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  • Bill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 12-16-22 – In the Presence of the Masters

“The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life.” ― William Faulkner


On Black Friday, Julie and I decided that it was a good day to visit the Allentown Art Museum. It was founded by a local community leader, Walter Baum in the midst of the Great Depression. The museum has an impressive collection of European Renaissance and Baroque paintings. The main collection was a generous gift from Samuel H. Kress – a native of nearby Cherryville, PA. I recall the museum was originally located in a building next to the Allentown Rose Garden and another gift from the Kress Foundation fueled efforts to move the facility to its current center city location.


Our last visit to a museum was to the Philadelphia Museum of Art was on leap day 2020, just as the pandemic crept into the conscious of the American public. We had a sense that the world was changing even as we walked through the collection on that day. A highlight was visiting Rogier van der Weyden’s Crucifixion Diptych, (above) painted in 1460. Julie has a connection to it. She had the opportunity to see it being restored as part of her studies in the early 1990s.


Our local museum is a wonderful resource. Admission is free! I am not sure that is well known; Our community is rich in art, music, and open spaces. Some of the reasons that Allentown was recently named in the top 10 places in the US to retire. I am not sure I have thought enough about what people did in order to create spaces we can go to enjoy nature, free art or even free music. The Allentown Band is the oldest civilian concert band in the United States and has been performing since 1828. One of Allentown’s public treasures in addition to our museums.


Museum attendance has plateaued according to national statistics. I wonder how much the pandemic has changed our habits and if we will stay home more now as a people and not go out and experience what our communities have to offer. I hope not. Isolation is not good for us, either individually or collectively. My hope is that we end up appreciating these things more as we have the opportunity to experience them, together. I suspect the jury is still out on that point.


There are some real treasures at our local museum. They have a library designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, some Tiffany pieces, a well as works by local artists Keith Haring and Clarence H Carter. We walked through the galleries and took in the art. Museums let us experience so much of the best human expressions there are. We can create beauty. When we visit a museum, science tells us that as we see the art, we can feel the experience that the artists is trying to convey through a process called embodied cognition. We walked through so many experiences and feelings. I felt a spark of inspiration and a sense of connection to the creators. That is what happens when you go to a museum.


I have long enjoyed visiting museums with Julie. She is an artist, with a degree from the Tyler School or Art. Experiencing it with her is like having a personal museum guide. She helps me see things I would otherwise miss. I recall long ago when we were dating, one of the first places we visited was the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston. We went in the late 80s right before the infamous art heist in March of 1990. I recall seeing Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee painted by Rembrandt in 1633 and Julie telling me it was his only seascape. I am grateful I got to see it before it was stolen. Hopefully, someday it will be recovered so that future generations can appreciate this one-of-a-kind canvas.


One thing Julie showed me on that day long ago was the mastery of the great painters. She revealed to me the work of John Singer Sargent, an American expatriate. Isabella Stewart Gardner was an art collector and who traveled the world, brought masterpieces back to Boston, including several of Sargent’s pieces. They were friends. She was his patron. He even painted a portrait of her. You can feel something of who she was through it. I remember Julie showing me the confident brushstrokes in his work. Painter creating at this level can see the work in their eye before it hits the canvas so clearly, they can transfer what they see to the canvas with a few expertly placed strokes of a brush. I am grateful to be able to now see some of what Julie has shared with me about great works of art.


Back to the Allentown Art Museum. Its most treasured piece is Portrait of a Young Woman. It was painted 390 years ago by Rembrandt. For a period of time, it was thought not to be his work but was more recently properly attributed to him. Julie and I stood in front of it and admired how perfect the light is. The canvas spoke to us. It transported us back through time. We could feel the moment he captured the essence of the subject in a way that cannot be taught.


Grateful for recovery that provides an opportunity to experience beauty. Grateful to experience work of the great Dutch Master for free in my hometown. Grateful to spend a day with Julie. It was a memorable one. Grateful for artist everywhere, you are the fabric of our society and help us to experience beauty, which we all need to do as we deal with the struggles of life.


What are you grateful for today?

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