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Anne Poor

By Paul Resika

Annie is different from all the other people we’ve heard about. She said of herself, “I’m timid and I’m no optimist.” And I should begin by saying that Annie was born to the art world, to our art world. Her father was a painter, her mother a novelist, and her stepfather, Henry Varnum Poor, was a member of the Institute. She was really raised in it and she had a cold eye and has written a memoir that I hope we’ll one day see. She knew everybody.

Her stepfather Henry Poor founded the Skowhegan School, and Annie was on the faculty and also on the board of governors. I can’t imagine what the meetings were like at the board of governors. I asked Lois Dodd earlier, who served on the board and she said “oh” like this (gesturing). I think of Annie who was so cantankerous and so difficult on such a board. She was a pleasure to sit with here, such a contrarian. I don’t know why I was so drawn to her.

To say something of her life. She studied at the Art Students League as a young girl, with Kuniyoshi. She went to Paris, studied with Leger. She joined the Women’s Army Corps in 1943. She did a famous series of drawings—well, famous to those who’ve seen them (of course, she never could manage her career at all)—of the wounded being evacuated in the South Pacific. She published several books, one with Henry Miller, which she did the drawings for. And her marvelous unpublished Russian journal; it’s terrific. It shows the irascible character she was. You can imagine her going to the Soviet Union in 1965. She didn’t want to go officially or get any grants so Mary Meigs, a great, rich friend of hers gave her a deluxe first-class ticket there, just for the pleasure of not having to accompany her, she said! At any rate, she went there but couldn’t escape the Intourist guides no matter what. They drove her mad, and she must have driven them mad. She even had a sort of nervous breakdown in Yalta. The Russians didn’t believe in Freud but they believed in rest homes. She went back to Athens and realized that she hadn’t done the drawings she wanted to do. So she stewed around a couple of weeks and then went right back to Russia. Can you imagine going back to Moscow, and down to Yalta, and all the guides seeing her come again when they’ve just said goodbye to her? Fantastic!

She had twenty exhibitions in New York. Without a great career, she still managed that. And at good galleries: Maynard Walker, Graham, and Dintenfass. I used to sit with her at all the functions here, at least in the last few years, and I always loved her. Let’s say she was contrary. She said about herself, that she was “opinionated, cantankerous, outspoken.” Her work, on the other hand, was delicate, restrained, clear, true, utterly refined. She was full of terrific contradictions, thank God; she was really alive. Claire White wrote in one of her catalogues that there was a certain “tristesse” in Annie, she said and a “heavenly hurt” and I suppose that’s true, especially in her flower paintings, which are her most beautiful. She was influenced, in a way, by Loren MacIver— she said so herself—and of course, by Redon. They are her most beautiful pictures, with the exception of her great Haverstraw landscapes. She lived across the Hudson in New City, in a house that Henry Poor built. It was a most melancholy place and very beautiful, on the dark side of the mountain. But she was buried on the light side, facing Haverstraw. At her funeral you saw the great motif of the Haverstraw landscape, which she had painted, very big, too, in the 1980s. I don’t know what or who inspired her to make a big picture like that. Maybe it was her dealer, Robert Graham, who was a great lover of artists. Anyhow, let me just say that at these tributes sometimes you hear one that’s absolutely fantastic. In the Proceedings two years ago you can find Annie’s tribute to Loren MacIver and it’s so extraordinary that I want to tell you about it. It begins in a kind of bitchy way by saying oh, my brother sent me the Times obit. And in it Loren MacIver was quoted as saying that she didn’t care about her career, she just cared about art. Annie asks, “Is this the Loren I knew?” And then she goes on to describe Loren MacIver’s career and as she does, she says how jealous she was of Loren, of her husband, of her lifestyle, of her little red velvet suit. She then says how she was influenced by Loren MacIver and how she loved her work and how much she meant to her. And then it ends like this — “helter skelter, my career and life may be a shambles, but now that it is all over or almost, my feelings are muted and sad. Tell us, where are those days of yore, that velvet suit, and the wonder and thrill of youth. Passions gone. But not forgotten. Life is short. Take pity.”

Read at the Academy Dinner Meeting on April 9, 2002.

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