreter. And her watercolors and drawings are affordable. The record price for a Matisse is $33.6 million. A Hartman costs between $80 and $180. What’s her work like? Click here to see a gallery of her art.

I bought half a dozen 11” x 14” and 7” by 9” black-and-white drawings and several 11’ by 14” watercolors. A friend commissioned Hartman to create a huge 4’ by 6’ watercolor. She hung it in the living room, above the fireplace. Visitors gasped. As they did when they saw my collection.

If want a Hartman, forget Amazon; deal direct. Choose an image from her web site. Write her using the contact form or at She’ll quote you a price between $80 and $180. And you’ll be on your way to owning a second-generation Matisse. One favor: please tell Ms. Hartman I sent you.


Short Takes

Dawes: Smart Pop for Sentient Adults

Taylor Goldsmith, lead singer of Dawes, doesn’t have the look of a rock star, but this is Alternative Rock, a sub-genre that places a premium on writing. And here there are few better. Dawes once toured with Bob Dylan, an honor they hoped might turn into friendship. Dylan ignored them. After the final concert of the tour, as he was walking out, he nodded as he passed Goldsmith. “Nice song,” he said, and kept going. A very nice song indeed, performed here solo acoustic:

Dawes is making a major tour to promote its new release, “We’re All Gonna Die.” A friend and I went to the Beacon to see if they were as good live as they are on our home speakers. Verdict: just as good.

As you listen, you’ll do well to pay close attention to the lyrics. Samples:

Why are the people we love the same ones we can also hate?

The stars are just the holes punched in a shoebox/ That gives a creature all the air he needs to breathe.

Every promise was negotiable/ Most of all the ones they made alone/ When she finally forgave/ What he’ll take to his grave/ Learning not to pick up the phone

I’m asking now for reconciliation/ I’m asking now for what we have to say/ I’m asking now for both of us to do a little changing/ I wanna dance with you/ forever, in this one cabaret/ If we just allow ourselves, it’ll be okay

[To buy the CD and get a free MP3 download, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.]

PREVIEW: Garland Jeffreys, “14 Steps to Harlem”

His mother worked in a Domino sugar plant. His father took the train from Sheepshead Bay to his job in a Harlem factory. Thanks to their dedication and love, their son was able to go to Syracuse. And in 1973, when Garland Jeffreys got a gold record for “Wild In the Streets,” he gave it to his parents. “That was fantastic,” he says. “They knew that was valuable, right in front of them, and that their investment in me had paid off.” Half a century later, the kid who grew up on doo-wop and used the sound of the streets to become one of the kings of New York soul music has recorded a CD that looks back to his heritage. “14 Steps To Harlem” won’t be out for months, but if it’s like the title song, you can see the movie in your head. [To pre-order the CD from Amazon, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.]

Frank Delaney (1942-2017)

Long ago, when a girlfriend fired me without notice, I started each day by writing “She doesn’t love” me 50 times because until I burned the fact into my head, I didn’t believe it. I feel that way about Frank Delaney’s death. I can grasp, with difficulty, that he had a stroke and died. What I can’t grasp is that his mind died as well, because Frank’s mind was about the greatest piece of living architecture I’ve ever encountered.

He got the Great Man obit in the Times — deservedly. As a broadcaster for the BBC, he interviewed 3,500 writers over three decades so knowledgeably and crisply that he was described as “the most eloquent man in the world.” As a writer, he published 16 novels and 6 non-fiction books. And as a champion of Joyce, he was devoted — each week, he did a podcast that dissected a line or two of “Ulysses.” That was, he estimated, a 30-year project. Readers were happy to take the ride: The 300 episodes of “Re:Joyce” have been downloaded more than 2 million times.

Re:Joyce is a good demonstration of Frank Delaney as a reader’s reader — a popularizer. Here’s a bit from Episode 1, in which he tackles the famous opening sentence (“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed”):

“Stately” means dignified, especially in ceremonial. In important processions, people adopt a stately way of walking, but here, the word ‘stately’ is followed by the three words, “plump Buck Mulligan.” Nothing stately about the word “plump,” is there? In fact, it’s a term you poke fun with.
So here’s a man with a stately walk and he’s called “Buck,” which indicates some capacity to roister, and he’s plump. So what’s going on? If you ever want to understand multitasking in prose, James Joyce is your man.
Every sentence in “Ulysses” has more than one meaning, and sometimes many meanings. Here, he’s poking fun at this character Buck Mulligan, who is something of a fun-poker himself, which is why his walk is stately. So the man doing the mocking is also being mocked.

But what made Frank Delaney a treasure was the force and vitality of his personality. Here he briefly profiles James Joyce — in rap:

And he compares beating writer’s block to an affair that strengthens a marriage:

Imagine this personality at dinner. For a great talker, he was a great listener. Once I went on a bit in praise of John le Carré. Frank heard me out and then told some personal stories about the legendary writer which, if repeated, would get me sued in England. He didn’t present this information as a corrective or a rebuke; he just thought I might like to know.

To wear erudition lightly, to not intimidate, to reject intellectual snobbery — in my world, these are rare gifts. Liberating gifts, at that. When I was writing my play, I didn’t hesitate to send Frank the first act, and he didn’t hesitate to point out its flaws and urge me to keep going — he took me seriously as a playwright, which was just what I wanted and needed. And he was immensely funny. When a writer who downplayed her stunning good looks served up precious sentiments about Art on the Web, Frank and I traded retro male comments with a glee that often inspired Diane Meier, his adoring wife and partner, to step in with a schoolmarmish “Boys…. boys…”

It was glorious to be his friend.

Nam Prik Asian Chili Hot Sauce: the next Sriracha?

When I met Erick Yi, he was an investment adviser at Merrill Lynch in Los Angeles. (I can personally attest: honest, creative, successful). And then he was gone — to launch a hot sauce. I thought he was having a pre-midlife crisis. In fact, he was having a genius insight: He invented Nam Prik, an Asian chili sauce that was both spicy and sweet. Erick launched Nam Prik at farmer’s markets in LA, and was soon as popular as Adele. Again, deservedly: Nam Prik (pronounced: nam-preek, literally “fluid chili”) isn’t like all the other smartly-labeled sauces you see on grocery shelves. It delivers fire and flavor, adding personality to eggs, Mexican food, Asian dishes, meat and chicken entrees. Now Erick’s in the big leagues —you can buy Nam Prik on Amazon as well as on his web site. And in the full-service spirit of the banker he used to be, Erick offers some recipes. Try the crispy Nam Prik chicken wings — you’ll forget all about Buffalo.