Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Grande Dame

So today I took the day off and rode the train up to Windsor, CT to look over the Katharine Brush papers in the Loomis Chaffee archives. Loomis Chaffee is a private high school just north of Hartford; Kay's son Thomas Stewart Brush, Jr. went there (Class of '40). In the late 60s, TSB gave money to Loomis to build a new library, completed in 1970 and named after his mother. And he gave them all of his mother's papers, too, which, as I mentioned, they very graciously let me examine. 

Hanging in the library is this colossal portrait of Kay. And "colossal" is hardly an exaggeration: it's 8 or 9 feet tall!

It was painted in 1933 by Leon Gordon, who was known for his celebrity portraits: Calvin Coolidge, Winston Churchill, Helen Keller, Will Rogers, and Dorothy Gish (to name but a few) all sat for him.

If we take Kay at her word, the diminutive authoress was somewhat abashed by the grandiose scale of the thing: "...the effect is distinctly that of a billboard ad for cigarettes, even though the painting is superior."
The portrait originally hung in Kay's apartment at 322 East 57th Street. 

"I'm already beginning to wonder," Kay wrote in 1940, "what the portrait's future is, if any. 

"I think ahead to the days when it will be known to my son and his wife and their offspring as 'Grandma's portrait,' and when the problem of what to do with it will plague them ceaselessly. I even  seem to hear the treble pipe of childish voices, inquiring wonderingly, 'Was Grandma really nine feet high?' 

"No darlings, no. Not really. She was five feet three in her stocking feet. It was just that she took life in a big way, there, for a while."

Kay Brush never had any grandchildren.

No comments:

Post a Comment